The Romans ruled much of present-day Europe, the Middle East, and Great Britain (753Before Christ-76After Divinity or 753BC to 76AD). In their spare time between conquering various countries, they managed to invent cement, a mixture of lime, clay, and water. They constructed the rounded arch, commonly called the Roman arch, and perfected it into various forms.
The Roman arch contains "voussoirs" (voo/swars'), or bricks. The "keystone" is the center voussoir that supports the other bricks. The push or thrust of the cemented voussoirs push outward and downward in the arch. A row of arches is called an "arcade."
A Roman Arch
One of the early uses of the Roman arch was for the construction of the Roman "aquaduct." If you know Latin, you will recognize the word for "water," "aqua." Different sizes of the Roman arch were placed one on top of the other in rows of arcades. Usually, an aquaduct had three levels of different-sized arcades. The larger and wider arches were placed in the bottom row for support. The smaller and less wide arches were on the top level or tier. A trough of lead, called a "sluice," was placed on the top tier. Through this lead trough, like the modern-day spouting, except that the sluice was in an open "U"-shape, water would flow, thanks to the pull of gravity. In this way many Roman cities were supplied with plenty of cool mountain water. Some historicans believe that the Roman Empire eventually killed itself because of lead poisoning from the lead sluices. However, if you go to Spain and France today, in the country or small towns you may see the Roman aquaduct still being used.
If a person takes the legs of an arch and stretches them length-wise, this is called a "barrel vault."
Barrel vaults are used today as entrances and exits in stadiums. Before you arrive at your seat at a baseball or football game, you probably will have to walk through a barrel vault. Check this out the next time you are at a stadium or see one on television.
In a tall building, such as a church, where two barrel vaults meet and divide each other into half, this is a "groin vault."
A groin vault supports high ceilings and allow a building to have several entrances and exits, at least four.
Take an arch and rotate the one leg in a circle (360 degrees). You have made a "dome." Our national capital has several domed buildings. Monticello, build by Thomas Jefferson, has a dome. Can you name other famous buildings with domes?
Now you can understand the contributions to today's architecture with only one contribution by the Romans: The ordinary arch.
The Romans borrowed from the Greek, whom they also conquered. The Corinthian order of Greek columns and capitals was adopted by the Romans. "Acanthus" (a/kan'/thus) leaves were used in the capitals of the Corinthian order. The acanthus is a Mediterranean herb with spiked or toothed leaves.
The Corinthian order gave acanthus leaves many different interpretations. In this way the artist used his creativity in order to be different or unique with his creation.
When you go for a walk or visit an impressive building with a colonnade, see which order (Doris, Ionic, Corinthian) the architect used. If you find the capitals are Corinthian, you may find different versions of the acanthus leaves. We call this "eclectic" (e/klek/tik), which means that the object is a mixture of different styles. Most artists use the eclectic method when they create. That is why artists like to study masterpieces of art that were created in the past. When you draw, paint, or construct a craft, do you use the eclectic method in order to call the artwork entirely yours? Probably you do! That is what creativity is all about--you use your imagination, based on what you know.
The Corinthian order had a more slender shaft than that of either the Doric or Ionic orders. The shaft of the Doric and Ionic columns sat on the top step of the building and was called the "stylobate" (sty/luh/bate). However, the Corinthian shaft was placed on a pedestal or small base. The pedestal or base was then set on the stylobate or top step. Subsequently, the Romans placed the entire building on a tall pedestal. This required many steps in order to reach the entrance to the building. The Greek buildings, generally, had only three steps surrounding their temples.
The Romans were conquering and war-like people. In order to show off their victims and the booty from the battle (jewels, golden objects, and other precious items belonging to the conquered people), the Romans built victory arches. In each major city, on the main street, the returning victorious army would parade through the triumphal arch for all the citizens to see. These arches were named for the conquering ruler, who was responsible for the victory and wanted to be remembered after he was dead. Generally, each victory arch contained three barrel vaults--one large one with a smaller barrel vault on each side. The large entablature (borrowed from the Greeks) became known as the "attic." On the attic the Romans carved records of the victorious deed. Above the barrel vaults were round pieces of sculpture called "medalions." These circles of decoration gave additional information of the person responsible for the triumph over so-called enemies of the Roman Empire.
Surf the Web for information on the Roman Colosseum. See if you can see in a picture the three levels of arcades: the first level is from the Doric order, the second is Ionic and the third or top tier is Corinthian. The Colosseum is in remnants, but still very impressive as Roman architecture. Historians think it had a wooden floor to separate the spectators above from the animals and gladiators kept in cells below. Supposedly, the Romans had a cloth awning that could be spread over the spectators to protect them from the sun. Also supposedly, the Colosseum could be air-conditioned by using a perfumed spray of water, since this was the era before modern-day deodorants.