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Etruscan Art
Greek Art
Egyptian Art

   Roman Art
100BC to 300AD


After the Greeks Rome came to dominate the Mediterranean world. But unlike Greek culture, one can see the birth of the modern world in the Roman culture. That is not to say that everything is the same now as it was Two Thousand years ago, but rather that the engineering/political/legal attitudes are really very similar to the developed world today. Religion changed a lot not only in the Roman period, which saw the disestablishment of the Olympian Gods as a function of the state being replaced by the Christian Mystery Religion from the East, but also major rewritings of the basic catechism of Christianity itself.

Administration of the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries AD was an immense problem. The Roman Empire was so large and communication so slow that it was often broken into two (or sometimes even more pieces). The most common split was the Eastern Roman Empire centered in Byzantium (Constantinople) and Rome. Occasionally a strong Emperor pulled the two together for several decades or even half a century but then the disintegration took over again.

Here is a map of the Roman Empire toward the end of the second century after Christ.

Roman: [map] Roman Empire  about 375 AD


Roman Art

Much of what we know about Greek art comes from Roman copies. Greek style art was all the rage in Rome. Demand for originals from Greece was high, and this fostered a local industry of making fake Greek art. Honest copies could be sold at a somewhat lower price. While Greek styles dominated the art market, there was also a severe style of Roman political art used as propaganda and self-promotion that became common throughout the Empire.


Roman Religion

The Roman religion was derived from the Greek Olympian Religion and merged with local tradition gods from the Etruscans and Latins. It had it's own flavor and style. And while there were equivalent gods and stories many did differ significanly from the Greek Gods in the role they played and in the forces of nature they controlled.

The state had its gods, the family owned a set of gods, and an individual could also adopt personal gods. Often the Eastern Mystery Religions attracted individuals. The Mystery Religions were associated with: Mithra, from the Persians; Bacchus, from the Greeks and probably farther East earlier in history; and Christianity from Palistine.

More about the Roman Religion.

Early Roman Art

Roman Early: [sculpture] Bronze She Wolf

Bronze She-Wolf
[The mother wolf that raised Romulus and Remus,
the mythical founders of Rome]
about 675 BC

Roman Early: [scultpure] Limestone Warrior from Capestrano

Warrior in Limestone
found at Capestrano

about 700 BC

Roman Early: [sculpture] Terracotta Apollo from Veii

Terracotta Apollo
from Veii

about 715 BC
Museo Nazionale
di Villa Giulia
Rome, Italy



Roman Architecture


By the first century the Romans had become the premier engineers and architects in the world. Building throughout the Empire, from Judea to Britain, seemed always in progress. Cities were built with civic centers called forums, Temples to the Roman Gods, markets for distribution of goods, stadiums for public entertainment, aqueducts to bring water, fountains to supply it, and public Baths. These were the essential public buildings in a civilized Roman's life. Sewage and garbage collection still remained primitive. Large villas for the rich were constructed. Emperor's residences were especially magnificent. To celebrate and commemorate emperors, generals, and other important civic individuals and their triumphs and contributions to the general good the state decorated cities with triumphal arches, temples, and memorial structures, both as art and as political propaganda.


Roman Tour: [photo] The Roman Forum at Dawn

The Roman Forum


Roman Tour: [photo] Civic Temple - Nimes, France



Roman Tour: [photo] Amphitheater - Nimes, France



More about Roman life and engineering




The volcano Vesuvius sits behind the coastal town of Naples in South-Western Italy. The height of the cone in 1980 was 4,198 ft (1,280 m), but it varies considerably after each major eruption. At about 2,000 ft a semicircular ridge, called Mt. Somma, begins, following the cone on the north rising to nearly 4,000 ft. Between Mt. Somma and the cone itself is the Valle del Gigante (Giant's Valley). At the summit of the cone is a large crater, about 1,000 ft deep and 2,000 ft across, formed in the eruption of 1944.

Roman Tour: [photo] Vesuvius and  Vinyards

Mt. Vesuvius
Naples, Italy

Roman Tour: [photo] Vesuvius Eruption in 1944

Lava Flow from Vesuvius
Naples, Italy

Rome Herculaneum: [photo] Courtyard of Villia of Nepture and Amphirite

Courtyard of the
Villa of Neptune and Amphitriê

Herculaneum, Italy

Roman Pompeii: [fresco]  Wall Fresco

Wall Fresco
Pompeii, Italy


More about the Volcano Vesuvius and the Roman Villages of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Roman Artifacts and Curiosities

The most important innovation in the whole history of glass manufacture was blowing. Perhaps by a stroke of pure inventive genius it was perceived that glass on the end of a hollow metal tube could be blown into a mold as easily as it had theretofore been pressed in. The next stage was to use molds for forms, such as flasks, that could not be made by pressing. Finally, it was realized that the glass bulb on the end of the blowpipe could be shaped freehand to any form desired, and handles, feet, and decorative elements could be added at will. This liberating discovery, probably made during the 1st century BC, gave rise to the astonishing growth of the glass industry in Roman imperial times. In addition to the luxury vessels of types already described, which were produced with an elaboration of skill that astonishes and often baffles the modern technician, commercial containers in great variety were mass-produced in common greenish glass on a scale that was not matched until the 19th century.

The discovery of glass blowing may well be credited to the Syrian glass workers, since the first mold-blown glasses bear the signatures of Syrian masters and since the readily ductile Syrian soda glass was especially apt for this purpose. Syrian glassworker's, however, seem to have migrated wherever demand promised a ready market, and some masters of mold blowing appear to have moved to Italy early in the 1st century AD; in the course of that century Italy became an important glass-producing area. Glass engraving especially seems to have flourished there and particularly one form of the art—grinding through an opaque white layer to a darker ground (cameo glass). The most famous example of this exacting technique is the Portland vase, in the British Museum, London. The capacity of the Italian glass craftsman to surpass all earlier masters in work of the most complex character is seen in the so-called cage cups (diatreta), on which the design—usually a mesh of circles that touch one another, with or without a convivial inscription—is so undercut that it stands completely free of the body of the vessel, except for an occasional supporting strut. These cups were made perhaps at Aquileia and date from the 3rd and 4th centuries.


Roman: [sculpture]  Poly-phallic Mercury from Pompeii

Poly-phallic Mercury
- from Pompeii

about 50 BC

Rome: [sculpture]  Priapus from Pompeii

Priapus -
from Pompeii

about 50 BC

Rome: [sculpture]  Gladiator Wind Bell from Herculanum

Gladiator Door Bell
from Herculaneum

about 50 AD


Roman Jewelry


Roman: [cameo]  Augustus and Family

Cameo of the Emperor Augustus
10 AD
carved onyx; 19×23 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum
Vienna, Austria


Romam: [camio] Gonzaga

Cameo of Gonzaga
[Ptolemy II and Arsinoë]
about 280 BC
Sardonyx; 16×12 cm
Hermitage, St Petersberg, Russia



Roman Sculpture


The plundering of Syracuse and Tarentum at the end of the 3rd century BC marked the beginning of a flow of Greek art treasures into Rome that continued for several centuries and played a leading role in the aesthetic education of the citizens.

Literature shows that by the middle of the 2nd century BC the Roman forum was thronged with honorific statues of Roman magistrates, which, although none of them has survived, may be assumed to have been carved or cast by Greeks because no native Roman school of sculptors of that time is known. And it is significant that the earliest account of Roman realistic portraits of private individuals is contained in the Greek historian Polybius' description of ancestral imagines (“masks”) displayed and worn at patrician funerals—a description written about the middle of the 2nd century BC, when the tide of Greek artistic influence was sweeping into Rome and Italy from countries east of the Adriatic, where a highly realistic late-Hellenistic portrait art, which sometimes depicted Roman or Italian subjects, had already blossomed.

The first appearance of three art forms that expressed the Roman spirit most eloquently in sculpture can be traced to the Hellenistic Age. These forms are realistic portraiture showing a preference for the ordinary over the heroic or legendary, in which every line, crease, wrinkle, and even blemish was ruthlessly recorded; a continuous style in narrative art of all types; and a three-dimensional rendering of atmosphere, depth, and perspective in relief work and painting.

Of these three art forms there is no evidence in the early art of pre-Hellenistic central Italy; and it would be safe to guess that, if Rome had not met them in the homelands of Greek art, it would never have evolved them into art of Roman Imperial. But Rome's own contributions to art, if of a different order, were important. Late Hellenistic artists started with a new set of goals to satisfy more in keeping with the Roman character. Thus there were new subjects, new stimuli, a new purpose, and a new dignity. Rome provided the circumstances that enabled architects, sculptors, painters, and other craftsmen to exploit on a much more extensive scale than before artistic movements initiated in the Hellenistic world, and Rome became a great new patron of art and a great new wellspring of inspiration and ideas.

Two main styles emerged the heroic Greek artistic style, which was slightly modified in Rome terms to be more representative and less ideal, and a Roman propagandistic style, which attempted to represent an identifiable personal image. This image tends to have clothes on and was thus less idealizing and god like. Roman senators wanted statues of themselves on street corners, but not in the nude. In the first row the statues are in the Greek artistic style, the second row the Roman propagandistic style.


Roman: [sculpture] Marcellus

about 100 BC

Roman: [sculpture] The Barberini Faun

The Barberini Faun
about 50AD
Munich, Germany

Roman: [sculpture] Aphrodite

probably derived
from a Greek Original

about 100 AD

Roman: Patritian with the busts of two Ancestors

Roman Patrician
with the Busts of Two Ancestors

about 10 BC
Palazzo dei Conservatori
Rome, Italy

Roman: [unknown] p35

Louvre, Paris, France

Roman: [sculpture] Bronze Equestrian Marcus Aurealius

Marcus Aurealius
about 176


More sculpture from Roman Times



The Emperor Hadrian

Hadrian was a warrior, builder, and one who appreciated the arts. Hadrian's wall across Northern England separating the nasty Scots from civilized Romans is still visible today.


Roman: [sculpture] Cult Statue of Antinoös from Delphi

Roman: [sculpture] Cult Statue of Antinoös from Delph -- detail

Cult Statue of Antinoös
from Delphi

about 135 AD
Delphi Museum
Delphi, Greece

Antinoös, the boy friend of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, was born in the town of Bithynion-Claudiopolis, in the Greek province of Bithynia on the northwest coast of Asia Minor. He was born about the 27th of November about 111 AD. Hadrian probably met him and took him into his paedagogium, or finishing school for good looking kids around 123. Antinoös probably became Hadrian's favorite boy sometime around 125 and certainly before Hadrian's state visit to Greece in 128.

Precisely what happened to Antinoös in October of 130 is unknown. The Historia Augusta reports: Hadrian lost his Antinoös along the Nile. Hadrian simply wrote, "He fell into the Nile." The word Hadrian used for "fell" can imply either an accident fall or a deliberate one. An accidental fall seems unlikely, but it is possible. Most people have preferred a theory of self-sacrifice.

That Antinoös may have sacrificed himself has some plausibility. Firstly, he was in Egypt. The last two floodings of the Nile had been unsatisfactory. Traditionally state priests sacrificed a human to the Nile god to show Egypt needed better floods in upcoming years. This was usually done by drowning the victim in the Nile. Victims drowned in the Nile tended to be deified after death. There probably some talk of reviving the tradition for another drought would bring famine to Egypt, leading to turmoil in the parts of the Empire that depended on Egypt's grain.

Secondly, there was a theory in ancient Greece that by dying one could add years to the life of the one for whom one died. The anti-psyche, as the Greeks referred to the custom, was a furthering of the concept that love freely given has the power to heal.

For whatever reason Antinoös merged with the waters of the Nile, and, knowingly or unknowingly, obtained a form of immortality. Had he passed quietly from his role as Hadrian's favorite he may just have disappeared from history.

Hadrian remained in mourning for the next eight years, ending only with his own death. He dedicated many temples to Antinoös throughout the Empire including one at the important religious center of Delphi. Antinoös's largest monument is the Nile city of Antinioöpolis. Statues and poetry dedicated to the young god abounded throughout the Roman world.

Although Emperors were regularly deified by the Roman senate, Antinoös was the last "successful" god to arise from the Roman Empire; he was worshiped in over seventy cities for over a hundred years. The emperor cults seldom lasted longer than the money given by the state to support them.

Roman: [sculpture] Hadrian

from Cyrene. North Africa

about 117

Roman Tour: [photo] Monument to Antinoös - Rome

Antinoös Obelisk
about 130
Rome, Italy



Etruscan Art
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