10 Facts About Roman Architecture

Located throughout the former Empire, enduring examples of Roman architecture serve to remind us of the wealth, power and influence that Rome spread throughout its domain.

Here are 10 impressive specimens of Roman architecture, some of which are still in use today.

1. Much of the Romans’ architectural mastery is due to their use of concrete

The Forum in Rome

Mixing a dry aggregate with a mortar that would take up water and then harden gave the Romans a range of building materials of great flexibility and strength. Roman concrete is very similar to modern Portland cement.

2. The dome of the Pantheon in Rome (completed 14 AD, rebuilt 126 AD) is still the world’s largest unsupported concrete dome

Dome of the Pantheon in Rome

Photo by Jean-Christophe Benoist via Wikimedia Commons

3. The Coliseum was Rome’s great games arena

The Colosseum in Rome

Phot by Diliff via Wikimedia Commons

Starting at around 70 AD, it took around 10 years to build over the demolished palaces of Nero, and could hold anything up to 80,000 spectators.

4. The Circus Maximus, largely dedicated to chariot racing, was even larger

circus_maximus2 model

It held crowds of up to 250,000, according to some accounts (though 150,000 is probably more likely). Beginning around 50 BC,Julius Caesar and Augustus, the first Emperor, helped develop it from a simple racing track to the largest stadium in the world.

5. Romans didn’t invent either the arch or the vault, but they perfected both

Ancient_Roman_triumphal_arch_of_Medinaceli-Spain

This allowed them to build large roofed structures without forests of pillars, and great bridges and aqueducts.

6. Aqueducts carried water, allowing large cities to grow

Pont_du_Gard_BLS

Photo by Benh Lieu Song via Wikimedia

Rome itself was served by 11 aqueducts by the end of the third century, with nearly 800 km of artificial water courses in total. Cities freed people from subsistence agriculture, allowing them to indulge in art, politics, engineering and specialised crafts and industries. Constructing these systems that used gravity to move water over long distances down tiny inclines was an astounding feat.

7. Roman sewers are less celebrated but just as vital to urban life

Cloaca Maxima sewer in Rome

The Cloaca Maxima was built from earlier open drains and canals, surviving through the entire Republic and Empire. Parts of it are still used as a drain today. The cleaner, healthier life of Roman cities was an attraction to people in the Empire to buy into the lifestyle of their conquerors. 

8. The transport of people, goods and above all soldiers relied on Rome’s amazing network of roads

Photo by Paul Vlaar via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Paul Vlaar via Wikimedia Commons

The first major paved road was the Applian Way, started in the mid-fourth century BC, linking Rome to Brindisi. They even built tunnels for their roads, the longest was 1 km long at Portus Julius, an important naval base.

9. Great structures were an important means of stating Roman power

The Arch of Constantine

Emperors cemented their reputations with grand public works. The largest surviving triumphal arch is the Arch of Constantine, completed in 315 AD to celebrate the Battle of Milvian Bridge. It is 21 metres high. Marble Arch in London was based on it.

10. Roman bridges still stand and are in use today

Bridge_Alcantara

The Alcántara Bridge over the Tagus River in Spain is one of the most beautiful. It was completed in 106 AD under Emperor Trajan. ‘I have built a bridge which will last forever,’ reads an original inscription on the bridge.

Colin Ricketts studied history at the University of Birmingham, graduating in 1992. He's a qualified librarian, a former journalist and currently a freelance writer and editor.