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date: 25 September 2018

Summary and Keywords

The inherent strengths, weaknesses, and availability of diverse Roman building materials governed the techniques used in construction and greatly influenced the final appearance of Roman architecture. Trace archaeological evidence exists of buildings and burials in Rome from the Italian Bronze Age (second millennium bce) or earlier, and substantial physical remains, in the form of Iron-Age huts and grave goods, roughly correspond to the Romans’ own belief of the foundation date of their city (traditionally 753 bce). Rome’s earliest builders sourced materials obtainable from the immediate environment and transformed them using practical knowledge. Within the span of a couple centuries, architectural design, implementation, and decoration reflect a broad interaction between Roman builders and their counterparts in the regions around central Italy (particularly Etruria to the north and Campania to the south) and also the wider Mediterranean world, particularly those areas where Greeks traditionally lived or had placed colonies. While southern Italy and Sicily represent the closest areas for the transmission of Greek ideas, Greek building practices on the Greek mainland and in Asia Minor also influenced Roman projects from the Archaic period onwards. As Rome grew wealthier and expanded abroad, patrons and builders imported marble to the capital from the Aegean, well before the discovery of more local, Italian sources. The importation of exotic stones grew exponentially over the period of the late Republic and the first two centuries of empire. The coloured marbles that embellished the buildings of Rome served as physical testimony to Rome’s control over the eastern Mediterranean. Nothing, however, was as transformative as the adoption of concrete in the late 3rd century bce, the mass production of fired brick, and the ensuing experimentation that resulted in the vaulted structures that have become the hallmark of Roman architecture.

Keywords: construction, architecture, vaulting, engineering, natural resources, marble, Rome

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