Ancient Roman Architecture and Buildings

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Pantheon in Rome
Thomas Jefferson intended for some of his buildings to resemble Roman temple, which he described as "one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful and precious morsel of architecture left us by antiquity.”

Roman structures looked more like modern buildings than their Greek counterparts. Roman structures were not just rows of columns with a roof; the columns intermingled with solid walls and arches. In the introduction of his ten-volume treatise on architecture, the Roman architect Vitruvius laid the basic rules for a good building — it had to be functional, firm and delightful.

Roman architecture was oriented towards practical purposes and creating interior spaces. Roman buildings looked heavy on the outside. One of the main goals was to create large interior spaces. People are always going on about how uncreative the Roman were." American archaeologist Elizabeth Fentress told National Geographic. "The Romans said it themselves. But it is just simply untrue. They were brilliant engineers. In the Renaissance, when there was this great fever for anything neoclassical, it was Roman not Greek architecture that was copied."

Rome reborn is a $2 million, 3-D computer project that aims to make all of Rome in A.D. 320 visible with the click of mouse. Launched by UCLA and now based at the University of Virginia it has recreated 7,000 buildings and 31 monuments, including the Colosseum, the ruined Temple of Venus and the ruined Roman Senate. Users can navigate down streets and pan in and out. Currently portions are available at

The Romans made great improvements in their architecture after the Punic Wars (264-146 B.C.). While some public buildings were destroyed by the riots in the city, they were replaced by finer and more durable structures. Many new temples were built—temples to Hercules, to Minerva, to Fortune, to Concord, to Honor and Virtue. There were new basilicas, or halls of justice, the most notable being the Basilica Julia, which was commenced by Julius Caesar. A new forum, the Forum Julii, was also laid out by Caesar, and a new theater was constructed by Pompey. The great national temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which was burned during the civil war of Marius and Sulla, was restored with great magnificence by Sulla, who adorned it with the columns of the temple of the Olympian Zeus brought from Athens. It was during this period that the triumphal arches were first erected, and became a distinctive feature of Roman architecture. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Greek versus Roman Architecture

Parthenon in Athens
Some say that the Romans took Etruscan elements — the high podium and columns arranged in a semicircle — and incorporated them with Greek temple architecture. Roman temples were more spacious than their Greek counterparts because unlike the Greeks, who displayed only a statue of the god the temple was built for, the Roman needed room for their statues and weapons they took as trophies from the people they conquered.

One of the main differences between Greek and Roman architecture was that the Greek buildings were intended to be viewed from the outside and Romans created huge indoor spaces that were put to many uses. Greek temples were essentially a roof with forest of columns underneath it that were necessary to support it. They had nevr learned to develop the arch, dome or vaults to great level of sophistication. The Romans used these three elements of architecture to construct all sorts of different kinds of structures: baths, aqueducts, basilicas, etc. The curve was the essential feature: "walls became ceilings, ceilings reached up to the heavens." ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

The Greeks depended on post-and-lintel architecture while the Romans used the arch. The arch helped the Romans construct larger interior spaces. If the Pantheon was built using Greek methods the large open space inside would have been overcrowded with columns.

The historian William C. Morey wrote: “As the Romans were a practical people, their earliest art was shown in their buildings. From the Etruscans they had learned to use the arch and to build strong and massive structures. But the more refined features of art they obtained from the Greeks. While the Romans could never hope to acquire the pure aesthetic spirit of the Greeks, they were inspired with a passion for collecting Greek works of art, and for adorning their buildings with Greek ornaments. They imitated the Greek models and professed to admire the Greek taste; so that they came to be, in fact, the preservers of Greek art. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Building Materials in Ancient Rome

Unlike the Greeks who primarily built their edifices from cut and chiseled stone, the Romans used concrete (a mixture of limestone-derived mortar, gravel, sand and rubble) and fired red brick (often decorated with colored glazes) as well as marble and blocks of stone to construct their buildings.

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Roman bricks
Travertine was used to build the Colosseum and other buildings. It is a kind of yellowish or grayish white limestone formed by mineral springs, especially hot springs, and can form stalactites and stalagmites, but is also a worthy building material as the Colosseum testifies. To the untrained eye ivory-colored travertine can pass as marble. Much of it was mined near Rome in Tivoli.

Many of the buildings that were constructed during the classical period of Rome were made of soft, porous local volcanic rock called tuff that was then faced with marble. The Romans were well aware that tuff was weak especially when soaked with water or soaked with water and subjected to freezing temperatures that occasionally hit Rome. The construction method made sense in that the tuff was cheap, available, close, relatively lightweight and easy to shape. Much of it was extracted in Rome itself and covering it with sheaths marble, which was much easier and cheaper than using heavy, expensive marble blocks.

Vitruvius, the 1st century architect and engineer, wrote: “When it is time to build, the stones should be extracted two years before, not in winter but in summer; then toss them down and leave them in an open place. Whichever of these stones, in two years, is affected or damaged by weather should be thrown in with the foundations. The other ones that are not damaged by means of the trials of nature will be able to endure building above ground.”

Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of sedimentary carbonate rock, particularly limestone, that has been recrystalized as a result of extreme pressure and heat within the earth over a long period of time. When polished it gives off a beautiful shine because light rapidly penetrates the surface, giving the stone a luminous, vibrant glow.

Roman Concrete

One of the greatest advances the Romans made was the refinement of concrete. They didn't invent it, but they were the first to add stones to strengthen it, and the first to use a volcanic ash called pozzouli (found near Naples) that enabled the concrete to harden even underwater. Romans began using pozzolana in the 3rd century B.C. Mortar made with it hardened underwater and was widely employed in the construction of bridges, harbors, jetties and breakwaters.

casting a concrete wall

Concrete had been invented about a thousand years before Roman times to build fortresses. The Romans were the first to use it on a large scale to make buildings. Most Roman concrete buildings had a facade of marble or plaster (most of which has disappeared today), covering the outsides of the concrete walls.

Roman concrete was made from volcanic ash, lime, water and fragments of brick and stones added for strength and color. Roman concrete was the first building material to be hdld up over extended spaces. Roman arches, domes and vaults would not have been built without it.

Many tend to think of the great buildings of antiquity as being constructed of marble but it was actually the use of concrete that made it possible to construct many of them. Concrete was lighter than stone which made it easier for laborers to work and also made it possible to raise the walls of building to great heights. Moreover it could be used to hold blocks or tuff and sun-dried or kiln-dried bricks together (a common building material since Mesopotamia) and it could be molded into different shapes. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

Roman Arches

The arch, vault (an arch with depth) and dome are regarded as the most important contributions the Romans made to the world or architecture. The Greeks used the arch, but they found its shape so unappealing they used in mainly sewers.

The Romans perfected the arch and other architectural features developed by the Greeks and created broad porticoes and graceful domes. The dome, an adaption of the arch, was also a Roman innovation. see Pantheon

The Arch of Constantine (between the Colosseum and Palantine Hill) is the largest of ancient Rome's arches. Situated within the same traffic circle that contains the Colosseum, the 66-foot-high arch is one of the best preserved ancient Roman monuments in Rome. Resembling a decorated version of Paris's Arc de Triumph, it was built to honor Constantine's victory over his rival Maxentinus a the Battle of Milvian Bridge in A.D. 315.

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arch at the Aquincum Amphitheatre
The Arch of Titus (on the Colosseum-side entrance of the Forum and Palantine Hill) is a triumphal arch built by Emperor Domitian (ruled A.D. 81-96) to commemorate the victory by his brother Emperor Titus's over the Jews in A.D. 70 and the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish Temple. On the side of this arch is a frieze, showing Roman soldiers plundering the Temple of Jerusalem and carrying off the Menorah (a sacred candelabra used by Jews during Hanukkah).

Roman Buildings

The forum was the main square or market place of a Roman city. It was the center of Roman social life and the place where business affairs and judicial proceedings were carried out. Here, orators stood on podiums pontificating about the issues of the days, priests offered sacrifices before the gods, chariot-borne emperors rode past worshipping crowds, and crowds milled about shopping, gossiping and simply hanging out.

The most important buildings in the Forum were the “curia” , the high-roofed building where the Senate met, and the “ commitium” , the lower houses where representatives of the plebeians (ordinary people) met.

In Roman times a basilica was a meeting hall or law court. Often attached to the forum, it housed meetings, trials, public meetings, markets and hearings. The word "basilica" comes from the Greek word for "king," so named because of its large size. Other Roman buildings included stoas (shops), civic buildings, bouleteriona (local senate), public libraries, baths and open plazas.

Sometimes concrete apartment buildings in the cites were built around a central courtyard with shops and wine taverns on the ground floor facing outward toward the streets

The Stabian Baths in Pompeii (near the Lupanar on Vi. dell'Abbondanza) is a large public bath with its marble floors and stucco ceilings. The rooms include a men's bath, women's bath, dressing room, “frigidaria” (cold bath), “tepidaria” (warm bath) and “caldaria” (steam bath). The Suburban Baths in Herculaneum is where The noblemen relaxed in indoor pools under skylights and wall paintings. The vaulted swimming pool and warm and hot baths there today are in excellent condition.

Buildings in Rome

Palatine Hill (near the Arch of Titus, overlooking the Forum) is a plateau with a 75-acre park with the remains of palaces belonging to many Roman emperors and important Roman citizens such as such as Cicero, Crassus, Mark Antony and Augustus. The word palace and “palazzo” come from the name "Palantine." According to legend Palatine Hill is where Romulus and Remus were suckled by their she wolf mother and where Rome was founded in the 8th century B.C., when Romulus killed Remus there. Augustus was born on Palantine Hill and lived in a modest house there that was recently excavated, revealing extraordinary frescoes that mostly likely came from Egypt after the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra.

Most of the great imperial Roman palaces have been reduced to foundations and walls but are still impressive, if for no other reason than their immense size. One of the largest and best preserved complexes is the ruined Palace of Domitian which shares the top of hill with a garden and is divided into an official palace, private residence and stadium. The walls are so high, archaeologists are still unsure how the roof was put one without making the walls collapse. In the House of Livia (August's wife) you can still the remnants of wall paintings and black and white mosaics. Next to the Domus Flavia is the ruin of a small private stadium and fountain so large it occupies an entire square.

Fori Imperiali (across Via dei Fori Imperiali from the Forum) is a collections of temples, basilicas and other buildings dating back to the A.D. 1st and 2nd centuries. Established by Caesar, it contains the Forum of Caesar, the Forum of Trajan, the Markets of Trajan, the Templeto Venis Gentex, Forum of Augustus, Forum Transitorium, and Vespasian's Forum (now part of the Church of Santo Cosma e Damiano).

city of Rome during the time of the Republic

Hadrian's Tomb (on the east side of the Tiber River, not far from Piazza Navona) was built in the A.D. 2nd century. The fortress-like impregnability of this massive round block has made it useful for more than just entombing bodies. It has also been used as a palace, prison and fortress for Popes and rival nobles. It now houses military and art museums. Mausoleum of Augustus (adjacent to the Altar of Peace) is a circular brick mound. It once housed the funerary urns of the Roman emperor and his family.

The Ara Pacis (near the Ponte Cavour on the Tiber River) contains some of the finest bas reliefs from the Roman period. Dedicated in A.D. 9 and housed in a glass case, this beautiful box shrine is decorated on the outside with reliefs of Roman myths, families and toga-clad children enjoying processions and celebrations. On the inside is a simple altar with a set of stairs. There are ornamental and allegorical panels more reminiscent of something you would find decorating a mosque or a manuscript not a Roman shrine, which is dedicated to the period of peace after the Roman victories in Gaul and Spain. “Ara Pacis” means the Altar of Peace.

The Palestrina is the home of the majestic Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, a massive complex built in the first century B.C. with six different levels organized like steps. The first consists of a broad road hidden from view by a sloping triangular wall. The second two levels are formed by a series of ramps that are supported by arched colonnades. The fort level consists of a courtyard surrounded by buildings and capped by a the fifth level, a long tower.

Other Roman Ruins include the massive ruined arches of a bridge on the island of Tiber; the Bath of Diocletian near the Train Station; the remnants of the Aurelian Wall; 83-foot-tall embellished Column of Marcus Aurelius (built after his death to honor his military victories); and a portion of the base of Milliarium Aureum (the "golden milestone"), the gilded bronze column raised in 20 B.C. by Augustus that listed the mileage between Rome and her principal cities.

Buildings in the Roman Forum

Sacred Way is a stone-paved walkway that runs from Titus's Arch to the Arch of Septimius Severus near Capitoline Hill. The oldest street in Rome and the main thoroughfare of the Forum, it is where chariot-borne emperors rode past worshipping crowds and where victorious Roman generals once paraded their troops. Most of the main buildings of the Forum face the Sacred Way.

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Roman Forum
Buildings in the Roman Forum included the Arch of Septimius Severus (Capitoline Hill side of the Forum), erected in A.D. 203 to commemorate Severus's victories in the Middle East; Civic Forum, the home of the some of most important buildings in the Forum: the Basilica Aemilia, curia and commitium; Basilica Aemilia (next to the Arch of Septimius Severus), a large structure built in 179 B.C. for money changers to operate (remains of melted bronze coins can be seen in the pavement); and the Basilica Julia (next to the Temple of Saturn), an ancient courthouse. Today it consists mostly of the pedestals and the remains of foundations.

The Curia (next to the Basilica Aemilia) is a partially restored brick structure that once housed the Roman Senate. In front of the curia is the “commitium” , an open space where representatives of the plebeians (ordinary people) met and the Twelve Tablets, inscribed bronze tablets on which the first codified laws of the Roman Republic were kept. The large brick platform on the edge of the commitium is the Rostrum. Erected by Caesar shortly before his death on 44 B.C., it was used for giving speeches.

Market Square (below the Civic Forum) is where you can find the Lapis Niger, a black marble slab that reputedly marks the tomb of Romulus, the legendary, wolf-reared founder and first king of Rome. It contains the oldest known Latin inscription (a warning not desecrate the shrine). In the middle of square the Three Sacred Trees of Rome (olive, fig and grape ) have been replanted. Nearby is a well-preserved single column that was built in honor of Phocas, a 7th century Byzantine emperor.

The Basilica of Maxentius (in the Velia area, near the Arch of Titus on the Colosseum-side entrance of the Forum) is one of the largest Forum monuments. Also known as Basilica of Constantine, it is an A.D. fifth-century structure with towering brick walls and three huge barrel-vaulted arches. The design of the basilica reportedly inspired St. Peter's basilica. Parts of the gigantic statue that were once inside are now kept in the Palazzo die Conservatori on Capatoline Hill). Nearby is the Forum Antiquarium, a small museum with a display of funeral urns and skeletons from the necropolis.

Temples in the Roman Forum

The Lower Forum (below Palantine Hill on the Capitoline Hill side of the Forum) is the home of the Temple of Saturn, Temple of Castor and Pollex, the Arch of Augustus and the Temple of Deified Julius. Temple of Saturn (below Palantine Hill on the Capitoline Hill side of the Forum) is a structure with eight standing columns where wild orgies honoring the god Saturn were held.

Roman Forum
The Temple of Castor and Pollex (next to the Basilica Julia) honors the Gemini twins, the equivalent of patron saints for armies and commanders. According legend they appeared at the Basin of Juturna at the temple and helped the Romans defeat the Etruscans at a pivotal battle in 496 B.C. The most noticeable part of the temple is a group of three connected columns. Down the road from the Temple of Castor and Pollex is the Arch of Augustus and the Temple of Deified Julius, which Augustus built to honor his father. Behind the Temple of Deified Julius is the Upper Forum.

Upper Forum (Colosseum-side entrance of the Forum) contains the House of Vestal Virgins, the Temple of Antonius and Fustina (near the Basilica of Maxentius. The House of Vestal Virgins (near Palantine Hill, next to the Temple of Castor and Pollex) is a sprawling 55-room complex with statues of virgin priestess. The statue whose name has been scratched is believed to belong to a virgin who converted to Christianity. The Temple of the Vestal Virgins is a restored circular buildings where vestal virgins performed rituals and tended Rome's eternal flame for more than a thousand years. Across the square fromm the temple is the Regia, where Rome's highest priest had his office.

The Temple of Antonius and Fustina (left of the Basilica of Maxentius) contains a firm foundation and well-preserved ceiling lattice work. Nearby is an ancient necropolis with graves that date back to the 8th century and an ancient drainage sewer that is still in use. The Temple of Romulus contains its original A.D. 4th century bronze doors, which still have a working lock.

Architecture under Augustus

Augustus (reigned 27 B.C.–14 A.D.) promoted learning, patronized the arts and turned Rome into a truly great imperial city. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “By the first century B.C., Rome was already the largest, richest, and most powerful city in the Mediterranean world. During the reign of Augustus, however, it was transformed into a truly imperial city. The emperor was recognized as chief state priest, and many statues depicted him in the act of prayer or sacrifice. Sculpted monuments, such as the Ara Pacis Augustae built between 14 and 9 B.C., testify to the high artistic achievements of imperial sculptors under Augustus and a keen awareness of the potency of political symbolism. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, \^/] ” Religious cults were revived, temples rebuilt, and a number of public ceremonies and customs reinstated. Craftsmen from all around the Mediterranean established workshops that were soon producing a range of objects—silverware, gems, glass—of the highest quality and originality. Great advances were made in architecture and civil engineering through the innovative use of space and materials. By 1 A.D., Rome was transformed from a city of modest brick and local stone into a metropolis of marble with an improved water and food supply system, more public amenities such as baths, and other public buildings and monuments worthy of an imperial capital.” \^/

It is said that Augustus boasted that he “found Rome of brick and left it of marble.” He restored many of the temples and other buildings which had either fallen into decay or been destroyed during the riots of the civil war. On the Palatine hill he began the construction of the great imperial palace, which became the magnificent home of the Caesars. He built a new temple of Vesta, where the sacred fire of the city was kept burning. He erected a new temple to Apollo, to which was attached a library of Greek and Latin authors; also temples to Jupiter Tonans and to the Divine Julius. One of the noblest and most useful of the public works of the emperor was the new Forum of Augustus, near the old Roman Forum and the Forum of Julius. In this new Forum was erected the temple of Mars the Avenger (Mars Ultor), which Augustus built to commemorate the war by which he had avenged the death of Caesar. We must not forget to notice the massive Pantheon, the temple of all the gods, which is to-day the best preserved monument of the Augustan period. This was built by Agrippa, in the early part of Augustus’s reign (27 B.C.), but was altered to the form shown above by the emperor Hadrian (p. 267). [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

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model of the Temple Forum of Augustus

Nero Rebuilds Rome After the Great Fire

The most lasting contribution of Nero (ruled from A.D. 54-68) was his rebuilding of Rome after the Great Fire of Rome in A.D. 64. Before the fire, Tacitus wrote, the great city was put together "indiscriminately and piecemeal." Afterwards, according to Nero's orders, Rome was rebuilt "in measured lines of streets, with broad thoroughfares, buildings of restricted height, and open spaces, while porticoes were added as protection to the front of the apartment-blocks...These porticoes Nero offered to erect at his own expense, and also to hand over his building sites, clear of rubbish, to the owners." He also established building codes that required new houses to be built with fire walls, and organized a fire department. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

Tacitus wrote: “From the ashes of the fire rose a more spectacular Rome. A city made of marble and stone with wide streets, pedestrian arcades and ample supplies of water to quell any future blaze. The debris from the fire was used to fill the malaria-ridden marshes that had plagued the city for generations.

Narrow streets were widened, and more splendid buildings were erected. The vanity of the emperor was shown in the building of an enormous and meretricious palace, called the “golden house of Nero,” and also in the erection of a colossal statue of himself near the Palatine hill. To meet the expenses of these structures the provinces were obliged to contribute; and the cities and temples of Greece were plundered of their works of art to furnish the new buildings. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Robert Draper wrote in National Geographic: “In addition to the Gymnasium Neronis, the young emperor’s public building works included an amphitheater, a meat market, and a proposed canal that would connect Naples to Rome’s seaport at Ostia so as to bypass the unpredictable sea currents and ensure safe passage of the city’s food supply. Such undertakings cost money, which Roman emperors typically procured by raiding other countries. But Nero’s warless reign foreclosed this option. (Indeed, he had liberated Greece, declaring that the Greeks’ cultural contributions excused them from having to pay taxes to the empire.) Instead he elected to soak the rich with property taxes—and in the case of his great shipping canal, to seize their land altogether. The Senate refused to let him do so. Nero did what he could to circumvent the senators—“He would create these fake cases to bring some rich guy to trial and extract some heavy fine from him,” says Beste—but Nero was fast making enemies. One of them was his mother, Agrippina, who resented her loss of influence and therefore may have schemed to install her stepson, Britannicus, as the rightful heir to the throne. Another was his adviser Seneca, who was allegedly involved in a plot to kill Nero. By A.D. 65, mother, stepbrother, and consigliere had all been killed. [Source: Robert Draper, National Geographic, September 2014 ~]

Nero's Golden Palace

Nero's Golden Palace

Nero's Golden Palace (in a ratty-looking park on Esquiline Hill near the Colosseum Metro station) is where Nero built a sprawling palace "worthy of his greatness" that once covered about a third of Rome. Nero's most monumental construction project, it was completed in A.D. 68, the year Nero committed suicide during a revolt, when the whole city was invited inside.

Built more for carousing and relaxing than to live in, the Golden House (Domus Aura) is a ruin today but in Nero's time it was a magnificent pleasure garden decorated with gold, ivory and mother-of-pearl and statues gathered from Greece. Buildings were connected by long columned colonnades and surrounded by a vast expanse of gardens, parks and forests stock with animals from the far corners of his empire.

The main palace was built overlooking an artificial lake made by flooding the area where the Colosseum now stands; Caellian Hill was the site of his private garden; and the Forum was made into a wing of the palace. A 35-foot-high colossus of Nero, the largest bronze statue ever made, was erected. The palace was encrusted in pearls and covered with ivory,

"Its vestibule," wrote Suetonius, “was large enough to contain a colossal statue of the Emperor a hundred and twenty feet height: and it was so extensive that it had a triple portico a mile long. There was a pond too, like a sea, surrounded with buildings to represent cities; besides tracts of country, varied by tilled fields, vineyards, pastures and woods, with great numbers of wild and domesticated animals.”

"In the rest of the palace all parts were overlaid with gold and adorned with gems and mother-of-pearl. There were dining rooms with fretted ceilings of ivory, whose panels could turn and shower down flowers, and were fitted with pipes for sprinkling the guests with perfumes. The main banquet hall was circular and constantly revolving night and day, like the heavens...When the palace was finished...he dedicated last he was beginning to be housed as a human being."

The Golden House was surrounded by a vast country estate right in the middle of Rome that was laid out like a stage, with woodlands and lakes and promenades accessible to all. Some scholars say that Suetonius only hinted at it splendor. Nero revisionist Ranieri Panetta told National Geographic, “it was a scandal, because there was so much Rome for one person. It wasn’t only that it was luxurious—there had been palaces all over Rome for centuries. It was the sheer size of it. There was graffiti: ‘Romans, there’s no more room for you, you have to go to [the nearby village of] Veio.’” For all its openness, what the Domus ultimately expressed was one man’s limitless power, right down to the materials used to construct it. “The idea of using so much marble was not just a show of wealth,” Irene Bragantini, an expert on Roman paintings, told National Geographic. “All of this colored marble came from the rest of the empire—from Asia Minor and Africa and Greece. The idea is that you’re controlling not just the people but also their resources. In my reconstruction, what happened in Nero’s time is that for the first time, there’s a big gap between the middle and upper class, because only the emperor has the power to give you marble.” [Source: Robert Draper, National Geographic, September 2014 ~]

The House of Gold stood for 36 years after Nero’s suicide when it was destroyed by fire in A.D. 104. Succeeding emperors erected their own temples and palaces, filled in his ponds that were "like the sea" and hauled away the marble and statuary with elephants to decorate what later became the Colosseum. According to legend, the emperors kept the statues and replaced the heads with likenesses of themselves. The frescoed halls, today mostly underground, were preserved thanks to Emperor Trajan, who buried the palaces and used it as a foundation for a bath complex.

area around Fori Imperiali

Architecture under Trajan

Roman Art: During Trajan’s reign (98–117 A.D.) period Roman art reached its highest development. The art of the Romans, as we have before noticed, was modeled in great part after that of the Greeks. While lacking the fine sense of beauty which the Greeks possessed, the Romans yet expressed in a remarkable degree the ideas of massive strength and of imposing dignity. In their sculpture and painting they were least original, reproducing the figures of Greek deities, like those of Venus and Apollo, and Greek mythological scenes, as shown in the wall paintings at Pompeii. Roman sculpture is seen to good advantage in the statues and busts of the emperors, and in such reliefs as those on the arch of Titus and the column of Trajan. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

But it was in architecture that the Romans excelled; and by their splendid works they have taken rank among the world’s greatest builders. We have already seen the progress made during the later Republic and under Augustus. With Trajan, Rome became a city of magnificent public buildings. The architectural center of the city was the Roman Forum (see frontispiece), with the additional Forums of Julius, Augustus, Vespasian, Nerva, and Trajan. Surrounding these were the temples, the basilicas or halls of justice, porticoes, and other public buildings. The most conspicuous buildings which would attract the eyes of one standing in the Forum were the splendid temples of Jupiter and Juno upon the Capitoline hill. While it is true that the Romans obtained their chief ideas of architectural beauty from the Greeks, it is a question whether Athens, even in the time of Pericles, could have presented such a scene of imposing grandeur as did Rome in the time of Trajan and Hadrian, with its forums, temples, aqueducts, basilicas, palaces, porticoes, amphitheaters, theaters, circuses, baths, columns, triumphal arches, and tombs. \~\

Hadrian, the Master Builder

Tom Dyckoff wrote in The Times: “And then there were his monuments: the Pantheon, that Temple of the Divine Trajan, the vast Temple of Venus and Roma, the only building for certain designed by Hadrian, his country estate at Tivoli and, to cap it all, his mausoleum – its ruins now assimilated into Rome’s Castel Sant’ Angelo. His wall in northern England was no exception, either. In the provinces, Hadrian bolstered defences, improved cities and built temples, along the way revolutionising the construction industry and securing jobs and prosperity for the plebs. Hail Hadrian, patron saint of hod-carriers. [Source: Tom Dyckoff, the Times, July 2008 ==]

“Hadrian’s architectural passions were the high point of the “Roman Architectural Revolution”, 200 years during which a genuinely Roman language of architecture emerged after several centuries of slavish copying of the Ancient Greek originals. At first the use of such novel materials as concrete and a newly rigid lime mortar was driven by the empire’s expansion, and the consequent demand for new large, practical structures – warehouses, record offices, proto-shopping arcades – easily and quickly put up by unskilled labour. But these new building types and materials also provoked experimentation – new shapes, such as the barrel vault and the arch – acquired from Rome’s expansion to the Middle East. == “Hadrian was, in architectural matters, both conservative and audacious. He was infamously respectful of Ancient Greece – comically so to some: he wore a Greek-style beard, and was nicknamed Graeculus. Many of the structures he put up, not least his own Temple of Venus and Roma, were faithful to the past. Yet the ruins of his estate at Tivoli, with its technical feats, its pumpkin domes, its space, curves and colour reveal a theme park of experimental structures that are still inspirational.” ==

Aelius Spartianus wrote: “In almost every city he built some building and gave public games. At Athens he exhibited in the stadium a hunt of a thousand wild beasts, but he never called away from Rome a single wild-beast-hunter or actor. In Rome, in addition to popular entertainments of unbounded extravagance, he gave spices to the people in honour of his mother-in-law, and in honour of Trajan he caused essences of balsam and saffron to be poured over the seats of the theatre. And in the theatre he presented plays of all kinds in the ancient manner and had the court-players appear before the public. In the Circus he had many wild beasts killed and often a whole hundred of lions. He often gave the people exhibitions of military Pyrrhic dances, and he frequently attended gladiatorial shows. He built public buildings in all places and without number, but he inscribed his own name on none of them except the temple of his father Trajan. [Source: Aelius Spartianus: Life of Hadrian,” (r. 117-138 CE.),William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

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“At Rome he restored the Pantheon, the Voting-enclosure, the Basilica of Neptune, very many temples, the Forum of Augustus, the Baths of Agrippa, and dedicated all of them in the names of their original builders. Also he constructed the bridge named after himself, a tomb on the bank of the Tiber, and the temple of the Bona Dea. With the aid of the architect Decrianus he raised the Colossus and, keeping it in an upright position, moved it away from the place in which the Temple of Rome is now, though its weight was so vast that he had to furnish for the work as many as twenty-four elephants. This statue he then consecrated to the Sun, after removing the features of Nero, to whom it had previously been dedicated, and he also planned, with the assistance of the architect Apollodorus, to make a similar one for the Moon.

“Most democratic in his conversations, even with the very humble, he denounced all who, in the belief that they were thereby maintaining the imperial dignity, begrudged him the pleasure of such friendliness. In the Museum at Alexandria he propounded many questions to the teachers and answered himself what he had propounded. Marius Maximus says that he was naturally cruel and performed so many kindnesses only because he feared that he might meet the fate which had befallen Domitian.

“Though he cared nothing for inscriptions on his public works, he gave the name of Hadrianopolis to many cities, as, for example, even to Carthage and a section of Athens; and he also gave his name to aqueducts without number. He was the first to appoint a pleader for the privy-purse.

Hadrian and The Pantheon

The Pantheon was built under Hadrian. First dedicated in 27 B.C. by Agrippa and torn down and reconstructed beginning in A.D. 119 by Hadrian, who may have designed it, the Pantheon was dedicated to all gods, most notably the seven planetary gods. It's name means "Place of all the Gods" (in Latin pan means "all" and theion means "gods"). The Pantheon was the most impressive buildings of its time. It's dome was the largest the world had ever seen. See Pantheon, Architecture.

The Pantheon today (in central Rome between Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona) is the best preserved building from ancient Rome and one of the few buildings from the ancient world that looks pretty much the same today as it did in its time (nearly 2,000 years ago). Based on the profound effect it had on buildings that were built after it, the Parthenon is regarded by some scholars as the most important building ever built. The reason it survived and other great Roman buildings did not is that the Parthenon was converted into a church while other building were scavenged for their marble.

"The effect of the Pantheon," wrote the English poet Shelly, "is totally the reverse of that of St. Peter's. Though not a fourth part of the size, it is, as it were, the visible image of the universe; in the perfection of its proportions, as when you regard the unmeasured dome of heaven...It is open to the sky and its wide dome is lighted by an ever changing illumination of the air. The clouds of noon fly over it, and at night the keen stars are seen through the azure darkness, hanging immovably, or driving after the driven moon among the clouds."

Tom Dyckoff wrote in The Times: “Hadrian began work on the Pantheon as soon as he became emperor, in A.D 117. Endowing the city with monuments to butter up the citizens had been a well-honed policy since Augustus. It was perhaps also driven by a need to escape the shadow of his predecessor and adoptive father, Trajan, who guaranteed popularity with the usual bread and circuses – wars, imperial expansion and a monument-building programme of then unprecedented scale with his architect, Apollodorus of Damascus. [Source: Tom Dyckoff, the Times, July 2008 ==]

Pantheon plan

“But it was the Pantheon that stole the show. By now, the Roman construction industry was so sophisticated, with its mass production, standardised dimensions and prefabrication, this immense structure was put up in just ten years. It is a technical masterpiece. No dome this size had been built before – or for centuries afterwards. On deep concrete foundations, its drum rose in poured concrete layers in trenches faced with brick walls. The dome was poured on top of a vast wooden support, in sections that get lighter and thinner – though imperceptibly so to the visitor – as you ascend. Imagine the moment when the support was removed. Imagine then walking in for the first time. ==

“Much has been written on the meaning of the Pantheon, its proportional or numerical symbolism – the pleasing harmony, for instance, of the dome’s height being the same as that of the drum on which it sits. Is the oculus, open to the sky, letting light pour in, a surrogate sun? Is the dome an immense orrery (model of the solar system)? All guesswork. Though it seems safely certain that this was meant as the centrepiece of Rome’s now united and peaceful universe, a temple to all the gods. ==

“The mystery, combined with the building’s sublime simplicity, secured its reputation. Indeed the Pantheon has become the most emulated building in the world, its shape echoing in buildings from Jerusalem’s 4th-century Holy Sepulchre, through the Renaissance to the domed pavilions at Chiswick House, Stowe and Stourhead Gardens, to Smirke’s British Museum Reading Room – where the exhibition is housed. ==

“At the back of its porch, there is an inscription put there by Pope Urban VIII in 1632: “The Pantheon, the most celebrated edifice in the whole world.” Hadrian’s edifice was beyond ordinary human reputation – dedicated to gods, but also, for the first time, to architectural pleasure for its own sake. He was rare among emperors for not inscribing his structures with his own name. He didn’t need to.”

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is crowned with a massive brick and concrete dome that was the first great dome ever built and an incredible achievement at the time. It originally housed images of Roman gods and deified emperors. The huge dome is supported on eight thick pillars arranged in a circle underneath it, with the entrance occupying one of the spaces between the pillars. Between the other pillars are seven niches, each of which was originally occupied by a planetary god. The pillars are out of view behind the wall of the interior. The thickness of the dome increases from 20 feet at the base to seven feet at the top.

While the exterior looks like a linebacker the interior soars like a ballerina, as one writer put it. The only source of light is a 27 foot wide window at the top of the 142 foot-high coffered dome. The hole lets in an eye of light that moves across the interior during the day. Around the round window are coffered panels and below them are arches and pillars. Slits have been place in the marble floor to drain off the rainwater that pours in through the hole.

Nine tenths of the Pantheon is concrete. The dome was poured over "hemispherical dome of wood" with negative molds to impress the shape of the coffer. The concrete was carried up by laborers on ramps and bricks were lifted with cranes. This was all supported on "a forest of timbers, beams, and struts." The eight walls that supported the dome consisted of brick walls filled in with concrete. "Modern architects," the historian Daniel Boorstin, “are awed by the ingenuity that uses an intricate scheme of concrete reinforced arches to overarch so vast an opening and for eighteen hundred years for the dome's enormous weight."

Studies have shown that concrete was strengthened near the foundation with large heavy rocks or aggregate and lightened with pumice (light weight volcanic rock) at the top. Medieval architects could not figure out how the building was made. They believed the dome was poured over a huge mound of earth which was removed by laborers looking for pieces of gold that the "ingenious Hadrian" had scattered in the dirt. The roof of the Parthenon at one time had gilded bronze roofing tiles, but these were taken by a Byzantine emperor whose Constantinople-bound ship in turn was robbed off the coast of Sicily. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

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Pantheon features

Described by Michelangelo as "an angelic not human design," the Parthenon avoided being destroyed like other Roman temples because it was consecrated as the church Sancta Maria ad Martyrs church in A.D. 609. Around the walls today are Renaissance and Baroque designs, granite columns and pediments, bronze doors, and a lot of colored marble. In the seven niches of the rotunda that once held Roman deities are altars and the tombs of Raphael and other artists and two Italian kings. Raphael painted the monuments popular cherubic angels in the 16th century.

Villa Adriana, Tivoli and Hadrian’s Villa

Tivoli (25 kilometers northeast of Rome) is the home of Villa Adriana, a huge sprawling villa built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Completed after 10 years of work, Tivoli contains 25 buildings built on 300 acres of land, including an elaborate bath house fed by water piped in from the Apennines. The buildings are now ruins. Tivoli has been a popular retreat since Roman times. It embraces the ruins of several magnificent villas including Villa Adriana, a lavish complex built by Emperor Hadrian, and Villa d' Este, known for its lavish gardens and plentiful cascading fountains. A pool at the banquet hall is surrounded by columns and statues of gods and caryatids.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The architecture and landscape elements described by Pliny the Younger appear as part of the Roman tradition of the monumental Villa Adriana. Originally built by Emperor Hadrian in the first century A.D. (120s–130s), the villa extends across an area of more than 300 acres as a villa-estate combining the functions of imperial rule (negotium) and courtly leisure (otium).” [Source: Vanessa Bezemer Sellers, Independent Scholar, Geoffrey Taylor, Department of Drawings and Prints, Metropolitan of Art, October 2004, \^/]

Hadrian's villa was completed in A.D. 135. The temples, gardens and theaters are full of tributes to classical Greece. Historian Daniel Boorstin it "still charm the tourist. The original country palace, stretching a full mile, displayed his experimental fantasy. There, on the shores of artificial lakes and on gently rolling hills groups of buildings celebrated Hadrian's travels in the styles of famous cities he had visited with replicas of the best he had seen. The versatile charms of the Roman baths complemented ample guest quarters, libraries, terraces, shops, museums, casinos, meeting room, and endless garden walks. There were three theaters, a stadium, an academy, and some large buildings whose function we cannot fathom. Here was a country version of Nero's Golden House."

Villa Adriana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to UNESCO: “The Villa Adriana (at Tivoli, near Rome) is an exceptional complex of classical buildings created in the 2nd century A.D. by the Roman emperor Hadrian. It combines the best elements of the architectural heritage of Egypt, Greece and Rome in the form of an 'ideal city'. The Villa Adriana is a masterpiece that uniquely brings together the highest expressions of the material cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world. 2) Study of the monuments that make up the Villa Adriana played a crucial role in the rediscovery of the elements of classical architecture by the architects of the Renaissance and the Baroque period. It also profoundly influenced many 19th and 20th century architects and designers. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website]

One of the most interesting features in the Vatican's Egyptians Museum is a the recreation of an Egyptian-style room found in the palace of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Among the many Egyptian-style Roman pieces here is a Pharaoh-like rendering of Hadrian's male lover Antinoüs.

area around Fori Imperiali

Great Baths of Ancient Rome

The largest baths covered 25 or 30 acres and accommodated up to 3,000 people. Large city or imperial baths had swimming pools, gardens, concert hall, sleeping quarters, theaters, and libraries. Men rolled hoops, played handball and wrestled in the gymnasium. Some even had the equivalent of modern art galleries. Other baths had areas for shampooing, scenting, hair curling, manicure shops, perfumeries, garden shops, and rooms for discussing art and philosophy. Some of the greatest Roman sculptors such as the Lacoön group were found in ruined bathes. Brothels, with explicit pictures of the sexual services offered, were usually located near the baths.

The Baths of Caracalla (on a hill not far from the Circus Maximus in Rome) was the largest baths built by the Romans. Opened in A.D. 216 and covering 26 acres, more than six time the space in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, this massive marble and brick complex could accommodate 1,600 bathersand contained playing, fields, shops, offices, gardens, fountains, mosaics, changing rooms, exercise courts, a tepidarium (warm-water bathing hall), caldarium (hot-water bathing hall), frigidarium (cold-water bathing hall), and natatio (unheated swimming pool). Shelley wrote much of “Prometheus Bound” while sitting among the ruins at Caracalla.

Some of the the first domes were built over public bathes. Finished in A.D. 305, the baths of Diocletian contained a high vaulted ceiling that was restored with the help of Michelangelo and later turned into a church. Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The irregularity of plan and the waste of space in the Pompeian thermae just described are due to the fact that the baths were rebuilt at various times with all sorts of alterations and additions. Nothing can be more symmetrical than the thermae of the later emperors, as a type of which is the plan of the Baths of Diocletian, dedicated in 305 A.D. They lay in the northeastern part of the city and were the largest and, with the exception of those of Caracalla, the most magnificent of the Roman baths. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The plan shows the arrangement of the main rooms, all in the line of the minor axis of the building; the uncovered piscina (1), the apodyterium and frigidarium (2), combined as in the women’s baths at Pompeii, the tepidarium (3), and the caldarium (4), projecting beyond the other rooms for the sake of the sunshine. The uses of the surrounding halls and courts cannot now be determined, but it is clear from the plan that nothing known to the luxury of the time was omitted. In the sixteenth century Michelangelo restored the tepidarium as the Church of S. Maria degli Angeli, one of the largest in Rome. The cloisters that he built in the east part of the building are now a museum. One of the corner domed halls of the Baths is now a church and a number of other institutions occupy the site of part of the ruins. An idea of the magnificence of the central room, showing a restoration of the corresponding room in the Baths of Caracalla. |+|

Bath of Caracalla plan

House of the Vettii in Pompeii and Its Garden

The House of the Vettii is one of the most famous houses in Pompeii. Dr Joanne Berry wrote for the BBC: “ The house is named for its possible owners, the Vettii brothers, whose signet-rings were discovered during the excavations; they are thought to have been freedmen and may have been wine-merchants. The ornate and formal garden would have been glimpsed through the front door of the house, allowing passers-by a glimpse of the wealth and taste of its owners. [Source: Dr Joanne Berry, Pompeii Images, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The garden was full of marble and bronze statues, 12 of them fountain-heads that spouted water into a series of basins. The garden is enclosed on four sides by an elaborately decorated portico, onto which open a series of rooms that were probably used for entertaining guests. |::|

“The excavation of this house heralded a new approach to the archaeological record of Pompeii. The statuary, and some of the household artefacts, that were uncovered were restored to their original contexts within the house, rather than removed to the museum in Naples. The idea was that modern visitors to the town could see what the house would have looked like before it was destroyed by the eruption of A.D. 79. |::|

Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum

Villa of the Papyri (500 meters west of Herculaneum) is a large mansion thought to have been owned by Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, the father-in-law of Julius Caesar and a wealthy statesman who was a consul of the Roman Republic in 58 B.C. Named for its immense library of scrolls, it contained a swimming pool more than 200 feet long and frescoes, mosaics and more than 90 statues. It was known as one of the grandest homes in the world. The Villa dei Papiri was discovered in 1750. Its excavation was supervised by a Swiss architect and engineer named Karl Weber, who dug a network of tunnels through the subterranean structure and eventually created a sort of blueprint of the villa’s layout, which was used as a model for the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California.

John Seabrook wrote in The New Yorker: “The huge house, at least three stories tall, sat beside the Bay of Naples, which at that time reached five hundred feet farther inland than it does today. The villa’s central feature was a long peristyle—a colonnaded walkway that surrounded the pool and gardens and sitting areas, with views of the islands of Ischia and Capri, where the Emperor Tiberius had his pleasure palace. The Getty Villa, in Los Angeles, which was built by J. Paul Getty to house his classical-art collection, and opened to the public in 1974, was modelled on the villa and offers visitors the opportunity to stroll along the peristyle themselves, as it was on that day in 79. [Source: John Seabrook, The New Yorker , November 16, 2015 \=/]

“More than three-quarters of the Villa dei Papiri has never been excavated at all. It wasn’t until the nineteen-nineties that archeologists realized that there are two lower floors—a vast potential warehouse of artistic treasures, awaiting discovery. A dream held by papyrologists and amateur Herculaneum enthusiasts alike is that the Bourbon tunnellers did not find the main library, that they found only an antechamber containing Philodemus’ works. The mother lode of missing masterpieces may still be there somewhere, tantalizingly close. \=/

“On my visit to the Villa dei Papiri. Giuseppe Farella, who works for the Soprintendenza, the regional archeological agency, which oversees the site, took us inside the locked gates and led us into some of the old tunnels made by the Bourbon cavamonti in the seventeen-fifties. We used the lights on our phones to guide us through a smooth, low passageway. An occasional face emerged from the faint wall frescoes. Then we came to the end. “Just beyond is the library,” Farella assured us, the room where Philodemus’ books were found. Presumably, the main library, if one exists, would be near that, within easy reach. \=/

Getty Museum in Los Angeles modeled after the Villa dei Papiri

“But for the foreseeable future there will be no more excavations of the villa or the town. Politically, the age of excavation ended in the nineties. Leslie Rainer, a wall-painting conservator and a senior project specialist with the Getty Conservation Institute, who met me in the Casa del Bicentenario, one of the best-preserved structures in Herculaneum, said, “I am not sure excavations will ever be opened again. Not in our lifetime.” She pointed to the paintings on the walls, which the G.C.I.’s team is in the process of recording digitally. The colors, originally vibrant yellows, had turned red as a result of the heat from the volcano’s eruption. Since being uncovered, the painted architectural details have been deteriorating—the paint is flaking and powdering from exposure to the fluctuating temperature and humidity. Rainer’s project analyzes how this happens. \=/

Roman Marble For Sale

"A profitable but uncelebrated byproduct of the grandeur of ancient Rome," Boorstin wrote, "was the medieval trade in building materials...For at least ten centuries Roman marble cutters made a business of excavating ruins, dismantling ancient buildings, and digging up pavements to find new models for their own work...About 1150...a group...even created a new mosaic style from the fragments...The medieval Roman limeburners prospered by making cement from the fragments of dismantled temples, baths, theaters, and palaces." Scavenging old marble was much easier than cutting new marble in Carrara and transporting it to Rome. ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

The Vatican often received a good chunk of the profits, until finally Pope Paul II (1468-1540) brought an end to the practice by reinstating the death penalty for anyone destroying such monuments. "Marble cutters in their own way continued the more violent and more notorious sack of Rome committed by the Goths in 410, the Vandals 455, the Saracens in 846 and the Normans in 1084." ["The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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