Here’s Why Roman Architecture Stands the Test of Time (10 Facts)

Roman architecture was so advanced that even modern scientists do not completely understand it. The exceptional diversity and advancement of Roman architecture have become one of the largest historical subjects.

Sep 3, 2020By Vladislav Tchakarov, BA History
pantheon rome
The Pantheon in Rome, 2nd century AD


Ancient Rome, one of the most prominent civilizations in human history, changed the world through unbreakable laws and order, ruthless military power, and last but not least – eternal culture and architecture. Over the course of several hundred years, the Roman Republic transformed into an Empire and expanded to unimaginable places. Nearly two millennia after the fall of the last Roman Empire, there is no better proof of the power and progress of the ancient civilization than the architectural monuments that unimaginably remain intact today. 


Roman Architecture And Society

ancient roman architecture rome
Reconstructive model of Rome during the 4th century AD made by Itali Gismondi, 1933-55, via The Museum of Roman Civilization


When we think of Roman architecture, we usually imagine the spectacular Roman amphitheaters spread around the old Continent of Europe like the Colosseum of Rome, Italy. These structures have been around for more than 20 centuries and would certainly outlive us all. 


If we embark on a more in-depth analysis, these exceptional structures reflect on the practical character, restless energy, and organizational mindset of its creators. Everything that Romans created was built to withstand the forces of nature and time. 


From another point of view, we could say that Roman architecture reflects on the way Romans viewed the world – demonstrating Rome’s grandeur power, its intellectual and physical stability to conquer, and improve the known world whilst improving the life of the citizens. Honestly, we can even say that Roman architecture is a symbol of its eternal culture. Below are 10 reasons that Roman architecture continues to endure in the modern era. 

1. Ancient Romans Supplied Their Cities With Advanced Aqueducts

roman aqueduct pont du gard
Roman Aqueduct at Pont du Gard, France, 1st century AD, via The United States Geological Survey


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One of the most well-known feats of Roman architecture is their aqueducts. Archaeologists have found evidence of aqueducts from several ancient civilizations but the Roman constructions definitely stand out. They constructed aqueducts of incredible size and length to carry their water over valleys. 


Aqueducts are like bridges that carry drinking water from a very distant source to supply agricultural lands and cities. This is how they nurtured the famous Roman public baths and even private homes. 


The concrete techniques that Romans utilized enabled them to construct these amazing vital structures. Many aqueducts were built throughout the old empire including eleven in Rome itself.


Historically, aqueducts helped Roman cities keep their drinking water free of human waste and other pollution, thus greatly increasing public health. In modern days, Roman aqueducts can be observed in different locations in Greece, Italy, Spain, and other European countries.

2. The Roman Arch Is Considered The Ancestor Of Modern Architecture

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The Arch of Constantine, Rome, 312 AD


We have all seen modern arch structures like the Triumphal arch in Paris and the Triumphal arch in Brussels. These monuments are considered national treasures and are famous landmarks worldwide but few people know that the inspiration behind these wondrous structures came from ancient Roman architecture.  


Old Roman arches were created with a very durable type of concrete that was made from a mixture of volcanic sand and lime. This ancient concrete was able to support large amounts of weight, and as a result, it enabled people to build larger and more variable types of buildings, like the aqueducts we discussed above. 


Тhe influence of the Roman arch can be seen in many modern buildings and architectural wonders such as the Taj Mahal in India and the U.S Capitol building in Washington D.C. 


3. Over 400,000 Km Of Roads Connecting The Roman Provinces

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A map showing all Roman roads in Britain, via Atlas Obscura


The Roman Empire controlled territories on three continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa. All these distant locations were connected with ancient roads and a surprising fact is that over a fifth of them was paved in stone. 


Even today in Britain, many of the old Roman roads are still in use – Ermine Street (London to York), Watling Street (Dover to Wroxeter), and Fosse Way (Exeter to Lincoln). 


Paved roads played a key role in the Empire because it made it easier for the Roman legions to march to their pointed destination. This meant that soldiers and messengers could traverse the Empire as fast as possible. 


Roman roads were so well made, that when they left Britain, the Britons could not keep with the maintenance simply because they had never used such advanced road systems.

4. Rome’s Concrete Architecture Survived A Great Fire 

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Copper alloy head of Emperor Nero, 54-68 AD, via The British Museum, London

The great fire in Rome from 64 A.D. during Emperor Nero’s reign reduced nearly all of Rome to ash. Only the concrete neighborhoods survived the incredibly powerful firestorm. Whether it was accidental or caused by the Emperor – it is uncertain, both theses have their supporters and it is still debatable to this day. 


However, it cannot be denied that Nero’s largest contribution during his reign was the rebuilding of the capital. The fire had managed to destroy an old, chaotic city, and through the ashes, a new one was rebuilt. 


Rome was rebuilt in measured lines of streets, with broad thoroughfares, buildings with restricted height, and larger open spaces. The narrow streets were widened, wooden buildings were banned from construction, a new market, and an amphitheater rose from the ashes. 

5. There Is A Second Wall North Of The Famous Hadrian’s Wall

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Marble bust of Emperor Antoninus Pius, 138-161 AD, via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


Roman Emperor Hadrian’s successor – Antoninus Pius ordered the construction of the Antonine Wall in 142 AD, almost 20 years after the construction of Hadrian’s wall. The Antonine Wall is situated almost 150 km further north of the Hadrian Wall. The wall’s length was approximately 65 km and had a height of around 3 to 5 meters.  


The purpose of the wall was the same as Hadrian’s wall – to defend the frontier from raids by the Caledonians. Almost 20 forts were built along the length of the wall to house around 7000 Roman soldiers.  It wasn’t much of a wall as most people would think. Unlike its southern neighbor, Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall was built out of turf onto a stone foundation. 


6. The Oldest Shopping Mall Is Located In Rome

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Trajan’s Market, considered to be the oldest shopping mall in the world, 110 AD

Trajan’s Market is located in the heart of Rome and is considered the oldest shopping mall in the world. It was constructed around 110 AD by Apollodorus of Damascus with plans for it to be the largest complex with more than 150 warehouses, shops, and offices, where Romans would gather to purchase goods and make business. 


The upper levels of the market were mainly used for administrative and management purposes, while the business was conducted on the lower levels. All levels were connected with internal and external stairs and pedestrian streets in-between. 


We can say that this ancient market is very close to the idea of ​​modern malls, as shopping centers nowadays have shops on some of the floors, and on others, there are offices and administrative centers. 


Trajan’s Market is preserved properly even to this day and it gives us significant insight into the way Rome was built in Ancient times.


7. Roman Architecture Influenced Modern High-Rise Buildings

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The Insula of the Ara Coeli, Rome, 2nd century AD, via University of Southampton


Today, high-rise buildings make up most of the buildings modern people live in. The question of dealing with demographic growth dates back to ancient Roman architecture. How did the Romans deal with the growing population?


Romans also built high-rise blocks called Insula. The insula in Ancient Roman cities provided housing for the majority of the poorer population. All sorts of people lived in the insula at the time, but most often the poor, or as they called them in ancient times – the plebs. 


Tens of thousands of buildings of this type have been constructed to house many people. Most of the insula in ancient Rome were typically around two or three floors, but some even reached five floors.


This fact demonstrates the pragmatism and innovation of Roman architects and underlines how important it was for the authorities to maintain a larger population within a smaller radius and thus have a better quality of life.


8. One Of The Main Purposes Of The Roman Baths Was Socialization  

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The Great Bath, located in Bath City, United Kingdom, 1st century AD, via The Bath and North East Somerset Council


The Roman public baths played a key role in Roman life from around the 3rd century B.C. to the end of the Roman Empire. They served as a health club more than just a place to take a bath. During the early days of Rome, the baths were a luxury for the majority of the population, but during the days of the Late Republic, going to a public bath was considered a necessity. 


Public baths were considered a place not only to bathe, but they also served a key role to meet and socialize with people, a place to make a workout, and a place to get warm in the winter as baths were some of the only buildings to have furnace heating. In addition, the baths often had built-in latrines that recycled bathwater to carry away the waste.


9. Ancient Rome Had The Most Complex Sewer System

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View of the Cloaca Maxima, Rome by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, 1814, via The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.


Unlike in medieval Europe, where sewerage was not considered a priority and this led to a reduction of public health, Rome felt the need for a comprehensive system to provide them with access to clean water. 


Throughout the days of the Empire, Roman citizens enjoyed the convenience of indoor latrines and plumbing that used a series of pipes and aqueducts to remove waste and bring in freshwater. The greatest example of these techniques implemented by the Romans is the Cloaca Maxima, which was originally built by the Etruscans as an open canal. During the Roman times, it was covered and turned into an underground sewer, which in term aided in creating healthier and sanitary conditions. 


This shows us that Rome’s main goal in the construction of sanitation systems was to manage the removal of dirty water from areas where it would greatly affect public health. 

10. Roman Forts Had Some Of The Best Living Conditions

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Remains of Housesteads Roman Fort in England, 2nd century AD, via The Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Official Website


Roman architecture displayed innovation in the construction of highly sophisticated systems of forts to guard their frontier. Many Roman forts were built along the borders of the empire to defend against hostile tribes. They were also built in enemy territory, and the legionaries built many of them overnight. 


A fort would generally be built with a large ditch around it and a wooden wall on the inside. The forts were also accompanied by buildings such as barracks where most soldiers would have their own room. 


A fort would also have administrative offices, blacksmiths for weapons, carpenters, butchers, cooks, and storages for food. Last but not least, every fort had roman baths which were a necessity for the roman soldiers. 


Many ancient Roman forts were the foundations of large cities still standing today. For example, London was a typical fort that became a large city, and one of the largest cities to this day.


Legacy Of Roman Architecture 

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The Ancient Roman Forum in the center of modern Rome, 500 BC, via The European Space Agency 


Even if all ancient monuments fall into ruins someday and no evidence remains, their ancient architectural knowledge paved the way for the future generations and the modern architecture we know today. Many elements of modern architectural technology were formed from innovations during the Roman empire and it is nearly impossible to imagine modern architecture without its influence.


Can you imagine the ability to master a number of essential architectural techniques, including the arch, the dome, and the vault, using concrete over 2000 years ago? Using these methods, Ancient Roman architects designed and built many of the greatest public buildings in history, some of which remain as architectural mysteries thousands of years later in the modern world.


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By Vladislav TchakarovBA HistoryVladislav Tchakarov is a History student at Sofia University in Bulgaria and a contributing writer at TheCollector. Originally from Bulgaria, he moved to the Netherlands to work and study Business Management before realizing that his passion for history is too great which lead to his return to Bulgaria and the beginning of his History studies.