“Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.” (Corbusier 1923). It is indeed true that the Romans learned a great deal from Greeks. From religion to mathematics, the Romans adapted many principles from the Greek civilization to create their own uniquely Roman style. Out of all the Greek principles the Romans used, the one that is still very much evident today is architecture. Through the innovation of concrete, the Romans were able to take such Greek architectural styles as Doric, Ionic and Corinthian and apply them on a grander scale than even the Greeks were able to imagine. By examining the development of architectural style from The Parthenon i to the Colosseum ii to the mammoth that is the Pantheon iii it becomes evident that although Greek architecture heavily influenced the Romans, through their own resources, techniques and purpose the Romans expanded on and improved Greek style to create distinctly Roman architecture.
The Parthenon is considered to be the focal temple on the Akropolis in Athens, Greece. It is widely believed that the structure was created with the purpose of playing a vital role in the cult of Athena, but any evidence of this was surely destroyed with the damage done in 1687, “...a Venetian bomb ignited the gunpowder stored in [The Parthenon]...The whole centre blew out, and henceforth it was a ruin.” (Robertson 113). From the mainly intact exterior it is clear that the temple was done in Doric style; a sectioned frieze with simple capitals crowning the massive columns resting on simple bases. The Parthenon is also particularly deceptive in terms of complexity. While the structure seems relatively simple from the exterior, this monumental structure was an architectural marvel for its time, “Its parts are fully integrated with one another, so that its spaces do not seem to be separated, but to melt into one another.” (Janson 130). This contrasting complexity from exterior to interior is only reinforced by the change in architectural style that is evident when passing from the exterior to interior of the structure. From a distance a viewer may only see the Doric elements of the impressive exterior of The Parthenon, but as the viewer approaches the entrance, a 525 foot Ionic frieze iv reveals itself. Along with several Ionic columns in the rear of the structure, The Parthenon serves as a clear indicator and benchmark of the unmistakeable Doric and Ionic architectural elements pioneered by the Greek civilization.
The structure that is synonymous with the Roman Empire is undoubtedly the magnificent Colosseum. With any thought of gladiatorial battle and theatre come images of one of the largest structures of its time. The physical design of the Colosseum reflected the logic and practicality with which the Romans designed most structures. The Colosseum displays major innovation over Greek architecture in the use of both concrete and the arch shape. Due to the sheer amount of spectator traffic there were a total of 80 arched entrances built-in around the structure which harks back to the practicality used in Roman design. While the structure is very distinctly of Roman design, the Colosseum is also characterized by heavy Greek influence. The method in which Greek styling is implemented seems almost in the vein of a tribute to Greek architectural style; the first story accented by loosely styled Doric columns, the second story accented with Ionic columns, third story with Corinthian columns and finally Corinthian pilasters line the fourth. This created a structure which grew more complex as it rose. The Colosseum is a monumental structure that reflects the coming together of Roman innovation and practicality with the unmistakable flavour of Greek architectural styling.
The Roman Empire was one of zero tolerance for any cause that undermined the growth of the state, yet they were a society that had great tolerance for non-Roman traditions. This unique characteristic of the vast Roman society made for quite a diverse nation, which seems to explain why Roman architects relied on Greek styles so heavily. This is not to say that Roman architecture was identical to that of the Greeks, as Roman architecture takes on a life of its own which becomes evident when examining the Pantheon. This immense Roman temple was dedicated to all Gods, based on Hellenistic ideology. Accompanying the Greek ideology behind the structure was the use of Greek style, “In each bay is a pair of free standing Corinthian columns...with four Corinthian pilasters of black marble between each pair of windows...” (Sear 170-71). Despite the heavy influence from the Greek civilization, the Pantheon remains unmistakably Roman through its construction and significance. The Parthenon was constructed from marble, which was readily available, whereas the Pantheon was “...the extraordinary result of a developed confidence in the potential and strength of concrete.” (Janson 208). The different aggregates used were carefully adjusted as the building was slowly constructed. The material, “...travertine to tufa, then brick, and finally pumice...” (Janson 209) was strategically placed in order to decrease the weight of the gargantuan structure. Along with remarkably complex construction methods, the Romans went to great lengths to showcase the strength and the reach of the Roman Empire. Several different marbles gathered from all corners of the Roman Empire were used in the structure, “...Egypt (grey and rose-pink granite, porphyry), Phrygia (Phrygian purple and white stone), the island of Teos (Lucullan red and black stone)...” (Janson 208). The Pantheon can be looked at similarly to The Parthenon, but on a much grander scale. Comparing these two architectural marvels can almost serve as a microcosm comparing the Greek and Roman civilizations. The Romans grew larger and more powerful than the Greeks could have ever imagined, while adorning the unmistakable Greek style.
There is no doubt the Roman Empire was influenced by many non-Roman traditions, styles and ideologies, but the most evident influences still seen today are those of the Greek civilization. Most notable Roman architecture can be characterized by influences from Greek architecture, especially through Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columnar styles, yet the significance behind Roman architecture and the innovative strides taken by Roman architects clearly differentiate and Roman architecture as a truly unique style of its own. Greek architecture was treated as a visual spectacle for the Gods; magnificent exteriors and intricate pediments with rather tame or modest interiors. Roman architecture brought about gatherings of worship; the beautiful exteriors were matched if not exceeded by the colourful intricacies and lighting (e.g. open dome of the Pantheon) of the interiors, treating both the Gods and the people. The Pantheon and the Colosseum serve as clear architectural evidence that Roman architecture is much more than the Greek influence seen on the surface. Through innovative techniques such as the use of concrete, the arch shape, newfound purpose, significance and the overall scale of architectural operation the Roman architectural style is unmistakable in its differentiation from the Greek architectural style seen in The Parthenon.