ART HISTORY ON-DEMAND > Cultures and Civilizations
The Romans wanted their art and architecture to be useful. They planned their cities and built bridges, aqueducts, public baths, and marketplaces, apartment houses, and harbors. When a Roman official ordered sculpture for a public square, he wanted it to tell future generations of the greatness of Rome. Although the practical uses of art were distinctly Roman, the art forms themselves were influenced by the ancient Greeks and Etruscans.
In the late 600's B.C., the most powerful people in Italy were the Etruscans, who had come from Asia Minor and settled in Tuscany, an area north of Rome. Although the Etruscans imported Greek styles of art, they achieved much by themselves. They developed a very realistic type of portrait sculpture. They were also the first to introduce the use of the stone arch into architecture.
The Romans put the lessons of the Etruscans to practical use. The baths and arenas are tributes to the skill of Rome's great builders. Because of the use of the arch, the Romans could build on a greater scale than the Greeks, who used the post and lintel (a beam supported by two columns). The arch can support much more weight than the post and lintel. Roman aqueducts were often three levels of arches piled one on top of another. And their buildings, such as the Baths of Caracalla, enclosed huge open areas.
In the 1st century B.C. the Romans developed the use of concrete. It could be poured into any shape for arches, vaults, or domes. Concrete enabled architects to build structures of immense size. One such gigantic construction was the Temple of Fortune at Praeneste, built by the ruler Sulla about 80 B.C. The architect used concrete to support terraces and to build what was in effect a skyscraper. To build their open-air theaters, the Greeks had scooped out the sides of hills, using the hills to support the sloping tiers of seats. But the Roman engineers used concrete to support the three gigantic tiers of the Colosseum, their main stadium for public entertainment. The tiers held seats for more than 45, 000 spectators.