3.1-3 Ancient Rome- Capital of an Empire

TRANSCRIPT FOR Ancient Rome: Capital of an Empire
Around 900 bce, ancient Rome was probably little more than a collection of huts. In the
following centuries its power in Italy grew and grew, and in around 200 bce the Romans looked
further afield. Under strong leadership, and through aggressive expansion, they created the most
powerful empire in the ancient world. It lasted for over 700 years, until the sixth century ce. At
its height, the empire stretched from the north of England, across Europe, to the Middle East and
North Africa. Many of the remains of Roman civilization can still be seen in these places today.,
By the early fourth century ce the former village of Rome was a magnificent city of palaces,
temples, public squares, and stadiums for large-scale public events. A number of public
monuments recorded the conquests of the Roman armies.
Spectacular games and public spectacles were an important part of Roman civic life. The Circus
Maximus, a space intended mainly for chariot races, dates back to around 200 bce. Around the
year 14 ce, the Emperor Augustus converted the Circus into a grand stadium. Another emperor,
Trajan, expanded the Circus’s seating capacity around 100 ce. Today, the Circus is a grassy
expanse in the center of Rome; but we can still imagine chariots racing around it, watched by
cheering crowds.
Public entertainment was hugely popular in Rome; in the year 80 ce Emperor Titus opened a
stadium with capacity for 50,000 people, located at one end of the Forum Romanum. The
opening was marked by games lasting for 100 days. This stadium is known to us as the
Colosseum, named after a colossal statue of Emperor Nero that once stood nearby.
The fact that the Colosseum still stands—largely intact—is a monument to Roman engineering
skills. Particularly impressive is the use of concrete on a massive scale, without support from
steel reinforcements that builders use today. The Colosseum stood on an oval concrete
foundation 170 feet wide and 40 feet deep. A structure 160 feet tall rose from these foundations.
The inner skeleton was concrete, but the seating was marble and the exterior elegant travertine
The Colosseum was the scene of gladiatorial combats and wild-animal hunts to keep the people
of Rome entertained. Beneath the main floor of the arena were waiting rooms for the gladiators,
animal cages, and machinery.
Shortly after Emperor Titus died in 81 ce an arch was built in his honor. It commemorated
Titus’s victories in Judaea, and honored him as a god.
Eighteen years after the opening of the Colosseum, another emperor recorded his own military
victories with a spectacular project: the Forum of Trajan. Visitors to the Forum passed through a
gate, crowned by an impressive statue of Trajan driving a chariot, to an open plaza of 380 by 312
feet. In the center was an equestrian statue of the emperor, trampling on one of his enemies.
At the far end of the plaza stood the Basilica Ulpia, said to be one of the most beautiful buildings
in the Roman world. Sadly, neither the Basilica nor the statue still exist today.
On the hill to one side of the forum was a complex of shops. Constructed of concrete and brick,
the Market of Trajan included an indoor market hall, much like a modern shopping mall.
After the Emperor’s death, a temple dedicated to him as a god was built, together with two
libraries and a column 128 feet high. The Column of Trajan was decorated with a spiral relief
frieze, 625 feet long. The frieze told the story of Trajan’s victories in Dacia, an area of Eastern
Trajan’s successor was Hadrian, who became emperor in 117 ce. He traveled widely around his
empire, and wherever he went monuments were put up in his honor. But the most famous
architectural achievement of his reign was the Pantheon in Rome: a temple to all the gods.
Visitors to the Pantheon enter through a traditional porchway of Corinthian columns, but once
inside they are confronted by a spectacular feat of ancient engineering. The Pantheon consists of
a circular concrete cylinder, covered by a dome, also of concrete, 142 feet in diameter and 142
feet high. At the top of the dome, a circular opening—known as an oculus—is 30 feet in
The Pantheon demonstrates the skill of Roman engineers who specialized in concrete. The
cylinder and dome were built in layers, each thinner than the previous one. The engineers also
selected lighter stones to mix with the concrete used for the upper layers.
The interior walls and floor were covered in luxurious marble. The oculus allowed the sun to
shine into the interior of the Pantheon, the only natural light in the building. Rainwater drained
away through holes in the center of the floor into drainage pipes that still function nearly 1,900
years later.
Almost 200 years after the construction of the Pantheon, the Emperor Constantine built a
triumphal arch to mark his victory over his rival Maxentius.
Constantine came to power after a period of great instability, and used his arch to communicate
an important message to his people. Constantine had relief carvings removed from monuments
erected to praise earlier emperors. Sculptors then simply replaced the earlier heads with
Constantine’s, and used these carvings for the new arch. On one relief, he is shown addressing
the people with the emperors Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius seated at either side of him. The
message was clear: Constantine was as good an emperor as his successful predecessors.
At its height, ancient Rome was a magnificent city: the capital of the greatest empire of the
ancient world. The remains of many of its monuments can still be seen in the modern capital of
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