The Roman Empire
1. Lecture Strategies and Key Ideas. Together with the previous chapter on Greek art, this chapter on Roman art is a crucial text for AP students. Roman art and architecture form the second half of their Classical art studies.
You might call attention to the introductory comments found on page 237 as it summarizes the profound influence the Romans had on Western art and government. These contributions are important as they help in student understanding of the “context” in which Roman art was made.
Students should be aware of the geography of Italy and teachers might pass out maps for students to study. (See MAP 9-1 and MAP 10-1). It is necessary for students to be versed in Roman history but teachers can provide this background with perhaps two lectures, one on Republican Rome and the other on the Roman Empire. Illustrate these with transparencies showing the geographic conquests of the Emperors. The Outline of Roman History on page 239 will help students see the chronological development from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.
It is often useful for students to examine two slides at once, and in the case of this chapter it is helpful for students to view a Roman art slide while also seeing a Greek image. Showing a Greek temple and Roman one simultaneously, for example, will show both the similarities and dissimilarities. The two culture’s art alternately was idealistic and real, and students might ponder how the Greek statuary moved from high classical ideals to a Hellenistic “real world” portrayal, just as the Romans would move from realism during the Republic period to Roman classicism later.
AP Exam Tip. It is in architecture that the Romans made their greatest contributions and students can be assured that they will be expected to know the great Roman public buildings when they confront the AP Art History Exam. Fortunately, most students will find the subject fascinating and they will already be somewhat familiar with structures such as the Colosseum and Pantheon. (The graceful beauty of the Pont du Gard will probably be a pleasant but new sight for them.) There is a good discussion of the Roman use of concrete and of variations of the arch on page 241 and students should study these images.
Patronage. The long list of emperor’s names need not be memorized, but AP students should know Caesar Augustus, Hadrian, Marcus Arelius and Constantine and the parts they played as patrons of the arts. Narrative in Art. Examples are the Ara Pacis and its narrative as state propaganda and the panels of the Arch of Titus with its story of the conquest of Palestine. The interesting story of how Roman art turned from its classical roots to a medieval appearance can be found in Battle of Romans and barbarians [Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus] and in the reliefs of the Arch of Constantine, where artists mixed old classical motifs and style with those of the later medieval world. The statue of Augustus of Primaporta (human body) is illustrative of the iconography and return to classicism of his period.
Gender. Women are shown on the panels of the Ara Pacis as mothers with children at their sides. This depiction had a political purpose, as it was the Emperor's wish to increase Roman population by extolling the family structure.
Heads Up Note. It would be well for teachers to divide the chapter into four lessons and give quizzes at the end of each. These four sub-chapters are listed below along with the key vocabulary that is associated with each part. Again, be particularly certain that students are versed in the architectural achievements of the Romans. These four periods are outlined on page 239.
1. Republic. 509 BCE-27 BCE. This is the period that saw in 211 BCE the beginning of the Roman “craze for Greek art.” In architecture, students should be aware of the place concrete had in the Roman ability to create molded and complex forms. This Roman “architectural revolution” (see page 250) allowed the building of “spatial envelopes.” Students showed be able to visual the arch, barrel vault, groin vault and dome construction. In sculpture, Republican Roman art is characterized by a brutal realism called verism. Roman genius for city planning is found at Pompeii. In painting, the text differentiates among the first, second, third and fourth styles. Students should know the characteristics of each, and appreciate that Roman painters were familiar with single point perspective and aerial perspective, although these views were always employed.
Key Vocabulary for Republican Art.
Temple of “Fortuna Virilis” concrete arch
Dome barrel vault groin vault
Verism forum basilica
Nave aisles impluvium Pompeii
point perspective aerial perspective
2. Early Empire. 27 BCE- 96 CE. This era begins with the reign of Caesar Augustus and leads to his Pax Romana. Just as Alexander helped spread classical ideals, so the Romans took with them during this period their art ideals as they conquered nations east and west. The statue of Augustus of Primaporta is illustrative of the iconography and return to classicism of the period. Students should know the panels of the Ara Pacis and its narrative as state propaganda.
A good example of a contextual question in AP Art history is to have students describe how the style of the panels advances the purpose of the Ara Pacis panels. There are also public structures that students should know, especially the Pont du Gard, Maison Carrée, Colosseum, and Arch of Titus with its narrative of the Roman conquest of Palestine.
Key Vocabulary for Early Empire Art.
Augustus of Primaporta Ara Pacis Pont du Gard
Maison Carrée Pont du Gard, Maison Carrée
Colosseum triumphal arch Arch of Titus
Spoils of Jerusalem
3. High Empire. 97BCE-192 CE The period when the Roman Empire was at its peak. The patronage of the various emperors led to the building of some of Rome’s grandest public structures, including Trojan and his arch and column and the justly famous domed Pantheon and Villa built on orders from Hadrian. The Pantheon is famous for its Architecture of Space. The equestrian statue of Marcus Arelius is the first of a long line of “man on horseback” statues that students will find in art history.
Key Vocabulary for High Empire Art.
Arch of Trajan Trajan’s column Pantheon
Hadrian’s Villa Ostia
equestrian statue mummy portrait apotheosis
4. Late Empire. 193 CE- 395 CE. This is the era of the ruthless rulers and, for the Empire, the beginning of the end. In art, we find also the demise of classicism in art (See, for example, FIG. 10-70) and the beginning of art ideals that would last through the Middle Ages. The Four Tetrarchs (FIG. 10-73) is a charming introduction to these medieval art developments. The main monument showing the transition away from classicism to medieval art is found on the Arch of Constantine, and students should be able to tell the arch’s history and describe its reliefs.
Key Vocabulary for Late Empire Art.
3. Key Images from Gardner’s Art through the Ages.
Artist Gardner Subject Key Idea
Republic 10-3 Temple Virilus Greek & Etruscan
Republic 10-4 Temple of Vesta Like Greek tholos
Republic 10-5 Fortuna Primigenia Use of concrete
Architecture 10-6 Variations on the use of the arch
Architecture 10-12 Pompeii City planning
Architecture 10-15 House atrium House planning
Painting 10-17 Wall First style
Painting 10-18 Mystery frieze Second style
Painting 10-21 Wall Third style
Painting 10-22 Wall Fourth style
Painting 10-25 Couple “Portraiture”
Painting 10-26 Fruit “Still-Life”
Early Empire 10-27 Augustus Classicism, power
Early Empire 10-29 to 10-31 Ara Pacis Political messages
Early Empire 10-32 Maison Carrée Public temple
Early Empire 10-33 Pont du Gard Public water
Early Empire 10-1 and 10-36 Colosseum Public spectacles
High Empire 10-39 to 10-41 Arch of Titus “Triumphal arch”
High Empire 10-44 Trajan’s column Spiral column
High Empire 10-49 to 10-51 Pantheon Unique space
based on sphere
High Empire 10-59 Statue of Aurelius First equestrian
High Empire 10-60 Portrait encaustic paint
Late Empire 10-70 Ludovisi Reject perspective
Late Empire 10-73 Four Tetrarchs Reject classicism
Late Empire 10-75 and 10-76 Arch of Constantine Transition to medieval style
Late Empire 10-77 Constantine bust colossal
Late Empire 10-79/80 Basilica Nova Model for churches
4. Study Materials
Good sources of online websites that contains images for all Art History are found at
http://www.art-design.umich.edu/mother/ and at
Illustrated discussions of the Colosseum are at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/empire_1.shtml
And a QTVR 360 degree image available at http://www.italyguides.it/us/roma/rome/ancient_roman_empire/roman_arch_colosseum.htm
Other QTVR images are found at http://www.fullscreenqtvr.com/roma/
Full view on the interior of the Pantheon is at
For a 360 degree image of the Pont du Gard see http://dativ.at/fotos/panoramas/gard.html
A discussion with images of the Arch of Constantine is at
5. Questions: Each chapter of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages textbook has a corresponding quiz and test in the “Instructor’s Manual.” The CD-ROM allows teachers to choose which questions to use and to create and print quizzes and tests.
1. Augustus of Primaporta (FIG. 10-27 and text) and Kritios Boy (from chap 5).
Question: Identify by name both these sculptures. Which came first? What qualities do both sculptures share and what qualities are different? (10 minutes)
Students should remember Kritios Boy as the first classical statue (from the Greek chapter) and also know the statue of Augustus. While both share a classical ideal, students should note that the armored Augustus and the small associated statue of cupid make almost every facet of the statue a political and propagandistic message. Arch of Constantine (FIG. 10-76).
2. Arch of Constantine. (FIG. 10-75 and 76).
Question: Identify the Roman Emperor for whom this arch is named. What stylistic qualities found on the arch’s roundels and on the relief panel beneath them reflect influences from earlier cultures, and which suggest new trends in art? (8 minutes.)
Students should discuss the arch as a transition art piece with classical style mixed with the style of the medieval world.
3. The Pantheon (FIG. 10-49 to10-51).
Question: Identify the building shown by its name, purpose and culture that built it. Discuss its innovative engineering and the aesthetic effect achieved by its architects. (10 minutes.)
The Pantheon should be discussed as a temple for the gods with its unique domed construction and its architecture of space based on a sphere.
4. Document Based Question “Art Was Power.”
Present the following quotation to students and ask them to discuss the author’s thesis about what constitutes power. Then, have them describe how the Roman emperors used art to advance the power of themselves and the state by citing and descriving three statues or buildings from Ancient Rome to support Elsner’s definition of power. (30 minute essay.)
Jás Elsner in his recent book Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph, has written:
"[T]he Roman state bolstered its authority and legitimacy with the trappings of ceremonial --cloaking the actualities of power beneath a display of wealth, the sanction of tradition, and the spectacle of insuperable resources....Power is a far more complex and mysterious quality than any apparently simple manifestation of it would appear. It is as much a matter of impression, of theatre, of persuading those over whom authority is wielded to collude in their subjugation. Insofar as power is a matter of presentation, its cultural currency in antiquity (and still today) was the creation, manipulation, and display of images. In the propagation of the imperial office, at any rate, art was power.”