DiscobolosAs we begin our next tour of Roman Art the first question we need to ask is, when does Roman begin and Hellenistic Greek end? This is not an easy question to answer partly due to the overall eclectic nature of the early Romans, the high admiration they had for Greek art, and the frequent importation of Greek art works, as well as actual artists. Art historians agree that much of Roman art was copied from or at least based on Greek sources and that until around the late third century AD; it was standard that Greek or Greek-trained Roman artists probably created most Roman art.

Despite the many political and military victories over cities and empires of the Hellenistic world; such as: over Macedonia by 167 BC, over the Parthians in 19 BC (the nomadic peoples who had driven out Alexander the Great's rulers from Iran and Mesopotamia), and over the Carthaginians (primarily Tunisia) in 146 BC, as well as the acquiring of the art on the great Acropolis of Pergamum in 133 BC; we must remember that the Greek culture was not destroyed-its language, art, philosophy, drama, science, math, religion and legal and political values flourished through the efforts of many "classicizing" Roman leaders. Thus, it is common to use the title Greco-Roman for many of these conquered cities, such as Ephesus (which later became the secondary capital to Rome) that were begun and thrived under the Greeks and then were continued in a more flourishing manner by the Romans. We will be studying more carefully two of these Greco-Roman cities,Pompeii and Ephesus, and there are others in your text and on internet sources.

Unlike our study of Greek art where the development of different styles is crucial, we have little validity for such a development in Roman art, with the exception of a short development of painting from about 2nd century BC to 79 AD (a crucial date, which I will ask you about later). Thus, our study is organized around the traditional categories of Roman history, such as:

>>>Republican Rome - 509 - 44 BC. - The extremely early date is the legendary date of the founding of Rome (by Romulus and Remus, or Aeneas, whichever legend you believe). Very little art will be this early in date; most will be from the second and first century BC. Also it is important to remember that the first peoples who inhabited the city of Rome were the Etruscans (a different tribe - not Latin speaking) and that since early Archaic times (i.e. about the 6th century or so) the Greeks had colonized southern Italy (Remember Paestum, Italy in the last chapter?) So, we have three different cultures, each with their own customs, language, and mythology--yet both newer cultures borrow from the Greek. Overall there is a fascinating transmutation of ideas and art. (A topic for a final paper.)

Question: Find an art work from the internet which illustrates the legend of Romulus and Remus or the legend of Aeneas. Give the exact URL address where you found it and briefly explain the story. (Answer on the Etudes Discussion Bd.)

Question: What are some difficulties in studying Etruscan Art? (Answer on the Etudes Discussion Bd.)
Cicero Republican Period Portraiture:
During the Republican era there were many detailed, realistic, portraits done of famous senators, political leaders, and even writers like this one of Cicero, seen at the left. The Romans of the Republican era looked on the lines of the face and the sagging flesh as a sign of maturity and a way to immortalize the person. The term for this kind of extreme realism - seen in some contemporary artists today - is VERISM. Do you know of an artist who captures this degree of hyperrealism? The end of the Republic came in 44 BC with the assassination of Julius Caesar, resulting in a brief period of civil unrest, until 27 BC when Julius Caesar's nephew, Octavian became the first Emperor Augustus.

>>>Imperial Rome: 27 BC - c. 250 AD
Augustus was the first Emperor who ruled from 27 BC to 14 AD, and initiated many changes, which most other emperors would continue. The era of Augustus was a period of great peace and prosperity-the Pax Romana-glorified and depicted in many of his art works, such as the famous Ara Pacis or the Altar of Peace. It is obviously also the era of the birth of Christ and thus our dating system changes and will finally go forward in time. Christianity at this time was, however, just one of many small cults which flourished under the reign of the Augustus.

Question: Look at the sculpture of Augustus below and note the Greek stylistic elements. Also answer the question why there is a small winged figure at his feet? How does it relate to the overall function of the work?

Augustus Statue
Statue of the Tetrarchs

The other Emperors we will emphasize in our study will be: Titus (the Arch of Titus), Trajan and his Glorious Forum, and Marcus Aurelius, who left behind the only fully preserved bronze equestrian statue.

>>>Late Antique or Late Imperial: c. 250 � 325 AD
This is the date that varies most in Art History texts. Essentially it is the beginning of the declining period in Roman history, when the task of defending this vast and powerful monster of an Empire begins to present problems and unique solutions are sought, such as the TETRARCHY system of four rulers who ruled four different quadrants of the empire.

Question: Compare the statue of Augustus above with the statue of the Tetrarchy and list clearly some of the differences in style. Comment on the reasons historians have proposed for the drastic change in manner and function. 

One of the rulers of the Tetrarchy, Diocletian is known to have been extreme in his persecution and execution of the Christians. Many of the millions of early Christians buried in the catacombs below the city of Rome probably met their death under this ruler. The other ruler we will be studying is the Emperor Constantine who in 313 AD fought Diocletian's successor in the civil war where the Battle of Milvian Bridge was fought.  According to legend Constantine was converted to Christianity in the midst of this battle. Thus, Constantine brings us into the next stage of our journey to Early Christian Art.

Now that you have an overview of Roman history, you may want to get more involved by watching a popular film many saw and answer a few questions regarding it. Guess which film? Yes, 'The Gladiator'.


Question: Rent and view the film 'The Gladiator' and answer these questions: What era of Roman history is used as the setting for the film, and how does this relate to the plot and main character? Evaluate the movie on the basis of historical accuracy, especially the depiction of the Colosseum. (Answer in Etudes Discussion Board.
(Also a topic for a final paper for online students.)
Follow these links for overviews of Roman Art.
(NOTE: To get back to this site after you have viewed the following links, you must minimize or close their window completely. The ARTII site stays open underneath for cross referencing.)

Famous Forum of Trajan, Rome

A PBS site on Roman culture

For some comments on the gladiators of Rome

For some examples of Roman busts from the Getty Museum

 Last Published 7/14/16