The Colosseum
The Colosseum, built in the late first century CE, is similar in form to our own football stadiums and could
hold about fifty thousand spectators. Whereas the Greeks used semicircular theaters built into hillsides to
accommodate the tiers of seats, the Romans built freestanding double theaters—amphitheaters—which
were used for public entertainment of all sorts. The Roman Colosseum is infamous as the site for the brutal
murder of Christians, but it was also the place of gladiator battles, mock ship battles, and many other
events. Concrete was used in the building’s foundation and in the complex system of passageways in the
form of barrel vaults and cross vaults. The Colosseum’s exterior is defined by four bands of engaged
columns, with each of the first three bands in a different order: the bottom band, a variation of Doric; the
second band, Ionic; the third band, Corinthian. This type of sequence, with the heaviest order on the
bottom, became the standard in Roman architecture. The fourth level is again ornamented with the
Corinthian order, but on flat pilasters, instead of engaged columns.
Another influential Roman building type is the basilica. The basilica was a government building found in
almost all Roman towns, usually at the edge of the forum. Within the basilica, taxes were collected and
judicial hearings held; it was not a religious building, although there could be altars inside just as there were
in Roman homes. The Roman basilica is rectangular in plan, with a nave running down its length and aisles
or bays on either side of the nave. The nave is taller than the side aisles, with a row of windows, called a
clerestory, just below the roof. The entrance to the Roman basilica is usually on the long side, and
sometimes, semicircular apses were added at the ends or opposite the entrance. In the fourth century C.E.,
Christians would adapt this building type for their churches.
Previous Page Next Page