The 4 Major Periods in Ancient Rome:
  1. REPUBLIC 509 - 27 BCE
  2. EARLY EMPIRE 27 BCE - 96 CE
  3. HIGH EMPIRE 96-192 CE <<<<<
  4. LATE EMPIRE 192 – 476 CE

    Ancient Rome MAIN PAGE

HIGH EMPIRE 96-192 CE [96 total]
[Emperor, When in power, Total years]
  • Nerva 96 – 98 CE (2)
  • Trajan 98 – 117 CE (19) (family name - Ulpius)
  • Hadrian 117 – 138 CE (21) (family name - Ulpius)

The Antonines 38 – 192 CE (54)
  • Antoninus Pius 138 – 161 CE (21)
  • Marcus Aurelius 161 – 180 CE (19) *co-emperors
  • Lucius Verus 161 – 169 (8) *co-emperors
  • Commodus 180 – 192 CE (12)

Emperor Trajan

Portrait of Trajan
  • Nerva
    • appointed by the Senate to rule as emperor, after the mess caused by Domitian
    • elderly man
    • ruled as emperor for only 16 months
    • probably saw the political benefit he could gain by associating himself with the Trajan (younger and more energetic)
    • championed Trajan and appointed him as the new Emperor - the first emperor to rule Rome who was not born on Italian soil
  • Trajan
    • was a well received Emperor by the Roman populous
    • experienced success and esteem not present since the time of Augustus

Forum of Trajan dedicated 112 CE
Apollodorus of Damascus

Trajan's Forum contained many individual monuments / structures:
  • Trajanic Arch (no longer extant)Central Court - once contained a larger than life-size bronze Equestrian Statue of Trajan (once stood here; again, non-extant)
    • entrance through gateway-like triumphal arch with Trajan on 6-horse chariot crowned by Victory.
    • chariot flanked by defeated Dacian soldiers tied to trophies - as if being drug through a processional
  • Basilica of Trajan (called Basilica Ulpia) - the focal point of forum
  • Temple of Trajan - completed after Trajan died; dedicated to new god - Trajan; exists behind basilica. One needs to process through basilica.
  • Column of Trajan - stood in the center, between these 4 buildings
  • Two Libraries - one containing texts of Latin (East), the other Greek (West)
  • Markets of Trajan - not part of the forum's "plan", but notice their location (immediately adjacent to the overall forum)

Relevant Links:
  • Also see: Forum of Trajan (image of overall plan) - link

Markets of Trajan
APOLLODORUS OF DAMASCUS, interior of the great hall, Markets of Trajan, Rome, Italy, ca. 100–112 CE..jpg
  • This view is of the "main hall"; sometimes called the "market hall"
  • an immense amount of excavation was necessary, in order to clear and level the foundation for Trajan's Forum. The eastern edge of the forum remained rather jagged and cliff-like - an indication of the rugged terrain than most likely presented challenges for Apollodorus' crew
  • It was this very undulating hillside that the engineers appropriated into Trajan's Markets
  • the Romans utilized the sloping hillside and incorporated the designs of the markets into this terrain (yet another point underscoring the Roman's ingenuity)
  • note: during the Middle Ages & Renaissance -- converted into apartment complexes & tall defensive tower added

Trajan's Basilica (called The Basilica Ulpia)
  • the focal point of his forum
    • in the past, the focal point was the temple, not the basilica.
    • some think that Trajan's strong military background / exploits influenced this design, as the basilica was the central aspect of a military base
  • its function here: as a hall used for civic purposes
    • as a court of law
    • apses would have housed judges
    • may have been used to conduct military drills, as well (speculation)
  • elevated timber roof above second-story aisles covered the entire nave
  • this highly-raised roof most likely provided illumination into the interior space
    • the basilica may have contained a second-story colonnade, which allowed light to flood into the space

    • or, this second story may have been constructed of more solidly defined walls - but with openings for clerestory windows

    • the structure beyond the first floor colonnade (most in ruins today) >> known only through conceptual imagery today
  • oblong, rectangular building (new >> apses on the ends)
  • dimensions [not counting the apses]: 385 feet (117 M) long x 182 feet (55 M) wide
    • larger than basilica in Pompeii
    • larger than a football field
  • semicircular recesses on either of the 'short ends' - called apses (also sometimes called hemicycles)
  • colored marble pavement on floor - circles, squares, and rectangles (these shapes were maintained by Apollodorus throughout his entire building program)
  • central nave with 2 aisles flanking either side

Temple of Trajan
Model reconstruction, 2libraries views.jpg
  • located behind basilica; one needs to process through basilica
  • completed after Trajan's death
  • dedicated to new god - Trajan himself (c/c this to previous practice - Temples devoted to deities)

Column of Trajan
Q: Explain the artistic development and formal changes, especially issues of space and narration in the Column of Trajan.
Q: Explain the idea of continuous narrative. Give examples of continuous narratives that we have seen before.
  • The 1st carved, freestanding column in continuous narrative relief
  • originally stood between 2 libraries (could show inspiration in scrolls of book writing at time)
  • rather well preserved for an ancient monument:
    • law was passed in 1162 CE - not to destroy it / protective measures set in place
    • was once topped with nude statue of emperor (lost in Middle Ages); Pope Sixtus V replaced with St. Peter in 16th Century (still exists today)
    • its success can also be measured - based on the fact that this was popular / famous, long after the fall of the Roman Empire
    • unfortunately, from the 6th century onward - everything else around the forum served as a convenient quarry for marble, travertine, etc.
  • height: 128 feet
  • crafted from joined sections of marble
  • hollow
  • base of column shaft - resembles texture of a laurel wreath (implying victory)
  • beneath: square base / platform
    • interior: held the ashes of Trajan and his wife in golden urns
    • exterior: depictions, in relief sculpture, of the weaponry used by the Dacian armies
  • the frieze records Trajan's victories - his two (2) successful campaigns against Dacians; target for Roman conquest / experts in metallurgy and gold
    • first: 102-103 CE
    • second: 105-106 CE
  • not a chronological account of the battles
  • Trajan is shown numerous times throughout:
    • addressing troops, sacrificing to state gods, etc.
    • shown as commander of well-run army; barbarian enemies disorganized and desperate
    • of note: only about 1/4 of column depict battle scenes (the rest devoted to the other activities associated with the war preparation)
  • approximately 2,500 figures represented
  • one would need to walk around the column 23 times to see the entire narrative
  • bands measures total of 625 feet (if unwound)
  • measures taken to increase legibility (from an artistic perspective):
    • band width increases from 3 feet at base to 4 feet at top (for better visibility)
    • created in lower relief = less shadows (which makes is easier to read)
    • would have been painted during its time (which, of course would have made the imagery clearer than stark white marble)
    • also - it would have been more accessible (visibly) from the upper levels of the flanking libraries & probably the basilica
  • great use of "narrative" in art!
column of trajan_detail.jpg
column detail - lowest register

  • 1st strip / register: the river god - Danube, soldiers left boats w/ supplies & Roman town; soldiers crossing pontoon bridge
  • 2nd strip: Trajan addressing troops; building fortifications
  • 3rd strip: garrison camp and bridges; Roman cavalry leaving
  • 4th strip: crossing stream; addresses before Dacian fortress
  • Moon goddess - Luna; so, we know the battle happened at night, etc.

On the base of the column, we can see the depictions of the weaponry, armor, and attire of the defeated Dacians
column detail - base

Q: Why might the Romans find it necessary to depict their enemy's weaponry and not their defeated bodies?

Relevant links:
  • Video clip about the Column of Trajan (SmartHistory / Khan Academy) - link
  • A spiraling view of Trajan's Column in slow motion (The Urban Simulation Team at UCLA) - link
  • This site provides a narrative account of the specific scenes presented throughout the spiral (c/o John Pollen / Lacus Curtius) - link
  • Behind the scenes: Inside the plaster casts of Trajan's Column (c/o Victoria & Albert Museum) - link

Emperor Hadrian
  • Hadrian succeeded Trajan and ruled from 117-138 CE
  • cousin to Trajan; born in Rome of parents of Spanish descent; one story states that Trajan adopted him
  • began rule at 41, ruled over 2 decades; yet always shown as mature adult (notice beard)
  • culture over military
    • unlike Trajan, who freely incorporated his military exploits and successes, we fins no references to war on Hadrian's monuments
    • instead - prided himself with his love the arts (culture)
    • placed an end on all roman wars and conquests; focus of empire on strengthening its borders
  • was an author & architect himself
  • well-traveled, exceptionally learned / cultured
  • there are more portraits of him preserved than any other emperor, except Augustus << What might this suggest?

Canopus & Serapeum (Hadrian’s Villa) ca. 125-128 CE
Q: How does Hadrian's Villa reflect his personality?
Q: Describe the relationship that Hadrian had with Apollodorus of Damascus
  • this was his private villa at Tivoli
  • many buildings - including library, baths, theater
  • when traveled, collected ideas
  • pool and artificial grotto to commemorate trip to Egypt, visited temple of god Serapis on canal called Canopus.
  • grotto at end of pool - unusual pumpkin-shaped dome; Hadrian designed this himself.
  • pool lined with marble copies of famous Greek statues in Corinth colonnade, lintel alternates with arches
  • villa had several hundred statues, as many as 1000 (in various museums now)
  • mainly copies of ancient Greek or Hellenistic, except portraits of self and favorite youth, Antinous. Antinous drowned mysteriously in Nile, promptly became god.
  • There were 10 rep of Antinous at the Villa; Hadrian was infatuated by him)

Relevant links:
  • Hadrian As Emperor/Architect (by Professor Fred Kleiner) - video link
  • Take a virtual tour through Hadrian's Villa (Youtube / Great Courses) - video link
  • Lecture #15 - Rome and a Villa: Hadrian's Pantheon and Tivoli Retreat (c/o YaleCourses / Prof Diane Kleiner) - video link

Bust of Hadrian
  • Probably made toward end of lifetime - Greek inspired
  • He wore beard (Greek affection) - this then becomes "norm" for all Roman emperors for 1.5 centuries

Hadrian's Wall

118-125 CE
Pantheon_SP11.jpgLongitudinal and lateral sections of the Pantheon, Rome, Italy, 118–125 CE.jpgPantheon_Oculus_3April2010_1804.jpgpantheon-plan.jpg
Q: What does the term "Pantheon" mean?
Q: How are the interior of the Pantheon and the treatment of space significant?
  • immediately after he became emperor, Hadrian began Pantheon
  • Hadrian himself may or may not have been the engineer / architect (we don't know for sure)
  • Pantheon literally means "temple of all gods"
  • dedicated to 7 planetary gods (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn)
  • revolutionary for its huge uninterrupted interior space
  • had a podium (originally)
    • entering the building from below, the dome would not have been obvious from exterior; large, open space would have been a huge surprise to those who walked inside.
    • these steps have been submerged today, under modern-day street structure
  • built on a site previously occupied by another building
    • on pediment: "Marcus Agrippa, whose temple was previously on site from 27 to defeat of Anthony and Cleo burned in 110"
    • Hadrian didn’t want his name on it; dedicated by Agrippa (in honor of...)
  • one of best preserved of antiquity, and most influential designs in history of architecture.
  • facade: 8 Corinthian columns (traditional); all other aspects = revolutionary
  • originally approached through colonnaded forecourt; minor changes in 609 when Pope Boniface IV had “pagan filth removed” & converted to Christian church
  • effort of emperor to strengthen state religion; temples deserted, sacrificial animals unavailable

Plan of Pantheon
  • circle inscribed within a square (unique space, based on sphere); circles and squares are repeated throughout the design of the Pantheon
  • concrete cylinder (called a drum), covered by dome
  • the drum
    • made by levels
    • 142 feet in diameter
    • diameter of the drum = diameter of top of drum << to >> floor
  • the dome (weight-reducing measures)
    1. employment of coffering (here in 5 distinct coffered bands)
    2. variations in concrete ingredients - harder materials in foundations, modified until summit of lighter materials
      • band 1 (base): mainly travertine (a heavy limestone)
      • band 2: travertine, tufa & brick
      • band 3: tufa & brick
      • band 4: pumice
      • band 5 (top): brick
    3. band width becomes progressively narrow toward the top - for optical illusion of greater height and reduced weight
    4. thickness of dome decreases as it nears oculus (from 6’ at top to 20’ at base)
    5. oculus - term used to describe the 27 foot diameter opening in the dome (c/c to Nero's Golden House); the oculus reduced the weight by its very existence
  • weight concentrated on eight (8) pillars (buttressing the downward force); note the relieving arch on the exterior of the drum (click on thumbnail above)
  • recesses between pillars give feeling of added rooms

Interior of Pantheon
  • originally bronze rosette at center and blue background
  • dome as "starry heavens"
  • more than 1/2 of original marble of walls, niches, and floor survives (also circles & squares)
  • rain falls through oculus; drains off, as planned by original engineer

Misc Links:
  • Take a virtual tour through the Pantheon (SmartHistory / Khan Academy) - link

The Antonines 38 – 192 CE (54)
  • Antoninus Pius 138 – 161 CE (21)
  • Marcus Aurelius 161 – 180 CE (19) *co-emperors
  • Lucius Verus 161 – 169 (8) *co-emperors
  • Commodus 180 – 192 CE (12)

Hadrian adopted 51 year old Antoninus Pius as son, simultaneously required he adopt Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus - making peaceful succession for another generation. Antonius ruled well for 13 years, adopted sons made memorial column in honor.

Apotheosis of Antonious Pius & Faustina
Q: Explain the imagery of the Apotheosis of Antonius Pius and Faustina. How does this Apotheosis reflect earlier Roman funeral art and yet depart from the tradition?
  • erected by brothers Marcus Aurelius & Lucius Verus, in honor of their father -- Antoninus Pius
  • this represents one of four sides / panels - the apotheosis
  • apotheosis - ascent to heaven (becoming a god / goddess)
  • Classical conventions:
    • >> ground line
    • >> personifications abound
      • Campus Marius (Field of Mars) as youth, with Egyptian obelisk at lower left; An obelisk had been present in this location [Campus Marius] at the time.
      • Roma (Rome personified) leans on shield with image of she-wolf [Romulus & Remus bidding farewell]
  • Faustina died 20 years before; yet, they are depicted as ascending together!
    • therefore, he had been faithful and they are reunited in afterlife.
    • depictions of a "time rift" is not new (recall the example of the former slaves / slave owner); yet, the fact that it has been done in imperial art is new.

ca. 161 CE
Q: Explain the imagery of the Decursio. What are the cultural influences that bring about changes in Roman art?
  • decursio: the ritual circling of an imperial funerary pyre
  • non-Classical treatment:
    • >> figures appear much stockier
    • >> marching soldiers & galloping horses in floating patches of earth (no true ground line - ground is the whole surface)
  • This non-Classicism is noteworthy; very interesting, because non-Classical treatment was rarely seen in Imperial art (although common in Plebian art)
  • We are now witnessing a dissatisfaction in Imperial artists, with regard to Classical convention; in favor of the non-Classical treatments found in lower-class art.

Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
ca. 175 CE
Q: What about the sculptures of Marcus Aurelius (both the equestrian and portrait) are important points in European art history?
  • pompous? yes, but that is typical of depictions of Emperors.
  • preserved through middle ages (despite fact that most bronzes were melted for metal value) - but WHY?
    • answer: thought impious images from pagan demonic world of Caesars; thought thought it was Constantine - 1st Christian emperor
  • body vs. horse: originally cast separately, may have been for different monuments (disparity in scale between Marcus & horse).
  • under horse's leg - a bound barbarian chieftain cowered beneath, appealing to emperor for mercy (originally - but now missing).
  • right arm in gesture like papal blessing, greeting & offer of clemency. Underlying idea - that Marcus Aurelius need not be shown conquering enemy with weaponry (violence), but that such can be done with his mere persona (as if he is "above weaponry")
  • it becomes the prototype: this inspires later sculptors towards equestrian monuments
  • first time that artist reveals / exposes the ruler's character; Constant strain of warfare at time = weary, saddened, even worried expression on Aurelius' face.

Portrait of Marcus Aurelius

  • from lost arch, riding triumphal chariot, being crowned with Victory
  • sculptor employed drilling technique for hair and beard, pupils of eyes
  • the same weary, saddened, even worried expression is seen here; we might be seeing the strain of constant warfare and ruling / managing the empire

Sarcophagus with Myth of Orestes
ca. 140-150 CE


Under Trajan & Hadrian
  • Romans began to favor inhumation (burial) over cremation, reversing burial practices (could be influence of Christian / Eastern religions -- their in belief of afterlife of body)
  • emperors continued cremation << >> private citizens burial
  • we do know that there was a sudden demand for sarcophagi
    • popular subjects = Greek mythology
    • heroes & heroines given features of deceased

Here (in this work)...
  • continuous narrative
  • slaying mother and her lover to avenge murder of his father Agamemnon, taking refuge at sanctuary at Delphi (gods tripod at right).

Differences in sarcophagi (West vs East)
  • Western sarcophagi - decorated on front & sides; placed in niches; viewer's didn’t see back
  • Eastern sarcophagi - carved on all four sides; placed in center of burial chamber

Asiatic Sarcophagus
ca. 165-170 CE

  • made in Asia Minor, export market
  • lid portrait like Etruscan
  • decorated on all 4 sides with Greek gods and heroes -- makes Asiatic.
  • dog missing (only paws remain); cupid on R w/ down torch
  • woman's beauty rivals mother Venus

Burial practices in the vast Roman Empire

Mummy portrait of manca. 140-160 CE

  • found in Faiyum, Egypt
  • burying deceased in mummy cases continued (as it had for thousands of years); but, during Roman times - the mask was many times replaced by painted portraits on wooden panels
  • medium - either painted in
    1. encaustic (pigment in wax); or
    2. tempera (pigments in egg yolk)
  • this individual's likeness following Marcus Aurelius with hair & beard in style
  • painted while the respective subject was still alive (most likely)
  • soft delicate modeling
  • in a vast empire (such as Rome, here) - regional differences inherently exist
  • this demonstrates the long arm of Roman influence at the time
  • for further information on the Faiyum mummy portraits - link

MARCUS AURELIUS - it’s all down hill from here…

  • Rome - by the time of Aurelius
    1. eroding power, order more difficult to retain (even within the Imperial ranks)
    2. economy in decline
    3. state religion challenged by Eastern cults (including Christianity)
  • son Commodus assassinated, ending Antonine Dynasty (& what we call the High Empire)
  • between 235 CE & 284 CE = 21 emperors (average duration of rule less than 3 years)