In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rome, Origins Through Empire

  • Introduction
  • Rome’s Origins: The Archaic Period
  • Republican Rome
  • Imperial Rome
  • Late Antiquity/Christian Rome
  • Forma Urbis
  • Urban Studies
  • Building Materials and Techniques
  • Vitruvius and Rome
  • Architects, Design, Construction Process, and Restoration
  • New Approaches to Rome’s Architecture
  • Documentation, Visualization, Digital
  • Architecture and Sculpture
  • Marble and Color
  • City Walls
  • Temples
  • Buildings for Spectacles
  • Imperial Baths
  • Triumphal and Honorary Arches
  • Bridges
  • Houses
  • Funerary Monuments
  • Aqueducts
  • Roman Forum
  • Imperial Forums and Nearby Buildings
  • Palatine Hill
  • Capitoline Hill
  • Campus Martius

Architecture Planning and Preservation Rome, Origins Through Empire
Pier Luigi Tucci
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0059


Rome was not built in one day. The eternal city was founded in 753 BCE and only few remains dating from the Archaic period survive. The Republican era (from 509 BCE, when the last king was overthrown, to 31 BCE, when Octavian/Augustus became the sole ruler of an empire that extended over three continents) as well as the imperial age, which lasted until Late Antiquity, were characterized by a constant renewal of architectural forms and building techniques, as a consequence of political and social developments. The expansion of the city was never the object of urban planning as we know it today. The cityscape was constantly remodeled thanks to a series of building programs conceived for political reasons and often originating from devastating fires. Unlike Pompeii, Rome is not a dead city and many ancient buildings were reused after Late Antiquity; therefore, countless contributions on its architecture originate not only from excavations but also from architectural surveys and “digs” in the archives. Indeed, the eternal city is a historical palimpsest, with the remains of three thousand years of art and architecture, pagan and Christian, profoundly intermingled in its urban fabric, and not many people have the knowledge, insight, and experience to make sense of such a very demanding research environment. Despite the publication of many books on Roman architecture and building techniques, not a single work has been devoted to the architecture of the city of Rome exclusively. (An exception is Storia dell’Architettura Italiana: Architettura romana; I grandi monumenti di Roma [Hesberg and Zanker 2009, cited under Collections of Papers], which, however, is a collection of essays.) To offer a broader picture, most books deal with the city of Rome along with Roman Italy and the provinces of the empire. Whenever Rome is the only topic, its architecture is never examined from origins through empire and only a specific period or building is taken into consideration. In general, scholarship on Roman architecture has focused on building typologies, materials, construction techniques, issues of design, and urbanism. Ancient literary sources are almost fundamental (this is another important difference between Rome and other cities, such as Ostia or Pompeii) because the historical, political, and social context of Rome’s architecture is unique: suffice it to mention all the monuments—arches, porticoes, temples—related to the triumphal procession, which was held in Rome exclusively, or were built after a successful military campaign with the spoils of war. Yet, a widespread assumption is that Rome is easy to investigate and understand. In reality, the substantial lack of scientific monographs on the majority of ancient Rome’s architectural monuments is explained by the painstaking work and the long time necessary for such studies. The works listed and annotated in this article deal with Rome’s architecture from the Archaic period to Late Antiquity, when Rome became a Christian city, and with the area included into the city walls of the late 3rd century CE. This article is not meant to be a digest of buildings but, rather, it gives a selection of the most important works of architecture published in the last few decades, and not exclusively in English. Although the study of Rome’s architecture is necessarily intertwined with archaeological excavations, this is not a bibliography of the latest archaeological campaigns and not because digs, stratigraphies, and material culture do not matter: more simply, the present article deals with Rome’s architecture exclusively.

General Overviews

Except for the traditional archaeological guides, it is hard to find an up-to-date overview of the architecture of the city of Rome in a single work. General surveys offer brief summaries of both architecture and urbanism.

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