In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pantheon

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Broad-ranging, Article-length Architectural Analyses
  • Archaeological and Survey Reports
  • Conservation, Restoration, Recording, and Imaging
  • Antecedents and Parallels
  • Urban Context

Classics Pantheon
Rabun M. Taylor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0228


The Pantheon is the most celebrated and most studied of Roman buildings—not only because of its arresting form, excellent preservation, and enormous size but also because its ancient functions and meanings, which seem to have been as anomalous as the architecture itself, invite speculation and confound easy understanding. Designated a church since 609 CE, it has undergone a variety of alterations, restorations, and redecorations without suffering any great damage to the integrity of its basic form. The building’s ample significance to modernity is reflected not just in its countless quotations in later architecture but also in an extensive body of interpretive and descriptive literature beginning in the Renaissance. The most important literature on the ancient Pantheon has been produced since the 1890s, when the prevailing interest in relatively narrow questions of architectural style opened out to a much more ecumenical kind of curiosity. Fueled by an increasingly sophisticated and rigorous kind of historical methodology, the new Pantheon scholarship emerged amid a surge of archaeological discoveries at Rome in the decades after Italian unification. Since that time, scholars have interrogated the Pantheon’s history, phasing, functions, and meaning with a certain measure of humility, knowing well the building’s periodic tendency to reveal just enough new information to extinguish orthodoxies once conceived in the same iconoclastic manner. Having little in the way of a recorded history of its ancient and medieval phases, the building itself is its own best document; but as a self-referential thing it is reticent, ambiguous, and contested. These indeterminate qualities, combined with an almost expressionistic turn, which arouses inarticulate emotions and impulses that beg to be given linguistic form, have tested the interpretive skills of every generation of modern scholars as this article abundantly demonstrates.

General Overviews

MacDonald 1976, an illuminating and oft-cited book, remains the best introduction to the Pantheon, especially when supplemented by later scholarship. Lucchini 1996 presents a solid consensus view, at least as things stood in the 1990s. De Fine Licht 1968, though rarely found outside research libraries, is a careful and systematic archaeological monograph enriched by a thorough understanding of the Pantheon’s life after Antiquity. Waddell 2008, which engages principally with matters of design and construction, merges keen observation of anomalous details in the building’s fabric with a refreshing independence of thought.

  • De Fine Licht, Kjeld. 1968. The Rotunda in Rome. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.

    Still the most detailed and comprehensive monograph on the Pantheon, with a particular emphasis on the visible ancient remains and past documentation. Observations are unerringly accurate and the discussion restrained and judicious.

  • Lucchini, Flaminio. 1996. Pantheon. Rome: La Nuova Italia Scientifica.

    Thoroughly annotated general survey reflecting a conservative view for its time, generally adopting well-established or widely favored hypotheses.

  • MacDonald, William L. 1976. The Pantheon: Design, meaning and progeny. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    The most readable general study of the Pantheon. Aimed at a general audience but steeped in learning and nuance, it applies an architect’s sensibilities to interpretations of the building’s form, function, meaning, and antecedents. Still the best preparatory reading for novices; even better if supplemented by more recent scholarship.

  • Waddell, Gene. 2008. Creating the Pantheon: Design, materials, and construction. Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider.

    Meticulous, provocative monograph inferring from the building’s many solecisms that in the Hadrianic phase, the intermediate block was completed before the rotunda—and that the porch was rebuilt in the Severan phase. This accounted for the mismatched pedimental components. Only then was it converted from a functional “basilica” to a temple.

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