Masterpieces of Ancient Roman Art to 100 C.E.

Look through Ancient Roman masterpieces up until 100 C.E. Preservation allows us to continue to exploring these works of artistry, like the Maison Carrée, the best preserved Ancient Roman temple. Discover what makes these artworks so special while learning about Rome.

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 Maison Carrée, c. 4-7 C.E., Nîmes, France

The best preserved ancient Roman temple can be found in the city the Romans called Nemausus, but which we now call Nîmes (in France).

Before Rome was an Empire, it was a Republic that had conquered much of Europe and North Africa. Unlike a Christian Church, the ancient Roman temple was not a place of worship, instead, it was the home of a god, represented by a sculpture, and only priests and other high officials could enter.

Looking closer at the Maison Carrée

The Maison Carrée has one room (for the sculpture of the god). It has stairs only in the front that take you to the porch, which is three columns deep. A deep porch and frontal orientation are key features of early Roman temples.

Altar of Augustan Peace, 9 B.C.E. (Ara Pacis Museum)

We’re standing in the museum designed to house the beautiful Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace), built to commemorate the peace that the Emperor Augustus brought to the Roman empire.

The altar was lost under more than 25 feet of accumulated debris In the middle ages, when ancient Roman monuments were ignored or reused as building material. Most of what we see today was reconstructed from many, many fragments (and much of it remains lost to us).

The front of the Ara Pacis

The Altar is decorated with relief sculptures (once brightly painted). Along the top we see contemporary events, and the history and mythology of Rome, and along the bottom, decorative patterns containing more than 50 species of plants and animals, suggesting the prosperity of Augustus’s reign.

The South side of  Ara Pacis

When we walk around the walls, to the south side, we see figures who seem to be in a formal procession—this may depict the ceremonies dedicating the altar on January 30th, 9 B.C.E.

Below we see large acanthus leaves, and vines that swirl in circular shapes, some with flowers in their center. Look closely and you’ll also see birds and grapes.

The procession on the south side of the Ara Pacis

Scholars believe these figures represent Augustus and his family. The hooded figure who faces us is likely Marcus Agrippa—a friend, son-in-law, and lieutenant to Augustus. A small child tugs at Agrippa’s robe —a sweet moment of informality in an otherwise formal and serious procession.

Room of the Wolf, Capitoline Museums, Rome

The Capitoline Museum has an amazing collection of ancient Roman sculpture. This room is called the Room of the Wolf  because of the sculpture featured here. We are surrounded by history in this room.

The ancient mosaic on the floor, the paintings on the walls (depicting the history of Rome) from the 16th century, the coffers (recessed panels) on the ceiling that date to the 19th century, and we even have fragments of ancient Roman history on the walls themselves. 

Capitoline Wolf (Capitoline Museums, Rome)

The Roman Empire traced its origins back to Romulus and Remus, who according to mythology, were abandoned by their mother and saved by a she-wolf. This image became a symbol of Rome. We see it on early coins and on public monuments today.

The wolf here was long believed to be an ancient sculpture, but recent analysis suggests that the sculpture dates back just to the middle ages. Whatever its date, this sculpture has symbolized Rome for centuries.

Ancient marble tablets,, 27 B.C.E. to 14 C.E.

On the back wall of this gallery, you’ll see fragments of ancient marble tablets listing Roman magistrates and military victors (these are called Fasti). The fragments are two thousand years old and were discovered in the Renaissance — a time when many ancient sculptures were coming to light.

Hall of Triumphs, Capitoline Museum

We’re in another beautiful gallery in the Capitoline Museums, this one is called the Hall of Triumphs, because the painting that we see along the top of the walls shows an ancient Roman triumphal celebration of a military victory.

But the stars of this room are two ancient bronze sculptures. Bronze sculptures rarely survived, since bronze is a valuable metal, it was often melted down and repurposed. Let’s start with the oldest one.

Capitoline Brutus, 4th-3rd century B.C.E. (Capitoline Museum

This sculpture got its name, “Brutus” (the founder of the ancient Roman republic) much later, and so we are unsure who this represents. He pushes his eyebrows together (the eyes are made of painted ivory), his jaw is tightly set, and he appears determined—even wise.

Boy Pulling a Thorn from his Foot, 1st century B.C.E.

This beautiful bronze sculpture of a boy pulling a thorn from his foot shows a moment of intense concentration and a complex pose (weight shifted to his right, head down, and one shoulder lifted to twist the foot upward).

Hall of the Galatian, Capitoline Museum, Rome

We’re now in the Hall of the Galatian in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, named for the famous sculpture in the center of the room, known as the Dying Gaul or Dying Galatian.

There are few sculptures that pack as much of an emotional punch as this one does. This exploration of emotion was typical of art from the Hellenistic period (c. 323-31 B.C.E.).

Dying Gaul, Roman marble copy of a bronze original

This figure has been wounded in battle, and is slowly losing his strength, and dying. Look closely to see the wound in his chest. We admire his athletic body, and imagine that only a very powerful enemy could have wounded a man this strong.

Pont du Gard, Nîmes, France, c. 16 B.C.E.

The Romans were amazing engineers. We’re in the south of France (which was part of the Roman Empire) looking at an aqueduct that crosses the Gard River (hence the name, Pont du Gard—pont means bridge in French).

An aqueduct is, essentially, a roadway for water. This aqueduct carried water along 50 kilometers into the city of Nîmes. The water flowed within a covered channel at the top of the aqueduct, and thanks to gravity, it moved downhill toward the city.

Looking closer at the Pont du Gard

The rhythm of the round arches tells us that the Romans were not simply interested in the utility of this aqueduct but also its beauty. The lower level is still used, just as it was in ancient Rome, to cross the river by foot.

Forum, Pompeii

Every Roman city had a large public space for temples and government buildings, called the forum, and we’re standing just inside the forum of Pompeii, a thriving Roman city until it was destroyed by the eruption of a volcano—Mt. Vesuvius— in 79 C.E.

In fact you can make out Mt. Vesuvius in the distance. Pompeii was covered in lava, pumice and ash and as a result, largely preserved the way it was on the day of the volcanic eruption.

The basilica in the forum of Pompeii

One of the most important buildings in any forum was the basilica, usually used for administrative business. This was once an impressive building, with tall columns on either side of a large central space covered by a flat roof (the column bases are still standing).

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