The European Provinces Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The European Provinces Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition

The European Provinces Part 1 | Roman Architecture | Second edition


The Iberian Peninsula, the largest in the Mediterranean, has a forbidding arid interior, but is rich in metals and has attracted traders from the earliest times. The Phoenicians established themselves in the south at Gades (Cadiz), and much later at Carthago Nova (Cartagena), while Greeks from Massilia (Marseilles) founded Emporion (Ampurias) on its NE coast in 550 bc. A clash over Spain brought about the Second Punic war (218–201 bc) between Rome and Carthage, as a result of which Rome gained a footing in the peninsula. In 206 bc Rome set up a colony of Italians by the river Guadalquivir near Seville and called it Italica. During the rest of the Republican era, the Romans were engaged in a long and bitter struggle to subdue the interior. In 133 bc Numantia, a major centre of Spanish resistance, fell after a long siege, but the north coast was not subdued until the time of Augustus, when a series of colonies was established, including the fine cities of Caesaraugusta (Zaragoza) and Augusta Emerita (Mérida). In 27 bc Spain was divided into three provinces: Tarraconensis, Lusitania and Baetica.

The old Greek town of Emporion was made a veterans’ colony by Julius Caesar and it expanded to accommodate 10,000 people. Soon the new town had a temple, forum and basilica complex, as well as an amphitheatre just outside the walls. Two fine late Republican houses have been found on the east side of the city, more Hellenistic than Roman in style, with peristyle gardens and elegant fountains. In the second-century ad Italica (Santiponce), the oldest Roman colony in Spain became a Colonia and was greatly enlarged in honour of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, both of whom were born there. The new quarter, laid out on a grid plan with colonnades flanking the streets (Figure 10.1), is full of splendid peristyle houses, mostly dating to the second and third centuries ad, often with rich mosaic pavements and swimming pools. Outside the walls to the north is an amphitheatre, built by Hadrian, which measures 160 × 137 metres and held 25,000 spectators.

Augusta Emerita (Mérida), founded by Agrippa in 25 bc as the capital of the new province of Lusitania, was filled with monuments of evident propagandistic intent. Although it was only medium-sized, covering some 50 hectares (123 acres) by the third-century ad, it was a city of some importance because it had a fine circus, 425 metres long, two-thirds the length of the Circus Maximus in Rome. Circuses were relatively scarce owing to their huge size and the cost of building them, and they usually indicate that the city was particularly wealthy or important. It also had a splendid theatre (18 bc) built side by side with an amphitheatre seating 15,000 (8 bc). The theatre is particularly impressive with its restored scaenae frons decorated with two storeys of polychrome marble columns (Figure 10.2). The so-called Temple of Diana had 11 × 6 Corinthian columns of local granite and was raised on a 3-metre-high

Figure 10.1  Italica (Spain): general plan.

Figure 10.2  Augusta Emerita (Mérida, Spain), theatre, scaenae frons and stage.

podium. The nearby provincial forum of Mérida was enclosed by Corinthian colonnades supporting an attic decorated with alternating clypeate heads of Medusa and Jupiter Ammon with Caryatids between, a clear allusion to the Forum of Augustus at Rome. The city also had three aqueducts the largest of which, called ‘Los Milagros’ is still an impressive sight. It was constructed of small square stones laced with courses of brick and survives to a height of 25 metres in parts. Also impressive is the remarkable 760-metre-long bridge over the Guadiana river, which has no less than 60 arches.

Tarraco (Tarragona) had been a Roman possession for two centuries when Augustus made it the capital of the enormous province of Tarraconensis in 27 bc. It was a flourishing city, the richest port on the east coast according to Pomponius Mela writing c. ad 43. There were also several gold mines in NE Tarraconensis. The Augustan forum and basilica complex was built to the SW of the city, and nearby was the theatre. The Julio-Claudian amphitheatre was located to the east of the city close to the sea. In the Flavian period, the magnificent Temple of Rome and Augustus and the vast adjoining provincial forum were built at a high point on the north side of the city. Towards the end of the first century ad, the complex was complemented by a circus, only about 340 metres long, built below and to the south of the provincial forum.

Some of the most notable monuments of Roman Spain are its bridges and aqueducts. Trajan built the 190-metre-long bridge over the Tagus river at Alcantara in ad 106 (Figure 10.3). The architect, as an inscription records, was a Lusitanian, Gaius Julius Lacer. It has the distinction of being the highest bridge in the Roman world, 47 metres high. The arches gradually became wider towards the middle so that the river could be crossed in a single span, to avoid setting the abutments in the stream. There was a small temple at one end and a triumphal arch marked the centre of the bridge. Mention should be made here of the well-preserved Augustan bridge at Saint-Chamas in France which had two triumphal arches, one at each

Figure 10.3  Alcantara (Spain), bridge over the Tagus, built by Gaius Julius Lacer in ad 106.

Figure 10.4  Segovia (Spain), aqueduct, first or early second-century ad.

end. The two most famous aqueducts in Spain were Segovia and Tarragona. An impressive aqueduct bridge crossed a valley three kilometres outside Tarragona, 217 metres long with a total height of 42 metres. The last kilometre of the Segovia aqueduct, which brings water 17 kilometres from Riofrio, is possibly the most dramatic of all aqueduct bridges. In order to carry the water across a deep valley into the town a spectacular bridge of 118 arches and 813 metres long, was built in the late first to early second-century ad (Figure 10.4). The water channel was 30 metres above ground level at its highest point and was carried on two storeys of arches, the lower one with unusually tall slender piers. It was probably to give strength to this light structure that the unmortared granite blocks were left rough.

France (Gaul)

The old Greek colony of Massilia (Marseilles) with its excellent harbour, founded in 600 bc, fell to the Romans along with the Mediterranean coastal region in the wars of 125–121 bc. The year 118 bc marked the establishment of Narbo Martius (Narbonne), Rome’s first overseas citizen colony, which became the capital of Gallia Narbonensis in 27 bc. Julius Caesar conquered the rest of Gaul in the wars of 58–51 bc which concluded with the fall of Alesia and the capture of Vercingetorix. In 27 bc Gallia Comata (‘long-haired Gaul’), excluding Narbonensis, was divided into the three provinces of Aquitania, Belgica and Lugdunensis. Lugdunum (Lyon), founded by Munatius Plancus in 43 bc, was the northernmost city in the Rhône Valley and became the centre of the road network of Gaul. It rapidly became a great and prosperous city under Augustus capital of the Three Gauls and the administrative centre of both Gaul and Germany. It had four aqueducts, the longest of which, the Geir, crossed four deep valleys using an inverted syphon system instead of a bridge like the Pont du Gard. A theatre, 108.5 metres in diameter, was built next to an odeum, and inscriptions suggest that there was also a circus. Julius Caesar and Augustus founded several colonies, and the Augustan peace brought prosperity to local towns such as Visio (Vaison-la-Romaine) and Vienna (Vienne), as well as to old Greek foundations. The influence of Rome on the buildings of southern Gaul was strong and direct. City walls and gates bear a close analogy to those of northern Italy, and baths, theatres, amphitheatres and temples were closely modelled upon Italian prototypes.

Glanum (St. Rémy), settled by Greeks in the third-century bc, retained its bouleuterion and houses with peristyles and pebble mosaic floors into Roman times. These illustrate the older, Hellenistic type of house belonging to an earlier phase of Provençal history. The town was sacked, perhaps by the Cimbri, in the late second-century bc, but a revival was underway by the first-century bc. Roman influence can clearly be seen in the late first-century bc baths have a similar layout to the Forum and Stabian Baths at Pompeii. The most important monuments in Glanum are the Arch of the Julii, probably late Augustan, and the late Republican mausoleum (Figure 10.5).

The mausoleum has a square base adorned with reliefs of famous scenes from Greek mythology. The second storey is four-sided, with arched openings framed by Corinthian columns at each corner. The top storey consists of a ring of columns supporting a conical roof under which stands a statue of Julius. Like the triumphal arch at Orange, the Glanum arch is remarkably advanced for its date. In many respects, it resembles the Arch of Titus, with its single-arched passageway flanked by piers with attached columns. The upper parts of the arch are missing.

The two most conspicuous monuments of Arelate (Arles), the earliest Roman colony to be founded after the conquest of Gaul (46 bc), were its theatre and amphitheatre. The theatre

Figure 10.5  Glanum (St. Rémy, France), the late Republican mausoleum of the Julii, with the side of the late Augustan Arch of the Julii in the background.

was probably the older and was perhaps built shortly after the founding of the colony (30–20 bc). There is some dispute about the date of the amphitheatre, although the architect was the same T. Crispus Reburrus designed a similar one at Nemausus (Nîmes); in scale and detail, they are almost twins, Nîmes measuring 133 × 101 metres, and Arles 136 × 108 metres. Both owe their survival to the fact that they were turned into fortified towns in the Middle Ages. Standing at the apex of the Rhône delta Arles was known as the city of marshes. This is perhaps the reason why the forum was raised on a U-shaped cryptoporticus, measuring 89 × 59 metres. The famous, 15.25 metre-high, Egyptian obelisk at Arles, came from a circus which is thought to have been at least 450 metres long. Excavations have also revealed the caldarium with its enormous apse and part of the tepidarium of an extremely large bathing complex built by Constantine, who for a few years resided at Arles (ad 306–312).

Arausio (Orange), founded as a colony in 36–35 bc, possessed two monuments of special interest in the history of Roman architecture, the ‘Arch of Tiberius and the theatre. The arch (Figure 2.10) can claim to be the first-known triple arch because the Arch of Augustus in the Roman forum, although triple, had lintels, not arches, covering the two side passageways (Figure 3.8). The three arched passageways of the arch at Orange were framed by four Corinthian half-columns standing on high pedestals, supporting a continuous entablature and a pediment over the central arch. Between the top of the side arches and the entablature were sculpted panels showing spoils of war, and in the central bay of the attic were further relief panels. The arch had many ingredients of the great triple arches of the later Empire, but lacked some features, such as free-standing columns, victories in the spandrels, and a dedicatory inscription in a single, unbroken attic. It is also quite large, 19.57 metres wide × 19.21 metres high × 8.40 metres deep, compared with 23.27 × 20.88 × 11.20 metres deep for the somewhat larger, but much later, Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome. With its triple attic and its scenes of battles, arms and spoils it has been suggested that the arch was built as a monument to the glory of Germanicus in the years after his death in ad 19, although recently it has been suggested that the arch is Augustan and was later reconstructed by Tiberius.1

The theatre at Orange (Figure 10.6), probably built at the beginning of the first-century ad, has an extremely well-preserved scaenae frons, 37 metres high. The wall survives practically intact, but most of the 76 columns which once adorned it have since disappeared. However, the surviving parts and the analogy of the reconstructed theatres at Mérida (Figure 10.2) and Sabratha (Figure 9.18) suggest that the columns were arranged on three storeys with aedicules emphasising the three doors leading onto the stage. The other side, the magnificent postcranium wall (Figure 10.6), famously called ‘la plus belle muraille de mon Royaume’s (‘the finest wall of my kingdom’) by Louis XIV, originally had a covered loggia at ground level; higher up a low relief arcade; and at the top two rows of projecting brackets designed to support the poles on which the vela were hung. The theatre fully illustrates Augustan ‘discrimina ordinum’, the separation of the classes (Figure 10.7).2 The division of the seating into ima, media and summa cavea was emphasised by the high walls which separated them. As for the occupants of the media and summa cavea they did not so much as a set foot within the theatre until they had reached their seating area by way of external staircases.

Nemausus (Nîmes) was founded as a veterans’ colony in 28 bc and in 16 bc a circuit of stone walls was built, enclosing an area of 223 hectares (550 acres). The walls were 2.4 metres wide and there were 19 towers along them of which the largest was the Tour Magne, a 40-metre-high octagonal tower, built at the highest point of the town as a lookout. Another was the gate of Augustus (16–15 bc) which stood between two semicircular towers with a statue of Augustus in the courtyard behind. It had the usual two arched passageways for wheeled traffic, flanked by two smaller passageways for pedestrians, and presumably

Figure 10.6  Arausio (Orange, France), postcranium wall of the theatre.

there was an arcaded gallery above. In type it was based upon the monumental city gates of northern Italy, such as those at Turin, Verona and Augusta Praetoria (Aosta) and the Porta Venere at Hispellum (Spello in Umbria). The Porte Saint-André and Porte d’Arroux at Autun (Augustodunum) are well-preserved Gallic examples of this type. Nîmes also possessed one of the best-preserved of all Roman temples, the ‘Maison Carrée’, dedicated to Rome and Augustus and dating to the Augustan period (Figure 2.2). It had a hexastyle porch of Corinthian columns standing on a high podium and the cella was pseudo-peripteral. The length and breadth of the stylobate were related in the ratio of 2:1 and the podium, columns and entablature in the ratio of 2:5:2. In style the building followed the latest Roman fashions, the acanthus scrolls of the frieze being reminiscent of the Ara Pacis and the channelled masonry similar that of the Temple of Mars Ultor. Another notable monument of the city is the splendidly preserved amphitheatre already mentioned. Its two-storeyed façade (Figure 10.8) had openings flanked by pilasters and half-columns, but the strong vertical emphasis suggests that it was a little later in date than the Colosseum. Near the top of the façade, the wall can be seen the 120 corbels which supported the masts for the vela. These can be examined more closely inside the building at the top of the seating (Figure 10.9).

Figure 10.7  Arausio (Orange, France), theatre, early first-century ad: plan.

Figure 10.8  Nemausus (Nîmes, France), amphitheatre, probably late first-century ad.

Figure 10.9  Nemausus (Nîmes, France) amphitheatre, corbels into which the masts for the vela were inserted.

One of the best-preserved aqueduct systems in the Roman world is that which brought water to Nîmes from springs 50 kilometres away, thought to have been built by Agrippa between 20 and 16 bc. Most of the channel was below ground or carried on a low wall, and the water ran down a steady incline which has been calculated as 1 in 3,000 over the whole distance. To carry it across the gorge of the River Gardon, the famous Pont du Gard was built, 269 metres long × 49 metres high (Figure 10.10). The proportions are simple: four units for the central arch, three for the lateral arches, one for the upper storey of arches, and six for the overall height. The bridge was slightly curved against the flow of the stream, and the wide central arch spanned the stream so that there were no abutments in the river bed. The bridge was entirely built of stone, with no clamps or mortar, some individual stones weighing up to 6 tonnes each. The many projecting bosses were left to support scaffolding for maintenance of the bridge. When the water arrived in Nîmes it flowed into a large circular basin (castellum divisorium) with a settling tank and ten outlets, 0.40 metres in diameter, through which the water was fed to the various parts of the town.

Visio (Vaison-la-Romaine) has been described as the ‘Pompeii of Provence’, mainly because of the excavation work of Canon J. Sautel. Taking advantage of the Augustan peace, the inhabitants moved down from the nearby hill-town in about 20 bc to found the new city on its present flat site. It possessed a basilica, praetorium and Tiberian theatre, 96 metres in diameter, but today it is most famed for its fine peristyle houses. They give us some insight into the luxurious living conditions of wealthy Gauls. One of these, the House of the Messi, had a bath, latrine and many fine frescoed rooms, dating to the first-century ad. The street façade of the House of the Silver Bust had a portico in front of it and there were shops behind. The columnar atrium gave access to a peristyle garden with a small pool on the south side, and a much larger peristyle to the west containing a pool and a completely private

Figure 10.10  Nemausus (Nîmes, France) Pont du Gard, late first century bc.

bathing suit. Close to the northern frontier of Narbonensis Vienna (Vienne), the capital of the Allobroges, became an extremely prosperous city in the first and second centuries ad, as is shown by its enormous theatre, 130.4 metres in diameter, an odeum 72 metres in diameter, the well-preserved Temple of Augustus and Livia, and a circus 455 metres long.

There are more than 130 Roman theatres and odea in Gaul, both of the Classical and Gallo-Roman types. The sequence begins with the late first-century bc theatre at Forum Julii (Fréjus) which seems to have been built largely of timber, although it was quite large, 84 metres in diameter. In the Augustan period some fine stone theatres were built, including those at Arelate (Arles), Arausio (Orange) and Vienna (Vienne), followed later by some very large theatres, especially the 148-metre-wide late first-century ad theatre at Augustodunum (Autun), the Roman capital of the Aedui. There are two theatres in Lutetia Parisiorum (Paris), the larger of which, 130.5 metres in diameter, is of Gallo-Roman type. At Grand (Vosges) there was an extremely large theatre/amphitheatre, 149.5 metres wide, and at Augusta Suessionum (Soissons) a theatre, c. 144 metres in diameter. Both of the latter were in Belgica.

Some buildings of sacred character were largely unaffected by Roman taste, for example, Gallo-roman temples like the ‘Temple of Janus’ at Augustodunum (Autun). With their characteristic tall cella, usually surrounded on all sides by a low open portico, they were built all over Gaul, Britain and Germany, sometimes in simple materials, and sometimes monumentally with Classical details. Rural sanctuaries (conciliabula) also retained their own traditional layout and style. They frequently contained theatres in a variety of shapes and sizes, known as theatres of gallo-roman type.3 A typical Gallo-Roman sanctuary like Champlieu in Belgica consisted of a bath building, theatre and temple precinct (Figure 10.11). Often these monuments were carefully related to each other, as at Sanxay in Aquitania. Some theatres

Figure 10.11  Champlieu (France), Gallo-Roman sanctuary: plan. (After A. Grenier, Manuel d’Archéologie, part 3 [Paris: Wentworth Press, 1958], 861, figure 282.)

have both an oval arena and a stage, as at Derventum (Drevant) in Aquitania and Aregenua (Vieux) in Lugdunensis. At Augusta Raurica (Augst), the theatre has a gap in the rectilinear wall to show the temple of Schönbühl, 80 metres away. The piles of human bones in the sanctuary at Ribemont-Sur-Ancre in Belgica may represent human sacrifice, common in pre-roman times and attested by Julius Caesar (Bellum Gallicum 6.17). In Narbonensis there are many types of sacred sites, such as the sacred pool of Glanis and the hilltop sanctuary at Glanum. The Spring sanctuary of Nemausus at Nîmes was marked by a prehistoric cone-shaped tower about 18 metres high, later incorporated into the 32.5-metre-high Tour Magne. It also contains the so-called Temple of Diana, which was perhaps a library, with its remarkable stone barrel vault.


Emperor Claudius invaded Britain with four legions and by ad 47 had overrun most of SE England. The revolt of Boudicca (ad 60) was a setback, but soon the Romans pushed their conquests into Wales (ad 78) and as far as the Moray Firth in Scotland (ad 84). The conquest was followed by the establishment of a network of military forts joined by a road system. Gradually the forts were replaced by civilian settlements, either colony composed of Roman veterans or towns built as centres of tribal areas. Colonies like Camulodunum (Colchester) established ad 49, Lindum (Lincoln) c. ad 90 and Glevum (Gloucester) ad 96–98, had the dual purpose of consolidating Roman power and romanising the surrounding region. Native towns, such as Verulamium (St. Albans) and Durovernum Cantiacorum (Canterbury), were often laid out on a Roman grid plan and enjoyed many amenities such as baths and theatres. The Celtic aristocracy was rapidly romanised and as early as the first-century ad villas, such as Fishbourne, were built in fashionable Roman style. More than 600 villas are known in Britain, most of them dating to the third and fourth centuries ad.

Londinium (London), sited on the north bank of the Thames at the lowest point where the river could be bridged, was founded as a port for trade with continental Europe. Burnt in the revolt of Boudicca, it was rebuilt in Flavian times, probably raised to the rank of Colonia, and at some time in the late first-century ad became the provincial capital. It was then that a huge forum was laid out, covering an area of 3.2 hectares (eight acres) flanked by a basilica over 150 metres long. To the southwest of the forum a governor’s palace was built (c. ad 85) and a fort covering 4.45 hectares (11 acres) in the NW corner of the city (early second-century ad). In the early third century ad, a city wall was built incorporating the fort. In 1954 a second-century ad Mithraeum was discovered by the Walbrook stream, divided into nave and two aisles by a row of columns with an apse at the end. The nave had an earth floor and the aisles wooden ones. In 1988 a substantial amphitheatre, built in ad 70 and later renovated, was founded under the Guildhall Art Gallery.

In ad 5 Camulodunum (Colchester) became the capital of Cunobelinus, the Shakespearean Cymbeline, whose kingdom roughly corresponded to Essex, and as such was a prime target in the Claudian invasion of ad 43. After the invasion, a legionary fortress was built there, but it was supplanted by a veterans’ colony in ad 49 and the defences were pulled down. East of the Colonia a huge classical-style temple of Claudius was built on a podium measuring 24 × 32 metres. The building of this temple sparked the rebellion of Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni (Tacitus, Ann. 14.29–39). The city suffered severely in the rebellion and reconstruction was so slow that the temple was not restored until c. ad 100. In the second century ad, the city began to prosper and an area of 44 hectares (108 acres) was enclosed in walls 2.64 metres thick on a 3-metre base. Many fine houses have been found dating to this period and the city seems to have been provided with running water and a sewerage system.

Eburacum (York) seems to have begun as a fort in Flavian times or earlier. By the late Flavian period it became the headquarters of the Legio IX Hispana and the fortress was enlarged to cover 19.5 hectares (48 acres). The original defences were turf and timber, but these were replaced by stone fortifications in ad 107–108. Parts of the Principia have come to light under York Minster, and substantial parts of the walling and an elaborate sewerage system survive. A civilian settlement grew up around the fortress and in the early third-century ad its status was raised to Colonia. When Septimius Severus divided Britain into two provinces, York became the capital of Britannia Inferior. York was the place where Severus died in ad 211, as did Constantius Chlorus, in ad 306. His son, Constantine, was proclaimed emperor there in the same year.

Verulamium (St. Albans), situated near the river Ver some 50 kilometres north of London, was a native centre before the Roman invasion. Its subsequent development was typical of many non-colonial cities. In the first years following the invasion it became a military post, and soon afterwards a civilian settlement. Its grid plan was laid out before the revolt of Boudicca, although it suffered badly in the uprising because most of its buildings seem to have been of timber. The city was slowly rebuilt, with some public monuments of stone, although houses continued to be wooden. In ad 155 a fire swept the city and in the aftermath stone became more common in house construction. Many of these houses had finely painted walls and mosaic floors. During the second century ad, two fine stone gateways known as the London and Chester gates were built, along with the theatre, which was at first only about 50 metres wide. Like many other Gallo-Roman theatres it was almost circular with a circular arena and had a small stage, only 14.9 metres wide. Reduced building activity in the third-century ad seems to point to a decline, but in the fourth-century ad the theatre was enlarged and houses were built and expanded. The discovery of a finely jointed wooden water pipe dating to the middle of the fifth-century ad testifies that the city was still enjoying civilised amenities even at that late date.



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