5 Ways Roman Architecture Changed Civilization

Roman architecture was so revolutionary that much of it still persists and influences architecture to this day. It’s no surprise that a civilization the size of the Roman empire created concepts, styles, and even landmarks that are still standing today. The number of influences on modern architecture are almost too many to list, but there a few key aspects of Roman architecture that changed, not only architecture, but modern civilisation itself.

1. Romans built monuments as a statement of power

Arch of Constantine roman architecture

The Arch of Constantine was the inspiration for the famous Marble Arch in London. Image source

Many great works of Roman architecture were constructed as a means of stating the power of the Romans, as Emperors celebrated their status and reputations with grand public works of architecture. The Arch of Constantine, completed in 315 AD to celebrate the Battle of Milvian Bridge, is one of the largest surviving structures from that era. Standing 21 metres high, it was the inspiration for the famous Marble Arch in London.

2. The Pantheon is an amazing example of Roman architecture

The dome of the Pantheon in Rome remains to this day - even with all the advances in technology, science, materials, and architecture - the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world. Commissioned during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD) and officially dedicated in 126 AD, this nearly 2000-year-old structure beats out anything built today.

pantheon roman architecture

The Pantheon is still the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world. Image source

3. Roman architecture developed the use arches and vaults in architecture

While Roman architecture may not have invented the arch or the vault, they certainly perfected them. These architectural forms allowed Roman architects to create large roofed structures without a reliance on pillars. These forms were also instrumental in their ability to construct great bridges and aqueducts; structures that were vital in the development and expansion of one of the greatest empires in history.

arch medinaceli roman architecture

The ancient Roman triumphal arch of Medinaceli in Soria, Spain is a perfect example of one of the first arches perfected by Roman architecture. Image source

4. Roman architecture allowed large cities to grow

Roman architecture pioneered incredibly advanced architectural concepts that were vital in allowing large cities to grow, thus allowing them to expand their empire across vast distances.

roman architecture arch aqueduct

Caption: Aqueducts made the expansion of the Roman empire possible. Image sorce

By the end of the third century, Rome was served by 11 aqueducts, with some 800 km of artificial water courses in total. This transformed the way that civilisations operated, freeing citizens from a dependency on agriculture and allowing them to explore art, politics, engineering, and many of the other industries that set the Roman Empire apart from other civilizations.

BRIDGES

Caption: Roman bridges like Alcántara Bridge over the Tagus River in Spain facilitated transport throughout their vast empire. Image source

The invention and widespread use of aqueducts could not have happened without the construction of bridges, many of which are still standing thousands of years later. One of the most beautiful example is the Alcántara Bridge over the Tagus River in Spain, constructed in 106 AD under the rule of Emperor Trajan. It even features an inscription that reads, ‘I have built a bridge which will last forever,’ and to his credit that statement is still accurate.

SEWERS

Though less celebrated throughout history, the construction of a sewer system was vital to urban life. Built from previously-used open drains and canals, the Cloaca Maxima was used throughout the entire existence of both the Republic and the Empire, with parts of it still used to this day. Part of the appeal of the Roman Empire was the cleaner and healthier life its inhabitants lived, thanks in no small part to an intricate and ingenious sewer system; a fact that would be helpful in placating conquered communities.

ROADS

 roman architecture roads

Roman architecture introduced the vast network of roads that connect countries all across the empire like this one still in tact in Libya. Image source

Last but by no means least is Rome’s impressive network of roads. The Appian Way was the first major paved road constructed in the mid-fourth century BCE. It linked Rome to Brindisi and even included a 1 km-long tunnel to connect to an important naval base.

5. Roman architecture relied heavily on concrete

roman architecture concrete stadium colosseum

The discovery of concrete made much of Roman architecture possible. Image source

The Roman’s discovery of a rudimentary version of concrete is what made these architectural feats possible. In fact, Roman concrete is fairly similar to modern-day Portland cement, created by mixing a dry aggregate with a mortar that would take up water and then harden. This revolutionary material gave Roman architecture huge flexibility in form and never-before-seen strength and durability.

Roman architecture is truly inspirational, and if you’re feeling extra motivated why not check out one of our architecture competitions and test your own creativity.

Open architecture competitions

  • Closest Deadline first
  • Project competitions first
    Selected winning projects have the potential to be constructed
  • Ideas competitions first
    Experimental competitions with the focus on pushing the boundaries of creativity
ideas COMPETITION
MICROHOME 2020 - Small living, huge impact!

Design a new concept of small-scale architecture with the second annual Microhomes competition

Prize: MONETARY AWARD
Eligibility: OPEN TO ALL

extended registration deadline

Remind me
Jun 07
Sep 09
Dec 08
Register now
project COMPETITION
Iceland Cave Tower

Design observation tower overlooking the mysteriously beautiful Grjótagjá caves in northern Iceland

Prize: MONETARY AWARD + CONSTRUCTION
Eligibility: OPEN TO ALL

extended registration deadline

Remind me
Jun 30
Sep 22
Dec 15
Register now
project COMPETITION
Yoga House on a Cliff

Design eco-friendly yoga house in a secluded Portuguese retreat

Prize: MONETARY AWARD + CONSTRUCTION
Eligibility: OPEN TO ALL

extended registration deadline

Remind me
Jun 25
Sep 17
Dec 16
Register now
project COMPETITION
Omuli Museum of the Horse

Reimagine a historical primary school into a museum for horses

Prize: MONETARY AWARD + CONSTRUCTION
Eligibility: OPEN TO ALL

registration deadlines

Remind me
Dec 14
Jan 26
Apr 23
Register now
ideas COMPETITION
The Last Nuclear Bomb Memorial

Design a memorial that speaks towards the cause of ending all nuclear weapons

Prize: MONETARY AWARD
Eligibility: OPEN TO ALL

registration deadlines

Remind me
Dec 15
Jan 27
Apr 21
Register now
ideas COMPETITION
Toronto Affordable Housing Challenge

Design affordable housing solutions for Toronto

Prize: MONETARY AWARD + PUBLICATION IN THE BOOK
Eligibility: OPEN TO ALL

registration deadlines

Remind me
Dec 16
Jan 28
Apr 22
Register now
ideas COMPETITION
SKYHIVE 2021 Skyscraper Challenge

Fourth annual competition to redefine the modern-day skyscraper

Prize: MONETARY AWARD
Eligibility: OPEN TO ALL

registration deadlines

Remind me
Dec 17
Jan 29
Apr 23
Register now
project COMPETITION
Sleeping Pods on a Cliff

Design a series of sleeping pods for a Portugal yoga retreat

Prize: MONETARY AWARD + CONSTRUCTION
Eligibility: OPEN TO ALL

registration deadlines

Remind me
Dec 18
Feb 01
Apr 27
Register now

ARCHITECTURE COMPETITIONS

Newsletter