Online course: Roman Architecture

Dates: any time

Duration: 40 hours

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Participating countries: any country

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Organizer: Yale University at Coursera


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  • $49 with sharable certificate

Roman Architecture

Roman Architecture is a course for people who love to travel and want to discover the power of architecture to shape politics, society, and culture.



WEEK 1: 2 hours to complete

Introduction to Roman Architecture

Roman urbanism and introduction to the wide variety of Roman buildings covered in the course.

1.1 Introduction: Roman Urbanism
1.2 The Urban Grid and Public Architecture
1.3 Bathing, Entertainment, and Housing in the Roman City
1.4 Roman Tombs, Aqueducts, and the Lasting Impact of Roman Architecture

Suggested Readings – “The Monument Lists”

It Takes a City: The Founding of Rome and the Beginnings of Urbanism in Italy

Evolution of Roman architecture from the Iron Age through the Late Republic with emphasis on city planning, wall building, and early Roman temple architecture.

2.1 Romulus Founds Rome
2.2 The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus
2.3 Defensive Stone Walls and Regular Town Planning
2.4 The Hellenization of Late Republican Temple Architecture
2.5 The Advent of the Corinthian Order

Technology and Revolution in Roman Architecture
The Revolution in Roman Architecture through the widespread adoption of opus caementicium (concrete) used for expressive as well as practical purposes.

3.1 Roman Concrete and the Revolution in Roman Architecture
3.2 The First Experiments in Roman Concrete Construction
3.3 Sanctuaries and the Expressive Potential of Roman Concrete Construction
3.4 Innovations in Concrete at Rome: The Tabularium and The Theater of Marcellus
3.5 Concrete Transforms a Mountain at Palestrina

WEEK 2: 2 hours to complete

Civic Life interrupted: Nightmare and Destiny on August 24, A.D. 79

Civic, commercial, and religious buildings of Pompeii buried by the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 and later rediscovered. Daily life in Pompeii is illustrated through its bakeries and fast food stands and a moving account dramatizes what happened when disaster struck.

4.1 Introduction to Pompeii and the City’s History
4.2 The Early Settlement and the Forum at Pompeii
4.3 The Capitolium and Basilica of Pompeii
4.4 Pompeii’s Entertainment District: The Amphitheater, Theater, and Music Hall
4.5 Bath Complexes at Pompeii
4.6 Daily Life and the Eruption of Vesuvius

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Houses and Villas at Pompeii

Domestic architecture at Pompeii from its beginnings to the eruption of Vesuvius with emphasis on the development of the domus italica and the Hellenized domus and featuring the House of the Faun and Villa of the Mysteries.

5.1 Introduction and the Ideal Domus Italica
5.2 Early Pompeian Houses and the Ideal Hellenized Domus
5.3 Hellenized Houses in Pompeii
5.4 The House of the Faun
5.5 Additional Pompeian Houses
5.6 Villa of the Mysteries

Habitats at Herculaneum and Early Roman Interior Decoration

What befell the city of Herculaneum’s inhabitants when they tried to escape Vesuvius. The development of the city’s domestic architecture, especially the Houses of the Mosaic Atrium and the Stags, is traced as is the evolution of First and Second Style Roman wall painting, the latter transforming the flat wall into a panoramic window.

6.1 Introduction and the History of Herculaneum
6.2 Houses at Herculaneum and the Samnite House
6.3 Further Developments in Domestic Architecture at Herculaneum: The House of the Mosaic Atrium and the House of the Stags
6.4 First Style Roman Wall Painting
6.5 Second Style Roman Wall Painting
6.6 Second Style Roman Wall Painting and the Family of Augustus

WEEK 3: 2 hours to complete

Gilding the Lily: Painting Palaces and Villas in the First Century A.D.

Third Style Roman wall painting in villas belonging to elite patrons. Third Style painting is characterized by departure from perspectival vistas and return to a flat wall decorated with panel pictures and attenuated architectural elements. The Fourth Style is a compendium of all previous styles. Both coexist in Nero’s Domus Aurea.

7.1 Introduction to Third and Fourth Style Roman Wall Painting
7.2 Transition from Second to Third Style at Oplontis
7.3 The Mature Third Style at Boscotrecase
7.4 A Third Style Garden and Fabullus Paints the Domus Aurea in Rome
7.5 Fourth Style Eclecticism and Display in Pompeii
7.6 Scenographic Painting in Herculaneum

Exploring Special Subjects on Pompeian Walls

Painted renditions of special subjects inserted into Second through Fourth Style Roman wall paintings. These include mythological, landscape, genre, still life, and history painting, as well as painted portraiture. Highlights include the Dionysiac Mysteries paintings and the Riot in the Amphitheater, both from residences in Pompeii.

8.1 Initiation in the Villa of the Mysteries
8.2 A Mystical Marriage
8.3 The God of Wine and His Brides
8.4 Conclusion to the Initiation Rites
8.5 The Wanderings of Odysseus
8.6 Genre, Historical, and Portrait Painting

WEEK 4: 2 hours to complete

From Brick to Marble: Augustus Assembles Rome

Transformation of Rome by Augustus. Claiming to have found Rome a city of brick and leaving it a city of marble, Augustus exploited marble quarries at Luna (modern Carrara) to build his Forum, decorating it with replicas of Greek caryatids associating his era with Periclean Athens. The contemporary Ara Pacis served as the Luna marble embodiment of Augustus’ new hegemonic empire.

9.1 From Republic to Empire: Julius Caesar
9.2 Julius Caesar, Venus Genetrix, and the Forum Iulium
9.3 The Ascent of Augustus and Access to Italian Marble
9.4 Augustus Assembles His Marble City
9.5 The Forum of Augustus and Its Links to the Greek Past
9.6 The Ara Pacis Augustae
9.7 Mussolini, The Meier Museum, and a Jewel on Lungotevere

Accessing Afterlife: Tombs of Roman Aristocrats, Freedmen, and Slaves

Sepulchral architecture in Rome under Augustus. Roman tombs were built in a variety of personalized forms among them the pyramidal Tomb of the aristocrat Gaius Cestius, and the trapezoidal Tomb of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, probably a former slave who made his fortune overseeing the baking and public distribution of bread for the Roman army.

10.1 Augustus’ Family Mausoleum
10.2 Etruscan Antecedents of the Mausoleum of Augustus 8m
10.3 The Tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Via Appia
10.4 The Pyramidal Tomb of Gaius Cestius
10.5 The Tomb of the Baker Eurysaces and His Wife Atistia
10.6 Atistia’s Breadbasket and Eurysaces’ Achievements
10.7 Tombs for Those of Modest Means and the Future of Concrete Architecture

Notorious Nero and His Amazing Architectural Legacy

Architecture under the Julio-Claudian emperors: Tiberius’ Villa Jovis on Capri, and, in Rome and at Portus, the eccentric architecture of Claudius with its unique combination of finished and rusticated masonry. The culminating masterwork is Nero’s Domus Aurea with its octagonal room, one of the most important rooms in the history of Roman architecture.

11.1 Tiberius and the Villa Jovis on Capri
11.2 Caligula and the Underground Basilica in Rome
11.3 Claudius and the Harbor at Portus
11.4 Claudius’ Porta Maggiore in Rome
11.5 Nero and the Domus Transitoria in Rome
11.6 The Golden House of Nero and the Octagonal Room

WEEK 5: The Creation of an Icon: The Colosseum and Contemporary Architecture in Rome

The Flavian dynasty of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Vespasian linked himself to Divus Claudius by completing the Claudianum, distanced himself from Nero by destroying part of the Domus Aurea, filling in the artificial lake and replacing it with the Colosseum. Titus commissioned Rome’s first preserved example of the “imperial bath type,” characterized by grand scale, axiality, and symmetry.

12.1 The Year 68-69 and The Founding of the Flavian Dynasty
12.2 The Claudianum or The Temple of Divine Claudius
12.3 The Colosseum: Icon of Rome
12.4 The Colosseum as a Post-Antique Quarry
12.5 The Forum or Templum Pacis
12.6 The Imperial Baths of Titus

The Prince and the Palace: Human Made Divine on the Palatine Hill

The Domitianic Arch (and Tomb) of Titus celebrating the Flavian victory in the Jewish Wars; the Stadium of Domitian, its shape now preserved in Rome’s Piazza Navona, the Imperial Palace on the Palatine Hill, designed by Rabirius and featuring Domitian as dominus et deus, and the Forum Transitorium, a narrow space with undulating columnar bays announcing the beginning of a “baroque” phase in Roman architecture. First Quiz is located here!

13.1 The Jewish Wars, the Flavian Dynasty, and the Arch of Titus
13.2 The Arch of Titus: Triumph and Tomb
13.3 Domitian’s Succession and Stadium (The Piazza Navona)
13.4 Domitian as Dominus et Deus in the Palatine Palace
13.5 Rabirius’ Architectural Innovations
13.6 The Forum Transitorium and Incipient Baroque Architecture


The Mother of All Forums: Civic Architecture in Rome under Trajan

Trajan’s monumental architecture in Rome references his expansion of the Roman Empire to its furthest reaches. Highlights include the Baths of Trajan and the Forum and Markets of Trajan, built on land that engineer/architect Apollodorus of Damascus created by cutting away part of the Quirinal Hill. The complex also includes the celebrated 125-foot Column of Trajan with a spiral frieze commemorating the emperor’s military victories in Dacia.

14.1 Trajan Expands the Empire and Initiates Public Architecture in Rome
14.2 The Baths of Trajan
14.3 The Forum of Trajan
14.4 The Basilica Ulpia
14.5 The Column of Trajan
14.6 The Markets of Trajan and The Succession of Hadrian

Rome and a Villa: Hadrian’s Pantheon and Tivoli Retreat

Architecture in and around Rome during Hadrian’s reign: the Temple of Venus and Roma possibly designed by Hadrian; the Pantheon, combining the marble porch and pediment of a traditional Greco-Roman temple with a vast concrete cylindrical drum, hemispherical dome, central oculus, and theatrical light effects; the Villa of Hadrian at Tivoli, where the emperor recreated buildings and works of art observed during his empire-wide travels; and the Mausoleum of Hadrian (Castel Sant’Angelo).

15.1 The Temple of Venus and Roma: A Greek Temple in Rome
15.2 The Pantheon: A Temple to All the Gods
15.3 The Pantheon and Its Impact on Later Architecture
15.4 Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli: Travelogue and Retreat
15.5 Unique Designs at Hadrian’s Villa and the Castel Sant’ Angelo in Rome

The Roman Way of Life and Death at Ostia, The Port of Rome

Tour of Ostia, characterized by multi-storied residential buildings and widespread use of brick-faced concrete. The city’s public face features the Forum, Capitolium, Theater, and Piazzale delle Corporazioni with its black-and-white mosaic shipping company advertisements. The Insula of Diana, a four-floor brick apartment building, and warehouses like the Horrea Epagathiana highlight the Ostian appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of exposed brick facing.

16.1 Ostia: Rome’s First Colony
16.2 Civic Architecture in Ostia
16.3 Transacting Business at the Piazzale delle Corporazioni
16.4 Residential Architecture at Ostia: The Insulae
16.5 The Warehouses of Ostia
16.6 Painted Decoration and Mosaic Floors
16.7 Re-emergence of the Domus at Ostia and Tombs at Isola Sacra


Bigger is Better: The Baths of Caracalla and Other Second-and Third-Century Buildings in Rome

Exploration of a “bigger is better” philosophy; exposed brick tombs with painted stucco and architectural elements; the Temple of Divine Antoninus Pius and Faustina and its post-antique afterlife as the Church of S. Lorenzo in Miranda; the earliest surviving triple-bayed Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum; the Septizodium, a lively baroque-style façade for Domitian’s Palace on the Palatine Hill; and the colossal Baths of Caracalla

17.1 A Brick Tomb for Annia Regilla on the Via Appia
17.2 Second-Century Tomb Interiors in Rome
17.3 The Tomb Of the Caetennii in the Vatican Cemetery
17.4 The Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina the Elder in the Roman Forum
17.5 The New Severan Dynasty and The Parthian Arch in the Roman Forum
17.6 Biggest Is Best: The Baths of Caracalla in Rome

Hometown Boy: Honoring an Emperor’s Roots in Roman North Africa

Timgad, Trajan’s colony for Roman army veterans, was designed as a castrum; Leptis Magna, with Carthaginian roots, was developed first under Augustus. Leptis-born Septimius Severus renovated his hometown featuring a forum, basilica, and arch. Entrepreneurs, providing animals to Rome’s amphitheaters, commissioned Hunting Baths with intimate vaulted spaces revealed on the outside and silhouetted against the sea, suggesting that they knew how to innovate and enjoy life.

18.1 Timgad: The Ideal Second-Century Colony in Roman North Africa
18.2 Leptis Magna in the Age of Augustus
18.3 The Augustan Theater and the Hadrianic Baths at Leptis Magna
18.4 Septimius Severus Sheathes Leptis in Imported Marble
18.5 The Severan Temple and Basilica, the Arch of Septimius Severus, and the Unique Hunting Baths

Baroque Extravaganzas: Rock Tombs, Fountains, and Sanctuaries in Jordan, Lebanon, and Libya

The baroque phenomenon in ancient Roman architecture where the traditional vocabulary of architecture (columns, pediments, et al) is manipulated to enliven building façades and inject them with dynamic motion. Appearing in Rome in the late first century A.D., baroque architecture was foremost in the Greek East where high-quality marble and expert marble carvers made it the architectural mode of choice. It foreshadowed Borromini’s showpieces of seventeenth-century Rome.

19.1 Baroque Architecture in the Roman Empire
19.2 Exploring Baroque Elements in Italy
19.3 Baroque Facadism at Petra
19.4 The Baroque in Ancient Asia Minor
19.5 The Theater at Sabratha, North Africa
19.6 The Temples of Jupiter, Bacchus, and Venus in Baalbek, Lebanon


Roman Wine in Greek Bottles: The Rebirth of Athens

The rebirth of Athens under Rome’s foremost philhellenic emperors, Augustus and Hadrian. High quality Greek marble and expert Greek stone carvers produced notable edifices in Roman Greece dependent on a mutual exchange of architectural ideas and motifs between Rome and Athens. These include the Monument of Philopappos, the Library and Arch of Hadrian, and architectural additions or transformations made to the Acropolis and the Greek and Roman Agoras.

20.1 Introduction to Greek and Roman Athens
20.2 Augustus and the Athenian Acropolis
20.3 Agrippa’s Building Program in Athens
20.4 The Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds
20.5 Architecture in Athens under Hadrian
20.6 The Monument of Philopappos on the Mouseion Hill

Making Mini Romes on the Western Frontier

Romanization was meant to provide amenities to Rome’s new colonies while, at the same time, transforming them into miniature versions of Rome. The focus here is on western frontier sites in what are now North Italy, France, Spain, and Croatia. Highlights include: the Theater at Orange, the Maison Carrée and the Pont-du-Gard at Nîmes, and the Trophy of Augustus at La Turbie.

21.1 Roman Colonies in the West
21.2 Urban Planning in North Italy and the South of France
21.3 Augustan Temples at Vienne and Nimes
21.4 The Pont du Gard and the Aqueduct at Segovia
21.5 Augustus’ Pacification of the Alpine Tribes and his Trophy at La Turbie
21.6 Funerary and Commemorative Architecture


Rome Redux: The Tetrarchic Renaissance

Except for the Aurelian Walls, Rome’s third century was an “architectural wasteland.” Diocletian created a new form of government called the Tetrarchy (four-man rule) with leaders in East and West. Public and private building campaigns in Rome and the provinces reflected the Empire’s renewed stability and centered on enhancing or restoring buildings in the Roman Forum and constructing the Baths of Diocletian in Rome and Diocletian’s Palace at Split.

22.1 Crisis in the Third Century and the Aurelian Walls
22.2 The Rise of the Tetrarchy
22.3 The Decennial or Five-Column Monument in the Roman Forum
22.4 The Senate House or Curia Julia
22.5 The Baths of Diocletian
22.6 The Palace of Diocletian at Split
22.7 Tetrarchic Palaces Around the Empire

Rome of Constantine and a New Rome

Constantine commissioned buildings linked to the pagan past (Baths of Constantine) and others (Aula Palatina,Trier) looking to the Christian future. New architectural ideas abound. The “Temple of Minerva Medica” is decagonal and the Basilica Nova modeled on the frigidaria of Roman imperial baths. The Arch of Constantine commemorates Constantine’s victory at the Milvian Bridge and serves as a compendium of Constantine’s accomplishments matching those of “good” second-century Roman emperors.

23.1 The End of the Tetrarchy and the Rise of Constantine the Great
23.2 The Baths of Constantine in Rome and the Porta Nigra at Trier
23.3 The Basilica or Aula Palatina at Trier
23.4 The Temple of Minerva Medica in Rome
23.5 The Basilica Nova in Rome
23.6 The Arch of Constantine and the Enduring Impact of Roman Architecture