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Ancient Rome’s Respect for Greek Art and Architecture

Rome, Italy

While Rome may have conquered Greece militarily, in many ways it was conquered in return by Greek culture. That’s clear in the impact Greece had on Roman art and architecture and how a Roman forté was copying Greek originals.

Complete Video Script

[30, Hadrian's Villa, AD 118–138, Tivoli, near Rome] Of all the cultures Rome conquered, there was one that was even more sophisticated than their own — and that was Greece. While Rome conquered Greece militarily, in many ways it was conquered in return by Greek culture — religion, philosophy, art, and so on. And that assimilation actually elevated and refined Roman civilization. And, thanks to this Roman reverence for all things Greek, much of ancient Greek culture has survived until today.

[31] As Rome respected and even co-opted Greek culture, we see parallels between the two societies. For example, while Zeus was king of the Greek gods, Jupiter was his Roman counterpart. Poseidon was the Greek god of the sea…while Neptune protected Roman sailors. Greek lovers embraced Aphrodite while Roman Romeos prayed to Venus. And like the Greeks, the Romans earned the favor of their many gods by sculpting them beautifully.

[32] The Romans built Greek-looking temples. But rather than carved out of stone they were built more economically, no-nonsense structures of cement mixed with rubble, faced with brick, and then decorated with a stucco or marble veneer and a Greek-style facade.

[33, Maison Carrée, AD 2, Nîmes, France] This Roman temple, built in what is now the south of France, is a good example of Greek culture shaping Roman. It's fundamentally an early Roman-style temple — a rectangular building on a high podium with steps leading up to a deep porch, . But it came with a Greek facade and a Greek-style colonnade all around the building, much of it decorative, with no structural function at all.

[34, Roman theater, first century AD, Orange, France; Roman Library of Celcus, AD 110-135, Ephesus, Turkey] Romans used the Greek look for their grandest buildings, from arenas to theaters and libraries. The three Greek orders appeared everywhere — Doric, Ionic, and the Roman favorite: leafy Corinthian — putting that Greek veneer of sophistication and architectural grace over the more pragmatic Roman building and culture.

[35, Capitoline Museums, Rome] Romans emulated the high culture of the Greeks and when it came to capturing beauty, their forte was making excellent copies of Greek originals.

[36, The Discus Thrower (Roman copy of c. 450 BC Greek original), National Museum of Rome] In fact, many original Greek masterpieces, like this discus thrower (while lost today), survive thanks to the Romans, who cranked out copies of them in mass quantities to decorate their temples, villas, and baths.

[37, Capitoline Venus, Capitoline Museums, Rome] This Venus — another roughly 2,000-year-old Roman copy of a 2,500-year-old Greek original — only survives as a Roman copy. It's one of the purest representations of idealized feminine beauty from ancient times.

[38] These fine Greek-style statues — tangled wrestlers, kissing cupids, and playful characters — which once adorned the courtyards of wealthy families are constant reminders of the sophisticated Greek culture that made wealthy Rome even richer.