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Super-sized Art and Architecture of Ancient Rome

Rome, Italy

In ancient Rome, more than the Colosseum was colossal. Grand statues decorated imposing buildings that stoked massive imperial egos. With bricks, concrete, round arches, cheap or free labor, and emperors who loved to build, Rome built very big.

Complete Video Script

[47] Soon, the city of Rome was ornamented with the Roman specialty: supersized monuments built on a colossal scale.

[48, Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheater), AD 80, Rome] Of all the grand monuments of the empire at its peak, the most colossal must have been the Colosseum, a huge sports stadium, where trained gladiators fought to the death. The Colosseum — solid, useful and beautiful — is a great example of ancient Roman architecture and aesthetics. While this megastructure is a no-nonsense Roman design, again, the façade is Greek, decorated with the three Greek orders of columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

[49] Stepping inside, you can almost hear the roar of ancient Rome. Romans filled and emptied the Colosseum's 50,000 seats as quickly and efficiently as we do our super-stadiums today.

[50] It's built with two theaters facing each other — that's what an amphitheater is — so twice as many people could enjoy the entertainment.

[51] The Colosseum was a huge stone metaphor for the empire itself: well-designed, really big, filled with violence, and practical for the people — in this case keeping the restless masses entertained.

[52, Trajan's Column, AD 113, Rome] Emperor Trajan's Column — essentially a propaganda billboard — marked the empire at its peak, around the year 100. It trumpets the glories of the army and the emperor who ruled Rome in its heyday. Like a 200-yard-long scroll carved in stone, this "continuous narration" winds all the way to the top. The purpose (like so much art from ancient Rome): telling the story of yet another great military victory…the way the empire wanted it remembered.

[65, Farnese Bull, second-third century BC, National Archaeological Museum, Naples] Not only did the Romans copy the Greek style, they supersized it. These huge statues once decorated a bath house. The centerpiece — the largest intact statue from antiquity — tells a story that comes with a moral. Roman mythology was part of their religion, and it was often used to teach preferred societal values.

[66] This art tells a story with a message: once upon a time, an evil queen was tied to a raging bull. The action is masterfully captured. You can almost hear the bull snorting. While the myth is a long story, anyone visiting this bath house and passing this statue would be reminded quite graphically of its moral — that in Rome, justice prevails.