Ancient Rome: c. 753 B.C.E. – 400 C.E.

The brilliance of ancient Roman art can be seen in the wall paintings of Pompeii, the massive ambition of the Colosseum, and the daring engineering of the Pantheon. According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 B.C.E. by Romulus, its first king. In 509 B.C.E., Rome became a republic ruled by the Senate (wealthy landowners and elders) and by the Roman people. During the 450 years of the republic, Rome conquered the rest of Italy and then expanded into France, Spain, Turkey, North Africa and Greece. Rome, in turn, was heavily influenced by Greek culture. The Republic collapsed in civil war during the 1st century B.C.E. and the Roman empire began. Starting with Augustus in 27 B.C.E., the emperors ruled for five hundred years. They expanded Rome’s territory and by about 200 C.E., their vast empire stretched from Syria to Spain and from Britain to Egypt.



Second Style painting, cubiculum (bedroom), Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, 50–40 B.C.E., fresco (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii two millennia ago—creating a time capsule of the evolution of Roman painting.

Roman wall painting styles







Still Life with Peaches (left), two dates, a silver tray with prunes, dried figs and dates with a glass of red wine (center), and branch of Peaches, Fourth Style wall painting from Herculaneum, Italy, c. 62-69 C.E., fresco, 14 x 13 1/2 inches (Archaeological Museum, Naples)
Hospitality was key in ancient Rome, and this wall painting shows the gifts that guests may have received.

Still Life with Peaches





In ancient Rome, official portraits were full of political messages. What does Vespasian’s portrait say about him?

Portrait of Vespasian


Sardonyx cameo showing Trajan and his wife, Roman, 105-115 (BM)
From monarchy, to republic, then empire—at its height, Rome controlled territory from Scotland to the Middle East.

Introduction to ancient Rome





Preparations for a Sacrifice, fragment from an architectural relief, c. mid-first century C.E., marble, 172 x 211 cm / 67¾ x 83⅛ inches (Musée du Louvre, Paris)
Animal sacrifice played an important role in ancient Roman religion, but what was involved in the preparation?

Preparations for a Sacrifice





Maison Carrée, c. 4-7 C.E.
This well-preserved building in modern-day France is a textbook example of a Vitruvian temple.

Maison Carrée




Hadrian's Wall, England
At the remotest point of the Roman Empire, Hadrian erected this fortification—a symbol of control and dominance.

Hadrian: Building the wall