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.




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




Capitoline Wolf, 5th century B.C.E. or medieval, bronze, 75 cm (Capitoline Museums, Rome)
Abandoned as infants, the mythical founders of Rome were raised by a she-wolf.

Capitoline She-wolf


The art of gem carving
Watch a modern artist engrave a precious gemstone using the techniques of the ancients.

The art of gem carving



Capitoline Brutus, 4th-3rd century B.C.E. bronze, 69 cm (Capitoline Museums, Rome)
Once identified as the founder of the Roman Republic, debate over this figure’s true identity rages on.

Capitoline Brutus




The Pantheon, Rome, c. 125
The Pantheon has one of the most perfect interior spaces ever constructed—and it’s been copied ever since.

The Pantheon (Rome)



Veristic male portrait (similar to Head of a Roman Patrician), early 1st Century B.C.E., marble, life size (Vatican Museums, Rome)
With age comes experience, and sculptors in the Roman Republic highlighted seniority—warts and all.

Veristic male portrait





The Colossus of Constantine, c. 312-15 (Palazzo dei Conservatori, Musei Capitolini, Rome)
Does the abstraction of form and faraway look in this colossal portrait hint at the growth of Christianity in Rome?

The Colossus of Constantine




View of the Roman Forum from the Capitoline Hill
Dirt and detritus have built up in Rome over the centuries—the city now sits well above ancient street level.

Digging through time




Medea Sarcophagus, 140 - 150 C.E., marble, 65 x 227 cm (Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin)
One of the great myths of jealousy and revenge is carved into this sarcophagus. But why put this story on a coffin?

Medea Sarcophagus