Roman Art - Ancient Rome - Roman Republican Art answers questions

Roman Art

bronze statue of a female wolf
Bronze wolf from early Rome

September 2016 - When the Romans first got rich enough to make good art, about 500 BC, they learned how from the people they traded with: the Etruscans, and the Greeks. But the Etruscans and the Greeks liked to make their statues beautiful. The Romans were more interested in keeping it real. They liked portraits that really looked like one particular person. And, like the Etruscans and the Carthaginians, Romans liked their statues to keep their clothes on.


A lot of people living in Rome seem to have even believed that having a good image of somebody's face was important to keeping their ghost happy after they died so they wouldn't haunt you. So Roman artists sold a lot of portraits.

Ara Pacis
Ara Pacis

But Roman art changed a lot in the 100s BC, when the Romans conquered Greece, when Roman artists saw a lot of Greek art. The Romans thought the Greeks were super cool, so whatever the Greeks were doing in art, the Romans wanted some. They took a lot of the Greek art home with them on ships, and they also brought back Greek artists (often as slaves) to make more art in Rome. Augustus' Ara Pacis, for example (the Altar of Peace), shows a lot of influence from Greek art in the fancy swirls on the front, in the frieze which is so much like the Parthenon frieze, and in the meanders underneath the frieze. But it is still a portrait of Augustus and his family in a real procession.

Learn by doing: look at public buildings near you. Do we also copy Greek and Roman art?
Roman Art - the Roman Empire

Bibliography and further reading about Roman art:

Ancient Roman Art, by Susie Hodge (1998). Easy reading.

Roman Art: Romulus to Constantine, by Nancy and Andrew Ramage (4th Edition 2004). The standard textbook.

A Coloring Book of Ancient Rome, from Bellerophon Books (1988). Easy reading.

Roman pottery
Ancient Rome home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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