Roman Art - Ancient Rome - Roman Republican Art answers questions

Roman Art

May 2016 - Roman art grew out of Etruscan art, and at first it was a lot like Etruscan art. Because of this, it had a close relationship to Greek art too. Roman art as a type of its own really gets going around 500 BC with the beginning of the Roman Republic. Roman people were particularly interested in portraiture: in making statues that really looked like one particular person, especially a famous person. Greek people were more interested in ideals: what is the most beautiful man? what is the most athletic man? But the Romans were more interested in reality.


A lot of people living in Rome seem to have believed, also, 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 throughout the time of the Roman Republic and all the way through the Roman Empire we see a lot of portraits.

Ara Pacis
Ara Pacis
About 200 BC, the Romans began conquering Greece, and this changed their art styles a lot. As the Roman soldiers marched through Greece, they saw a lot of Greek art in the temples, and in the cemeteries, and in public squares and people's houses. The Romans thought of the Greeks as being cooler than they were, so whatever the Greeks were doing in art, the Romans wanted some. They brought home a lot of the Greek art they saw (either by buying it or by stealing it, or maybe sometimes the Greeks gave it to them for presents), and they also brought back Greek sculptors (often as slaves) to make more art for them 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.

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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