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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts


Mix Master
About Mr.B
Ancient Rome:

According to legend, a tyrant ruler took the kingdom that belonged to abandoned baby brothers, Romulus and Remus. They were the sons of the Princess of Alba Longa, Rhea Silvia. She was a Vestal virgin, but was raped by the god of war, Mars. She was thrown into the river, but was rescued by Tiberinus, a river god who married her. The boys were send down river in a reed basket. A female wolf found the baby boys and suckled them until they were rescued by a shepherd who took them in. With time, the two boys grew strong, killing the tyrant and reclaimed their land and founded the city of Rome in 753 BC. Like brothers sometimes will, they fought over the land. That is until Romulus caught Remus on his land and killed him. The city became populated with outlaws and homeless men. To populate the city they needed women, so they abducted women from neighboring cities in an event called the “rape of the Sabine women.” The men came to rescue the women, who were now happily living in Rome. The women defused this battle from happening and the groups joined into Rome. It was then that Romulus ascended into the sky to become divine.

The location of Rome is just as thought out as the myth of Rome's start, but maybe not as great of a story. The location of Rome was a prime spot for a city. First off, it is along the Tiber River that allows access to the Mediterranean Sea. And secondly the hilly geography of the area gives the city protection from invaders.

Under the leadership of Tarquinius Superbus, Rome became a republic in 509 BC. But Rome’s ancient history has many ups and downs. They were defeated in battle by the Gauls, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and others, but, advanced their society with public baths, theatres, basilicas, and public gaming areas. The city was virtually destroyed by fire in 64 BC and the empire suffered from other natural disasters. But that might be expected in an empire that expanded most of the way around the Mediterranean Sea and then some. Rome had great rulers like Julius Caesar and Constantine and poor rulers like Caligula and Nero. Although, I do like Caligula from an entertainment point of view. Who could not find entertainment in a ruler that wanted to proclaim his trusty horse Incitatus with the role of senator? But this is the great thing about art. As we will look at some of the art of this great civilization, you may see some artworks that you think of as poor or great, you preference of art is totally up to you. There is a lot out there to see.

The enjoyment of art is largely dependent on taste in art. Romans made art in a very realistic style, much of which was stolen from Greeks, with a few differences. Style is the unique way communication happens visually. The most noticeable difference in style is that the Romans are much less comfortable with nudity. Like the Greeks, however, much of the art was idealized. For example many of the human forms look god-like. I call the Romans the greatest group of thieves in art history. This theft happened two fold in my mind. During the Third Punic War, Rome was capturing many Greeks as slaves that were taken to Rome. These slaves’ skills no doubt influenced Rome as we know it. Thus, the Romans stole the skilled people and stole their style as it relates to art and architecture.

Education was an important part of all Roman’s up bringing, just as it had been for the Greeks. Romans believed that all people needed knowledge of their cultural history. They generally did this learning of history through the use of mythology and metaphor, but also documenting, collecting, and preserving the facts of many events. The greatest Roman historian was Tacitus. Other historians included: Sallust, Livy, and even Julius Caesar himself.

Again, education was important to all Romans. Boys and girls, men and women, all were virtually equals in the Roman society. Roman women became more educated than other cultures accepted women to be. In fact, Roman women had more freedoms then the American women living through the suffrage that lasted until 1920. Roman women worked in business, medicine, as writers, and many other important careers.


Romans built temples like the Greeks. The major difference was the Roman tendency to use the Corinthian Order rather than the Doric or Ionic Orders. Another huge architectural advancement is the development of a new building material, concrete.


With this being one of the most important structures in history, a knowledgable student would be wise to know some of the major features of the Roman Pantheon. Under the orders of Hadrian, the Pantheon was built to honor all gods. The structures dome is 144 feet in diameter and 144 feet tall. Its coffered dome roof is 20' thick in some places. There are 140 coffers in the dome that are designed to lighten the load on the walls that support the dome. At the top center of the dome is an oculus; an opening at the top of dome. The oculus is 30' in diameter. The Pantheon served as the religious, civic, and art center of the Roman Empire.


Pompeii was a large and wealthy city in southern Italy founded in the eighth century B.C. It was an important port and is sets along the roadway from north to south Italy. This made it a natural industrial and trading center. There was a huge earthquake in 62 AD, but the volcano near the city, Mt. Vesuvius, was thought to be dormant. The afternoon of August 24, 79 AD, this theory was proven incorrect. Pompeii was buried in ash and lava in Vesuvius’ eruption that lasted three days. A volcanic dust cloud rose 12 miles into the air, blocking out the sun. Six inches of ash fell per hour. Most of the 20,000 people left the city. About 2000 people stayed and died. Poison gas and ash dust suffocated them. When the ash finally stopped falling, it left over 25 feet of volcanic material on top of Pompeii. Eventually this ash turned into mud. As time passed, Pompeii was forgotten and became a myth to many people. Nearly 2000 years later another city was even built on top of the ancient Pompeii. Obviously, Pompeii was rediscovered. Excavation of Pompeii began in 1748 and continues to this day. When the process began by a group from Naples, they took most of the interesting artworks for their National Museum of Naples. Giluseppe Fiorelli took over the project in 1860. It was his insights that were responsible for the plaster casts of the casualties of 79AD eruption. Although we typically think of the humans first, but other casualties include animals, plants, and other objects (like food). I had the honor to take a group of students to Pompeii to see first hand this preserved city of the old empire that was encased in the earth and dug out for our understanding (and natural human curiosity). It was truly a sight to behold. If I were to go back, I would plan on a full day in the city alone and take the extended tour rather than a brief overview of Pompeii. There are also options available for a Pompeii tour online. I would also look into supplementing this with a trip to see Herculaneum, another city buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.


The Coliseum was build primarally from stone, concrete and metal fittings by war prisoners from 72 through 80 AD. Three of Rome's emperors were involved in its construction. The oval shaped structure is 620 feet long, 513 feet wide, anf 157 feet tall (as tall as a 13 story building. It was used for fights, races, plays, musicals, meetings, and even sea battles. There was a channel that led into the structure that allowed water to flow in from the aquaduct. Small ships were built in the Coliseum and fought. It would hold 50,000 people and had 32 cells for animals. On the dedication event, 5000 animals were killed. One of its features was a retractable roof (velarium). At the top, one can see the holes and supports that held the posts for that roof system. Metal was in need during World War II and the metal fittings that hold the stones were ordered to be removed by Benito Mussolini. Earthquakes, traffic vibration, and pollution are slowly destroying it.


The aqueduct piped water into Roman towns. The rounded arch was used in this construction.


The four main styles of painting:
1. Abstracted Texture- imitation of marble & other surfaces.
2. Illusion of Space- perspective, landscape, architecture, people, etc.
3. Linear style- compositions using line.
4. Small images- modeled after the Greek style.


After the Etruscan rule, Rome was declared a republic ran by an annually elected senate in 509 BC. Rome expanded its territory but it was burnt to the ground by invading Gauls in 390. The army was destroyed and thhe citizens fled, but they would return and rebild their city, but this time with fortified walls that were twelve feet thick and twenty-four feet high. That investment gave them about 800 years of protection. Smaller cities united under Roman rule. Messinan government asked Rome to help them out with a war against the Carthaginians; this became the first Punic War in 264 BC. Rome took Sicily but the second Punic War was looming. Carthage retaliated with their young commander Hannibal who marched over the Alps and into Italy with a fleet of thirty-seven elephants. He pummled Roman cities, but could not take the city itself. With Hannibal in Rome, the Roman took out their holdings in Spain and took it for their own in 206 BC. To help motivate Hannibal to go home, the Romans bagan fighting a "scorched earth" defense. This took Hannibal's resources, but also the resources of Rome. Finally at the Battle of Zama in 202, Hannibal accepted a peace treaty. In the war, Rome aquired the western boundry of the Meditranian Sea and began moving east. Soon, all of Macedonia and Greece was under Roman rule. In the third and last Punic War, Rome was still fearful the Carthage could get them, so they bacically destroyed the city in 146 BC out of fear of what could be. Many Greeks were taken as slaves to Rome. The Greek influence on the Romans was huge. Without those slaves, none of the above achievements would have been as practical. With swarms of people moving into Rome, building their empire was much easier.

Many rulers came before Julius Caesar, but few other people are as well known from ancient Roman history as he is. The German term Kaiser and the Russian term Czar both root from the name Caesar. He is said to have been a tall balding man, with dark piercing eyes. He had a passion for history and he actively recorded his personal history throughout his life. He was vain yet charming, and most do not know that he was an epileptic. He was a true lover of the arts and should be considered Rome’s version of the "Renaissance man". He climbed the ranks of leadership in Roman military and government offices. In a triumvirate of unofficial power, three men allied to control Rome: Pompey Magnus, Marcus Crassus and Julius Caesar. The first triumvirate ended with the death of Crassus in 53BC. The senate was behind Pompey becoming Rome's leader. Pompey was a great rival for Caesar who married Caesar’s daughter, Julia. This mended some tensions, but not for long. Caesar started a civil war and took control Rome. But to have any total power he had to deal with his former ally, Pompey. Pompey and his army retreated to Greece and then to Egypt in fear of Caesar, but he was killed once he got on the shore of Egypt. In Egypt, Caesar became involved with their young ruler, Cleopatra VII. When Caesar got back to Rome, he was named dictator, but acted like he was the king. He reformed the calendar, formed new colonies, adjusted how the senate operated, revised the currency of Rome, along with many other projects. With a newfound peace in Rome, the senate feared Caesar wanted to not just act like a king, but become the king, so they had him killed. On the Ides of March, March fifteenth 44 BC, Caesar was stabbed to death.

Soon, the senate had power officially divided into a second triumvirate, this time with Mark Antony, Marcus Lepidus, and Julius' great-nephew, Octavian Caesar. The second triumvirate lasted for ten years. But in time the empire would be divided into two parts: the west was controlled by Octavian and the east was controlled by Antony. Antony had served in Egypt under Julius Caesar. This made his a very popular and powerful man, and Octavian had some problems with that. In Egypt, Antony became smitten with the sexy, smart, and shrewd ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra VII. The only major problem was that he was married to Octavian’s sister, Octavia, who was sent back to Rome. This was a humiliating event for Octavia, as well as the family. The offended Octavian began to plan his takeover of the empire. Antony had his own plans; moving his army, navy, and Cleopatra north to battle Octavian. Antony’s army began to desert him in battle and he had no choice but to flee back to Egypt where he and Cleopatra committed suicide in 30 BC. In 27 BC, the Empire was restored under the rule of Octavian, who changed his name to Augustus (meaning "great one"). He was Rome's first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

After Augustus was a long line of rulers: Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Commodus, Septimius, Severus, Caracalla, Elagabalus, Alexander Severus, and some thirty more rulers were killed or assassinated in a fifty year span. By 200 AD, Rome was plagued by attacking barbarians (Germans and Scandinavians) and civil fighting. Then in 284, Diocletian becomes emperor or Rome. He then assigns his friend Maximian to help rule and maintain control of his unstable empire. Dioclitian and Maximian retire and allow the groomed leaders, Constantius I and Galerius, to take the empire. Constantius I was followed by Constantine I who reunited the empire under his rule in 312. In 313, Constantine granted religious freedom to all, including the Christians. The empire again divided to Constantine’s three sons: Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans I. Constantius II came out as the ruler, but shared power with his cousin Julian. Julian was succeeded by Jovian, Valentinian I and Valons, Gratian, and then Theodosius. Theodosius "the Great" reunited the empire once again for the last time. At the time of his death, in 395, he gave the empire to his sons Arcadius and Honorius. The winter of 406 was an extremely brutal one. It was so cold that the Mainz and Rhine Rivers froze solid, allowing the northern "barbarians" to cross and invade Rome. Rome was sacked in 410 for the first time and under the rule of the "barbarians." This along with the Huns from Central Asia that were moving into Europe from the east became major issues for the hurting empire. In 476 the history books will tell you that the Roman Empire officially fell, but there was no doubt that some minor activity was still going on under the name of the Roman Empire.

(The Roman art movement leads into Early Christian and Byzantine Periods. We do not cover these areas.)


Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063