What were some of the reasons the Romans emerged as a very practical people? In what areas of Roman life do we see evidence of their practical nature? Provide and explain at least one example (from both the Roman Culture Lecture Presentation and the Roman Architecture Lecture Presentation) of Roman contributions to the Humanistic tradition that reveals this practical and/or pragmatic outlook.
In 753 BCE, Rome was founded by twin brothers, Romulus and Remus. It started as a small town and grew into a powerful empire known for its art, militia and politics. Rome observed monarchy but in 509 BCE the last king was overthrown and the empire was turned into a republic. Republic was derived from “res publica”, a Latin phrase that meant “property of the people”. After the monarchy was demolished, the control of the empire was handed down to two magistrates called Consuls, who were elected annually. Much like today’s elections, the Consuls were elected through votes by the people. These consuls were elected from a senate and they also performed duties as commanders in chief of the army. These rules and systems that the Romans had implemented in their daily lives made them very practical people. They had political interests that they used to make changes in the working of their country. They used strategic tactics to expand their empire through war and expeditions. They fought wars against Carthage known as Punic wars that helped them gain control of Sicily, the western Mediterranean and a great part of Spain. By the end of the third Punic War, Carthage was defeated and northern Africa was taken as a Roman province. Rome also set its eyes towards the eastern regions and captured Macedonia through Macedonian Wars. The military expansion of Rome also resulted in cultural expansion. Rome learned a lot from Greek culture and adopted most of its art, philosophical and religious practices. They made their art and architecture keeping in mind the need for practicality. It was true that the art needed to be beautiful but it needed to be practical; few pieces were made just for beauty’s sake. They used art in the construction of their baths, temples, buildings and homes. One of the reasons that art was made was to honor gods or an important political or military individual. The arches and columns not only provided strength and stability to the buildings but also had relief work done on them to commemorate the achievements of Rome, emperors and its people. The Arch of Titus and the Trajan Column are great examples of this. The Arch of Titus was constructed in honor of Titus; showing his first victory procession, him riding a chariot and scenes of him defeating the Jewish people. Trajan Column depicts the victory of the Roman emperor in the Dacian Wars. The thirty-meter-tall column has detailed relief work and atop the column stands the statue of Trajan. Most of the Roman art was part of their architecture making the use of art more practical.
How can the Pont du Gard aqueduct be seen to represent many of the major elements of Roman architecture? (What are these elements and how does it illustrate/utilize them?)
Considered a Roman monument, Pont du Gard is a fifty-kilometre-long aqueduct that provided water to the city of Nimes. It is constructed over the Gard River which is in France. It is a three-story high aqueduct with a height of fifty meters, also serving as a bridge. As the aqueduct is Roman architecture, it is obvious that it has some of its architectural elements. To understand the architecture of Pont du Gard, these elements are briefly discussed along with it. The first element used in the Pont du Gard is the arch. Each arch has two priers, supporting it with a platform on top of them called the impost. Voussoirs, which are the angled bricks, blocks, or stones are used to make the arch. Voussoirs is placed on the impost. A keystone is placed in the center of the arch from where other stones are placed; this not only helped in the placement of the stone but also in the consistency of the construction. Pont du Gard had rows of arches, these rows are called an arcade. The main reason the Romans used arches was that it allowed them to construct wider and taller buildings without worrying about the stability and strength of the building. It also helped in making the building look appealing. Arches made the walls of the building stronger that is the reason that many Roman buildings along with Pont du Gard are still standing. The Romans had learned to use the arch in multiple ways including its use as an aqueduct. The second element of architecture used in this aqueduct is a vault. Vaults were an extension of the arch and were used to increase the width of the Pont du Gard. There are two types of vaults; barrel vault that was the standard vault and groin vault; which was constructed by adjoining two barrel vaults. Pont du Gard is constructed using the barrel vault, however; these are only used in the lowest story of the aqueduct to provide stability and area for the bridge. The third element of Roman architecture is concrete that is considered the greatest Roman invention and contribution to architecture. The cement for the concrete was made using water, lime and volcanic ash called pozzolana. This mixture provided strength to the Roman concrete. They used this concrete in the construction of the Pont du Gard and allowed for its high construction.
What are Roman mystery religions and what are their major characteristics? How/where are these characteristics expressed in the assigned reading from the Initiate of Isis? What are some examples of Roman mystery religions? How did Roman culture and the existence of mystery religions pave the way for Christianity?
The Romans had their official gods and goddesses that they had adopted from the Greek culture and to make them their own, they had changed names. Most prominent of these names is Jupiter which was given to Zeus. Regardless of these gods and goddesses; the Romans also followed mystery religions in which they pledged their allegiance to one diety. These religions were called mystery religions as only the followers of these religions were privy to the prayer chants of the specific deity that they followed. They performed secret rituals in the honor of their chosen deity. The members of these religions were promised salvation in the afterlife in exchange for their unwavering faith. In “Initiate of Isis”, two of these mystery religions are discussed. The first is Isis who is an Egyptian goddess and wife of the Egyptian god Osiris. Isis had one of the largest following as a mystery religion in the Mediterranean region of Rome. Her following was so vast that efforts were made to purge her religion for being disruptive but it failed. The second mystery religion mentioned in the reading is of Mithras, who is the Zoroastrian god of sun and rebirth. He was believed to be a soldier who died at the hands of his enemies but became immortal after rebirth. His religion was known as Mithraism; this religion was so popular that the historians believe that Rome could have officially chosen it as their religion if they had not chosen Christianity instead. Other mystery religions included; Syrian god of sun named Sol Invictus and the Greek god Dionysus. As mentioned previously that the followers of mystery religion were promised salvation by their chosen deity which was similar to Christianity. In Christianity, the followers of the religions attend the church, spend time in prayers and promise of salvation to their followers in form of forgiveness for their sins from God. So when the Romans began to convert, it was not too different from their mystery religions. The problem for the followers was that they thought that only Jews could become followers of Jesus as he was a Jewish Rabbi. This meant that the Romans would not be able to convert, however; Saul of Tarsus, later known as Paul brought a clear set of teachings in which he concluded anyone could convert to Christianity and openly accepted people from mystery religions. This allowed Christianity to grow over the years until it was accepted as the official religion by Constantinople in the 3rd century AD.