Monumentality The Roman Empire

Monumentality The Roman Empire

Library of Celsus, Ephesus. The site today, with reconstructed front elevation, open area in front, and entrance gateway to the agora gate built

Monumentality The Roman Empire

Foundations, scattered finds of building materials and architectural decoration, and building inscrutions, together suggest that the volume of buildings erected at this time was substantially greater than the surviving structures might suggest.

Bronze sestertius of Trajan, reverse face, showing image of a bridge, probably the Danube Bridge built by the emperor Trajan to the design of the architect Apollodorus.

Bronze sestertius of Trajan, reverse face, showing image of a bridge, probably the Danube Bridge built by the emperor Trajan to the design of the architect Apollodorus.

This post is about Roman monumental architecture erected under the Antonine emperors, particularly during the reigns ofAntoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. Although there have been many individual regional and site studies, there has never been a general synthesis which evaluates the architecture of the Antonine period as a whole in the light of the increasing quantity of evidence. The present does not aim to provide that synthesis in the manner of a conventional art-historical analysis of forms and styles.
General studies of Roman architecture hint at the importance of this period in architectural history. In Italy, southern Gaul, and Spain, public building had reached its apogee by the Flavian period and is considered to have experienced saturation during the second century.
But the formal consequences of the late first-century architectural revolution began to be seen more extensively during the second century, especially at Rome itself, as the volume of stamped bricks demonstrates. In the wealthy provinces of North Africa and Asia Minor, and in the developing frontier provinces of Britain, Germany, central Europe. The image of public architecture presented by William MacDonald, consisting of broad colonnaded avenues, structures raised on podia with axial stairways, and elaborate columnar displays, although without explicit time reference, reflects, to a large extent, the designs of patrons and architects of the Antonine period.

The Roman theatre at Dougga (Thugga). Reconstruction model in the Museo della Civilta Romana, Rome.

The Roman theatre at Dougga (Thugga). Reconstruction model in the Museo della Civilta Romana, Rome.

MacDonald compares some of these forms with buildings of the seventeenth-century Roman Baroque, and such baroque architecture is often considered a feature of Antonine architecture. Margaret Lyttelton has traced back to the Hellenistic period the use of three kinds of monumental presentation identified by Heinrich Wolfflin as characteristic of Baroque style: first, a painterly style, richly decorated, with complex, stage-like fajades; second, a grand style, with picturesque effects, vistas, and planned approaches, demanding to be seen from the front, ‘massive’ in scale, and giving the illusion of movement by means of alternately projecting and receding forms or bays and intercolumniations varying in width; third, an a-tectonic style, in which classical rules are either concealed or ‘broken’, often by using several miniature orders secondary to the main order. The last ofthese features was the most important formal characteristic of ancient baroque style, involving a breaking away from the dominant post-and-lintel system. Roman patrons had for some time developed such new forms in their private architecture, exploiting the formal experimentation in Alexandria and other Hellenistic centres, but from the last years of the first century they increasingly characterized public buildings. However, the baroque forms of second-century Roman architecture did not simply replicate Alexandrian ornamental vocabulary, but used their own distinctive forms.
Any assessment of the architecture of the whole Roman Empire over one epoch should certainly bear in mind the argument of John Ward- Perkins that the building styles of different provinces were largely determined by the particular architectural traditions, practices, and materials of each area. Yet that does not mean that there were not shared features. His arguments, like those of MacDonald and Lyttelton, are mainly archaeological and art-historical, but they have implications for the social, political, and economic history of the period. During the period at which this style was at its height, between about i20 and i70, there was considerable movement between regions by Roman administrative and military officials, which might explain the development of such artistic taste in human as well as purely artefactual terms.

Grange Court (Old Town Hall), Leominster, Herefordshire, completed 1634, to the design of John Abel

Grange Court (Old Town Hall), Leominster, Herefordshire, completed 1634, to the design of John Abel

Pierre Gros and Jean-Charles Balty have investigated Roman theatres and assembly-buildings as political settings and as representations of imperial power. Engelbert Winter has studied the involvement of individual emperors in the erection of public buildings, concluding that this was often greater than has been imagined in the past. A conference at Xanten in 1989 explored the transformation of provincial Roman cities during the second century, focusing especially on the possible decline of public space and the increasing number of private buildings.
As the questions raised have become increasingly historical in nature, so archaeologists have turned their attentions to the issue of monumen- talization. This term had been introduced at a conference at the German Archaeological Institute in Madrid in i987, on the extensive urban development of Roman Spain during the last years of the Republic and the early Empire. Paul Zanker defined monumentalization as adornment with buildings and memorials intended for show. Yet, although the question of monumentality was raised, the conference proved disappointing, as individual contributions continued to focus on specific archaeological questions. But if private architecture is recognized as a vehicle of individual patrons in their search for personal fame, the term monumentality is perhaps even more relevant to the public buildings which were often erected in Roman cities at the expense of individual citizens.

Remains of the Capitolium temple, Thuburbo Maius (Tunisia).

Remains of the Capitolium temple, Thuburbo Maius (Tunisia).

The adjective monumental is one of the most common, and some might say overused, terms applied to ruins of ancient architecture and to public architecture in general. It may have been originally intended by the builder as a monument in this sense or subsequently have become one, unintentionally, because of accumulated associations with the past. Originally, the conception of a monument followed the word’s classical meaning, of a memorial left as a ‘warning’ (monere) to posterity. The concepts with which he associates it are revealing: the monuments of antiquity are described in terms of ruin (ruina), age (veustas), or restoration (instauratio), and all monuments, ancient and modern, are associated with ideals like eternity (perennitas), memory (memoria), dignity (dignitas), renown (gloria), distinction (decus), or praise (laus) In the French Dictionnaire universelof 1690, monument is defined as the ‘witness of some great power or grandeur of the past centuries, and similarly, in the Dictionnaire de lAcademie fan$aise of 1694, as a public mark that one leaves to posterity to preserve the memory of some illustrious person, or of some famous action.20 Johnson’s Dictionary defines a monument, similarly to the ancient definitions of Varro and Festus, as any thing by which the memory of persons or things is preserved, especially a tomb or a cenotaph. He defines the adjective monumental, accordingly, as preserving memory, although it is questionable whether all the examples he cites—such as Milton’s phrase of pine or monumental oak—have that meaning.

Library of Celsus, Ephesus. Allegorical statue of the Virtue of Celsus reinstalled in left-hand niche of the facade.

Library of Celsus, Ephesus. Allegorical statue of the Virtue of Celsus reinstalled in left-hand niche of the facade.

Following these classical definitions is John Ruskin’s article on the proposed memorial to Walter Scott in Edinburgh, published in i839, which is, strangely, the only place in his extensive oeuvre where he gives any attention to the concept of monumentality as such. Ruskin distinguishes true monuments, which recall the memory of life, from sepulchres, which venerate death: the honour ofthe monument rejoices; the honour of the sepulchre mourns. In fact, in the French dictionaries the original sense of the word monument had already shifted by 1771 to refer to any remarkable building. In 1819 it was stated that monuments are to architecture what the epic genre is to literature. When the adjective monumental began to appear in French architectural literature, in the i840s, it was derived from this new sense of monument, and its various definitions reflected the assumption that something of monumental character produced certain effects. The spread of such terms owed much to the fashion of describing monumental buildings and providing statistics of features and dimensions, of which the great archaeological campaigns of the later nineteenth century provide good examples. A monumental work was now defined, not in terms of its commemorative function, but in terms of grandiose effects, the use of ‘materials solid and of large dimensions, imposing masses, or simplicity ofmeans. It was to convey this sense that a noun monumentality was eventually formed; it is first attested as French monumentalite in 1845. The aesthetic value of monuments acquired through the new Romantic sensibility was combined with their cognitive value as perceived by the antiquarian tradition of the Enlightenment to produce a concept of the historic monument, which informed the emergence of restoration as an intellectual and practical discipline and the awareness of architectural heritage. Yet at the same time monumentality began to be something more than a cultural phenomenon concerned with memory and temporality.
Architectural writers began to refer to monumentality as an ideal only in the last third ofthe nineteenth century in the French Beaux Arts school. And then it was with a different meaning from the etymological one.These functions were believed to be best served by classical public buildings constructed in materials such as marble that were conventionally associated with that style. In i879, however, the Dictionnaire de lAcademie broke new ground by defining a monument in terms of its imposing character and status.
So the concept of monumentality goes beyond the notion of monuments as primarily sepulchral structures or memorials.

The Roman theatre at Dougga (Thugga). View of the stage-building from the auditorium.

The Roman theatre at Dougga (Thugga). View of the stage-building from the auditorium.

However, there was an unease in the early twentieth century that monumentality might only be achieved by buildings of the past. Reilly’s examples were all past monuments: Greek temples, Roman thermae and fora, and Renaissance domes, and of modern buildings only the new Pennsylvania Station in New York was considered able to compete with these. For Alois Riegl, a structure’s monumental character was its ‘Erinnerungswert’, its value for memory. The connection of monumentality with works of the past led most protagonists of the Modern Movement until the late i930s to avoid it. Le Corbusier tried to break away from these traditional associations, and some of his works suggest almost an anti-monumentality. His definition of the ‘monumental’ focuses on form alone: We call monumental that which contains pure forms assembled according to a harmonious law. However, from the i960s even his Villa Savoye acquired the status of a historic monument, which became an emblem both of modernism and the French architectural heritage. Those who clung to the older conception of monuments were troubled by the idea that true monumen- tality might only be achieved several centuries hence. The new public monuments of National Socialist Germany were presented in Hitler’s speeches as great cultural documents of granite and marble that rise like the cathedrals of our past into the millennia of the future.
An attempt to rehabilitate monumentality among modernists was made at a symposium organised by the Architectural Review in i948. Its most vocal spokesman, Sigfried Giedion, argued that modern architecture must achieve the quality of monumentality, later expanding on this theme in Architecture, You, and Me (i958) and listing his nine points on monumentality. A variety of issues were raised, summed up in the questionnaire issued by the Architectural Review, which encouraged its future use. Delegates at the symposium agreed on two almost contradictory aspects of monumentality: first, that it was associated with the glories of past time and remained conceptually as a memory; and, second, that it was something that architecture must achieve in the future.
Monumentality, in other words, is something visionary. We recognize it when we see it, but we cannot predict or describe it exactly in advance. The future is made up of buildings as if we had seen them in the past: when a future building becomes past, or passed, it will be recognized as monumental. But in the contemporary world monumentality is difficult to achieve. In i952, on the five-hundredth anniversary ofAlberti’s De Re Aedificatoria, Henry Hope Reed lamented the loss of the monumental: Even if we should wish to build monumentally, we would fail miserably. The tools to create the monument have been lost.

Memorial text inscribed on the facade, with modern red highlighting

Memorial text inscribed on the facade, with modern red highlighting

It is a token of the resilience of the notion that, even after Reed’s resounding pessimism, monumentality continued to be revived. In December i98i American architects met to discuss the themes of Monumentality and the City. Although the art historian James Ackerman declared that now is not the time to be thinking of monumentality, others insisted that the notion, based on a general definition of a monument as a significant building or space, continued to be relevant, on the grounds that our society continues to build and to invest buildings with meaning. By virtue of their existence alone, urban buildings acquire some significance in the public’s perception of the city. Not to think about monumentality is dangerous, because it seeks to extinguish a facet of cultural life.
Defined in terms of its commemorative function and its role in identifying cultural priorities, the monumental reflects the general attitudes of a society. But the secondary definition of the monumental in terms of its visual impact suggests, on the contrary, that monumentality presumes a relation to the individual. The key word here, emphasized by Ruskin in his Seven Lamps, is contemplation, the close scrutiny of a monumental work. In antiquity the concept was intertwined with a monument’s ritual meaning, as an object of cult. It occurs from the moment of the priest’s inauguration of a templum, which involved contemplatio, being alone with the temple, as Stefan Weinstock put it seventy years ago, up to the act of pilgrimage, in which the worship itself was preceded by an extended contemplation of the site. But by the early Empire contemplation had another sense, common in tomb inscriptions: namely, the visual relation between a standing monument and an individual. The monumentality constructed out of this interactive relationship was not simply a matter of how the monument appears on the ground; it was a product of ideals formed by the imagination.

The Roman theatre at Dougga (Thugga). View of the theatre from behind the stage-building.

The Roman theatre at Dougga (Thugga). View of the theatre from behind the stage-building.

When we call a particular building monumental today, we usually mean one of these two senses of the term, either that the building is physically imposing or that it is a memorial of the past. But, although the term itself is a relatively modern one, that does not mean that there was not an equivalent notion in antiquity. To try to identify the characteristics of such past monumentality from archaeological evidence alone would be circular: we tend to label as monumental precisely those structures that seem to correspond to our own preconceived notions of monumentality. Today we judge buildings as monumental by criteria such as great size, bulky materials, long-range visibility, relation to human scale, costly materials, and elements of certain architectural.
languages, such as classical or gothic, conventionally associated with accepted monuments. Some of these features were also valued in antiquity. In Ancient Egypt, for example, monumentality was a matter, on the one hand, of the material, which must be hard, expensive, and unchanging, and, on the other, of a strictly regulated visual organization, which we call the “Egyptian canon”’. These features also play a role in Roman architectural ideas. But unless we recognize the differences between the ways in which people of the past thought about buildings and those in which we do so today, we will not only miss what was distinctive about ancient culture, but also fail to see how our own attitudes came into being.
In ancient Chinese art and architecture even small objects could possess monu- mentality. The notion of monumental architecture as being of great size is not an arbitrary one. It is based on an implicit human analogy of architecture, according to which ‘normal’ buildings possess a human scale and those exceeding such scale appear as somehow superhuman or monumental. Under what circumstances or in what context did this or similar individual notions become established? Were they disputed or defended? Is it possible to detect occasions when existing ideas about monumentality were challenged or replaced by different ones? Finally, if concepts of the monumental changed through successive art-historical periods, how were those changes related to developments in artistic taste? Not all of these questions can be easily answered, but this book tries to deal with some of them as they apply to the architecture of classical antiquity.
Given, then, that any definition of monumentality reflects its own cultural priorities and is as subject to cultural change as the forms of architecture it purports to describe, certain basic constituents of monumentality may be set out as an agenda for investigation. Besides the aspects of commemoration and great size already mentioned, monumentality in architecture also implies durability. For that reason the material of a building plays an important role in contributing to its monumentality, some materials being considered more durable than others. But durability is not only a question of physical materials. Certainly, the monumentality of the structure was enhanced by its setting, across a river that had never previously received a bridge of durable materials, at one of the remotest spots of the Empire. But the building gained additional monumental status far beyond the Danubian zone: it was represented on Trajan’s coinage (Fig. 2), depicted on the relief sculptures of the emperor’s memorial column at Rome of ii2, and, just as Greek architects had once written about their temples, it became the subject of a literary treatise by its architect, Apollodorus of Damascus, who also designed the column. Although the bridge was made of stone and built to last, these images guaranteed that it was perceived as a monument from almost the moment it was built. At each end an arch bore a statue of Trajan between two trophies. And its visibility at Rome and elsewhere in the Empire by these means was much more important than its visibility at the obscure location on the river Danube where it actually stood, thus ensuring that its memory survived its unceremonious dismantling soon after Hadrian’s accession; it was still admired by the historian Dio a century later. With the Danube bridge, the emperor Trajan and his architect Apollodorus had placed themselves in a grand tradition of bridge-building by great rulers from Xerxes and Darius of Persia to Julius Caesar and the emperors Gaius and Domitian. The construction did not just meet a military need; it helped to perpetuate Trajan’s memory and his Dacian Wars, like the victory monument at Adamklissi or an epic poem such as that talked of in i07 by the younger Pliny to his friend Caninius Rufus.
The monumentality of the Danube bridge also exhibits another attribute of monumental architecture, namely, that its importance exceeds its practical use. The most common approach to architectural form adopted by architectural historians is a pragmatic one. It is based on the premise that form is achieved by the construction of raw materials into a structure which is designed to serve a recognizable and agreed function, such as a shelter in which to live or sleep or a place ofworship. On this view, the materials themselves have no significance until they are shaped to serve a function, and the act ofconstruction has no importance beyond being a means to this practical end.
If the importance of monumental architecture goes beyond the immediate practical function of a building, where does it lie? For the Roman period, the answer can be inferred from the work of the architect Vitruvius, who argued, towards the end of the first century bc, that architects needed to be expert in several different arts and sciences: literature, design, geometry, history, philosophy, music and mathematics, astrology, medicine, and the study of climate.
If, then, we are to understand the monumentality of Roman architecture, we need to look beyond the architectural remains. Many different disciplines—philosophy, philology, political, religious, and military history, as well as archaeology—contribute to an understanding of the monumentality of Roman buildings.
In an analysis of Hellenistic architecture, Henner von Hesberg uses the term ‘monumentality’ in this wider sense, that of the social and political statements made by buildings. For him, the term mirrors the extent to which social and political changes in the Greek world were responsible for architectural ones; so he attributes the erection of unusually large buildings to individuals being no longer bound by social constraints. In the Roman world, Gros has seen the architectural transformation of Rome and Italy in the last two centuries bc with new materials such as rubble concrete and foreign marbles as reflecting the political growth and influence of Rome. Likewise, Roman epigraphic display may have concealed insecurities and social upheavals and directed ‘attention to the most mobile sectors of Roman imperial society.
They identify the word monumentality, in its strict etymological sense, as a more useful heading under which to examine the changing representations on coin reverses of the late Roman Republic than terms used previously such as propaganda. Such a label, they maintain, implies the ability of Roman coin types to promote ideas of continuity at a time of irreversible social change. The concept of monumentality should be seen as more than a purely visual or aesthetic phenomenon and as a reflection of a social or political process. In the same way, they suggest, the construction of public buildings with spectacular monumental fajades in Italy during the late second century bc may have been intended to reinforce a sense of continuity at a time of radical political change.
For Gibbon, the age of the Antonines was a formative, even epochal moment, when a sublime period ofhuman prosperity was about to be eclipsed by one of decisive and cataclysmal change. Between i38 and i80 he was an Italian, and his cultural interests reflected those of Rome. Antoninus Pius (i38—6i) came from Lorium, just north of the capital, and both of his adopted sons, Marcus Aurelius (i6i—80) and Lucius Verus (i6i—9), were born and lived in Rome. These emperors and their extensive households made significant efforts to impose Roman values on other cities in the Empire with very different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The Antonine emperors were less actively involved in provincial public building than their predecessors, especially Hadrian, had been. However, their direct hand was far less necessary to ensure the promotion of Roman culture, as a wide range of individuals, both Italian and provincial, were vigorous patrons of Roman architecture. The imperial presence was increasingly apparent from the public buildings, which, even if not directly resulting from imperial patronage, carried dedications to the emperors, were decorated with their statues, and represented by their architectural styles the standards of the imperial masters. One sense of the monumentality of imperial architecture, not only temples of the imperial cult, but also basilicas, bath-buildings, theatres, and amphitheatres, was its expression of the power and identity of the Roman Emperor and the Imperial State.
The monumentality of public buildings should also be seen in terms of the social ambitions of the people who built them. Architectural patronage in provincial cities was usually controlled by members of the Roman governing class. This comprised former consuls who held office as proconsuls of the senatorial provinces of Africa and Asia, senators and equestrians who served as legates in charge of the other, imperially run provinces or held military and administrative posts, and other members of the provincial elites who now increasingly gained admission to the senatorial and equestrian orders by their wealth and influence. It is now widely recognized that the private architecture of such individuals can be seen in terms of the idea of conspicuous consumption formulated by the sociologist Thorstein Veblen. The patronage of public buildings offered such men a means of advancement of personal power and status. The members of the Senate and the equestrian order originated from far afield, from Spain, North Africa, Asia Minor, and other provinces, as well as from Italy, guaranteeing a process of dynamic interaction and reciprocal cultural influence between the centre and the periphery. At a lower level, the much greater size and importance of the imperial household and government afforded Romans and nonRomans the chance to acquire wealth and recognition. Although not politically as influential as under the Julio-Claudians and Flavians, the freedmen of the emperors continued to have social importance in the Antonine age.
Some were members of the nobility in their own home cities, like the Spartan Eurycles, who became Marcus Ulpius Eurycles. To others, the rise of the praetorian guard in Rome and, more importantly, the regularization of the army on the frontiers gave similar opportunities for individuals of wide social and cultural backgrounds to participate in and take personal credit from the creation of architectural works, either as officers within the service or as veterans celebrating their new social advancement. Enfranchisement after military or imperial service, and the presence of building workshops in all the great cultural centres of the Mediterranean—not only Rome, but Antioch, Athens, Alexandria, Carthage, Ephesus, and Smyrna, to name only the largest and most populous—were parallel routes to the same result: the dissemination of Roman values of building among all social classes of the Empire.
Although great wealth and the means ofsubstantial architectural patronage remained in the hands of a very few prominent families, increasing social mobility ensured that the culture of building was not restricted to them, but found outlets at many levels. In place of its earlier, more complex levels of stratification, Roman society was by the second century divided into two broad groups, constantly subject to mobility between them: honestiores (the nobler) and humiliores (the lower). They had the resources and opportunities to pursue architectural ambitions of their own and the education to be aware of the multifarious ideas which their buildings might communicate. Some patrons of public architecture were humble figures, like the builder Caius Celius Saturninus from the town of Abitinae in North Africa, who in i32 dedicated two columns in the cella of the Temple of Caelestis at Vallis as a personal act of religion. His gesture was in its own terms as important and symbolic a statement as a proconsul’s dedication of a complete temple.
Thus the magnificent marble Capitolium at Thuburbo Maius in the province of Africa, which survives today with its columns and Corinthian capitals re-erected (Fig. 3), was dedicated in i69 by the former consul and learned jurist at the Antonine court Lucius Octavius Cornelius Publius Salvius Iulianus, then proconsul of Africa, and his legate, the future emperor Marcus Didius Iulianus. The impressive theatre at Dougga (ancient Thugga) (Fig. 4a—c), for instance, was dedicated to his home city by Publius Marcius Quadratus, who was flamen ofthe cult ofthe Deified Augustus and made an equestrian judge by Antoninus Pius. The building, with its columnar display, was a monument to its patron’s social elevation. For local elites, architectural patronage might be a means of political ingratiation. The porticoes around the forum at Dougga were dedicated by Quintus Gabinius Felix Faustinianus and his children to the safe preservation of the emperor Antoninus Pius. Despite these benefactors’ diverse social status and cultural roots, their association with an accepted language of monumental architecture showed their common ties to Rome.
During the second century, the language of monumental architeсture in Roman cities underwent great change. In the Greek East public building had declined since the Roman conquest in the second century bc, and by the late first century ad was technically far behind Italy. But by the time that Hadrian succeeded Trajan in ii7, architectural tastes were beginning to change. The architectural ornamentation of the grandest public buildings in the cities ofAsia Minor developed in a more exuberant and vigorous direction, apparently inspired by architectural ideas practised at Rome itself, so that the ornament of buildings constructed only a generation earlier already seemed stiff and sterile.
It was literally Celsus monument, as he was buried in the vault underneath the building, and allegorical statues of Virtue, Wisdom, Knowledge, and Intelligence stood in niches on the fajade (Fig. 5b), with memorial texts inscribed above (Fig. 5c). As curator of temples and public buildings at Rome in 92—5, Celsus had absorbed the language of monumental public architecture in the capital. The ornament of the library, perhaps planned by him, though actually executed by his son, strongly suggests the influence, if not of imperial court architects, at any rate of metropolitan Roman ideas moulded by eastern forms. The cornices were decorated with the monumental acanthus which had marked imperial architecture in Rome since Augustus, and the friezes of acanthus-like palmettes resembled work being done around the same time in Trajan’s Forum.
The pride of the building, in terms of materials and expense, were the columns that flanked each aedicule, ofwhich the shafts were monoliths of prestigious Phrygian marble, distinctively white with purple streak. What we would now characterize as a ‘baroque’ effect was achieved by the relation ofthe aedicules of upper and lower storeys, which do not stand directly above each other, but notably overlap. The upper storey was crowned by three pediments, all with sculptural decoration; but, unlike earlier stage-like architecture in the region, such as the Nymphaeum at Miletus of c.8i, these were not all of conventional triangular form.
For most Roman public buildings, if there was a purpose besides their practical function that made them into monumental architecture, it was to express the political identity of a community. In modern times, the Houses of Parliament in London are an obvious parallel. Their ‘monumentality’ lies both in their imposing size and distinctive architectural style and in their prominent political function. The connection between the two is apparent in the recent suggestion that Pugin’s Gothic design was chosen for political purposes, as an icon of English parliamentary democracy. On a more local scale, the construction of town halls in early modern England was a celebration of municipal power. On a band alongside the wooden figures appearing to support the projecting upper storey runs the inscription: ‘as pillars do support the building, so the noble gentrye do uphold the fabrick of the kingdome. A similar meaning can be detected in Roman civic architecture. As Vitruvius wrote, public buildings had to reflect the dignity of a municipium.
Monumentality, then, was not only a quality of ruins, memorials, and disused structures, but also of buildings that had an active function in the life of a community. In the classical world this was true, not only for structures such as bridges or aqueducts, where monumentality is achieved by their formal properties, but also for urban buildings such as theatres, assembly buildings, basilicas, and baths, where the gathering of a community created a context for the structure’s monumentality.
The highest monumental architecture transcends the concerns of individuals, communities, and cities. When imposing buildings physically compete with the grandeur of the natural landscape around them, they inevitably illustrate the mortality of man and the fragility of man’s constructions, by contrast with permanent and immutable Nature. The most monumental buildings were the temples of the gods, who were considered to represent enduring values and often identified with the forces of nature. Robin Francis Rhodes describes how the buildings of the Athenian Acropolis ‘bridge the gap between mortal and immortal’: ‘The “perfection” of [the columnar orders in expressing] universal human concerns in a universally meaningful fashion . . . is at the heart of Greek “monumentality”.’ Monumentality is thus an agent of commemoration, of sacred human memory, and of the relationship of man with the gods.
In the second century, the relation between mortality and the divine was complex and varied. Religious devotion embraced a broad spectrum of beliefs. In many cases the adherence to a cult did not depend, as earlier, primarily on civic or state loyalties, but on deliberate personal commitment. A great diversity of gods was worshipped by both ruling elites and lower classes. In an encomium to Roman rule delivered in 155, the rhetor Aelius Aristides listed the protecting deities who were supposed to watch over the Roman emperors. But it was not until the second century that the cults of Asclepius, Serapis, and Isis attained their dominating importance and influence on the lives of individuals. What these newer cults offered worshippers was the combination of a powerful godhead associated with the elemental forces of the universe and the possibility of close protection and eventual personal salvation for each single individual in his or her own right.
These cults, which rapidly acquired adherents by proselytizing, according to the now more current principle of personal ‘conversion’, frequently used architecture, with its implicit suggestion of stability, in order to gain social acceptance. Attractive in their appeal to the individual’s hope of personal salvation, they played a crucial role in the religious and social life ofthe Roman Empire. In all cases, the architectural settings of these religions served as more than mere background. They were places of personal devotion, deeply embedded with meanings fully accessible only to the worshipper and encouraging a new sense of religiosity.
Then there were the temples of the imperial cult, usually not temples to the emperor alone, but associated with traditional Graeco-Roman deities. The second temple in the city to serve the worship of the imperial cult, it was begun in the later years ofTrajan’s reign by a local aristocrat who had achieved the highest position at Rome. Caius Antius Aulus Iulius Quadratus of Pergamon had served as imperial legate in Bithynia and twice as consul at Rome, in 94 and i05, before becoming governor of Asia in i09/i0. The formal vocabulary of this temple was similarly Asiatic, but its overall layout and the execution of its ornament derived from Roman sources, with some details resembling work in Trajan’s Forum and the treatment of the entablature perhaps inspired by the Temple of Quirinus at Rome, recently rebuilt by Trajan. On the terrace directly below the imperial cult temple Quadratus also erected the Temple of Dionysus Kathegemon, decorated in the same Roman style. At Italica, in the Spanish province of Baetica, another temple dedicated to Trajan was enclosed within a walled precinct articulated by semicircular niches, a design similar to Vespasian’s Temple of Peace in Rome and found again in Hadrian’s Library at Athens.
So, just as the inquiring visitor turns to ancient texts to understand the ruins before which he stands, anyone who wants to learn about the meanings ofAntonine buildings must complement the visual evidence with literary sources. Of these a substantial number survive from the second century. Like the architectural remains, these literary remnants are only a suggestive sample of contemporary writing, partly because the works of that time were, individually and collectively, considered by subsequent generations to be less valuable or worth preserving than the literature of earlier periods. Even second-century writers themselves belittled the productions oftheir own day and elevated the works of the past. Yet modern philologists have seen the Antonine period as a distinct phase of ancient literature, worthy of study in its own right and characterized by a typological range as wide as that of any period of antiquity. It produced long epic poems commemorating emperors and wars and short epigrams honouring individuals or monuments, accomplished prose orations and sketchy exercises for the rhetorical schools, antiquarian treatises and philosophical discourses, histories, biographies, satires, and novels, and a variety of theoretical writings on medicine, astronomy, and law.
Antonine literature is of particular relevance to Antonine architecture, since embedded in its texts are many telling references to actual buildings and the processes of design, construction, and response. Some of these passages are direct descriptions, some are mere allusions, and some highlight the significance of architecture as a setting for other activities. But, independently of these more specific texts, literature also has another use, for understanding a society’s perception of the importance of its buildings. These metaphors are significant in their own right because they provided the ancients with a visualization of their thoughts.
We memorize them and place them in a world of ideas by thinking of them in terms of basic forms. And these ‘mental buildings’ are almost more important than real buildings, because they construct the boundaries of our experience and define monumental ideas. As the art historian Ernst Gombrich has recognized, it is form that defines the symbolic potential of an image.ira The meaning of architecture is, above all, conveyed by the different forms which buildings take and the varying associations that those forms have for different persons and in different societies.
Literature has its own ‘monumental’ variety, epic, with its distinctive form, distinguished in the classical world usually by the hexameter and in English literature by iambic verses. Other distinguishing characteristics of epic, as of monumental buildings, are its dimensions, in other words its length, and its completeness of form.
The Antonine period has left a considerable number of verbal responses to architecture, which corresponded to the intellectual interests that flourished at this time. It seems that people were now more concerned to verbalize their experiences of architecture in written or spoken descriptions. There were two main kinds of such description. First, there were orations delivered directly within a building, in which architecture and rhetorical language were supposed to be mutually beneficial, but often in practice conflicted. Second, there were written
descriptions of a past experience, whose object was to convey the memory of architecture visited and to spread the building’s fame to readers either not yet born or who had never seen the building in question. At the same time, the expectation that public buildings required a particular kind of cultivated response created a climate of exclusivity which undermined the notion that they were truly ‘public’ monuments. The architectural monuments of the Antonine period were monuments for the masses, yet they also conveyed a monumen- tality that could truly be understood only by the few.
Its clearest manifestation was that phenomenon which is most characteristic of the Antonine age, the ‘Second Sophistic’, of which both fields studied here, architecture and literature, were parallel and mutually dependent expressions. This high intellectual culture looked back to the model of the sophists of fifth-century Athens and emphasized Classical Greek values. It was more than a narrow literary and philosophical movement, and its impact was widespread. It promoted kindred values among the educated classes and delivered them in a very public and conspicuous form to the masses of the Empire. Recent scholars, applying the sociological theories of Pierre. According to another suggestion, the prestige attached to activities that seemed to be of no practical consequence made them an instance ofwhat Veblen called ‘conspicuous leisure. In the cities of Roman Greece, Asia Minor, and North Africa, sophists not only enlightened huge crowds at public performances in city theatres and temple precincts but lavished their wealth on the collective community of their cities, above all on splendid buildings.
Although often interpreted as synonymous with commemorative structures or buildings of unusually great size, monumental architecture has a much wider range of meanings, including the social ambition of the builder, the political identity of a community, the sacral identity of a cult, and, generally, the expectation that users will not only use a building for its practical purpose, but also respond to it as a work of art or a monument. As it is not possible within this book to take account of all the possible manifestations of the idea of monumentality in the Roman Empire of the second century, the four principal sections of this book consider four important components of the concept. I do not claim that these are the only ones. But most monumental buildings contain an element of each.
The first section of this book (Chapters i—5) deals with the forms of monumental public architecture. Such forms reflect the social ambitions of their patrons and, so far as we can tell, the architects who made them. Above all, individuals were aware of the physicality of architecture. This can be seen not only from the bulky structures of ancient buildings themselves, but also from the prominence of architecture in metaphor and philosophy. I shall argue that certain architectural forms, such as the arch, the arcade, and in three-dimensional space the dome, were used to lend authority to monumental structures, partly through their association with the supposed form of the universe. On the other hand, the second section of this book (Chapters 6—8) considers the civic or political meanings that made public buildings in Roman cities monuments of their city, society, or community. In particular, I examine how under the emperors Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius the monuments of public buildings were a field for the competition between the chief cities of Asia Minor, especially Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamon. A new kind of public space decorated with imperial statuary or dedicated to the worship of the emperor attempted to resolve this conflict by creating a new Roman monumentality that unified the competing civic ideologies of the province.
The third section (Chapters 9—i0) addresses the aspect of monu-mentality as commemoration and the presumed relation ofmonumental buildings to eternity. A monumental building makes a statement about its place within a temporal or historical framework. It may commemorate a person or event of the past, or it may reflect more generally views on mortality and immortality. In either case it is a statement about how architecture exists in a longue duree, as a monument for the future. I explore how buildings were intended to impress not only a contemporary audience with the status and aspirations of their builders, but also to evoke memories of their age for future generations. Monumentality in this sense is seen from two perspectives. First, it reflects a preoccupation with the past and the idea that buildings of a former age hold enduring values. Second, it implies the ambition of a builder to construct a building as a monument for posterity and his expectation that it will invite the same feelings of enjoyment of the past in the people of a later time. This second sense of monumentality raises again the question implied by Gibbon, whether Antonine architecture can be accurately evaluated today as a mirror of its age.
These first three sections are conceived from the viewpoint of the builder and the intended role of a building in Antonine society, but the final two chapters (ii—12) focus on the range of responses or anticipated responses that monumental buildings inspired in their viewers. Some responses are behavioural, others are verbal. But the status of any building as a monument is measured by the responses, expected or unexpected, of its users and viewers. I shall explore how the external features of public buildings encouraged their perception as monuments, especially by suggesting similarities to sacred buildings, and invited the audience to see the interiors as hallowed sancta deserving a proper response.
As problems of architectural form and meaning have rarely been considered for any phase of the culture of antiquity, 1 have tried, at the beginning of each section, to see each issue in the context of preceding historical eras. The sketches offered here, inevitably selective, show how opinions about buildings and their appearances did not remain static in the minds ofancient Greeks and Romans, but were modified in response
to political, social, and cultural changes.
In the ancient world, perhaps more than today, buildings served to define an individual’s or a community’s horizons and cultural priorities. To acknowledge this tenet is to come closer to understanding what it means to call a building monumental. To return to the two quotations which form the epigraphs to this Introduction, it is worth considering the extent to which monumental architecture expressed not only the actual prosperity and conditions of its time, as implied by Gibbon, but also that society’s aspirations and dreams. Those dreams were dreams which the builders of subsequent ages might have recognized and approved. The ideas of architectural monumentality that flourished during that period survived into subsequent ages and still affect our attitude to buildings today.