Roman Buildings: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Roman buildings.

  • The Romans introduced many new building ideas and techniques, including concrete, bricks and the arch. They also built sewers, and aqueducts to carry water to their cities and people.

  • Roman buildings used concrete as early as about 270 BC. It  was a strong and cheap material.
  • They constructed mosaics in a lot of their buildings. These were small coloured pieces of stone arranged to make a picture or pattern.
  • Rich Romans lived in town houses, or villas in the country. These often had a reception room, bedrooms, private baths and a garden or courtyard, and were decorated with tiled murals.
  • Roman palaces were even more luxurious, with marble floors, running water and heat. Emperor Nero’s palace had 300 rooms and a revolving ceiling, as well as murals made from precious stones.
  • Not all Roman buildings were spectacular, and poor people often lived in overcrowded apartment buildings 4 or 5 floors high. They were made from wood and had no water, heating or toilets.
  • The Romans occupied England for almost 500 years and Roman buildings can be seen all over England. Some of the best places Roman remains are in York, Chester and Bath.
  • The Romans built over 200 amphitheatres or stadiums, as well as many temples and public buildings. They built baths and lighthouses, and every city had a forum, or marketplace.
  • One of the best known of these Roman buildings is the Colosseum (or Coliseum), in Rome. The huge stadium influenced the design of modern stadiums and could seat up to 80,000 spectators.
  • The Pantheon in Rome is another famous Roman building, built as a temple. It still has the world’s largest unsupported concrete dome, which measures almost 10 metres across.
  • The Romans built many roads, bridges and aqueducts to expand their empire. The Pont du Gard aqueduct in France has 3 levels of arches and is 275 metres long and almost 49 metres high.

What next? Learn more about the Romans by visiting our Roman resources page.

Roman Mosaics: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Roman mosaics.

  • Roman mosaics were popular in public buildings and homes, and many examples can still be seen today. Mosaics were made from hundreds of small pieces (or tesserae) of coloured stones and gems put together to make a picture.

  • Mosaics were used for different reasons. As well as being used for decoration, they provided a strong surface for walking on, and were also sometimes used as advertisements or signs.

Roman mosaic

  • Mosaics were also waterproof and easy to clean, making them popular in public buildings. They also reflected the light, making rooms seem bright. Mosaics were very popular in Roman bathhouses.
  • People who designed and created Roman mosaics were thought of as craftsmen, rather than artists. They did not usually sign their work or take any credit for it.
  • Mosaics featured geometric designs, as well as other images. Common themes were animals, fighting gladiators, romantic images and scenes from mythology and astronomy.
  • Roman mosaics can be seen in many places in the UK. The British Museum in London has some of the best mosaics. The Roman Museum in Cirencester – which was once an important Roman town – also has an excellent collection of mosaics.
  • The Roman Empire covered a huge area at its height. Well preserved Roman mosaics can still be seen today in many parts of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
  • One of the best places to see Roman mosaics is in the city of Pompeii, which was buried under lava in 79 AD. The mosaics are well preserved because the layers of volcanic ash protected them.
  • Romans liked to keep dogs as companions and for protection. Many mosaics in the Roman city of Pompeii had the Latin words for ‘Beware of the Dog’ written into the design.
  • Mosaics were also used on walls and ceilings, although they were not as common as floor mosaics. Wall mosaics were commonly used behind fountains and often had a maritime theme.

What next? Find out more about the Romans by visiting our Romans resources page.

Jupiter: Facts About the King of the Roman Gods

Here are some facts about the Ancient Roman God, Jupiter.

  • Jupiter is sometimes known as Jove.
  • He is the King of the Gods, God of the Sky and associated with thunderstorms.

  • He wields a thunderbolt and he is often pictured with an eagle at his side.
  • In Roman mythology, Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome and the successor to Romulus, is persuaded by Jupiter to set out the principles of Roman religion.
  • The oak was Jupiter’s sacred tree.
  • The Romans thought of Jupiter as being equivalent to the Zeus, the Ancient Greek God. As a result, Jupiter is often thought of as the son of Saturn, and the brother of Neptune and Pluto.

Jupiter

  • His children include: Mars, Vulcan and Hercules, and Juno is often said to be his wife.
  • White oxen and lambs were often sacrificed in to appease Jupiter.
  • The oldest temple to Jupiter is situated on the Capitoline Hill in Rome.
  • Jupiter was considered to be the protector of Rome, and he was associated with oaths and treaties.
  • He was worshipped as Jupiter Optimus-Maximus.

Caerwent: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Caerwent.

  • Caerwent is a village near Chepstow in Monmouthshire, South Wales. It is well known for its Roman settlement of Venta Silurum which has some of the best preserved Roman remains in Europe.

  • The Romans built Caerwent in about 75 AD, to govern the area’s defeated Silures tribe.
  • The Silures tribe may have originated in Spain.
  • The site probably covered about 45 acres. It included farms and private homes, a market place, public baths and the forum (the settlement’s public square or meeting place).
  • Long parts of the walls, which were up to 5 metres high, can still be seen. Visitors can also see the remains of shops and houses as well as a temple.
  • Although Caerwent was an important site, it never became one of the larger or more complex Roman settlements. It was probably an administrative centre rather than a military one.
  • In the late 19th century, part of a complicated floor mosaic was found in the garden of a nearby cottage. It was made of perfectly fitting small tiles and showed different species of fish.
  • Other items found from Roman times include coins, pottery, glassware and human bones. In 2008 part of a knife showing 2 fighting gladiators was found at Caerwent.During the Middle Ages, Caerwent remained important as a strategic crossing point between larger settlements.
  • It was the site of a propeller factory during World War 2.
  • Caerwent may also have been the birthplace of St. Patrick who lived in the area as a child before going to Ireland. He is famous for supposedly banishing all the snakes from Ireland.
  • Many tombs dating from between the 4th and 9th centuries, have been discovered at Caerwent. Archaeologists have also found brooches and other jewellery from the same time period.

Herculaneum: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Herculaneum.

  • Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town located near Naples and Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy. It was named after the Greek hero Hercules and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • The settlement was founded by the Greeks around 600 BC. Because of its strategic location near the Bay of Naples, the town became an important trading centre.
  • The residents of Herculaneum were probably quite wealthy, as shown by the design of the buildings and some of the archaeological discoveries. At its height, around 20,000 people lived in the city.
  • The nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, erupted on August 24th, 79 AD. The people of the city did not think the volcano was a serious threat as it had not erupted for about 800 years.
  • When Mount Vesuvius began to erupt, Herculaneum was evacuated. It was long thought that all of the inhabitants managed to escape, but more than 300 bodies have since been discovered huddled together on the beach and in arched buildings (thought to have been boat houses).
  • The people were killed by the intense heat of generated by the volcano’s eruption. The temperatures were so high (approaching 500 degrees C) that the inhabitants of Herculaneum were killed very quickly, even if they were sheltering in buildings.
  • The buildings in Herculaneum were buried from the ground up, by ash and several flows of boiling mud. Many of the upper floors are still intact and have beautiful mosaics and frescoes.
  • The eruptions of Vesuvius were the first to be documented. Pliny the Younger described the eruptions in letters and today, scientists use the word plinian to describe a volcano erupting.
  • Excavations at Herculaneum were first carried out by Spanish archaeologists in 1738. When nearby Pompeii was discovered, the excavations were halted and then began again during the 20th century.
  • Herculaneum had bath houses for men and women, a gymnasium and a temple. Visitors today can even see the remains of an ancient Roman fast food restaurant which used heated bowls.
  • Many of the structures were expensive villas overlooking the waterfront. One of the most luxurious was the Villa of the Papyri, which may have been the home of Julius Caesar‘s father in law.

What next? Find out more facts about the Romans, or learn all about volcanoes.

10 Pompeii Facts

Here are some facts about the city of Pompeii.

  • Pompeii was an ancient city in southern Italy. The remains of the settlement are located near to Naples.
  • The city of Pompeii was built at the foot of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius.

  • Pompeii predates Roman rule. Historians think it was a settlement built by the Oscan civilization in about the 6th century BC. It was then controlled by the Samnites, before becoming a Roman city in about 80 BC.
  • The city grew over the years and the original wooden buildings were slowly replaced with structures of brick and stone.
  • During the first century AD,  Pompeii was developing into a flourishing city port. It was a prosperous resort for numerous wealthy visitors. It contained many Roman villas, an amphitheatre, two theatres, several temples and an aqueduct system.
  • In 62 AD a severe earthquake did a significant amount of damage to Pompeii’s buildings. It took several years to rebuild the city after the damage and many of the residents relocated to other Roman cities.
  • Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. The eruption buried the city under volcanic ashes and cinders and exposed the city’s 20,000 inhabitants to blasts of hot air with temperatures of up to 250 degrees C, easily hot enough to kill even those people who were sheltering inside stone buildings.
  • Pliny the Younger, a Roman writer, witnessed the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and his uncle, Pliny the Elder, lost his life trying to rescue the people of Pompeii.
  • Volcanic ashes completely covered the city, preserving the buildings.
  • People had forgotten that Pompeii even existed, and it lay buried under the ground for hundreds of years. In 1748 the excavation of Pompeii was begun and it archaeologists are still working on the site to this day.
  • In 1863, Giuseppe Fiorelli realised that some of the voids and gaps in the layers of ash were left by the decomposed bodies of Pompeii’s inhabitants. He pumped plaster into the holes and produced accurate casts of the people of Pompeii. A similar process is carried out today, using resin instead of plaster.

Pompeii

  • The eruption of Vesuvius was quite sudden, and many of Pompeii’s inhabitants lost their lives while going about their daily work.
  • Pompeii was not the only city covered by volcanic ash as a result of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. Herculaneum and Stabiae may not be as famous, but the ash and cinders preserved them too.
  • Many of the buildings of Pompeii uncovered by archaeologists were in fantastically good condition and many of the walls were still covered with frescoes. Hundreds of well-preserved artifacts were also found.
  • Pompeii is now a major tourist attraction. It is UNESCO World Heritage Site and it attracts more than 2 million visitors every year.

What next? Discover more Roman facts or learn more about volcanoes.

Julius Caesar Facts

Here are some facts about Julius Caesar, the Roman general, politician and Consul (from 49 BC to 44BC):

  • His full name was Gaius Julius Caesar.
  • Caesar was born in the year 100 BC. His father was also named Gaius Julius Caesar, and his mother was called Aurelia Cotta.

  • Very little is known of Caesar’s childhood.
  • Julius Caesar was a brilliant military general. He successfully conquered Gaul (France) and he twice invaded Britain (in 55 BC and 54 BC).
  • Caesar formed and alliance with Pompey and Crassus, gaining support from the public in opposition to the Roman Senate. Cato the Younger and Cicero opposed them.
  • Following the death of Crassus, Pompey moved away from Caesar and supported the Senate. Julius Caesar was ordered by the Senate to give up control of the military. Caesar disobeyed the order and crossed the Rubicon river with his army. A civil war took place and Julius Caesar gained control of Rome.
  • He was married three times. His first marriage was to Cornelia Cinnilla from 83 BC until she died while giving birth in either 69 or 68 BC. Then, in 67 BC, he got married to Pompeia, whom he divorced 6 years later, in 61 BCE. He got married for the third time, to Calpurnia Pisonis in 59 BC, and remained married to her until his death.
  • Julius Caesar is known to have been involved with three other women in his lifetime. The first was Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, with whom he had a son called Caesarion. Cleopatra and Julius Caesar could not ever get married because she was Egyptian, and he was Roman, and under Roman law, only Roman citizens could get married to each other. Then, he was also involved with Servilla Caepiones, who just happened to be the mother of Brutus, one of the people who would assassinate him later on in life. The third woman that he had an affair with was the queen of Mauritania.
  • Caesar was a brilliant speaker and he was prolific writer. Only his writings on his military conquests survive today, but he also wrote different forms, including poetry.

Julius Caesar

  • Caesar had enormous political power. As dictator he could veto the Senate, he controlled the armies of Rome and he was the first Roman to be officially deified (given the status of a god).
  • Julius Caesar’s face was depicted on Roman coins.
  • Caesar introduced the Julian calendar.
  • In 44 BC Caesar was assassinated by a large group of Roman Senators. He was apparently stabbed more than 20 times.
  • Following his death, Caesar’s loyal supporter, Mark Anthony and Caesar’s named heir, Octavian (later Augustus Caesar) successfully fought a series of civil wars. Augustus Caesar became Rome’s first Emperor, ruling from 27 BC to 14 AD. The Roman Republic had become the Roman Empire.
  • In a traditional pack of playing cards the King of Diamonds is meant to represent Julius Caesar.
  • A William Shakespeare play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar focuses on the assassination of Julius Caesar and the events that followed his death.

What next? Find out more about the Roman invasion of Britain, or take a look at the Primary Facts page of Roman resources.

What did the Romans bring to Britain?

The Romans successfully invaded Britain in 43 A.D. In the years that followed, Roman culture and traditions spread across Southern England. The Romans imported many different types of food and materials to Britain from all over the Roman Empire, and they also introduced new ideas, laws and inventions.

Here’s a list of some of the things the Romans introduced to Britain:

  • The calendar we still use today.
  • The census – the practice of counting a population.
  • High-quality straight roads
  • Central heating
  • Aqueducts (water bridges)
  • Indoor plumbing
  • Towns
  • Cabbages
  • Peas
  • Public libraries
  • Public noticeboards
  • Firemen
  • Police
  • Stinging nettles
  • Cats
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Paved streets
  • Turnips
  • Carrots
  • Cement
  • Bricks
  • Heated baths
  • Language (Latin)

This is far from an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of the range of different things and ideas brought to Britain by the Romans. When the Romans left Britain, some of the things they introduced continued to be used, and others were forgotten.

What next? Find out more about the Roman invasion of Britain, or discover more facts about the Romans.

The Roman Invasion of Britain: When and Why?

When did the Romans invade Britain?

Over the course of nearly one hundred years, the Romans attempted to invade Britain three times.

  • In 55 B.C. Julius Caesar invaded Britain with two Roman legions. The Romans fought several battles against different Celtic tribes before returning to Gaul (France).

  • In 54 B.C. Caesar returned to Britain with a much larger army. He crossed the English Channel with five Roman legions, landing near Deal in Kent. The Romans marched inland and crossed the river Thames. Again they fought against the Celtic tribesmen and demonstrated the strength and power of the Rome. Caesar agreed to leave Britain, but only if the tribes agreed to make a tribute (payment) to Rome.
  • In 43 A.D. Emperor Claudius launched a third and final invasion of Britain. Four Roman legions, led by General Aulus Plautius, landed in three locations on the coast of Britain – Richborough, Lympne and Dover. A large battle was fought between the Romans and the Celtic tribes near to the River Medway. The Romans emerged victorius, but it took many years to gain control of Britain, as many tribes (such as the Iceni led by Boudicca) continued to fight against Roman rule. The Roman invasion of Britain was a gradual process.

Between Caesar’s second invasion and the final invasion under the Emperor Claudius, Roman traders and merchants had established trading relationships with the Celtic tribes living in Britain. As a result, some areas in the South of England were being influenced by the Romans and their culture before the final invasion.

Why did the Romans invade Britain?

The Romans were constantly making moves to extend the Roman Empire and push the boundaries of the land under Roman control. Having subdued the Celtic tribes in Gaul (modern day France), the Romans turned their attention to the tribes living in Britain. Britain was full of natural resources, and the Romans believed that it would be of great benefit to the Empire if the island could be successfully invaded.

What next? Find out more facts about the Romans, or learn about Boudicca, the leader of the Iceni tribe, who fought back against the Romans in East Anglia.

The Roman Colosseum: Facts About the Great Amphitheatre

Here are some facts about the Colosseum, one of the great buildings of Ancient Rome.

  • The Colosseum took ten years to build. Its construction was ordered by the Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD and it was completed under the rule of his son, Titus, in 80 AD.
  • It had a capacity of over 50,000 and it could be filled in about half an hour.

  • Spectators could watch gladiators fighting each other, executions, demonstrations of animal hunting, battle re-enactments and even sea battles – the arena would be flooded.
  • The Colosseum was built on the site of a former lake. Drains were built 8m below the building to deal with the water flowing in from nearby streams.
  • It has massive foundations which are over 10 metres deep in some places.
  • Historians haven’t been able to discover the name of the Colosseum’s architect.
  • The arena in the centre of the Colosseum was covered in sand and contained a number of trap-doors so that wild animals could leap in to spice up the gladiatorial combat.

Colosseum

  • It is estimated that over 400,000 people lost their lives in the Colosseum.
  • The Colosseum is the largest of the 200+ amphitheatres built in the Roman Empire.
  • The outer walls are nearly 50 metres high.
  • When it rained or when the sun was beating down too strongly on the spectators, a large fabric covering called the velarium was drawn across the Colosseum and anchored by ropes.
  • The last recorded evidence of Roman gladiators fighting in the Colosseum was in 435 AD.
  • The Colosseum was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1349. Lots of its stone was used to build churches, hospitals and palaces in Rome. Over the centuries, much of the building’s most valuable materials were stipped away. Today only a fraction of the original building remains intact.
  • The Colossuem is one of Rome’s key toursit attractions.
  • During its years of neglect, the Colosseum was home to many exotic species of plants. These probably grew from seeds which were brought in from across the Roman Empire when wild animals were used in the amphitheatre.

What next? Learn more about other forms of Roman entertainment, or check out our Roman facts and resources page.