The Roman Colosseum

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Bazile | 14:50 Fri 04th Dec 2015 | History
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I Watched a programme last night about the Colosseum in Rome .

They did a scan of another amphitheatre somewhere in Italy , and together with that info was able to scan the Colosseum in 3D.

Anyway the images showed what a complex building it was and what fantastic architects the Ancient Romans were .

One of the contributors to the programme, stated that to envisage such a building both inside and out beforehand, and then to go ahead and build it was simply breathtaking .

Which begs my question to you historians out there -
Where do they rank in terms of ancient civilisation builders - are they above the ancient Egyptians ?


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The Romans were certainly magnificent engineers. Their roads and bridges in many cases have influenced civil engineering projects to this day. The egyptians were notable for the pyramids. Their temples were very fine, but did not pose the colossal problems of the pyramids. ( They did not routinely use arches, for instance) It was extraordinarily difficult to build masses of stone, thousand upon thousand of tons of rock, without them collapsing. Indeed, some of the oldest pyramids did collapse. So you might say the egyptians were specialist engineers, whereas the Romans were superb generalist engineers over a wide range of projects.
Like Atalanta says, the Romans were spectacular engineers, that is, they had at their disposal military engineers and armies of slaves. Now here's the thing - most of these engineers and slaves (many of whom would have been traded for their skills in the building trade) were from all over the known world. That included Egypt. And these 'foreign' workers brought the skills and techniques they already knew into the Roman world.
Everything that you encounter in Roman engineering, with one exception, had been developed by other cultures. Roads, aqueducts and saunas / steam baths were all used across the Middle East when the Latins were still dirt farmers. The exception is the dome, which seems to have been developed within the Roman Empire.
So I think what I'm trying to say is that the flaw is in the question, namely trying to put these amazing past cultures into any kind of ranking. We can quite validly express preferences for one over another, but each had its own little box of wonders that it handed over to posterity.
there seem to have been domes before the Romans

All the same, the Pantheon is just amazing. You can't believe it's 2000 or so years old when you go into it.

Like everything else the Romans used architectural principles from everywhere. They probably got semicircular theatres from the Greeks and some people think they got the idea of amphitheatres from putting two theatres back to back. After that, they just kept building them bigger.
There's controversy about the examples you cite Jno. The excavated examples are below ground, so more like a cellar than a free standing dome, and while load-bearing arched mudbrick was used for some of these, there's no evidence for anyone extending the arch to the 'dome'. Part of the problem is that of the above-ground architecture that remains say in southern Iraq, from the time before the Romans, none includes domes or arches. All arches have been inferred from very, very collapsed and compacted multi-layer archaeological sites.
The link shows an image of a structure built well into the period of Roman domination. The author is an architect but not a historian and their historical sources must have been a bit sketchy.
in terms of engineering principles, does it make any difference if they're above ground or below?
The ancient Romans were pretty amazing and advanced for their time in many areas, including architecture. Some things they did may have been done by previous cultures but the Romans did them bigger, better and more amazing.
It is difficult to speak about "rankings". But, comparing them to the Egyptians, we have:
1. the Egyptians used only stone, one above the other. Just that.
2. the Romans used rock, bricks and concrete (their invention)
3. the Egyptians, when building a hall for example, had to put columns and straight pieces of stone between them to support the roof.
4. the Romans invented the arch and the dome, which are more efficient and granted more free space on the inside of a building.

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The Roman Colosseum

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