What are some characteristics of Roman buildings?

Urbs and Orbis

Characteristic features of the Roman city:

  • they are mostly on the plain on a Roman military road
  • regular checkerboard floor plan. This normal scheme, based on the street grid developed by Hippodamus, is a square or rectangular floor plan in a grid arrangement, but there are also deviations due to the terrain.
  • the quarters created by the street division are called "insulae" - an army street runs through each city - the via principalis. This is mostly crossed by a second main road (decumanus).
  • The center of the Roman city is the Forum, a rectangular square that lies at the intersection of the main streets
  • at the forum are the large public buildings, such as the court and administration, temples, theaters and thermal baths are located outside the urban area
the Roman Colosseum © IMSI MasterClips

Over time, the Roman city developed from the Greek polis. But before the Romans found a city, they practice a certain ritual: first they question the gods (inauguratio), then the outer boundaries of the future city are defined (limitatio) and finally they make a sacrifice in the newly founded city (consacratio) . At the beginning, Rome (urbs) is only a small settlement, but it is growing rapidly and soon dominates the entire Mediterranean area. Like the Roman Empire (orbis), the “Eternal City” is expanding ever further and in ever more unbelievable dimensions - at the height of its growth Rome has an area of ​​around 2,000 hectares. In spite of everything, the village character is retained due to the small-scale quarters of Rome.

Technical drawing of a column capital © IMSI MasterClips

The Roman Empire itself is compared with a city: "The world empire was criss-crossed by streets like a city, surrounded by walls and administered by a single government." During this time, Rome achieved worldwide renown - it is the center of the world and all roads lead to Rome, but all roads of the West also begin here ...

The Roman city system or the Roman Empire was the first to spread in Asia Minor, Lower Italy, Sicily and a century later on the Spanish and French Mediterranean coasts since the 7th century BC. But it took until the 1st century AD until it became established in all of Gaul, in north-western Germania and in England. With the Romans, house building with solid materials came to Central Europe - in general, the Romans owed the first phase of city founding in these latitudes.

In the later German Empire, the distribution of the cities with Cologne, Mainz, Worms, Strasbourg and Basel was concentrated mainly on the left bank of the Rhine and the right bank of the Danube (Regensburg, ...). The most important Roman city on German soil is Trier, which becomes the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 275 AD. With the invasion of the Alemanni and Franks, the decline and fall of the Roman cities of Central Europe is as good as sealed.


Status: June 24, 2001

June 24, 2001