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date: 20 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Perhaps more than other aspect of Roman culture, the study of architecture is affected by two preconceptions, the first resulting from its durability, the second from later attitudes. First, because buildings appear as a solid and visible legacy of Roman culture, it is assumed that Romans themselves clearly recognised the meaning of architecture. Yet, within a short time-span, two ancient writers, Varro and Vitruvius, presented different views. Vitruvius, the more fortunate in transmission, was ambivalent about the definition of ‘architecture’, calling it first a compound of aesthetic concepts – organisation, layout, good rhythm, symmetry, correctness, and allocation; but, a chapter later, a combination of scientific domains – building, mechanics, and orology. For Varro, architecture was one of nine ‘disciplines’; his lost treatise can hardly have contained such technicalities or defined ‘architecture’ so comfortably within the parameters of the modern academic subject. This article explores past debates on Roman architecture, including one concerning archaeology and architectural history; form and function as well as utility and ornament of Roman buildings; public architecture and private building; and centre and periphery.

Keywords: Rome, architecture, buildings, Varro, Vitruvius, archaeology, form, function, centre, periphery

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