1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Roman Architecture: The Use of the Arch

(Part 64)

Roman Architecture

The Use of the Arch

We have taken it for granted that the Greeks were ignorant or neglectful of the properties of the arch. If the great sewer at Rome, called the Cloaca Maxima, belongs to the time of Tarquinius Priscus, it must be conceded that the properties of the arch were known, and the arch constructed in that city. But it is contended that the Cloaca maxima, as it now exists, is a work of much more recent date, and that it may have succeeded the sewer constructed by the first Tarquinius, who was, moreover, himself a Greek. It is, however, now certain that the construction of the arch was known to the Egyptians, and used by them at a very early date, although, for some reason which we do not quite understand, they neglected it in their greatest works. That it was known to and made great use of by the Assyrians is also certain. Whoever it was that invented it, and at whatever date, the Romans made extensive practical use of it, and by its means they succeeded in doing what their predecessors in civilization had never effected. It enabled them to carry secure and permanent roads across wide and rapid rivers, and to make a comparatively fragile material, such as brick, more extensively useful than the finest marble was in the hands of the Greeks. To the Greeks, however, the Romans were indebted for their knowledge of the more polished forms of columnar architecture. Before the conquest of Greece the structures of Rome appear to have been rude and inelegant, and from that time the existing style of architecture either gave place to the superior merit and beauty of what the Romans found in that country, or was combined with it, though frequently the combination tended to destroy the beauty of both.

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