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Roman Art and Architecture
500 BCE – 400 CE

Why This Unit?

All complex societies have created art as an expression of their experience. Yet works of art, examined as historical artifacts and primary sources, can tell us a much larger story about the history of the people who created them.

For historians, art has left behind important artifacts that help us draw conclusions about the history of human identity. Art helps us understand humans and their ideas. A single work of art can act as “snapshot” of a society at a particular time and place. Art can show us what people looked like, what they worshiped, the ideas they valued, and what they considered beautiful. Art is also a way in which people can relate political messages and persuade others through propaganda.

Art may also relate the story of how humans have formed and used networks of trade and exchange. The exchange of cultural ideas has been crucial to human development. Roman art would have been much less rich if not for the cultural diffusion of art and artists from the peoples they interacted with and those they conquered. Roman art tells us a story of how societies borrow and build off the ideas of other societies. Roman art is to a large extent a culmination of ideas borrowed, built off, and “stolen” from other societies, particularly the Greeks.


Unit Objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1. Explain how Romans copied and borrowed styles in art and architecture from other societies, particularly the Greeks.

2. Explain how ancient Romans contributed to art and architecture.

3. Describe Roman achievements in art, including realistic portraits, coinage, glassware, cameos, mummy paintings, and mosaics.

4. Describe Roman achievements in architecture including public baths, the Colosseum, and the Pantheon.

5. Explain how art can be used as a tool of political propaganda.

6. Compare and contrast Roman with Greek art and architecture.

7. Analyze how the classical style of Greek and Roman art and architecture has influenced modern art and architecture.


Time and Materials

This unit is designed both for teachers who would like to cover the topic in depth and for those preferring more limited classroom investigation. Teachers are encouraged to “pick and choose” what best fits their schedules. Teachers may devote classroom time ranging from three to seven periods.

Materials required for teachers include an LCD projector for showing the PowerPoint presentation associated with this unit (See Classical Connections: From Roman Art and Architecture to Today). Those who do not have an LCD projector may print out the presentation for overhead presentation.

Materials required for students include a pen or pencil and a history notebook. Students may need one or all of the following to complete the assessment projects at the end of the unit: construction paper, colored pencils and/or markers, glue, scissors, a digital camera, access to a computer and the Internet.

Table of Contents

Why this unit?


Unit objectives


Time and materials




The historical context




This unit in the Big Era timeline


Lesson 1: An Overview of Roman Art and Architecture


Lesson 2: Readings on Roman Art and Architecture


Lesson 3: Classical Connections: from Roman art and architecture to today


This unit and the Three Essential Questions


This unit and the Seven Key Themes


This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking




Correlations to National and State Standards


Conceptual links to other teaching units


Complete Teaching Unit in PDF Format


Note: documents in Powerpoint format (PPT) require Microsoft Viewer, download powerpoint.

Note: documents in Portable Document Format (PDF) require Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or higher to view, download Adobe Acrobat Reader.