Faculty of architecture, building and planning

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Lecture Notes ©1999 C.M.Gutjahr

Comparison between Greek and Roman City

Origins of Roman Planning
(a) The Religious Element
In founding a new city, the Romans carried out four ritual procedures, which have been attributed to their Etruscan predecessors (or to the even earlier Terramare period).
These rites accompanied the founding of military camps and cities and established Rome's formal planning concept:

i. Inauguratio

ii. Limitatio

iii. Orientatio

iv. Consecratio
(b) The Military Element
In the course of establishing and maintaining their authority, first in Italy itself and later throughout their vast empire, the Romans needed to build thousands of fortified legionary camps.
For utilitarian reasons, such camps had to be of simple plan, quick to erect and set out and, generally, repetitive in detail and construction. The result was the standard, rectangular CASTRUM ROMANUM PLAN i.e. the Roman Camp Plan.
(a) The Idea of the Castrum Plan
(b) The Spatial Concepts within the City

The organization of urban spaces in Roman Planning derived from the:

- Greek agora

- Hellenistic stoas

- vertical layout of such towns as Pergamon. (?)
(c) The Basic Architectural Concepts

are also similar to Greek and Hellenistic examples:

- courtyard house

- temples plus colonnades

- theatres

- building terms and stylistic features

Development of Building and Planning Styles
1. At beginning, Rome draws freely on the Greek and Etruscan planning heritage.
2. Subsequently, it evolves into a colonial style within Italy.
3. Then into a military planning style in the provinces which had been conquered.
Activity in provinces acquaints Rome with achievements of other civilizations e.g. Greek, Hellenistic.
4. Influence of foreign planning led to the more monumental style of planning during the Roman Empire.
Note: The purely Roman planning contribution, however, is rather modest; it is limited only to the Castrum Romanum with its regular layout and including the two characteristically Roman elements: the Capitol and the Forum.
The Mediterranean World in 265 BC.


Two Roman camps along the Danube

each became the nucleus of a later, important city : RATISBON and VIENNA


"Together with the Etruscan and the later Roman rules of founding cities, the castrum plan provided the basis of Roman Planning".
All new, planned Roman towns, either of temporary or permanent intention, were laid out in the form of the legionary camp plan.
(At first, the need for planning was almost exclusively a military one; all Roman towns and cities were symbols of Rome's presence, and were subordinate to the city of Rome itself).

Plan of a typical Roman Military Camp1:

Castrum Romanum
The elements of the Castrum Plan are:

The Wall

The Principal Streets
CARDO (or VIA PRINCIPALIS) N to S (First Main Street)

DECUMANUS E to W (Second Main Street)
These two principal cross-roads formed the basis of the internal layout of the Roman camp plan. Minor residential streets would further sub-divide the 4 quarters of the plan into individual building blocks (insulae).
The Gates

Situated at the four meeting points between the two main streets and the urban walls i.e. one gate in the centre of each side of the plan:

Porta Principalis Sinistra (N)

Porta Principalis Dextra (S)

Porta Praetoria (E)

Porta Decumana (W)

The Major Buildings and Spaces
The castrum system of town design provided a simple and well - organized framework for the location of various Roman Buildings.
At, or near the centre were:
the Forum (open square + colonnades)

the Capitol Public Offices (Quaestorium, Praetorium)

the Basilica (Hall used for public meetings and as law courts)


library (sometimes)

Plan of the city of TRIER

during the Roman Empire

Castrum Plan of VERONA

late 1st century BC


The CANABAE or 'suburbs'

The unplanned civilian settlements which invariably spring up outside the gates of the camp or castrum, specifically along main exist routes.

These ultimately become towns/cities in their own right or are absorbed within the urban boundaries of the existing city: e.g. CARNUNTUM on the Danube.

Plan of City of Como of 1858

outline of Roman Camp plan clearly visible

6th century BC - founded as Greek colonial city

3rd - 1st century BC - in form it is a late Hellenistic city - rebuilt between end of 3rd and beginning of 1st centuries.

- during this period Greek city building practice gradually gives way to Roman methods.

79 AD - city destroyed through volcanic eruption (Vesuvius)

Plan of Pompeii

(Gallion & Eisner)

Courtyard House [domus}:

'Casa di Capitelli figurati'


Pompeii: 'Casa del Fauno'

Large peristyle house (domus)

TIMGAD (Thamugadi)

located 24 miles east of Batna, in Algeria, North Africa.

100 AD built by Emperor Trajan for veterans of 3rd Legion stationed at nearby fort of Lamaesis.
often quoted as classic example of Roman chessboard planning, shows both the strengths and weaknesses (canabae) of Roman town planning.

Plan of TIMGAD

ROME the city itself
(i) Historical Development

Rome, the 'city of the 7 hills' had its origins in hill villages built by the Latin tribes; these had moved down to the TIber river plain from the hills to the south-east.

10th century BC original village settlement on Palatine Hill in the province of Latium.
753 BC Romulus and Remus (descendants of Aeneas of Troy) legendary founders of Rome on April 21st.
6th century BC settlement on Quirinal Hill.

Two villages merge to form Rome. Gradually, 5 (five) other fortress settlements join in. These are the hill-top settlements of the





Aventine hills
- At this stage, Etruscans are still masters of Northern

Italy, while the south is under Greek influence.

510 BC - Etruscan King driven out by Roman nobility. Begin of Roman Republic and City's rise to fame and power.

up to 270 BC - Rome fully committed to establishing her mastery over Italian Peninsula.

- Gradual subjection of neighbours; Rome grows in wealth and power but in size it is still smaller than:

Tarquinia (capital of Etruscans)




386 BC - Gauls burn down city - only capitol withstands.

378-352 BC - Romans rebuild their city; earthen wall which had kept Gauls out now replaced by 10m high "Republican Wall".

- Military force improves in strength and quality.

338 BC - Rome rules over other cities in central Italy (Latium): Etruscan power falls; Greek colonies divided among themselves. Rome, triumphant, now rules area of 4,650 sq. miles (12,000 sq. km) and over 400,000 inhabitants.

by 264 Rome achieves control over most of Italy and becomes largest state west of Greece.

Plan of Republican Rome


264-202 BC Punic Wars

Series of wars against Carthage in which Rome reaches out beyond Italy as its disciplined armies conquer on all fronts, e.g.:

241 in Sicily

238 in Sardinia + Corsica

229 in Yugoslavia (Illyria)

225 in Northern Italy

206 in most of Spain
Consequences of Wars

218-203 BC The bitter struggle against Hannibal was won in the end but the entire area of southern Italy was ravaged causing a social revolution, which was later to contribute to Rome's fall.

146 BC Carthage and Corinth flattened; Asia Minor conquered.

Military successes provided Rome with abundant supply of land, gold, slaves etc. yet Rome could not readily adjust to the sudden wealth.

Repeated attempts by Roman leaders, Tiberius and Gajus Gracchus, to make the lot of peasants and the landless class easier by introducing land reform and relief, failed. This led to :

The Civil Wars

121 BC introduction of Gracchan Laws (Gaius Gracchus).

84-82 BC Sulla versus Marius [another bloody civil war].

73 BC Spartacus and 60,00 slaves and plebeians plunder Italy and march on Rome; for a time, armed factions rule capital.

Caesar versus Pompeius [another civil war].

44 BC Caesar assassinated; confrontation between his successors, Marcus Antonius and Octavianus.

31 BC Octavianus triumphs; returns to Rome to become Emperor Augustus (27 B.C)

395 AD Empire divided into:


ii. Planning During the Empire
Development of Roman planning during rise of Empire, was characterised by:

in Rome and other large towns:


Total Population in Roman Empire:

1st-2nd Century AD

3rd-5th Century AD
















Syria, Palestine



Greece & the Balkans






Asia Minor




Russell, J.C. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Volume 48, Part 3, Philadelphia, Pa. 1958.



iii. Housing Types and Standards




Older Courtyard House [domus] from Pompeii

Section of Insula with separate Cenaculae

OSTIA: 'Casa di Serapid'

Plan of Insula with separate Cenaculae

OSTIA : 'Casa di Diana'

200 AD Rome begins to crumble under the pressure exerted by Germanic Tribes to the north, and under internal rivalries and warfare.
211-217 AD Emperor Caracalla extends citizenship to all free men of the Empire (by which time it wasn't worth very much).

War against the Parthians and Germanic tribes.

Brought about severe economic crisis.

Built the elaborate Caracalla Baths, in Rome.

218-235 AD Emperors Elagabalus (a degenerate) and Alexander Severus.

Empire in crisis.

284-305 AD Emperor Diocletian. Reforms lead to absolutist autocracy run by hierachical public service machine.

Persecution of Christians.

4th century AD Empire falls apart at the seams.
330 AD Emperor Constantine makes Byzantium, his capital and the new centre of the Empire, named CONSTANTINOPLE.
395 AD Emperor Theodosius makes permanent the administrative separation of 330 A.D. between the West and East Roman Empires.
410 AD the Westgoths conquer Rome.
455 AD the Vandals follow; Rome sacked a second time

(Vandalism - a term coined by French Bishop Gregoire in 1794).

476 AD Western Roman Empire surrenders its power and breaks up into Germanic Kingdoms.


1. The enormity of the size of the Empire.

2. Rome's colonies were not self-governing or self-sufficient.
3. The conquered barbarians turned on the Empirial Power and engineered its collapse.
4. Disruption of monetary system (silver coinage)
5. Corruption of Roman political, economic and social life.
6. Roman army in the provinces (largely composed of non-Romans) was unreliable and rebellious.

The Legacy of Roman Planning
1. The idea of the architectural organisation or order of the city
Wherever Rome colonized, it established its symbols i.e. theatres, arenas, forum, capitol, triumphal arches and regularly laid out dwellings districts.
2. The Idea of Architectural Monumentality
3. The Magnitude of the Planning Achievement
Rome founded over 5,627 new towns and cities and built 140,000 km of roads, many have disintegrated since.
4. Rome's Contribution as an Organiser and Administrator

Rome passed laws and regulations applying to everything and everyone:

45 BC Lex Julia Municipalis, under Caesar

which regulated street repairs and maintenance of dwellings

69-70 AD Decree of Vespasianus

gave everyone right of claim to building site if owner failed to build on it.
Rome seriously tackled the problem of regulating disputes between persons living side by side in an urban society and established principles of lasting value:
• all persons of same status enjoy equal rights

• better for the guilty to go free than for an innocent to suffer

The Weaknesses of Roman Planning
• failed in its potential role as a 'teacher' and 'facilitator' of urban culture; instead, it imposed its will and views on the conquered regions by force.
• city plans inflexible and repetitive; interior layouts rigid and formalized.
• Roman cities could not cope with urban growth (physical expansion); hence the canabae.
• structural changes within cities proved crippling.

The Role of Empires
Refer to Gideon Sjoberg's argument that empires and cities are interdependent; read "The Origin and Evolution of Cities" in Cities, pp. 25-39, a Scientific American Book.
The Close of the Ancient World
306- Constantine, emperor of Rome, carried on plan originally envisaged by

337 AD Augustus, to provide the great empire with an eastern capital (as eastern part of empire then dominant in terms of population numbers and commercial activity).

326 Byzantium is chosen as new capital (in preference to Troy and Alexandria) and renamed Constantinople (330).
395 Empire divided into East and West; Rome Capital of West Roman Empire

[from 404 Ravenna]; Constantinople capital of East Roman or Byzantine Empire.

476 Western Roman Empire falls and Constantinople assumes control over the diminishing remains of Roman Empire for another ten centuries. Finally, defeated by Turks in 1453.
622 Period of Antiquity brought to an end with rise of Islam, as an important power in the Mediterranean and Oriental worlds.
Upon fall of Rome, centre of gravity of urbanization shifts from the Mediterranean to the Islamic world and to Asia (China and India).

Map of Byzantine Empire under Emperor Justinian


Bibliography Part 3: Classical Antiquity: Rome
Principal references are shown in bold.
Bacon, E. (1967), Design of Cities, London, Thames & Hudson, pp. 68-77.
Balsdon, J.P., Roman Civilisation, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.
Barrow, R.H. (1949), The Romans, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.
Bell, C. & Bell, R. (1969) City Fathers: The Early History of Town Planning in Britain, London, Barrie & Rockliff: the Cresset Press, pp 7-12.
Benevolo, L. (1980), The History of the City, Scolar Press, London.
Carcopino, J. (1962), Daily Life in Ancient Rome, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.
Castagnoli, F. (1971) Orthogonal town planning in Antiquity, Cambridge M.I.T. Press, Chapter 6,
Collingwood, R.G. & Myres, J.N.L. (1937), Roman Britain and English Settlements, Oxford History of England Book 1, Oxford University Press.
Gutkind, E.A. (1969), Urban Development in Southern Europe: Italy and Greece, Vol. IV - International History of City Development New York, the Free Press, pp. 9-63, 181-205.
Gutkind, E.A. (1971) Urban Development in Western Europe: The Netherlands and Great Britain New York, The Free Press, pp 134-151.
Haverfield, F. (1913) Ancient Town Planning, Oxford, Clarendon Press, Chap. 1
Hibbert, C. (1985), Rome: The Biography of a City, Viking, Chapters 1-4.
Hiorns, F. (1956), Town Building in History, London, Harrap, pp.44-75.
Mazzolani, L.S. (1970) The Idea of the City in Roman Thought: from walled city to spiritual commonwealth, Hollis & Carter, London.
Morris, A.E.J. (1972), History of Urban Form, London, George Godwin, pp.37-62.
Moholy-Nagy S. (1968) Matrix of Man: An illustrated History of Urban Environment, London.
Mumford, L. (1966), The City in History, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books. Chapter 8.
Richardson, Jr. L. (1988), Pompeii: An Architectural History, John Hopkins, University Press.
Richmond, I.A. (1955), Roman Britain, Penguin Books.
Rykwert, Joseph (1988), The Idea of a Town, Cambridge, Mass., M.I.T. Press.

Sellman, R.R. (1956) Roman Britain, London, Methuen Outline.

Stambaugh, J.E. (1988), The Ancient Roman City, Baltimore, London, John Hopkins, University Press.
Stewart, C. (1952), A prospect of Cities, London, Longmans & Company, pp. 21-55.
Wacher, J.S. (1979, The Coming of Rome (Britain before the Conquest). Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
Ward-Perkins, J. (1974), The Cities of Ancient Greece and Italy, New York, George Braziller.

1 Note: Porta Principalis Dextra and Sinistra are, incorrectly, inverted on the plan!


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