Some late Roman central-plan temples had highly ornamental shapes like the Temple of Venus at Baalbek, which had a scalloped perimeter.
Roman temples served to honor gods and house their statues in apses. Altars were placed outside, where public ceremonies took place. Except for the Pantheon, interiors, which were largely limited to the temple priesthood, were not emphasized architecturally.
Placement of Roman Temples
Roman temples were aligned with the surrounding forum and usually faced east. (This is different from the placement of Greek temples, particularly sanctuary temples, which were not aligned with each other but located on the sacred site of the deity to whom the temple was dedicated.)
The relationship of temples to other buildings in forums evolved over the years. At the Old Roman Forum, where the structures had been added one at a time over a period of centuries, the temples had a loose relationship with the other buildings. At the later forums built by individual emperors, temples formed focal points of axially arranged complexes. These temples were dedicated to the emperors, who were deified, accorded the status of gods after death.
Derivation from Etruscan Temples
Roman temples were derived from Etruscan temples, which were much in evidence when the Romans were becoming established and competing with the Etruscans. Etruscan temples, in turn, had been influenced by Greek temples, which had been built at Greek colonies in Italy.
Greek Influence on Roman Temples
Greek temples influenced Roman temples not only indirectly by having influenced Etruscan temples, but also directly by the importation of Greek architects, who were working in Rome in the second century BC and were familiar with the orders.
The Roman Emperor Hadrian, who admired Hellenistic architecture on his travels, copied Greek forms at times. He modeled the Temple of Venus and Rome on the Greek temple type that had columned porches and steps on all four sides. The columns along the temple's southern facing still remain.
Despite similarities between Greek and Roman temples in vocabulary and proportions, Roman temples adhered to the Etruscan-influenced form.
Greek Influenced Features
Etruscan temples incorporated several features from Greek models, and these features were later passed on to Roman temples.
|●||Pedimented gables. The temple roof was shallowly pitched and the gable ends were framed by moldings forming pediments.|
Etruscan Influenced Features
Several of the features that distinguish Etruscan temples from Greek temples were incorporated by Roman temples. In addition to selecting the features listed below, the Romans chose not to adhere to several aspects of their Etruscan models such as the use of squat proportions and such non-permanent building materials as timber and mud-brick.
|●||Podium instead of steps. Etruscan temples rested on a podium that was only accessible from steps at the front instead of from steps on all sides like Greek temples.|
|●||Absence of a peristyle. Etruscan temples had columns only on the front rather than a peristyle around all four sides as many Greek temples did.|
|●||Building-wide cella. Etruscan temples had wide cellas that extended their entire width.|
New Features Invented by the Romans
In addition to the features patterned after Greek and Etruscan axial temples, Roman axial temples initiated several new features.
|●||Engaged columns. The appearance of a colonnade around entire buildings was maintained by the use of engaged columns along the side and rear walls. This form is called "pseudo-peripteral" because the engaged columns imitate the peristyle of a peripteral temple, a temple surrounded by a colonnade-supported porch.|
|●||Apse for deity. Apses were built inside Roman temples to house the cult statue of the deity, which the Greeks had placed on platforms. Apses were generally located opposite the entrance. A variation on the single-entrance plan is provided by the Temple of Venus and Rome, which was dedicated to two different deities. To accommodate them equally, the temple had entrances at each end and back-to-back apses in the center.|
The term tholoi also applies specifically to circular Greek tombs, from which circular temples were derived.
As with Roman axial temples, the temple was elevated on a podium and access was limited to steps at the front.
At the Pantheon, whose size and design made it unique among Roman centralized temples, a temple-front entrance portico was appended to a rectangular vestibule, creating an unusual combination of forms.
In the Renaissance, axial temples had little influence as models for whole buildings, but their porticos were much studied and adapted for use on a variety of structures.
During the Neoclassical period, which began in the second half of the eighteenth century, classical porticos were much used. Sometimes, whole churches were built in the shapes of temples by architects like the Frenchmen Percier and Fontaine.
In newly founded nations dedicated to democracy like America and France, temple-fronts became popular for official architecture because of their identification with ancient Greece and Rome, which were considered to be the fonts of democratic ideals.
|♦||Temple of Athena, Paestum|
|♦||First and Second Temples of Hera, Paestum, Italy|
|♦||Temple at Segesta, Sicily|
|♦||Temple of Athena Nike, Acropolis|
|♦||Temple of Jupiter, Capitolinus, Rome|
|♦||Reconstruction (19th C) of an Etruscan Temple, Villa Giulia Museum, Rome|
Roman Axial-Plan Temples
|♦||Maison Carèe, Nîmes, France|
|♦||Temple of Venus and Rome, Rome|
Roman Central-Plan Temples
|♦||Temple of Vesta, Forum Boarium, Rome|
|♦||Temple of Vesta, Tivoli|
|♦||Temple of Vesta, Forum Romanum, Rome|
|♦||Temple of Venus, Baalbek|
Maison Carée, Nîmes, France
Temple of Vesta, Forum Boarium, Rome