A simple generalisation is that the ancient Romans of the early periods were relatively uncultured warriors. Continued conquest and territorial expansion into the Greek colonies of southern Italy brought them into contact with the evolved Greek culture and art, which they mimicked, assimilated and imported (looted).
Various phases of Roman expansion brought fresh artistic influences in the art of Rome
As the Roman empire expanded more broadly and included an increasing variety of cultures it also absorbed their forms of art. Growing wealth and learning also meant an increased appetite for the arts.
Mercantile trade of art, all the way to India: Expanding influence and wealth also meant expanding trade routes and the ability to exchange art from foreign lands. For example, pottery of the Augustan age (around the year 0) with relief figurines has been excavated as far away as India, and indeed an Indian ivory statuette known as the Pompeii Lakshmi has been found during excavations at Pompeii.
Roman culture was primarily driven by pragmatism and functionality: Learn and apply. Even the fundamentals of their unparalleled engineering were initially absorbed and learned from others before being extended and developed at a grander scale. An example of this is the basic knowledge of their hydraulics which was taken from Etruscans and used to build Rome’s Cloaca Maxima (the Great Drains) and the great acqueducts.
Early Latin and Sabine archaic art forms were soon influenced by those of the Etruscans and later by those of the Greek colonies in southern Italy.
Contact with Greece: The influence of Greece on ancient Roman art is undisputed and reams of literature have been published. There was an endless appreciation for Greek artists and their works. Particularly within the Roman Republic, the technical expertise and aesthetic taste imported from Greece married perfectly with the Roman love of neo-Realism which had never been encountered before.
Egyptian influence: Egypt was an extremely strong influence across the Mediterranean since well before the rise of Roman power. Greek influence had begun to shape Egyptian culture and art from the 3rd Century BC when Alexander the Great took power. This influence also came across to Roman society, particularly after being invaded by Emperor Augustus. Augustus’ projects to rebuild the city brought in architects and artists from across the empire. The Egyptians were regarded as great masters of the sciences such as astronomy and a permanent example is the Egyptian obelisk used as a sundial for Augustus’ Ara Pacis memorial. The obelisk was used in a variety of ways: as monument, as a clock and perhaps most importantly as a symbol of wisdom and many can still be found throughout Rome.
Influence from the East and Constantinople: As global economies and wealth shifted eastward so too did the empire’s attention. Emperor Constantine created new Rome at what is now Istanbul in Turkey. This new centre of power was later to become the centre of the Roman Empire, also ruling on the West, and old Rome. With that shift of influence there was also the shift in artistic thought and aesthetic influence, ultimately reaching a point of iconoclasm whereby the figurative love of ancient Rome was anathema.
Art in ancient Rome: | Art in Ancient Rome – Introduction | The decadence of classical art | Foreign influence | The Greek revolution | Ancient Roman Paintings | Painting Styles | Drawing | Ancient Roman Mosaics | ancient roman jewelry | Sculpture | roman statues | Architecture | Literature and Theatre |Ancient Rome Literature | poems about Rome | roman music | roman pottery |