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Roman Invention: Arches

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Rome was able to control a vast empire due to their military success. According to Bee Breeders, an Architecture competition organisers, Roman architecture was at its peak during the Pax Romana period, a period in which the Roman Empire didn’t expand and wasn’t invaded, and which lasted over 200 years. One of the Roman inventions in that period is an arch. An arch is a curved structure that is usually made of stone, brick, concrete, or steel. Its purpose is to support or strengthen a building or a structure. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “most arches consist of wedge-shaped blocks.”

The top center stone, called the keystone, is the last block to be inserted. During construction, arches are often supported by a wooden frame. When the frame is removed, both sides of the arch press against the keystone and thereby support arch. Is an arch first used by Romans? Romans were not the first mankind that invented an arch. As stated by Empire Rome.com, “Romans were great innovators and they quickly adopted new construction techniques, used new materials, and uniquely combined existing techniques with creative design to produce a whole range of new architectural structures.”

In fact, arches have been used since prehistoric countries, such as ancient Egypt, Babylonia, and Greece. However, purpose of the arch in these cultures was limited to supporting small structures, such as storerooms. Thus, these people often used columns to support roofs. This design limited the size and area of a building. As a result, extremely large palaces or government buildings were not able to be built.

The ancient Romans created an arch that could support huge amounts of weight. How did the Romans accomplish this? The answer lies with a material called ‘concrete’. History. com states that “using a mixture that included lime and volcanic sand, the Romans were able to create a very strong and durable type of concrete.” As a principle of physics, arches made of this substance could support a lot of weight. As a result, Romans were able to build massive structures, such as aqueducts, which provided water to cities. The Roman arch freed architects to explore different and larger structures. Roman arches can still be found in today’s structures and buildings across the world. Paris in particular drew a lot of its inspiration from Roman architecture. In 1804, when Napoleon was an Emperor, he commissioned several works that would recreate Paris as a new Rome. The ‘Arc de Triomphe’ and the ‘Place Vendôme’ are two examples of French architects borrowing Roman structures, arches. Furthermore, Roman arches are not only found in 1800s’s constructions, but also modern architecture, such as the interior of Union Station in Washington D.C.

While initially developed by the Greeks, arches were incorporated into Roman architecture early on. Initially built to support the underground drainage systems, during the Roman era, arches were built mainly for inscribing significant happenings. As claimed by the Ancient History Encyclopedia, “the Arch of Constantine, construction celebrating the victory of Constantine I over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, in Rome is the largest surviving example and is perhaps the last great monument of Imperial Rome. “Roman arch solved an important problem by allowing to support a large amount of weight. Therefore, it enabled the construction of larger and more varied buildings. The spread of the Roman arch and has had a enduring impact on architectures all around the world.

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