Diane Favro, professor of architecture and ubran design at the UCLA, gives a lecture in the Anderson Center Reception Room on April 8, as part of the Mario and Antoinette Romano Lecture Series.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
UCLA professor details ‘The Roman Triumphal Arch’Tweet
With the recession, many infrastructure super-projects – often the foundation that facilitates national expansion and champions American expertise – stopped, said Diane Favro, professor of architecture and urban design at UCLA, as she presented the Mario and Antoinette Romano Lecture on April 8. The loss of these projects suggests a declining fate and eroding optimism “because Americans, like the ancient Romans, identify with the sheer bravado of mega projects.”
In “Commemorating Engineering: The Roman Triumphal Arch and Non-military Victories,” Favro spoke of how aqueducts, sewers, bridges, roadways and harbors constructed by early Romans fostered economic development while promoting Romanitas and shared pride.
“Ancient texts, inscriptions and pictorial expressions exhibit pride and reflect a Roman self-identity,” she said. “No wonder they adopted the imagery of triumph to depict construction works. Urban spectators talked about projects for years afterward. With some projects, as with the aqueduct at Segovia, it continued to affirm audacity.”
The practice of constructing arches to mark major projects, and of inscribing them with accolades to the builders, became common in ancient Roman times, Favro said. “Who would watch, write about and remember the challenges faced and conquered in creating these projects?” she said. “Many of these projects were in remote areas and most could not see and appreciate the complexity and effort involved in state mega projects and infrastructure.”
As a result, the Romans turned to a familiar building type: the commemorative arch. “The honorific arch is a familiar marker of Romanitas,” said Favro, who noted there exist more than 800 arches referring to power, unity and conquest. “Today, arches are almost universally associated with military conquest, but in antiquity they honored a wider range.”
Originally, early, freestanding arches displayed sculptures and then Augustas adopted the word arcus to celebrate the Roman theology of victory and extended this to reflect the success of Roman ideals, laws and culture, she said. However, patrons also located arches where would they have maximum visibility, with some highlighting urban gateways and serving as memorials. Others affirmed boundaries, and a large number also celebrated Roman mega projects from roads to bridges to aqueducts to ports − all celebrating triumphs of engineering.
Officials in ancient times also often exploited megaprojects for personal gain, Favro said, and for a time, some even issued commemorative coins in celebration. When that practice was curtailed, ambitious Romans fell out of the habit of costly, time-consuming road building that had limited opportunities for naming and Augustus set himself up as curator of the highways.
“He began repairing a major project and made it associated with highly honorific triumphal arches,” said Favro. “The senate honored the restoration of this highway by erecting a second arch, clearly framing the Augustan scope of work. This reached a broad audience and commemorative arches soon proliferated widely across roads so travelers were compelled to read the inscriptions. This expanded the status of the arch donors.”
“The roads and arches were indeed awe-inspiring,” said Favro. There were poems celebrating roads and engineering feats that created these arches. They were cut through mountains and often required bridges. Roman engineers developed technical expertise and ancient bridges were spectacular events.
Though they didn’t value the labor force, Romans did value construction expertise, Favro said. “Bridges stay for ages in the eternal world and commemorative arches ensure one’s memory. “One contractor even selected one he had constructed for his final resting place.”
In addition to roadways, complex water systems competed with road building as great Roman achievements, Favro said. “If we give due attention to the importance of water and the distance from which it’s brought, an aqueduct is a marvelous site that takes one’s breath away. ”
As with the roadways, commemorative arches often proclaimed the majesty of the aqueducts. “These were opportunistic arches,” Favro said, “including inscriptions that memorialized the great distances from which water was brought.”
Favro also noted that the Romans constructed complicated sewer systems, but they were not marked by commemorative arches.”They had arch openings, but no architectural memorials.”
Construction ingenuity was also displayed in the harbors marking entry and departure points and operating as doorways to cities, territories, provinces and the sea itself, Favro said. “To greet all comers, they used easily identified, visually appealing arches that stood in effect as doorways to Romanitas.
In the end, “consider not which infrastructure is more victorious,” said Favro, “but how the absence or presence of memorializing confirms and distills our cultural identity for one moment and through its endurance across time.”
The Mario and Antoinette Romano Lecture Series was endowed in 1984 by the Romanos to sponsor lectures given by noted speakers in history, economics, art history and medicine. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office.