Charred Black Potato Ash asks:

How did they build the Pantheon?

I have to assume that this question is less about Roman architectural techniques and materials generally and more about the thing that’s super distinctive about the Pantheon, so that’s what I’m gonna talk about.

The Pantheon is a big Roman temple in the heart of the city of Rome.  The name Pantheon (or Pantheum) is not on the building itself anywhere, but it’s mentioned in ancient Latin texts.  It’s Greek for “[Temple to] All the Gods” and seems to have been a nickname given to the building because it housed cult statues of multiple patron deities of the imperial family, including Mars and Venus.  The Pantheon is also known today (and for the last several hundred years) as the Church of Santa Maria della Rotonda, and that name is a big clue to the thing that’s impressive about it: the rotunda.  From the front the Pantheon looks like a fairly standard Roman temple with a triangular pediment and colonnaded porch, but from the side, you see that it isn’t rectangular like a normal temple; it has a humongous round butt sticking out the back, and once you go inside, it turns out to have a massive domed ceiling that you can’t easily see from the front.  We used to think that the Pantheon was originally built as a fairly ordinary rectangular temple in the reign of Augustus, the first emperor (r. 31 BC – AD 14), by his right hand man Marcus Agrippa (whose name is on the dedicatory inscription), and was subsequently rebuilt as its gloriously unique self by Hadrian (r. AD 117-138) after being destroyed in a fire; this is what I was taught when I was in high school, back in the 1840s.  New research says that, in fact, the Pantheon we have today was probably built during the reign of Hadrian’s predecessor Trajan (r. AD 98-117), and Agrippa’s original Pantheon probably also had a dome.

So… whence the dome?

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