This probably will not happen . . . but what if you sneezed and suddenly found yourself in the Roman Empire two thousand years ago?  A man is screaming at you in Latin, but for some reason you understand him.  He says that you have to build a building in which most of the people of the city can fit.  It needs to be beautiful with a round ceiling, and it needs fresh water running into it at all times.  Also, you cannot use any of the machines we use today, like bulldozers or anything like that, and the building has to last for at least two thousand years.  Again, this probably will not happen to you . . .  But just in case, you should know a thing or two about how Roman buildings were built and where we can see these ideas in our world today.

There are a lot of things you have to do to build a big building with a round ceiling.  So let's start with the easy things.  All buildings need walls and ways to get in.  That should be easy, right?  Just put up walls and then cut some doors and windows into them.  I hate to say it, but that will not work.  You are two thousand years in the past.  You can only work with stone, and you don't have any tools that will cut through them.  The Romans used the arch as a way to make doors and windows for a building without cutting holes.  They made arches by stacking stones in two pillars slightly tilted toward each other.  When the two pillars almost touched, they placed a keystone at the top, which pushed down on the stones from both sides and kept them from falling over.  You will find arches all over the place today, including on many stone bridges and sports stadiums.  Now you have walls with doors and windows on your building.  That's one down.

It isn't raining so we don't need to worry about the roof just yet.  Let's get some fresh water in here.  Why not use that river right next to the house, you ask?  People use that as a bathroom and let their cows drink from that river.  Does that answer your question?  To make sure people had safe water, the Romans brought water from other places to their cities.  Aqueducts are channels, pipes and tunnels that use gravity to carry fresh water from far away rivers to cities.  Think of them as tiny man-made rivers that brought water to people.  With these, everyone can use safe water to drink and bathe.  Most of them were built under the ground and would let water flow down with gravity to where people lived.  When the water has to pass over a valley, they would use arches to keep the water flowing downhill and across.  We still use these in modern times to bring a lot of water to cities and farms that don't have rivers running through them.  That's two down!

Now it's time for the hard part: the roof.  The Romans didn't only make buildings that worked well; they also made them beautiful.  To help rain fall off to the sides, they would build a round roof that looks like the top half of a ball.  A dome is a roof shaped like half of a ball and it gives rooms much more open space than a flat roof.  It's tough to make, but the Romans built these by stacking up pieces of concrete over a round shape.  Then they would take away the frame.  Of course, there's a lot more to it than that, but we do not need to go into it now.  These are so beautiful and work so well that we see them in all kinds of buildings around us today, like the US Capitol building. That's three down!

Still not ready?  You need more ideas on how to build your building?  Well, we could go to Italy . . .  It's home to some of the finest pieces of architecture on Earth.  But you do not need to go there in order to see Roman buildings.  As you just read, we use parts of Roman buildings all the time in the things we build now.  Greco-Roman means that something is made in the same style as a lot of Greek and Roman things were made.  Arches, aqueducts, domes and marble statues are all things that we have borrowed from the Greeks and Romans and still use today.

Nice!  You built a Roman building!  Or at least now you know how to.  You can make walls with doors by building arches.  You can bring fresh water into the building by making aqueducts.  Last, you can make that big, beautiful dome to bring in lots of admiring visitors.  Still not sure you could build a building with a round roof?  Hmm.  I'd say that until you really understand Roman buildings, try not to sneeze.  You know, just to be safe.


History For Kids.  "Roman Architecture", 2014.  <>

Ducksters.  "Ancient Rome - Engineering and Construction"  Ducksters, 2009.  <>

"Constructions Techniques of Roman Vaults: Opus Caementicium and the Octagonal Dome of the Domus Aurea." Proceedings of the Third International Congress on Construction History, Cottbus, May 2009 <>