Sacred by Design: Expressing Latin Identity through Architectural Mouldings

Stephen Smith

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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My thesis examines the nature of Roman religious identity and its expression through a distinctive design of religious architecture. This design has a double-rounded profile, with two counter-posed rounded mouldings around an hourglass-shaped waist.

The design is found on temples and altars in Latium from the beginnings of stone architecture in the sixth century BC until the last decade BC. It became a symbol of Latin religious identity in the fourth century BC, in response to the Volscian invasion. My catalogue of surviving examples shows that this design was used on religious architecture only in Rome, northern Latium, and a few colonies, and was probably the only design used there until the second century BC. Similar rounded mouldings are found in Etruria, but they were used differently.

The repeated use of the double-rounded design with little variation over such a long period enabled successive generations to evoke the shared cultural memories and moral associations that played an important part in the Romans’ self-definition of their ancestral identity. Even when Greek architectural forms began to be adopted in the second century BC, this design was occasionally revived to evoke traditional values.

A modified version that drew on Greek models also appeared in the second century BC. This had smaller, counter-posed rounded mouldings separated by a tall, flat surface. The modified design was used widely on temple podia in Italy, both where a development of the earlier tradition might be expected, but also in areas that were not thoroughly ‘Romanised’ until much later.

The double-rounded design becomes far less common in the first century BC. From the latter half of Augustus’ reign, both the traditional and modified versions of the double-rounded design were no longer part of the Roman architectural tradition. It was revived only once more, under Antoninus Pius.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Kamash, Zena, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Roman Religion
  • Roman Architecture
  • Architectural Mouldings
  • Roman Identity
  • Roman Antiquarianism
  • Roman Altars
  • Roman Temples

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