The architecture of Maxentius: A study in architectural design and urban planning in early fourth-century Rome

Elisha Ann Dumser, University of Pennsylvania


Maxentius erected an impressive trio of monuments along Rome's Sacra Via—the Basilica Nova, the templum Romae, and the Rotunda Complex (“so-called Temple of Romulus”)—within his brief, six-year reign. Despite their prominent locale and obvious architectural value, these three buildings remain poorly understood in their Maxentian phase. In what comprises the first extended appraisal of Maxentius' architecture and patronage, I present new restorations of these monuments with especial attention to their architectural design. Further, the concentrated architectural effort seen on the Maxentian Sacra Via—focused in time and place and under the guidance of a single patron—offers an ideal venue to explore questions of urban planning in early fourth-century Rome. This dissertation is organized into six chapters: an introduction, a chapter devoted to methodological issues, three building studies, and a final chapter evaluating the structures as a group. Chapter One serves as an introduction to Maxentius' architectural canon and the scholarly landscape of Maxentian studies. In Chapter Two, each class of evidence used to date or name the patron of a tetrarchal structure is analyzed to determine how narrow a date it can offer, whether it testifies as to patronage, and what factors might effect its reliability. Chapters Three, Four and Five focus upon the Basilica Nova, the Rotunda Complex, and the templum Romae, respectively. Each case study addresses a core set of questions: how is the structure associated with Maxentius? What was its name at the beginning of the fourth century? How should its Maxentian physical form be reconstructed? What evidence is there for its original function? What design issues did Maxentius' architects confront and conquer? What was the lifespan of the Maxentian design? Chapter Six concentrates on understanding the three structures as a cohesive unit. What evidence is there for urban planning on the Velia? What stylistic affinities do the buildings share? How do the commissions serve Maxentius' political agenda? And lastly, what roles and responsibilities would Maxentius have fulfilled as an architectural patron?

Subject Area

Art history|Architecture|Urban planning|Area planning & development

Recommended Citation

Dumser, Elisha Ann, "The architecture of Maxentius: A study in architectural design and urban planning in early fourth-century Rome" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3165666.