Roman art had taken over in eclectic confusion the Attic, Asiatic, and Alexandrian styles- restraint, immensity, and elegance; it never quite combined them into that organic unity which is one requisite of beauty. There is something Oriental in the crude strength of the typically Roman buildings; they are awe-inspiring rather than beautiful; even Hadrian’s Pantheon is a structural marvel rather than an artistic whole. Except in certain moments, as in the Augustan reliefs and the glass, we must not look here for delicacy of feeling or refinement of execution; we must expect an engineer’s art that seeks the perfection of stability, economy, and use, a parvenu’s infatuation with immensity and ornament, a soldier’s insistence on realism, a warrior’s art of overwhelming force. The Romans did not finish like jewelers because conquerors do not become jewelers. They finished like conquerors.
Without doubt they created the most influential and fascinating city in history. They made a plastic, pictorial, and structural art that every man could understand, and a city that every citizen could use. The free masses were poor, but in some measure they owned much of the wealth of Rome: they ate the corn of the state, they sat at almost no cost in the theaters, the circuses, the amphitheaters, and the stadiums; they exercised, refreshed, amused, and educated themselves in the baths, they enjoyed the shade of a hundred colonnades, and walked under decorated porticoes that covered many miles of street and three miles in the Field of Mars alone. Never had the world seen such a metropolis. At its center a tumultuous Forum busy with business, resounding with oratory, alive with empire-shaking debates; then a ring of majestic temples, basilicas, palaces, theaters, and baths, in a profusion without parallel; then a ring of humming shops and teeming tenements; still another ring of homes and gardens, again with temples and public baths; and last of all, a circle of villas and estates pushing the city into the countryside and binding the mountains with the sea: this was the Rome of the Caesars- proud, powerful, brilliant, materialistic, cruel, iniquitous, chaotic, and sublime.