Apollodorus of Damascus (50/60 – 130)

Apollodorus of Damascus was probably the most famous Roman architect. Started as an efficient military engineer, he then became the official imperial architect of Emperor Trajan and then, for a short period, of the successor Hadrian. Apollodorus is also believed to be the architect of the last “re-make” of the Pantheon of Rome.

Bust of Apollodorus of Damascus in the Glyptothek Munich.
Author: Carole Raddato.

Image sourse: https://commons.wikimedia.org

About his life.

Apollodorus of Damascus had Nabateen origins and should have been born around the year 60 AC in Damascus (Syria), and perhaps was introduced to Rome by Trajan at 91, when he was an ordinary consul, to be employed in the Domitian programs of building renovation in Rome. The architect’s father probably entered Trajan’s father’s clientele while he was in Syria. He was the only great Roman architect whose name and complete works are known, also Because in Rome architects never signed their work, in order not to obscure the merit of the emperor who ordered it.

About his masterpieces.

Apollodorus had a significant influence on the Roman Imperial Style.
This question is rather debated by scholars; in any case, it is recognized as an organic synthesis between the Italic-Roman tradition and the Hellenistic-oriental modules. In his projects he used the latest advanced inventions and made a significant contribution to the development of building structures and technologies. Among his main works are: the Trajan’s Forum, Column, and Markets, the Hadrianic Pantheon, the port of Trajan in Fiumicino, the Arch of Trajan in Ancona, the Arch of Trajan in Benevento, the Bridge of Trajan over the Danube made during the conquest of Dacia, present-day Romania, etc.

Trajan’s Column.

With the reliefs of the column Roman art further developed the innovations of the Flavian era, coming to definitively detach itself from the Hellenistic furrow, up to an autonomous production, and reaching absolute heights, not only of Roman civilization but of ancient art in general. In a certain sense, the artistic tradition of Hellenistic (and therefore classical) art and the all-Roman solemnity of the exaltation of the Empire came together organically.

Trajan’s Column, Rome.
Photo by ©eclypse78/Shutterstock.com

Image sourse: https://www.britannica.com

Trajan’s Bridge.

Trajan’s Bridge that is also called Bridge of Apollodorus over the Danube is a fixed bridge between Drobeta and Pontes that was built by Apollodorus in 103-105 over the Danube, on the order of Trajan after a long battle that ended with the Roman victory and armistice in 102 AD. This monument is mentioned by Procopio, a bridge more than a km long which has remained famous for the ingeniousness of its technical solutions. One of his representations can be found in one of the reliefs of the Trajan’s Column, a sign that the emperor was very proud of it.

Trajan’s Bridge Across the Danube.
Modern Reconstruction by the engineer E. Duperrex in 1907.
Foto: U. Rapsak .

Image sourse: https://www.ia-ostiaantica.org

Apollodorus built the bridge of 1135 m in length, 15 m in width, 19 m in height, made totally in wood, and supported by the pillars deeply embedded in the bottom of the river. The piers were built of bricks, stone, and pozzolan, coming from Italy, but it is not known which method the architect had implemented to work underwater. Numerous researchers assume that Apollodorus had deviated the course of the Danube thus, causing a decrease in the level of the river. The bridge could only be accessed by security towers in Drobeta and Pontes. No enemy would have crossed it with impunity. Some leftovers of the wonderful bridge remain near Drobeta in Romania.

Trajan’s Forum.

Trajan’s Forum also remembered as Forum Ulpium in some sources is the largest and the most monumental of the Imperial Forums in Rome, the last in chronological order. Built by the emperor Trajan with the spoils of war obtained from the conquest of Dacia, and inaugurated, according to the Ostian Fasti, in 112, the Forum was arranged parallel to the Forum of Caesar and perpendicularly to that of Augustus. The design of the structure is attributed to the architect Apollodorus of Damascus. The complex, which measured 300 m in length and 185 in width, included the forensic square, the Basilica Ulpia, an arcaded courtyard with the Trajan’s Column, and two libraries. The presence of the Temple of Trajan and Plotina, added by Hadrian, seems to have been ascertained, after various alternative proposals that have proved unfounded, below Palazzo Valentini, where it was traditionally located. All the buildings of the Trajan’s Forum were covered with marble and stucco, as well as adorned with sculptures and wall paintings. The complex included, in order:

  • an entrance formed by a square hall with a central four-sided portico;
  • the real forensic square (116 x 95 m), with the convex side of the entrance, decorated with the large equestrian statue of the emperor, moved towards the entrance side;
  • two semicircular exedras on the sides of the square;
  • the Basilica Ulpia, an arcaded courtyard with the famous Trajan’s Column and the two libraries, Greek and Latin
Trajan’s Forum. Photo by Markus Bernet.

Image sourse: https://www.visionpubl.com

Trajan’s Markets.

Trajan’s Markets were built at the beginning of the second century, to occupy and support the cutting of the slopes of the Quirinale hill, they were separated from the Forum by a paved road that allowed the wagons to easily pass through. The Markets resumed the semicircular shape of the exedra of the Trajan’s forum and were articulated on six levels. The dates of the brick stamps seem to indicate that the construction dates back mostly to the reign of Trajan and therefore to its architect, Apollodorus of Damascus.

Apollodorus exploited every space obtained by cutting the slopes of the hill and inserting different rooms at the different levels of the monument. He used the common brick construction technique: cement structure covered with external brick layers. On the facade of the “Great Hemicycle” an order of pilasters framed the windows of the second floor, surmounted by alternately triangular and arched pediments, flanked by two broken triangular gables. This decoration, made with custom shaped bricks, was also used in later Renaissance architecture and Neo-Classic.

Arch of Trajan of Ancona.

The arch of Trajan of Ancona certainly represents one of the most precious monumental testimonies of the Roman Marche. Very elegant, it was erected by the Senate and the people of Rome in 100-116 AD by Apollodorus of Damascus in Turkish marble, coming from the quarries of the island of Marmara, in honor of the emperor who had the port of the city expanded, at his own expense, improving the docks and fortifications. According to the customs of the time, the equestrian statue of Trajan was placed on the attic. To the left of Trajan stood the statue of Plotina, his wife, and to the right that of Ulpia Marciana, his sister. The inscriptions, still legible, had gilt bronze letters, friezes and statues which were seized by Saracens in 848. The Arch, recently restored and properly illuminated, is one of the best preserved to this day, and still maintains the momentum and elegance of the past..

Arch of Trajan. Ancona, Italy.
Author: George Ledwell Taylor, Edward Cresy.

Image sourse: https://collections.library.nd.edu

Info sourse: https://www.romanoimpero.com
Info sourse: https://www.encyclopedia.com
Info sourse: http://www.treccani.it