Examples of Roman sculpture are abundantly preserved, in total contrast to Roman Frescoes, which were widely produced but have almost all been lost. Latin and some Greek authors, particularly Pliny the Elder in Book 34 of his Natural History, describe statues, and a few of these descriptions match extant works. While a great deal of Roman sculpture, especially in stone, survives more or less intact, it is often damaged or fragmentary; life-size bronze statues are much more rare as most have been recycled for their metal.
As the expanding Roman Republic began to conquer Greek territory, at first in Southern Italy and then the entire Hellenistic world, sculpture became largely an extension of the Hellenistic style, from which specifically Roman elements are hard to disentangle, especially as so much Greek sculpture survives only in copies of the Roman period.
The Romans did not generally attempt to compete with free-standing Greek works of heroic exploits from history or mythology, but from early on produced historical works in relief.
Roman reliefs were taken to a new level in the 2nd c. AD, when the emperors Trajan and Marcus Aurelius commissioned their famous columns to commemorate their military campaigns, which consisted of continuous narrative reliefs winding around them.
Marble and limestone sarcophagi elaborately carved in relief were characteristic of elite Roman inhumation burials from the 2nd-4th c. AD.
At least 10,000 Roman sarcophagi have survived, with fragments possibly representing as many as 20,000. Although mythological scenes are frequent, sarcophagi reliefs also depict the deceased’s occupation, military scenes and other subject matter.