Use of clay in ancient Rome

Terracotta Mural Reliefs

Terracotta mural decoration  was largely employed by the Romans for the interior and exterior of their buildings, in the form of slabs, ornamented with reliefs, which were placed round the impluvium or on the walls. Sometimes they seem to have formed a sort of hanging “curtain” round the lower edge of the cornice, as the open-work patterns along the edges seem to imply, a method of decoration which we have already met with at Civita Lavinia, where also the hanging slabs are bordered with patterns in outline or open-work. But, as also at Civita Lavinia, these slabs seem to have been frequently used as antepagmenta , being pierced with holes, which imply that they were nailed against the walls. In the Casa dei Cecilii at Tusculum there is evidence that they were used as wall-friezes, and those found at Pompeii (where they are very rare) also have holes for fastening to walls. It may be to the first-named variety that Festus refers when he speaks of antefixa  of fictile work which are affixed to the walls underneath the gutters. There is also a reference to them in Cicero, who, in writing to Atticus, says, “I entrust to you the bas-reliefs (typos ) which I shall insert in the cornice of my little atrium.”

The slabs are usually about 18 inches long by 9 or more high, and 1 to 2 inches thick; they have nearly all been found at Rome, but specimens are also known from Civita Lavinia, Cervetri, Nemi, Pompeii, and Atri in Picenum. The British Museum possesses a very fine series, numbering, with fragments, one hundred and sixty, nearly all of which were collected by Mr. Charles Towneley at Rome; and there is an equally fine collection in the Louvre, which came from Signor Campana, who devoted a large work to the illustration of them. Other good examples, some of which were found in the Baths of Caracalla, are in the various collections at Rome.

The reliefs were evidently cast in moulds, as many subjects are repeated over and over again, or at least with only slight differences; moreover, the relief is low, with sharp and definite outlines, such as a mould would produce. Among the British Museum examples a group of Eros, a Satyr, and a Maenad is repeated in three cases (D 520-522), with no variations except in the colouring; another of Dionysos and Satyr three times (D 528-530), with only one small variation. It is evident that in the latter, as in some other cases, the relief had been retouched before baking. Reliefs entirely modelled are of much rarer occurrence, but exhibit considerable artistic feeling and freedom, as in an instance in the British Museum (D 651), which represents the sleeping Endymion; the hair is so fine and deeply cut that it could not possibly have been produced from a mould. The moulds may have been made of various materials—wood, stone, metal, or gypsum, as well as terracotta. Circular holes are left in the slabs for the plugs—usually of lead—by which they were attached to the woodwork or masonry. The clay varies in quality and appearance, being often coarser than that of Greek reliefs, and mixed with coarse sand in order to make it stronger and more durable; in tone it varies from a pale buff to dark reddish-brown. Traces of colouring are often found on the slabs, and the background in some cases (as B.M. D 577, 623) was coloured a bright blue; the figures, or more often details such as hair, etc., were usually painted red, yellow, purple, or white. These colours are not fired, as in the earlier terracotta reliefs, but painted in tempera , and their use is entirely conventional. The slabs are ornamented above and below with bands or cornices in the form of egg-and-tongue mouldings, or a system of palmettes and intersecting arches; these are sometimes in low relief on a band, sometimes partly in outline or open-work.


Roman Mural Reliefs.

1. Zeus and the Curetes; 2. Dionysos in the Liknon-Cradle (British Museum).

The figures are mostly in low relief, being usually grouped with large flat surfaces between, in the manner of Hellenistic art; in some cases the design is composed in such a way that the whole surface (except the principal figures) is occupied by patterns of scroll-work or foliage, more or less conventional. The compositions are either in the form of narrow friezes, usually with rows of busts or figures of Cupids, or square metope-like groups with two or three figures on a large scale. For the narrower slabs the busts were preferred, owing to the scope they gave for high relief, which better suited the distance from the eye; but this rule is not invariable. The style is, in general, bold and vigorous, and, though essentially architectural, not devoid of dignity and beauty; but it is somewhat conventional, and at times even archaistic. Those found at Pompeii are usually of remarkably good style, especially the Nereid frieze, with its rich colouring. These are earlier than the earthquake of A.D. 63, and probably belong to the Augustan period, to which also the majority may be assigned. On one or two names of potters are found, such as Annia Arescusa(na) and M. Antonius Epaphras in the British Museum.

The subjects on these reliefs cover a very wide field, almost as wide as those on the painted vases, and quite as wide as those on the Roman lamps. In many cases they are doubtless copies of well-known works of art, and may even go back to prototypes of the fifth century, as in the case of a figure of a girl in the British Museum (D 648), or one of Eros, conceived as a full-grown youth, in the Campana collection. Others, again, present points of comparison with the Hellenistic reliefs, as is the case with that representing the visit of Dionysos to a mortal (B.M. D 531). Lastly, we find in the reliefs, as also on the Arretine vases (below, p. ), a series of types closely related to the New Attic reliefs, in which it was sought to revive an older style; among the types borrowed from these originals are Maenads in frenzy or dancing in various attitudes, and the figures of the four Seasons. Among those which reflect the character of their time rather than the spirit of Greek art, we have representations of Egyptian landscapes, or Egyptian deities and emblems; scenes from the circus or gladiatorial arena; and quasi-historical subjects, such as triumphs over barbarian enemies. Of mythological subjects, the most popular are Dionysiac scenes or groups; next to these, Apollo, Aphrodite, Eros, and Victory. Heroic legend is represented by the labours of Theseus, Herakles, Perseus, and Jason, and occasional scenes from the Iliad  and Odyssey . Lastly, there are a certain number which are purely decorative, with a single figure of Eros or Victory (treated in archaistic fashion), or an ideal head surrounded by elaborate and graceful scrolls or acanthus foliage; others, again, have conventional groups of two priestesses or canephori, with a candelabrum or a foliated pattern between (Plate LXII.), a mask between two Cupids, and so on. Even the figures in some cases tail off into conventional patterns.

To mention a few of the more interesting subjects in detail, it may suffice to quote examples from the two best-known collections—those of the British Museum and Louvre. Beginning with the Olympian deities, we have the infant Zeus in the cave on Mount Ida, protected by the Curetes, who dance above him, wielding swords and shields (Plate LXI.); in one instance he is in his nurse's arms. On a narrow frieze the busts of Zeus, Ares, Hera, and Athena are represented; Apollo receives a libation from Victory, or a warrior consults his oracle, indicated by a bird in a cage; Aphrodite is seen riding on a sea-horse or on a goose. Eros or Cupid appears in various attitudes and combinations of figures: flying, embracing Psyche, or being embraced by a Satyr; accompanying Aphrodite, Triton, and the Nereids; a pair on either side of a mask of Triton or Medusa; or a group of three struggling under the weight of a heavy garland of fruit and flowers. Busts or masks of Demeter, Zeus Ammon, and Triton are also found; a group of Aphrodite and Peitho; and the three Eleusinian deities, Demeter, Persephone, and Iacchos.

The Dionysiac scenes are very frequent, though often of little interest, and mere groups without definite action. The best known is the reception of Dionysos in the house of a mortal, a subject formerly interpreted as his reception by Ikarios at Athens; this type is remarkable for its rich and elaborate composition, probably derived from a Hellenistic original. A very effective composition is that of a dancing Satyr and Maenad swinging the infant Dionysos in a λίκνον (vannus ) or winnowing-van, which serves as his cradle (Plate LXII.). Among other scenes may be mentioned Dionysos giving drink to a panther; two Satyrs standing on tiptoe to peep into a laver; Satyrs gathering or pressing grapes (of which many replicas exist), or working an oil-press; Ampelos (the personified vine) between two Satyrs; Bacchic processions, sacrifices, or ceremonies; and friezes of Bacchic masks and masks of Pan.

Among other deities Victory is by far the most common. She is usually represented slaying a bull for sacrifice, a subject of which there are two principal varieties, according as she turns to right or left. The motive is a well-known one, and found in fifth- and fourth-century art, from the balustrade of the Nike temple at Athens onwards. She is also depicted flying with a wreath, or as a conventional archaistic figure between tendrils and scrolls. Of the figures of the Seasons we have already spoken; they are characterised by the attributes they carry, as a kid for Spring, corn for Summer, fruit for Autumn, and a hare and boar for Winter. Masks of Medusa, Sirens, and Sphinxes (both male and female) are found in compositions of a decorative character.

Of heroic legends, the rape of the Leukippidae by Castor and Pollux is repeated more than once; Herakles is seen contending with the Nemean lion, the hydra, and the Cretan bull, and with Apollo for the Delphic tripod; Theseus raises the rock which discloses his father's weapons (Plate LXI.), contends with the Marathonian bull, or overcomes a Centaur; Jason builds the Argo, superintended by Athena, and, assisted by Medeia, obtains the golden fleece; Perseus rescues Andromeda, and brings the Medusa's head to Athena; Aktaeon is slain by his hounds. The Homeric scenes include Paris carrying off Helen from Sparta (or, as some interpret it, Pelops with Hippodameia); Nestor healing the wounded Machaon with a potion; Priam bringing offerings to Achilles; Penelope mourning for the absent Odysseus; Odysseus recognised by Eurykleia; and Orestes on the Delphic omphalos. There are also numerous semi-mythical scenes, such as combats between Amazons and Gryphons, between Amazons and Greeks, or between Arimaspi and Gryphons.


Roman Mural Reliefs.

With the exception of the Roman subjects from the circus and arena, the remaining subjects are purely decorative, and of little interest; the former, some of which have reference to the conquest of Dacia, admit of the dating of the reliefs in the reign of Trajan. Others depict gladiators contending with lions; chariots racing in the circus, which is indicated by the obelisks and other adornments of the spina ; or colonnades adorned with statues of boxers and victorious athletes. Some of the Egyptian subjects are interesting for their local colouring, with their representations of the Nile, on which pygmies ply a boat, among hippopotami, crocodiles, and lotos-flowers, and ibises; but these compositions are more curious than artistically effective.

3. Miscellaneous Uses of Terracotta

It is impossible to enumerate all the purposes to which the Romans applied terracotta, but a few peculiar uses deserve special notice. The excavations at Pompeii have yielded several examples of its application to the decoration of a puteal , the circular structure which protected the mouth of a well; the core is of tufa or other hard material, and round this are laid curved slabs of terracotta decorated with reliefs.They are all of comparatively early date; one has triglyphs and bulls' heads in relief, and is stuccoed over. Instances are also found at Pompeii of its use for table-legs, in the form of figures of kneeling Atlantes, like those supporting the entablature in the Thermae, but sculptured in the round. Small altars, or stands for holding lamps or for burning incense, supposed to have formed part of the furniture of the domestic shrines, have also been found in this material. Varro tells us that the dolia or large jars made by potters were used as cages for dormice which were being fattened for the palates of Roman epicures; and Columella gives instructions for the use of clay tiles in making beehives. Porphyry implies that it was customary to hive bees in kraters or amphorae of clay. Tickets (tesserae ) for admission to the circus or amphitheatre were also occasionally made of clay, and on them were stamped letters or numbers referring to the position of the seat, or representations of the animals exhibited. Two from Catania in the British Museum have an elephant on the obverse and the letter A on the reverse, showing that they were for admission to a spectacle in which those beasts were shown. There are also possible instances of tesserae frumentariae , or tickets for the supply of cheap corn in time of necessity. Moulds of terracotta for making counters, with masks or figures of Fortune and Isis, have also been found; there is an example in the British Museum from Arezzo (E 46).

Herr Graeven, in a very interesting article, has recently collected all the known examples (numbering some fifty) of money-boxes in terracotta used by the Romans. There is no mention of such objects in Latin literature, but it is probable that they were known as loculi , and were made in imitation of the metal Θησαυροί used for keeping money in temples. Of this there is a clear instance in a specimen recently found at Priene in Asia Minor, in the form of a small shrine with a slit in the top. Graeven states that there is evidence of their having been placed on a cornice which ran round the walls of the rooms in the houses. This box has an additional hole at the back for extracting the money, but the Roman specimens have only one opening. An example of a clay treasure-box from Western Europe is one in the form of a chest, 12½ inches high, with a bust of Apollo on the top, found at Vichy, and now in the Museum at Moulins. It may have been placed in a sacellum  or chapel for the offerings of those who visited the medicinal springs.

Of the Roman money-boxes proper four main types may be distinguished. The first, of which examples have been found at Pompeii, is in the form of a small chest or coffer (arca ), and may have been known by the name arcula . The second type is that of a money-box in the form of a vase. The custom of hoarding money in jars (ollae ) was universal in Roman times, as we know from the Aulularia  of Plautus, the plot of which turns on this practice, and from the numerous finds of coins in jars in our own day. None of these have any ornamentation; they have been found in Germany, and there is a small specimen in the British Museum from Lincoln, of spherical form with a knob at the top. Aubrey records the finding of a similar one in North Wiltshire. These appear to be of very late date.

The next two types are of much greater interest, not only from their ornamentation, but from their form and the inscriptions which they bear. In the one the box takes a flat circular form, closely resembling the body of a lamp (the shape is that of Fig. 207), with a design similarly placed in a medallion. One actually has a figure of Victory with a shield, and has a similar inscription. It may be supposed that these boxes were carried round on New Year's Day to solicit contributions, just as is done (says Herr Graeven) by boys in Rome at the present time. Others have figures of Fortune and Hermes in a shrine, the latter deity being of course specially associated with money-making. These two examples have their respective makers' names on the back, C IVN BIT  and PALLADI , names which are also found on Roman lamps, another detail which shows the close connection between these two classes of objects.

From Jahrbuch .


The last type to be described is shaped like a bee-hive, or, as in Fig.200, like a circular temple, forms which were found convenient for the then favourite design of a deity in a shrine. Among the examples quoted by Graeven is one of the latter shape with Fortune (Fig.200), now in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Of the bee-hive form three may be mentioned as presenting interesting features. One with Hermes in a shrine has the maker's name, PAS AVGV, which also occurs on lamps; another, found on the Aventine, and now at Gotha, has on the front the figure of a victorious charioteer, on the reverse a slit for the coins, and the maker's name, AEL MAX. D'Agincourt suggested that this type of box was carried about by victors in the games to receive donations. Lastly, there is one recorded to have been found in the Baths of Titus in 1812, but now lost, which contained coins of Trajan, and was inscribed FISCI IVDAICI CALUMNIA SVBLATA. The evidence points to the dating of these two classes in the first century of the Empire, or slightly later.

Terracotta moulds for false or debased coins of the Imperial period have frequently been discovered in different parts of the Empire.None, indeed, have come to light in Italy, but they occur in Egypt, Tunis, France, on the Rhine, in Switzerland, Lower Austria, and Britain. They were first noted by A. le Pois in 1579 at Fourvières, where moulds were found of coins of Septimius Severus and his successors. In 1697 and 1706 more of the same period, of local clay, were found at Lingwell Gate, near Wakefield, in 1704 at Lyons, and in 1764 at Augst, near Basle. In 1829 and 1830 further finds were made at Wakefield, and again in 1869 at Duston, Northants. Numbershave been noted from time to time in the museums of France and the Rhenish provinces, the most interesting find being that made in 1829-30 at Damery, near Épernay, in the Department of Marne. In 1859 a find of 130 moulds contained in a jug was made at Bernard; they appear to have been hastily placed there and left by forgers. At Bordeaux in 1884 finds were made in the ruins of a pottery, and others more recently at Autun and La Coulouche. In 1899 thirty-four moulds were found at Susa in Tunis. The British Museum has a collection of moulds of denarii from Egypt, mostly found at Crocodilopolis (Arsinoe) in the Fayûm; they are of a deep brick-red local clay, but a great number are burnt black.

Nearly all these moulds fall between the reigns of Septimius Severus and Diocletian, but some of those at Bernard go back as far as Trajan, and there are isolated instances of coins of Domitian at one end, of Constantius II. and Julia Mamaea at the other. Caracalla and Elagabalus are frequently represented, and those in the British Museum include Albinus, Crispus, Constantine, Galerius, Licinius, and Macrinus. The Damery find included thirty-nine moulds, comprising types of the coins of Caracalla, the elder Philip, and Postumus; 2,000 pieces of base silver coin, chiefly of Postumus; 3,900 bronzes of Constans I. and Constantius, all evidently made together; chisels and remains of other tools, and groups of moulds still containing the metal, and also lumps of metal which had overflowed from the moulds.

The way in which these moulds were used is as follows. The complete mould was composed of two shallow round boxes with hollow impressions respectively of the obverse and reverse, obtained by impressing the designs from genuine coins into the soft clay. The depth of the hollow was so calculated that when the two were placed together the space represented the required thickness. To cast the coins, a number of these moulds were placed one on the other, and luted with clay to prevent the liquid metal from escaping between the two pieces of each mould; down the side of the column formed by the pile of moulds a hollow cutting was made, at the base of which holes were pierced corresponding to the cavities where the metal was to enter. The metal was then poured into the hollow, and ran in through the holes as required. Sometimes the columns were joined in groups of three 25 29image for which a single column served; of this there is an example at Damery, where each rouleau  contained a dozen moulds (thirteen discs). In the Cabinet des Médailles at Paris there is an example of one of these rouleaux  of moulds, found at Lyons in 1704 (Fig. 201), with the basin in which they were placed for the casting. At Susa the moulds were fitted slantwise into a bronze tube.


It is not absolutely certain whether these moulds were all used for fraudulent purposes by forgers; the find at Damery, for instance, was made on the site of Bibe, an important station on the road from Rheims to Beauvais, which would be too prominent a place for forgers to have selected. It is much more likely that in such a case they were used to make coins of inferior alloy, perhaps in some instances for the issues of usurpers who, being at a considerable distance from the capital, were unable to fill their military chests except with hastily cast coins. The distant parts of the Empire in which these moulds are found lend some colour to this theory. It will also be remembered that they mostly date from the time when a debased coinage was current throughout the Empire, beginning with the reign of Septimius Severus; this was put an end to by Diocletian in 297. We may therefore suppose that they represent, so to speak, officially recognised forgeries, emanating from a kind of local mint for producing coins hastily for provincial use. Hence the rapid spread of base money in the third century, which was not only forced upon the State, but was also readily taken advantage of by forgers.

Gaulish Terracottas

In Gaul there appear to have been very extensive manufactures of terracottas, but not anterior to the conquest by Julius Caesar in 58 B.C. These statuettes were made for the Roman colonists, who introduced the types of their own religious conceptions, but the makers were local craftsmen. Potteries have been unearthed at Moulins on the banks of the Allier, and in Auvergne and other parts of France, and even in Germany, where one was discovered at Heiligenberg in Alsace, and others on the Rhine. The finds on the Allier, made in 1857, give a practically complete survey of the subjects; they are all now collected in the museums of Moulins and St. Germain, and were fully published at the time in a work by M. Tudot. The figures found here are not from tombs, but were unearthed from the sites of the potteries and from ruins of buildings; they are all made in a peculiar white clay, whereas the figures of the Gironde district are grey or black, and those of the Rhine Valley reddish, like those of Britain. The technique resembles that of the Roman figures; there is no vent-hole, and they usually stand on a conical base; the modelling is very heavy, and the latest specimens are absolutely barbaric.

Until recently the subject of Gaulish terracottas had been greatly neglected; Tudot's plates were useful, but his text unsatisfactory and devoid of method, there being no proper description of the plates. M. Pottier has given a good summary of his work, and M. Héron de Villefosse has also dealt with some aspects of the subject. But they had not been treated as a whole and in relation to the subject of ancient terracottas in general until 1891, when an important memoir by M. Blanchet appeared, in which a complete survey of the Gaulish terracottas was given. This must of necessity form the basis of the present account.

In dealing with the technical character of the terracottas found in Gaul, M. Blanchet points out that the white clay of which many are made (e.g. those from the Allier valley) is not universal; some are made of red or grey clay, which has turned white in the baking, apparently by a process analogous to that used by the Chinese for porcelain, others are actually covered with a white engobe  like the Greek terracottas. This appears to have been done with a view to subsequent colouring, which in nearly all cases has quite disappeared; but statuettes with remains of colouring, made of purely red clay, have recently been found in the neighbourhood of the Moselle and in Germany. M. Blanchet quotes an example in the Museum at Angers, with the name of the maker, P · FABI · NICIAE , which is coated with a lead glaze like the enamelled wares described in Chapter III. He considers that the moulds from which they were made were often of bronze, and that bronze models were used as copies; but that they were also of terracotta is clear from the numerous examples given by Tudot. A terracotta mould for a figure of Venus Anadyomene, found at Clermont-Ferrand, is in the British Museum, and another from Moulins is for the back of the head of a similar figure, with hair elaborately coiled. From the numerous moulds which have been found it may be seen that the figures were cast in two pieces, longitudinally, the arms being added afterwards, together with the circular plinth. The mould in the British Museum may be cited as an example of one for the back part of a figure; probably only the upper part was modelled.

Potters' names are exceedingly common, not only on the figures, but also on the moulds, and form two distinct classes, those on the exterior  of the moulds, and those on the figures or interior  of the moulds (which are obviously the same thing). The distinction is that the former were merely for the identification of the moulds, while the latter indicated the creator of the type and made him known to the world, a feature which reappears in the pottery of Westerndorff in Germany. Tudot gives an example of a mould with the name ATILANO  on the exterior and IOPPILLO  on the inside. Many of the names are identical with those of the makers of vases,but the types and subjects are quite distinct from those on the Gaulish terra sigillata . Those on the exterior of the moulds are usually in a scrawling cursive type, whereas the other class are in capital letters; the cursive characters resemble those in use at Pompeii, but are not necessarily contemporary; they are, however, not later than the second century. The influence of this cursive character seems to have extended to the other class; for instance, in the inscription given in Fig. 198 below, not only are the G and S of cursive form, but E appears in the form II. Otherwise the letters are in the ordinary Roman alphabet (with the exception of A, which is sometimes 15 14Attic alpha the forms E and II seem to have been used indifferently in Gaul at all periods. The “signature” sometimes combines the two names, as in the form


which has been taken to mean Sacrillos fecit forma Caratri , “made by Sacrillos from Caratrius' mould.” Among the Roman names which occur are Attilianus, Lucanus, Pistillus, Priscus, Taurus, and Tiberius; among the Gaulish, Abudinus, Belinus, Camulenus, and Tritoguno.

From Blanchet .

A large majority of the existing statuettes were, as we have seen, made in the valley of the Allier; these show more conspicuously than any others, the influence of transplanted Graeco-Roman art. Curiously enough none have been found at Lezoux, one of the chief pottery-centres of Gaul, although there is abundant evidence that the vases and statuettes were made in the same workshops (see above). M. Blanchet considers that there was a large and important manufacture in Western France, which may have been inspired by the Allier workshops, but mainly exhibits native characteristics; he also notes the scarcity of these figures in Southern Gaul (Narbonensis), which may perhaps be explained by the preference there shown for bronze statuettes and vases with medallions. Other centres were Cesson, Meaux (where Atilanus and Sacrillos can be located), Bourbon-Lancy in Saône-et-Loire, and St. Rémy-en-Rollat, where vases also were made of the local white clay. M. Déchelette has been able to assign to the last-named pottery a date between A.D. 15 and 50. Another fabric was in the neighbourhood of Liège, and in Germany there were centres at Salzburg, and at Cologne, where the maker Vindex can be dated in the reign of Postumus (A.D. 260-270). An important maker, Pistillus, had a pottery at Autun; his statuettes are found all over Gaul, and the name appears on vases and coins, and also in an inscription. Julius Allusa had a workshop at Bordeaux. In West and North-West France statuettes are found with the name of Rextugenos; they are all of peculiar and original character, with highly-ornamented backgrounds to the figures, and easily distinguished. The specimen given in Fig. 198, representing Venus Genetrix, was found at Caudebec-les-Elbeuf in Normandy (Seine-Inférieure); it bears the inscription RIIXTVGIINOSSVLLIASAVVOT Rextugenos Sullias auvot  (sc. fecit ).

An interesting find of terracotta figures was made at Colchester in 1866, consisting of thirteen figures presenting exact analogies to the Gallo-Roman terracottas of the second period both in type and style. One very poor specimen represents Hercules with club and lion-skin; another a bull, and a third a bust of a boy (perhaps a portrait of Nero or Britannicus); four are recumbent figures. The rest are more or less grotesque, including caricatured seated figures holding books or rolls, and a buffoon. With them were found vases in the form of animals of yellow-glazed ware. Figures of suckling goddesses (see below) have been found in Britain, and similar finds of Gallo-Roman types in white clay in London, among them a Venus holding a tress of her hair. Votive offerings of parts of the body and figures of the goddess Fecunditas were found near the source of the Seine, in a temple of Dea Sequana, the local river-deity. Other finds have been made in Touraine, Anjou, La Vendée, Brittany, and Normandy, brought by commerce from the Allier potteries; and in Germany at Heddernheim and on the Rhine. Part of a group of some size in purely Graeco-Roman style from the Department of Marne is now in the British Museum (Morel Collection).

Tudot originally classified the Gaulish terracottas chronologically in three periods according to style, and in this he has been followed by M. Pottier. But M. Blanchet has pointed out that the former's method was altogether unscientific, that he trusted too much to the evidence of coin-finds, and that he was altogether wrong in conceiving the possibility of any being anterior to the Roman conquest. On the whole the chronological data are exceedingly vague, and can only be accepted in isolated instances, as in the case of the finds at St. Rémy-en-Rollat (A.D. 15-50) or Cologne (A.D. 260-270), or where a resemblance in the coiffure of the feminine figures to those of Roman ladies can be traced. Some figures may probably be dated about A.D. 100 on the latter ground, the head-dress recalling those of Domitia and Julia the daughter of Titus. But it can only be laid down with certainty that the manufacture of statuettes was introduced into Gaul with the terra sigillata  or ornamented red pottery at the beginning of the Imperial period. Where there is a question of decadent or barbaric style, as is undoubtedly often the case, it does not necessarily imply a late date, but only that the inferior work is due to the incapacity of some local artist, and figures of varying style must frequently be contemporaneous.

In dealing with the types of Gaulish terracottas, their origin and signification, M. Blanchet divides the subjects into three classes, of which the first is not only the largest but the most interesting: divinities, subjects from daily life, and animals. The deities are not those we should expect from Caesar's statement that Mercury, Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva represent the scale of popularity in Gaul, for they are mainly variants of one type, that of Venus. Many of these Venus figures reproduce types familiar in Greek and Graeco-Roman art, such as the Anadyomene, and the Cnidian or Pudica type; but in the majority she is frankly recognised as a Nature-goddess (Aphrodite Pandemos or Venus Genetrix), and hence we find numerous examples in which the old Oriental conception of the nude Aphrodite-Astarte with pronounced sexual characteristics, so common in the primitive terracottas of Chaldaea, Phoenicia, and Cyprus, once more reappears, as in Fig. 198. Of almost equal frequency is the seated type of the Mother-Goddess or Κουροτρόφος, suckling a child; this is not peculiar to Gaul, but is found in the terracottas of Southern Italy. We may compare also the Fecunditas types on Roman coins. Blanchet thinks that the goddess Rumina may be here intended, but prefers to adopt the general term of Mother-Goddess.

From Blanchet .


Among other mythological types the Ephesian Artemis, Pallas, Mercury, Epona (Fig. 199), and Abundantia occur; and among genre subjects the most interesting type is that of the Spinario, or boy extracting a thorn from his foot, familiar in Greek sculpture. Slaves, caricatures, and busts of ladies (see above) or children wearing the bulla , vases in the form of heads, and busts affixed to plates, also come under the latter category. Many of these are exceedingly rude and barbaric; children are transformed into coarse grotesques, and animals look (says M. Pottier) as if they had come out of a Noah's ark.

The artistic origin of the Gaulish types has been discussed by M. Blanchet, who points out that although the modern tendency is to restrict the rôle played by Alexandrine art of the Hellenistic period in influencing that of Rome, yet its effect on Gaul cannot be altogether ignored. That Egyptian cults found their way into Gaul is well known, and in the terracottas such types as Isis and Horus appear, while comparisons may frequently be made with the late terracottas found in the Fayûm and at Naukratis. But there was also a stream of influence from Southern Italy, especially Campania, whence, as we have seen, the Mother-Goddess types were largely derived.

As regards the uses for which these terracottas were made, much that has been said on that head in Chapter III. will apply equally to Gaul. They have been found not only in tombs, but in wells and rivers, and on the sites of sanctuaries; but they do not seem to have had any special funerary significance. The majority were probably used for various domestic purposes in the houses, the figures of animals, for instance, as toys, and were then buried with their owners. Those found in wells or rivers may be regarded as votive offerings, as it is well known that the Gauls were fond of throwing votive figures into rivers or springs.

Roman Statues and Statuettes

In the earlier ages of Rome the laws and institutions, based without doubt on the sentiments of the people, were unfavourable to art. Numa was said to have prohibited the representation of the deity in human form, and the statues of great men were not allowed to exceed three Roman feet. To women the privilege of having statues was not conceded until much later. Pliny constantly compares the luxury of his own day with the simplicity of early times, to the disadvantage of the former, dwelling fondly on the times when men could be content with plain terracotta images, and it was not necessary or possible to make a display of silver and gold.

Most of the ancient statues of the Romans were of terracotta, a fact to which constant allusion is made by their writers. Juvenal speaks of “a fictile Jove, not spoiled by gold” and Propertius speaks of the early days of the golden temples, when their gods were only of clay. Similarly Pliny expresses his surprise that, since statuary in Italy goes back to such a remote period, statues of clay should even in his day still be preferred in the temples. Vitruvius alludes to the favourite Tuscan fashion of ornamenting pediments with signa fictilia , examples of which, he says, may be seen in the temple of Ceres in the Circus Maximus (see below), and the temple of Hercules at Pompeii. Cicero speaks of a statue of Summanus on the pediment of the Capitoline temple “which at that time was of terracotta,”and Livy tells how in 211 B.C. a figure of Victory on the apex of the pediment of the temple of Concord was struck by lightning and fell, but was caught on the antefixal ornaments, also figures of Victory, and there stuck fast. Though not stated to be of terracotta, these figures would hardly be of any other material at that period. Other allusions may be found in Ovid and Seneca.

In the early days of the Republic art was clearly at a very low ebb—in fact, Roman art can hardly be said to have existed—and everything was either borrowed from the Etruscans or imported from Greece. Hence the statues of terracotta which adorned their temples are spoken of as signa Tuscanica . The most celebrated works in ancient Rome were made by artists of Veii or the Volscian Fregellae, such as the famous quadriga on the pediment of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, and the statue of the god himself, described elsewhere, which were made by Veientine artists in the time of Tarquinius Priscus. Numa, ever attentive to Roman arts and institutions, is said to have founded a corporation or guild of potters. In 493 B.C. Gorgasos and Damophilos, natives of Himera in Sicily, ornamented with terracotta reliefs and figures the temple of Ceres at Rome (now Santa Maria in Cosmedin). Their work, which is alluded to by Vitruvius in the passage referred to above, was probably Greek rather than Etruscan in style, as we have seen to be the case generally with the archaic terracotta relief-work of Italy. In the reign of Augustus the temple was restored, and so great was the esteem in which the works of these old masters were held that they were taken out of the walls and framed in wood.

Coming down to later times, Possis, “who made fruit and bunches of grapes,” and Arkesilaos are cited by Pliny, on the authority of Varro, as modellers in clay. The latter made for Julius Caesar a statue of Venus, which, although unfinished, was highly prized. Pliny also mentions a terracotta figure of Felicitas  made by order of Lucullus. It seems probable that the extensive use of terracotta was mainly due to the absence of white marble in Italy, none being discovered till imperial times. The siege of Corinth, which unfolded to the eyes of the Romans an entirely new school of art in the quantities of Greek masterpieces carried by Mummius to Rome, as also the conquest of Magna Graecia and other parts of Greece, caused the old fashion of sculpture in terracotta to fall into contempt and neglect. Henceforth the temples of the gods and houses of the nobility became enriched and beautified with the spoils of Greek art in all materials. Even at an earlier period (195 B.C.) Cato in vain protested against the invading flood of luxury, and especially against the new taste in sculpture. “Hateful, believe me,” says he, “are the statues brought from Syracuse into this city. Already do I hear too many who praise and admire the ornaments of Corinth and Athens, and deride the terracotta antefixes of the Roman gods. For my part I prefer these propitious gods, and hope they will continue to be so, if we allow them to remain in their places.” Yet up to the close of the Republic, and even later, great works continued to be executed in terracotta, and were much esteemed. The statue made for Lucullus is an instance, and existing statues in this material, which we shall shortly discuss, are probably of early Imperial date.

Few statues of any size in this material have escaped the ravages of time, but there are some specimens to be seen in our museums. In the Vatican is a figure of Mercury about life-size, and in the British Museum a colossal torso, to which the head and limbs had been mortised separately. A head of a youth from a large statue, found on the Esquiline, was exhibited in 1888 at the Burlington Fine Arts Club. A series of female figures, including a seated Athena, ranging from two to four feet in height, was found in a well near the Porta Latina at Rome in 1767. They were purchased by the sculptor Nollekens, who restored them and sold them to Mr. Towneley, from whom they were acquired for the British Museum. They are made of the same clay as the mural reliefs already described, and are supposed to have decorated a garden. Some of them have been identified, on somewhat slight authority, as the Muses Ourania, Calliope, and Thaleia; there are also two terminal busts of the bearded Indian Bacchus, which show some traces of conventional archaism in their style. Other large figures have been found at Nemi and Ardea in Latium, the latter being now in the Louvre.

At Pompeii in 1766 three pieces of colossal sculpture in terracotta were found in the temple of Aesculapius, representing a male and female deity and a bust of Minerva with her shield. The two former used to be identified as Aesculapius and Hygieia, but it is more probable that they are Jupiter and Juno, making, with the bust, the triad of Capitoline deities, a subject found on lamps at Pompeii. The execution is careful, and they seem to date from the latter half of the first century B.C. They formed the cult-statues of the temple. Other statues appear to have been employed for adorning gardens, or for niches in private houses, among which are a portrait of a seated physician of great originality, a nude boy, and two actors. A figure of Eros appears to have been attached to a wall as an ornament; a fragment of a colossal Minerva found in a niche near the Porta Marina is an excellent example of sculpture of the first century B.C. Figures were also employed as architectural members, such as the Atlantes supporting the entablature in the tepidarium  of the Thermae in the Forum, dating from the Augustan period; the former seem to be copied from originals in tufa. Of later date is a Caryatid figure, probably of the Neronian epoch. These sculptures are all of great importance for the history of art at the end of the first century B.C., and as showing the continued popularity of terracotta; the fashion, however, did not outlive the reign of Nero, and all those in Pompeii must be anterior to the earthquake of A.D. 63.

Sculptors sometimes made preliminary models in clay of the statues which they intended to execute in bronze and marble. This was not a common practice with the Greeks, and the first sculptor who made use of it, according to Pliny, was Lysistratos, the brother of Lysippos. But at Rome in the time of Augustus it became much more frequent; Pasiteles is said by Pliny never to have made a statue except in this manner. These models, known as proplasmata , were much sought after, as exhibiting the artist's style and powers of conception in the most free and unfettered manner, and those of Arkesilaos, another artist of the period, fetched a high price.

Terracotta statuettes , similar in proportions and subjects to those of Greece, are found in houses and tombs of the Roman period, and also as votive objects on sacred sites. They were known to the Romans as sigilla , and were employed as toys and presents, or placed in the lararia  or domestic shrines; the same subjects are found applied to all these uses. Thus in the lararia  were placed not only figures of deities, such as Venus, Mercury, or Bacchus, but masks, busts of children, and so on. Sometimes they served to decorate the walls, as in the house of Julia Felix at Pompeii, where in the wall surrounding the garden were eighteen niches, containing alternately marble terms and terracotta figures, one of the latter representing a woman feeding a prisoner with her own milk. In the Via Holconia forty-three terracotta figures from a workshop were found, showing that there was a local manufacture at Pompeii; the types were the same as in the houses. It is noteworthy that the terracottas, of which some two hundred have been found, were nearly all from the lower parts of the city and the inferior houses, or in the domestic quarters of the large houses. This implies that the richer Romans preferred bronze statuettes for their shrines and household decoration. Comparatively few were found in tombs.

A few notices relating to terracotta figures are found in Roman authors. Martial speaks of a statuette of Hercules, which he calls sigillum ; he also alludes to a caricature of a man which was so repulsive that Prometheus could only have made it when intoxicated at the Saturnalia, and to a grotesque mask of a Batavian. In another epigram he refers to the imitation of a well-known statue of a boy in terracotta. Persius speaks of clay dolls (pupae ) dedicated by a maiden to Venus, and Achilles Tatius of clay figures of Marsyas made by coroplathi . Elagabalus, by way of a jest, used to place viands made of earthenware before his parasitical guests, and force them to enjoy a Barmecide feast.

There is also an interesting passage in the Satires  of Macrobius relating to the festival of the Sigillaria, at which large numbers of terracotta masks and figures were in demand. This festival took place on the twelfth to the tenth days before the Kalends of January, forming the fifth to seventh days of the Saturnalia, and corresponding to the 21st to 23rd of December. Ausonius says that the festival was so named from the sigilla  or figurines, and Macrobius more explicitly states that it was added to the Saturnalia to extend the religious festival and time of public relaxation. Subsequently he diverges into an excursus on the origin of the feast, more curious than convincing. Epicadus is quoted by him as referring it to the story of Hercules on his return from slaying Geryon, when he threw into the river from the Pons Sublicius images of men which represented his lost travelling-companions, in order that they might be carried by the sea to their native shores. His own view is that they represent expiatory offerings (piacula ) to Saturn, each man offering an oscillum  or mask on his own behalf in the chapel of that god. Hence, he says, sigilla  were made by the potter and put on sale at the Saturnalia. Elsewhere he states that clay oscilla  were given to children as playthings at this season even before they had learned to walk. The festival was indulged in by all classes of society, who vied in making presents of statuettes and figures to one another; and we are told that Hadrian exchanged gifts with others, and even sent them to those who did not expect to receive them. Similarly, Caracalla, when a child, gave to his tutors and clients, as a mark of condescension, those which he had received from his parents.


From the use of this word sigilla  (a diminutive of signum ), for terracotta figures, the makers came to be known as sigillarii , or figuli sigillatores , and a street in which they lived was known as the Via Sigillaria . There was also a market for the sale of sigilla  for the feast near the Pantheon. Although the names of makers are constantly found on Roman lamps and pottery, as well as the tiles, they are very seldom found on statuettes, with the exception mentioned below of those found in Gaul. But the name of Q. Velius Primus, in a sort of mixture of Greek and Latin, is found in raised letters on a mask of a Satyr in the British Museum (D 177 = Fig. 197), and other names are occasionally found on the moulds. The social condition of the Roman potter seems to have been much lower than that of the Greek, who was often a person of respectable position; but this may be partly due to the fact that his clientèle was drawn mainly from the poorer classes. He was generally a slave, sometimes a barbarian, and even the masters of the potteries were only freedmen. As we saw in the case of the tile-makers, the potters often worked on the estates of wealthy or influential people, from which their clay was obtained. More details of Roman potters will be found in the sections dealing with tiles and lamps.

On the technical aspect of Roman terracotta figures little need be said. Large figures were made from models (proplasmata ) and built up in several pieces on a wooden framework, known as crux or stipes . A reference to this method may be traced in a fable of Phaedrus, which describes Prometheus as having made human figures in clay in separate pieces, and, on returning from a supper with Bacchus, joined them together wrongly, so that the sexes became confused. The smaller figures were all made from moulds, by means of which they could be repeated with but slight alterations. Few statuettes seem to have been made after the second century of the Empire.

The range of subjects in Roman terracottas is much the same as in the Greek figures of the Hellenistic period. At Pompeii genre  figures predominate, including such types as gladiators, athletes in the circus, slaves carrying bundles, and personages in Roman costume. A favourite type at Pompeii is a mask of a youth in a Phrygian cap. There is a decided preference shown for portraits and grotesques. Von Rohden, in dealing with the question of the extent to which these figures represent Greek or purely Roman types, considers that although the influence of the former is still strong, yet they are marked by such wide differences that they must be ranked in the latter category. He dates them in the time of Vespasian, in which the decadence which had begun with the later Hellenistic age is in the Roman fabrics still more strongly accentuated. The style is negligent, the proportions faulty, and the art of colouring practically lost. They are only redeemed from insignificance by the taste for portraiture and the interest which attaches to the reproduction of motives borrowed from contemporary life.

The Pompeii figures may serve as typical Roman terracottas, but they are also found elsewhere in Italy, as well as in other parts of the Roman Empire; nearly all, however, are of inferior merit and execution. At Praeneste in 1878, on the site of the temple of Fortuna Primigenia, were found genre  figures and votive objects, and similar ex votos  have come to light at Gabii. At Nemi figures have been found which are obviously of Roman date, some of considerable size. From time to time finds have been made in Rome, and there is a pretty little head in the British Museum found in the Tiber (D 383), which, however, may be of Greek workmanship. The industry also extended from Rome to the provinces, and even in Britain terracotta figures are sometimes found, as at Richborough; at Caistor, by Norwich, a terracotta head of Diana, of fairly good style, is recorded. There are also in the Guildhall Museum some terracottas in the coarse red clay which characterises most of the British examples: a Venus on a swan; a female head with turreted crown, of archaistic style, from Finsbury; and a large figure of Proserpina holding a fruit, of very fair style, from Liverpool Street. A figure of a boy on horseback is or was in the Museum of Practical Geology.

Bricks and Tiles

The Romans divided the manufacture of objects in clay into two classes: opus figlinum  or fine ware, made from argilla  or creta figularis ; and opus doliare , for tiles and common earthenware. We begin, then, as in the chapter on the Greek uses of clay, with the latter division, including the use of this material in Roman architecture, and primarily in the making of bricks and tiles . It must be borne in mind, however, that the structural use of bricks of clay, such as we employ at the present day, was unknown to the Romans; they only used what we should call tiles, and even these were only employed structurally, as a facing to walls and vaults of concrete; no walls were ever built of solid brick, and even in those of seven inches thickness the bricks are built on a core of concrete. Nor were the bricks allowed to appear on the outer face of the building, at least before the second century of the Empire; they were always faced with a coating of marble or stucco.

Nevertheless, the general use of bricks or tiles was most extensive, and they were employed as tiles for roofing houses, as bricks for walls and vaults, and even for columns, as slabs for pavements, for furnaces and for covering graves, and in tube form for conveying water or hot air; they are found in temples, theatres, and baths, and are used for cisterns and fountains, and in aqueducts and military fortifications. They were called lateres , because, says Isidorus, “they were broad, and made by placing round them four boards.” The kilns were called laterariae , and the makers laterarii ; to make bricks was lateres ducere fingere , or (with reference to the baking only) coquere . The word later  seems to be employed indiscriminately for sun-dried (crudi ) and baked bricks (coctiles ), without the qualifying epithet, but testa  is also used when burnt brick is intended. The sun-dried bricks were the earlier and simpler form, used for building walls and cemented together with clay or mud. Vitruvius in his account of brick-making (ii. 3) only refers to this kind, and apparently never mentions baked bricks except in passing allusions. He describes three kinds, to which he says the Greeks gave the respective names of genus Lydium pentadoron , and tetradoron . The two latter are exclusively Greek, but the first-named, 1½ by 1 foot in dimensions, answers to the Roman tegula sesquipedalis . A frequent arrangement, he says, was to employ half-bricks in alternate courses with the ordinary sizes, which served to bind the walls together and present an effective as well as a stable appearance. This information is repeated by Pliny, copying almost word for word.

Among the Romans two dimensions were in general use, as may be inferred from the frequent mention in inscriptions or elsewhere of the sesquipedales  and of bipedales , or two-foot bricks, as we shall have occasion to show later. Being very flat and thin in proportion to their size, these bricks rather resemble tiles, as has been already noted; they are generally square, or at least rectangular. But there were also tegulae bessales  or bricks measuring two-thirds of a foot square, i.e. about 8 inches, and triangular bricks, equilateral in form, with a length varying from 4 to 14 inches. The latter are the kind used in all existing Roman walls of concrete with brick facings. The thickness varies from 1¼ to 2 inches. They are not always made with mechanical accuracy, the edges being rounded and the sides not always parallel. In military works they were often used alternately with flint and stone, as we see them in England, at Colchester, Dover, Verulam, and many other places. At Verulam the tiles are arranged in three horizontal layers at intervals of about 4 feet, with flint and mortar between. They were also used for turning the arches of doorways, and for this purpose tegulae bipedales were cut into pieces, so as only to tail a few inches into the concrete which they cover. Complete squares were introduced at intervals to improve the bonding.

The pillars of the floors of hypocausts were formed of tegulae bessales , and sometimes also of two semicircular bricks joined so as to form a circle, varying from 6 to 15 inches in diameter.Occasionally the upper bricks diminished in size, in order to give greater solidity to the structure. The bricks or tiles forming the upper floors were from 18 to 20 inches square; in some cases, as at Cirencester, these were flanged tiles (see below).

The general size of Roman bricks was, in the case of the sesquipedales , 1½ by 1 Roman foot; but variations are found, such as 15 by 14 inches. For the bipedales  Palladius recommends 2 feet by 1 foot by 4 inches. The great building at Trier known as the Palace of Constantine is built of burnt bricks, 15 inches square by 1¼ inch thick. Prof. Middleton notes tiles in Rome of 12, 14, and 18 inches square, and Marquardt states that bricks found in France measure 15 by 8 to 10 inches; others (the bessales ) 8 by 8 by 3 inches. A complete circular brick, measuring 7½ inches across by 3¼ inches thick, and impressed with the stamp of the eleventh legion, was found at Dolae near Gardun, and is now in the museum at Spalato.

Vitruvius gives elaborate instructions about the preparation of the clay for sun-dried bricks, and counsels in the first place a careful choice of earth, avoiding that which was sandy or stony or full of loose flints, which made the bricks too heavy, and so liable to split and fall out when affected by rain; it also prevented the straw from binding properly. Clay which was either whitish or decidedly red (from a prevalence of ochre) was preferred, and that combined with coarse sand (sabulo masculus ) made light tiles, easily set. The process of manufacture was a very simple one. The clay was first carefully cleaned of foreign bodies, and then moistened with water and kneaded with straw. It was then moulded by hand or in a mould or frame of four boards, and perhaps also pressed with the foot. The bricks were then dried in the sun and turned as required, the usual process also adopted in the modern brickfield. Some bricks actually bear the marks of the feet of animals and birds which had passed over them while the clay was soft, and there is one in the Shrewsbury Museum with the imprint of a goat's feet. Others at York and Wiesbaden show the nails of a boy's shoes. These impressions of feet (where human) may also be referred to the practice of using the feet to knead the bricks.

The bricks were then ready for use, but were kept for two years before being employed, otherwise they were liable to contract, which caused the stucco to break off and the walls to collapse. At Utica, Vitruvius tells us, they had to be kept five years, and then could only be used if passed by a magistrate. Altogether, much care was taken in their preparation, and it was generally considered that spring and autumn were the most favourable times for making them, probably because they dried more slowly and were less liable to crack during the operation. In summer the hot sun baked the outer surface too fast, and this appeared dry while the interior was still moist, so that when the inside dried the outside contracted and split. It was also, of course, advisable to avoid seasons of rain and frost. But the bricks could not be properly tested until they had undergone some exposure to the weather, and for this reason Vitruvius recommends the employment of old roof-tiles where possible in building walls.

For baked bricks the processes must have been much the same, with, of course, the addition of the baking in the furnace. Existing Roman bricks are nearly always of well-tempered clay and well baked; but the clay exhibits a great variety of colour—red, yellow, and brown. The paste is remarkably hard, breaking with an almost vitreous fracture, and sometimes shows fragments of red brick (pozzolana ) ground up with it to bind it together, and prevent warping. This may be seen in the Flavian Palace on the Palatine, and in an archway in the Aurelian Wall near the Porta Latina. As an instance of varieties of brick found in the same building, Nero's Aurea Domus may be cited. The durability of Roman tiles is ascribed to their careful preparation and seasoning, which give them a much longer life than modern tiles; hence they were frequently used up again in early mediaeval buildings and in Romanesque churches in England, as at St. Albans, St. Mary-in-Castro, Dover, and St. Botolph's and Holy Trinity, Colchester.

During the period of the Republic private houses and public buildings alike were built of unburnt brick in Rome, as we learn from the words of Dio Cassius, Varro, and Cicero; Varro speaks of domus latericiae , and Cicero of “the brick (latere ) and concrete of which the city is constructed.” After the Republican period this material was still employed outside Rome with burnt-brick cornices, but even this was exceptional. Pliny mentions walls of sun-dried bricks at Arretium and Mevania.Henceforth, then, burnt brick was employed more and more as Rome grew more populous. In Vitruvius' time (the beginning of our era) the materials used for building were stone for substructures, burnt brick (structura testacea ) for the outer walls, concrete for the party-walls, and wood for the roofs and floors. He explains the cessation of the use of unburnt brick as due to the legal regulations of his time, which prohibited party-walls of more than 1½ foot in thickness, and unburnt bricks could only support one story above them in that size.

Baths, either public or private, walls and military fortifications, were built of bricks, the latter being thus better able to resist attacks than if they were of stone. Temples, palaces, amphitheatres, the magnificent aqueducts and the cisterns with which they communicated, were also usually of this material. Of these, numerous remains exist in Rome and other places, such as Cumae and Pozzuoli. The aqueduct made by Nero from the Anio to Mons Caelius is of brick, that of Trajan partly so; the aqua Alexandrina  of Severus Alexander (A.D. 229) and that existing at Metz are wholly of brick, and so are the castella  or reservoirs made by Agrippa when he constructed the Julian conduit over the Marcian and Tepulan.It is true that Augustus boasted that he had found Rome of brick and left it marble; but it must be remembered, firstly, that Suetonius uses the term latericiam , which may denote unburnt brick; secondly, that the phrase is probably to be limited to public buildings and monuments, in which there was an increased use of marble for pillars and roofs. For walls brick and concrete continued to be used, as in private buildings, with a covering of stucco in place of marble incrustation.

In the first century of the Empire brick-making was brought to perfection, and its use became universal for private and public buildings alike; the mortar of the period is also of remarkable excellence. The Romans introduced brick-making wherever they went; and even their legions when on foreign service used it for military purposes. But of pure brick architecture, as we see it, for instance, in the Byzantine churches of Northern Italy, there was no question until comparatively late times. It was always covered over with marble or stucco until the second century of the Empire. Examples of sepulchral buildings wholly in brick, of the time of Hadrian, may be seen in the tomb before the Porta San Sebastiano at Rome, known as the temple of Deus Rediculus. This has Corinthian pilasters with a rich entablature, red bricks being used for architectural members, yellow for the walls; the capitals are formed of layers of bricks. Of Hadrian's time are also the guard-house of the seventh cohort of Vigiles across the Tiber, of which a small part remains, and the amphitheatrum castrense  on the walls of Aurelian.

One of the most remarkable instances of Roman brick construction is the Pile Cinq-Mars, as it is called, a tower still standing on the right bank of the Loire, near Tours. It is about 95 feet high and 13 feet square, expanding at the base, being built of tiles to a depth of 3 feet each side, with a body of concrete; the tiles are set in mortar composed of chalk, sand, and pounded tiles. On one side there are eleven rectangular panels with tile-work of various patterns, like those on the flue-tiles, and as also seen on the Roman wall at Cologne; the patterns include squares, triangles, and rosettes. The history and purpose of this building are quite unknown.

At Pompeii bricks are used only for corners of buildings or doorposts, and sometimes for columns, as in the Basilica and the house of the Labyrinth. There are also late examples of brick columns with capitals in tiers of bricks as in the tomb mentioned above. Brick walls are not found, but bricks occur as facing for rubble-work. These are less than an inch thick, triangular in form, with the hypotenuse (about 6 inches long) showing in the face of the wall. Sometimes fragments of roof-tiles are used. The earlier bricks contain sea-sand, and have a granular surface; the later are smooth and even in appearance. Later, what is known as opus mixtum  (see below) is used, as in the entrance of the Herculaneum gate; this implies courses of stone and brick alternating, which, as we have seen, was common in military works, as in the Roman walls in Britain. In this country, owing to the absence of good material for concrete, the use of stones or brick throughout for building was general from the first; hence, too, the bricks are always flat and rectangular in form (bipedales ).

The arrangement of triangular bricks (made by dividing a medium-sized brick into four before baking), laid flat in regular horizontal courses, is characteristic of the earliest examples of Roman methods. It is found in the Rostra (44 B.C.) and in the Regia (35 B.C.), the earliest existing examples. The back wall of the Rostra is of concrete faced with triangular bricks 1½ inch thick, the sides 10 inches long. The same arrangement may be seen in the Pantheon, in the Thermae of Diocletian, and in some of the aqueducts (see below). The brickwork in the Pantheon was formerly thought to belong to the building of Agrippa in 27 B.C., but has been now shown to belong to the second century. At Ostia, in the temple of Honos and Virtus, the walls are built of triangular bricks or with red and yellow bricks with moulded cornices.

Section of Angle.

Faced with (A opus incertum , (B )opus reticulatum C  shows the horizontal section, similar in both.


About the year 80 B.C.the method known as opus reticulatum  was introduced, in which the bricks presented square faces (about 4 inches each way), and were arranged diagonally to form a network pattern (Fig. 187). At Pompeii the opus reticulatum dates from the time of Augustus; it is laid on concrete, and the bricks are small four-sided pyramids with bases 3 to 4 inches square. This method lasted down to about A.D. 130 in Italy. It should, however, be noted that it was commoner in stone than in brick, the latter material not having come into general use for building at the time when it was employed. But even when tufa was used for the reticulated work, bricks or tiles were used for quoins at the angles, and for bonding courses through the walls, as well as for arches and vaults (Fig. 188). This combination of opus reticulatum  and brickwork is well illustrated in the palace of Caligula. In the case of vaults, indeed, the use of brick seems to have been general, as in the baths of Caracalla, and many other buildings (cf. Fig. 189). Vitruvius advises the use of tegulae bipedales  to protect the wooden joists over the vaults from being rotted by the steam from the hot bathrooms; they were to be placed over the whole under-surface of the concrete vault, supported on iron girders, which were suspended from the concrete by iron clamps or pins. Over the whole was laid a coating of cement (opus tectorium ) in which pounded pottery was the chief constituent, and this was stuccoed.


The opus mixtum  (the term is not classical) prevailed regularly under the later Empire, from the fourth to the sixth century; the earliest example which can be dated is the circus of Maxentius. It is also used in work of the time of Theodoric. The method of construction is shown in Fig. 190.

The reason for the limited use of brick in Rome may have been the scarcity of wood for fuel for the kilns. But in any case the pointed backs of the bricks made a good bonding with concrete, and presented a large surface with a comparatively small amount of clay. The secret of the wonderful durability of Roman buildings is that each wall was one solid coherent mass, owing to the excellence of the concrete. In the Pantheon the concrete of the dome is nearly 20 feet thick, the brick facing only about 5 inches. The character of the brick facing often indicates the date of a wall, the bricks in early work being thick and the joints thin; later, the reverse is the case. But caution must be exercised in dating on this principle, owing to the great variety of methods employed during the same reign, and even in the same building.

From Blümner .

The word for a tile, tegula , is derived from tegere , to cover, or, as Isidorus says, they are so called quod aedes tegant ; the curved roof-tiles were known as imbrices  because they received rain-showers (imbres ). The maker of roof-tiles was known as tegularius  or figulus ab imbricibus Tegulae  or flat roof-tiles were usually made with vertical flanges (2½ inches high) down the sides, and these flanges, which fitted into one another longitudinally, when placed side by side served to hold the covering-tiles placed over them. There were also roof-tiles known as tegulae deliciares  and colliciares , which formed the arrangement underneath the surface of the roof by means of which the water was collected from the tegulae  and carried off in the front through spouts in the form of lions' heads.

Besides the various rectangular forms we find triangular tiles used, either equilateral or right-angled; semicircular or curved tiles, used for circular walls, ovens, tombs, and cornices, or other parts of buildings; cylindrical tiles (tubuli fictiles ), which were used for drains and conduits; and, finally, the rectangular hollow flue-tiles, employed for hot air in hypocausts. Another form was the tegula mammata , a plain square tile with four knobs or breast-like projections (mammae ), which was often used in party-walls with the object of keeping out damp. The tiles were inserted by the points of the projections into the concrete, thus leaving a space between in which the warm air could circulate freely.

Existing examples of tiles are composed of a compact dense clay, less fine than that of the bricks, and of a pale salmon or light straw colour when baked. They were probably made in moulds—but these may only have been a couple of boards placed together—and after being dried in the sun were baked in kilns. The flanged tiles were, of course, produced by turning up the edges before drying. Besides the arrangement described above, it is probable that roofs were sometimes tiled in the manner prevalent in the present day, with flat or curved tiles overlapping like scales; and for this purpose the tiles seem to have been pierced with holes at one corner, and so attached to one another. The same method obtained in the Roman villas in Britain, except that Stonesfield slate was used in place of tiles. An inscription found at Niederbrunnen in Germany speaks of attegia tegulicia , or huts roofed with tiles, erected in honour of Mercury.

Tiles with turned-up edges or flanged tiles were principally employed, as has been indicated, for roofing; but some were also placed in walls where required, especially where a space was required for the passage of air. They were also employed for the floors of bath-rooms, in which case they were laid on the pilae  of the hypocaust in an inverted position, and the cement flooring was laid upon them. The flanges are generally about 2¼ inches higher than the lower surface of the tile; they are bevelled on the inner side in order to diminish the diameter of the imbrex , but have no holes for nailing to the rafters. The ends of the sides were cut away in order that the lower edge of one tile might rest on the upper edge of the one adjoining. Those found in France are said to be distinguished by the sand and stones found in their composition. There are flange tiles of red and yellow clay from the Roman Thermae at Saintes in the Museum of Sèvres, and others from ancient potteries at Milhac de Nontron, as well as tiles of red clay from Palmyra. In the military castra  in England flange tiles of a red or yellow colour have been found, the latter with fragments of red tiles mixed in the clay. They are also often found in the ruins of villas. A flange tile from Boxmoor, Herts, now in the British Museum, measures 15½ by 12 inches, the flange being 2¼ inches high; and it will be seen that these dimensions correspond roughly with the tegulae bipedales . Flanged tiles with holes in them appear to have been used at Pompeii for lighting passages, the flanges serving to keep out rain.

The imbrices  or covering-tiles which held the flat tiles together, thus rendering the roof compact, were quite plain, with the exception of the end ones over the gutters. These were in the form of antefixal ornaments like the Greek examples, an upright semi-oval termination ornamented with a relief or painted pattern, with an arched support at the back. Many examples exist at Pompeii (see below), Ostia, and elsewhere; but artistically they are far inferior to the Greek examples, and of simpler design. Most of them have a simple palmette or acanthus pattern in low relief, but on or below this an ideal head or the head of a deity is sometimes added, such as Zeus Ammon, Medusa, a Bacchic head, or a mask, or even a figure of Victory. Of the last-named there is a good specimen in the British Museum (D 690 = Fig. 191); she carries a trophy from the battle of Actium, and stands on a globe from which spring two Capricorns (the symbol of Augustus).


No better example of the various uses of ornamental tiles in architecture can be selected than the remains found at Pompeii, which are exceedingly numerous. Terracotta seems to have been used here especially for such parts of the decoration as were exposed to wet, as well-mouths, gutters, and antefixal tiles. A characteristic feature of the decoration of Pompeian houses was the trough-like gutter which surrounded and formed an ornamental cornice to the compluvium  or open skylight of the atrium and peristyle, through and from which the rain-water was collected in the impluvium  or tank sunk in the ground below. These were adorned with spouts in the form of animals' heads or foreparts, usually lions and dogs, with borders of palmettes between; the gutter behind was virtually a long tank of square section.

Antefixes and gutter-cornices, where they occur, must always be regarded as serving ornamental rather than necessary purposes. All early work in terracotta at Pompeii is of coarse clay, but good execution; later, the reverse is the case. The only public building in which many remains of terracotta tiles and cornices have been preserved is the temple of Isis; but the Basilica may also have had terracotta decoration. Many fragments also remain from private houses, some actually in situ , having been neglected by early explorers as unimportant. In the house of Sallust a kymation cornice from one of the garden courts has scenic masks forming the spouts; this is not earlier than the rebuilding of the house A.D. 63. There is also much terracotta work in the house of the Faun. Comic masks were used both as spouts and as antefixes, the exaggerated mouth of the mask serving admirably for the former purpose. These date from the reigns of Nero and Vespasian, and all seem to be from the same fabric, although there is considerable variety in the types; the use of masks for these purposes is not earlier than Nero's reign (cf. the house of Sallust, above). Besides the ornaments above mentioned the patterns on the cornices include palmettes and floral scrolls, dolphins and Gryphons.

The roof-tiles were of the usual kinds, flat oblong tegulae  with flanges, measuring 24 by 19 by 20 inches, with semi-cylindrical imbrices . They were laid in lines parallel to the long ridges of the roofs, so that the water converged into the gutter-tiles at the angles, whence it fell into the impluvium. These gutters, however, were not confined to the angles of the openings, but were sometimes ranged along the whole length of the sides, as we have seen; those at the angles only seem to be earlier in date. They are not found on the exteriors of buildings. The front of the gutter was usually in the form of a vertical kymation moulding, but was sometimes simply chamfered. Antefixal ornaments terminating the covering or ridge-tiles are not invariable, but are found at different periods. The earliest examples are in the form of palmettes, but the later exhibit a great variety: comic masks, a head in low relief on a palmette, or a head surmounted by a palmette. Of the latter class thirty-eight were found in 1861. In the Augustan period ideal heads of gods and demi-gods are sometimes found.

Von Rohden, in summing up (p. 14), is of the opinion that terracotta roof-decoration at Pompeii was comparatively  rare. In the whole record of excavations only twenty-three water-spouts are mentioned, though it is probable that many were never registered. In scarcely more than twelve private houses have as many pieces been found as would suffice for the whole of the atrium and peristyle roofs, and nearly all of these are of late date. The discovery of isolated pieces in a house seems to show that they were used up again in the restorations after the earthquake of A.D. 63.

There are also some good examples of roof-tiles among those which have been found at Ostia, both in baths and private houses; some of the latter came from a house of which the brickwork bore inscriptions with the names of consuls of Hadrian's reign. The arrangement of the roof-tiles is the antefixal ornaments are usually in the form of palmettes or acanthus leaves, with maeander below; but heads of deities, such as Venus and Neptune, or of Medusa, and tragic masks were also found. Two exceptional examples had groups in relief of Neptune drawn over the sea by hippocamps, and of the statue of Cybele in the ship drawn by the Vestal Virgin Claudia.

Tiles of the size known as bipedales  are also used for lining the walls of rooms. They are found in Roman villas in Britain, and are ornamented on one side with various incised patterns, made with a tool in the wet clay. On some found at Ridgewell in Essex the decoration consists of lozenges, rosettes, and other ornaments, like those on the Pile Cinq-Mars already described; they are often found covered with the stucco with which the walls were plastered. At Pompeii, Orvieto, and elsewhere the stucco-painted walls were constructed with tegulae mammatae  placed edgewise, and connected with the main walls by leaden cramps, the brick lining being thus detached from the walls by a narrow interval which served as an air-cavity. This was a frequent proceeding, and was also contrived with flanged tiles; it corresponds with the system prescribed by Vitruvius for keeping damp from the painted walls of rooms. It was also largely employed in baths and bathrooms, the object being both to keep the walls dry and to allow hot air to circulate from the hypocausts and warm the rooms. In the cold climate of Britain the Romans found this a universal necessity, and instances may be observed in many of their villas; but, as far as can be observed, the general method of warming was by an extensive system of pipes under the floors rather than up the walls. These tiles are pierced with holes, by means of which they were attached to the walls by plugs or nails of lead. In the castrum  at Jublains a chamber is yet partly standing with one of its sides coated with tiles of this kind.

From Middleton .

A A Concrete wall, faced with brick, shown in vertical and horizontal sections.
B Lower part of wall, with no brick facing.
C C Suspensura , or upper floor of Hypocaust, supported by pillars.
D D Another floor, with support only at edges.
E E Marble flooring.
F F Marble plinth and wall lining.
G G Under floor of Hypocaust, paved with large tiles.
H H Horizontal and vertical sections of flue-tiles lining wall of Calidarium.
a a Iron hold-fasts.
J J Socket-jointed flue-pipe of Tepidarium.
K Rain-water pipe (in horizontal section).
L L Vaults of crypt, made of pumice-stone concrete.

More commonly, however, a peculiar kind of tile was used for warming the hot rooms (sudationes ) of baths, and in villas when required. They were hollow parallelopipeds, known as tubi , with a hole in the side for the escape of the air which traversed them, the usual dimensions being about 16 by 6 by 5 inches. Seneca speaks of pipes inserted in walls, which allowed the warmth to circulate and warm both the upper and lower stories equally; and the younger Pliny mentions the air-holes (fenestrae ) in the pipes which warmed his bedroom, by means of which the temperature could be regulated at pleasure. Sometimes, as in the baths of Caracalla and the house of the Vestals, the whole side of a wall was composed of flue-tiles covered with cement, which was made to adhere by scoring thesides with wavy or diagonal lines, as in the flat tiles described above, and as is often done in modern building. The whole system of heating, which may be seen in the baths of Caracalla, is very instructive (Fig. 192): the walls were of concrete with brick facing, through which a system of flues of socket-jointed tiles passes upwards from the hypocaust below, effectually warming every part.


The hollow tiles often assume a more ornamental appearance (as in Fig.193), the patterns scratched on them taking the form of lozenges and diapers, chevrons, chequers, and rosettes, as may be seen in a Roman villa at Hartlip in Kent, where other tiles are simply scored with squares.This villa is remarkable for the extensive use of tiles throughout; even the staircases are constructed with them. Others found in Essex and Surrey have dogs, stags, and initial letters among foliage; one found in London had among the wavy lines of pattern the letters Px Tx; and another, from Plaxtol in Kent, the local maker's name, CABRIABANTI. These hollow tiles, which are generally of the same clay as the roof-tiles, were also occasionally used as pillars of hypocausts, but for this purpose columns of tegulae bessales  were more usual, as Vitruvius implies.Many examples may be seen in the Roman villas of Britain, as at Cirencester, Chedworth, Lympne, and Wroxeter. In a villa found at Carisbrooke, Isle of Wight, the whole bath was constructed of tiles, the floor supported by pilae  of the same. At Bath the hollow tiles are actually used as voussoirs  for arches and vaults.

Through these chimneys—for this is what they practically were—the hot air circulated and gave an imperfect warmth to the rooms, the heat radiating from the walls or penetrating through the air-holes. The pipes standing close to one another virtually made up the wall; but the exact method by which the warming was accomplished, without great inconvenience to the occupiers of the rooms, is not quite clear. It is not difficult to imagine that the tiles would have warmed rooms merely by the introduction of hot air circulating through them, even though covered with stucco. On the other hand, the apertures for admitting the air into the rooms, if of any size, must also have admitted smoke from the hypocausts, and interfered with the ventilation. It may be that they were not made for this purpose at all, but only for fastening the pipes together or to the walls. Another difficulty is the method in which the flues made their exit into the open air. It has been suggested, partly on the analogy of a mosaic found in Algeria, that they ended above in an arrangement like a chimney-stack. There is, moreover, a terracotta roof-tile in the Museo delle Terme at Rome with a circular pipe, 8 inches in diameter, projecting from its upper surface.

Terracotta pipes, or tubuli , of cylindrical form, were sometimes employed by the Romans for conveying or distributing water, but the more usual material for this purpose, especially for drinking-water, was lead; the latter were called fistulae . The Venafrum inscription, an edict of the Emperor relating to the water-supply of the town, mentions canales fistulae , and tubi . Vitruvius calls the canales structiles , implying that they were of masonry. Pliny speaks of tubi fictiles  used for conduits from fountains, and Vitruvius recommends the use of terracotta pipes (tubuli fictiles ) in aqueducts.Examples of clay piping are preserved in the Museo delle Terme at Rome. At Marzabotto, near Bologna, terracotta pipes were used for carrying off the water from the roof of a house, by means of a straight tube through the wall fitting into another which curved upwards inside. These date from the fifth century B.C. Other examples have been found in Rome and Italy, and specimens found on the Rhine were 21½ inches long, of which ¾ inch was inserted into the adjoining pipe, and 3½ to 4½ inches in diameter. Terracotta was also used for cisterns, as at Taormina, and for aqueducts; but Lanciani has pointed out that its use in these ways was confined to irrigating purposes. The Campagna of Rome was formerly extensively drained with these tiles, and owed to that circumstance much of its ancient healthfulness.

Of the use of tiles in pavements there is frequent mention in Roman writers. For this purpose complete tiles were seldom used, at any rate in Italy; but in Britain it was not at all uncommon, as in the villa at Hartlip already mentioned. On the other hand, hypocausts were regularly paved with tiles, as in the Baths of Caracalla (Fig. 192 above), and in an example found at Cirencester, where the tiles are flanged. But in another form tiles played a considerable part in Roman methods of paving. Pliny and other writers speak of pavimentum testaceum  or opus signinum  as the usual pavement for rooms, especially those liable to damp, such as kitchens and outbuildings, or for baths and cisterns. This was made of a layer of fragments of tiles stamped and pounded into a firm solid mass, combined with mortar. It corresponds to the nucleus ex testis tunsis  of Vitruvius, which (to a depth of six inches) was laid on the rudus  or coarser concrete. On this was laid the flooring, consisting either of tiles or marble slabs, or more generally of mosaic. The Baths of Caracalla again afford a good illustration of the process. In the mosaics too fragments of clay were often used, especially for producing red or black colour. Vitruvius and other writers allude to this practice, and the former also speaks of testacea spicata , a kind of false mosaic made with small bricks about 4 inches by 1 inch, set on edge to form a herring-bone pattern. In the Guildhall Museum is part of a tesselated pavement of concrete, faced with small bricks about an inch square.

One of the most interesting uses of tiles by the Romans is in connection with their tombs. Not only are they used in the construction of the more magnificent edifices, but they were also often employed (as in Greece) for the humbler graves. For the latter, three, or sometimes six, tegulae bipedales  were set up in the form of a prism, one forming the floor, the other two the gabled covering which protected the body from the superincumbent earth. Within this were laid the ollae  or sepulchral urns which held the ashes of the dead, and other vases. A tomb found at Litlington in Cambridgeshire was covered with a large flanged tile, which protected the pottery buried underneath; and at Eastlow Hill in Suffolk a tomb was found roofed with twelve rows of flanged tiles, each side in rows of four.In some of the tombs of Greece belonging to the Roman period semi-cylindrical tiles were used for this purpose. In the provinces the tiles often have impressed upon them in large letters the names of the legions which garrisoned the various cities. The tiles of Roman tombs at York are inscribed with the names of the sixth and ninth legions which were quartered there: as LEG · VI · VICT · P · F legio sexta victrix pia fidelis LEG · IX · HISP  (or VICT ), legio nona Hispana  (or victrix ). At Caerleon (Isca Silurum) the bricks bear the name of the second or Augustan legion: LEG · II · AVG. The stations of the twentieth legion may also be traced at Chester in this manner; the tiles are inscribed LEG · XX · V · V. They were placed at the foot of the tomb like tombstones, in order to indicate who was buried beneath, the inscriptions being written across the breadth of the tile. They are of very different dates, some of those in Britain being apparently as late as the introduction of Christianity.

The extent to which bricks and tiles were used in Roman buildings under the Empire may be gauged by the number of those with inscriptions which remain; a whole section of the Latin Corpus  (see below) is devoted to those found in Rome alone, numbering some two thousand. Many of them have been removed to the museums from the principal edifices, such as the Pantheon, the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, the Baths of Titus and Caracalla, the Basilica of Constantine, and the Praetorian Camp. Other inscriptions have been found on tiles removed from such buildings and used to repair the roofs of churches in Rome. Such places as Bologna, Cortona, Tibur, and Ostia have also produced numerous inscribed tiles of this class. The use of such stamps was to guarantee the quality of the clay. To the topographer, as will be seen, these stamps are often of great value; and had the custom of placing on them the names of the buildings for which they were intended been less rare, they might often have afforded valuable evidence as to doubtful sites. Besides their topographical value, the tiles also help to settle the succession of consuls, and throw great light on the economy of the Roman farms and the possessions of the great landed proprietors. The uninterrupted series, extending from the times of the Caesars to the age of Septimius Severus, of names of proprietors, potters, and estates, tells much of the internal condition of Italy, and of one of the sources of revenue to the Roman nobility.

The stamps found on bricks and tiles are of four kinds—rectangular, semicircular, circular, and crescent-shaped. The inscriptions are in raised letters in all cases, but instances are also known of incised inscriptions, written without frames across the tile. After the time of Diocletian the only forms found are square, circular, and octagonal; the square stamps always have straight inscriptions. On the circular stamps the inscriptions are placed in a circle, in one or two lines, and the beginning is determined by a small cut-out circle at the edge of the stamp, thus 20 22orbiculus known as the orbiculus ; apart from this its object is uncertain. In later stamps the inscription often reads backwards, or certain letters are reversed. The letters were cut straight in a mould and lie in the plane of the surface, being of rectangular section, not wedge-shaped, as in inscriptions on marble. During the Republican period and the first century of the Empire a plain “block” type is used; then the letters become smaller and more elegant, with bars at the ends of the hastae , as 20 54E, M etc. Finally they show a tendency about A.D. 200 to become broader and shorter: 20 76E, M, S At and after the time of Diocletian the forms become very varied. Punctuation in the best period takes the form of a 15 17triangle afterwards the mark becomes vague in form. Ligatured letters are rarely found after the time of Diocletian, but are common in the best period; sometimes more than two are combined. The stamps with which the letters were made were usually of wood or bronze, but have not been preserved.

In the centre of the stamp it was customary to place an emblem or device of some kind, perhaps in view of a law which obliged brick and tile makers to affix distinctive marks or emblems on their bricks; but the devices are not peculiar to individual workshops, and some potteries, such as the Terentian (see below), used several. They may be compared with the countermarks or small adjuncts on the coins of the Republic, and the seals and stamps on the wine-amphorae of Thasos. Figures of gods, such as Mars, Cupid, and Victory, animals, and even groups of figures, occur, and after the third century Christian emblems are often found. It is most probable that they were merely ornamental and without significance, except in certain cases of canting or punning allusions. Thus M. Rutilius Lupus has a wolf; Flavius Aper a boar; Aquilia an eagle; C. Julius Stephanus a wreath; and Aelius Asclepiades a serpent, with reference to the god Asklepios.


The most complete stamps have the date of the emperor or the consulship, the name of the estates (praedia ) which supplied the clay, that of the pottery where it was baked (figlinae  or officina ), and that of the potter who prepared it; sometimes even of the slave who moulded the tile, and even its very dimensions. Two typical examples may be given from the British Museum collection, of which the first (Fig. 194) is said to have been found in the Catacombs at Rome. It has in the centre of the stamp a figure of Victory, round which is the inscription in two lines, beginning with the outer band:

“Pottery from the Publinian works, (the clay) from the estate
of Aemilia Severa.”

The other has no device, but the last word of the inscription is in the centre:


“The Emperor Antoninus for the second time and Balbinus consuls; from the estates (de praediis ) of Q. Servilius Pudens, pottery (doliare opus ) from the hand of the slave Arabus.”

The earlier stamps exhibit more method and precision; the later betray comparative carelessness. In the latter the name of the emperor sometimes occurs alone, and unusual expressions are introduced. Contractions are invariable at all periods, and even the consuls are sometimes only mentioned by initials; but by comparison of examples it is possible to place them in the right order. Those found in Rome cover the period from the reign of Trajan to that of Theodoric (A.D. 500), but in other parts of Italy they are found dating as early as 50 B.C. We are told that Theodoric, when he repaired the walls of Rome, made a present of twenty-five thousand tiles for the purpose, and on the tiles bearing his name he is styled “The good and glorious king,” with the additional exclamation, “Happy is Rome!”

The estates on which the clay for the tiles was produced are called possessiones privata  (private property); rationes  (shares); insulae  (blocks); or more generally, praedia . The latter word, indeed, is almost invariably used down to the third century, the others being more characteristic of the time of Diocletian. The praedia  not only provided the clay, but in some cases also contained the potteries. On some tiles fundus , which means a country farm, is found. The proprietors of these estates were imperial personages, persons of consular dignity or equestrian rank, and sometimes imperial freedmen. Many tiles give merely the name of the imperial estates, without mentioning the reigning emperor; in the later ones, as in the Basilica of Constantine, it is usual to find the expression OFF · AVGG ET CAES NN Officina Augustorum (duorum) et Caesarum (duorum) nostrorum . Several names of the Antonines occur; also Annius Verus and his wife Domitia Lucilla, the parents of M. Aurelius. Septimius Severus owned many praedia  which supplied bricks for his palace on the Palatine. The Empress Plotina was evidently a large landed proprietor, and we also find the names of Aelius Caesar (Hadrian's adopted heir), M. Aurelius, Faustina II., and Julia Procula. Among the names of inferior proprietors, unknown to fame, occur Q. Servilius Pudens, T. Statilius Severus, and L. Aemilius Julianus, priest of the sun and moon. Such names as Q. Agathyrsus, Rutilius Successus, and Sulpicius Servandus seem to denote imperial freedmen; the first-named styles himself AVG · LIB.

A remarkable fact in connection with these inscriptions is the prevalence of feminine names, the quantity of tiles on which these are found being enormous. The causes are various,—partly the renunciation by emperors of their private fortunes in favour of their female relations; partly the proscriptions which, from the failure of male heirs, caused estates to devolve upon women; partly the gradual extinction of great families. The important position held by freedmen under the Empire is well known to the student of Roman history.

The potteries of the tile-makers were of two kinds—figlinae  and officinae ; but the former seems to be a wider and inclusive term—that is to say, that one figlina  included several officinae  or workshops. In the inscriptions, ex figlinis is usually followed by the name of the owner, ex officinis  by the name of the potter (officinator ). The former expression is by far the commoner, and the latter (OF  or OFFIC ) is more usually found on lamps and vases, although after the third century it is invariable on the tiles. The figlinae  are always mentioned in a subordinate manner to the praedia , when both are mentioned, as is usually the case. The potteries were mostly outside the city, even at some distance. Localities are not often mentioned, but we have the Salarian potteries on the Via Salaria , and also mention of the Via Nomentana , and such expressions as Ad Aureliam Ad Mercurium felicem , or Ad viam triumphalem . Stamps found in the walls along the Appian and Latin ways show that potteries existed in the direction of the Alban and Tusculan hills, and in other parts of Latium, as at Praeneste and Ostia. On the north side they extended as far as Narnia and Ocriculum on the Tiber. They are also found in Etruria and Campania. Tiles from Latium were exported to Liguria, the Adriatic, Sardinia, Africa, Gaul, and Spain.

Usually a descriptive epithet is associated with the word figlinae , either of a geographical or personal character. Examples of the former are Macedonianae, Rhodianae, and Oceanae. The latter give either the name of an emperor, as Neronianae, Domitianae; or a Gentile or family name, as Favorianae,Furianae, Publinianae, Terentianae, or Voconianae. One of the names which occurs most frequently is that of L. Brutidius Augustalis, a freedman; others are stamped EX FIGLINIS PRIMIGENI SERVI DNI NOSTRI IMP —“From the potteries of Primigenius, slave of our lord the Emperor.” Imperial slaves owned many potteries, and others were owned by the emperors or other wealthy proprietors, and administered by freedmen or slaves. The officinae  served to distinguish the functions of the different figlinae . Thus the establishment of M. Publicius Januarius, a freedman, is styled doliariae officinae ; or they are distinguished by separate names, as Claudianae, Domitianae, and so on. The tiles from the potteries of Asinius Pollio bear the name of C. Cosconius as maker, as do those of Julia Procula's potteries, being further distinguished as doliares bipedales , and sesquipedales . It would appear that the potteries of private proprietors were under the direction of freedmen, while those of the imperial estates were chiefly managed by slaves, from whose labours large revenues were obtained.

There were many private potteries in Gaul and Germany. In the neighbourhood of Saarbrück many tiles have been found with the maker's name, L. Valerius Labeius. Others with private names have been found at Trier, one with the stamp of the colonia . Several potters with Gaulish names are known, and probably FIDENATIS  on a tile at Zulpich, SECVNDANVS F (igulus  or fecit ) and PACATVS F  from Seligenstadt, refer to craftsmen of that nationality. Often the master's name only occurs, of which possible instances are BELLICIANVS  on a tile from Caerwent, and PRIMV (s ) on another from Colchester. In the British Museum are tiles with the initials T · P · F · A, T · P · F · C T · P · F · P , from Rodmarton in Gloucestershire. Tiles found in the provinces also have the maker's name simply, without indications of date or the owner of the pottery, as on those from Seligenstadt already cited. The makers must in all cases have been of inferior condition, as implied in the example already quoted of the slave Arabus; and other names—Daedalus, Peculiaris, Primigenius, Zosimus—belong to the same rank of life. Yet the occurrence of a single name for a private individual is everywhere very common. On the other hand, imperial slaves usually have two names given, and freedmen three.

On the tiles of the freedmen of the Gens Domitia (dating about the reign of Hadrian) is frequently stamped the formula VALEAT QVI FECIT , “May he who made it prosper,” with the name of the representative of the family in the genitive. On other tiles we find such expressions as VTAMVR FELICES , “May we use it and be happy”; FORTVNA COLENDA , “Fortune is to be worshipped” (a second-century tile); and on others of post-Diocletian date, VRBIS ROMAE , “The city of Rome”;SECVLO CONSTANTINIANO , “The age of Constantine”; FELIX ROMA  (on the tiles of Theodoric), “Happy is Rome.” Even on sepulchral tiles of late Imperial times are stamped such aspirations as, VTI FELIX VIVAS , “May you live happily.”


Again, memoranda are found incised on the tiles, as on one at Hooldorn in Holland, KAL · IVNIS · QVARTVS LATERCLOS N (umero CCXIIII , “Quartus (made) 214 tiles on the first of June”; and on another, found in Hesse in 1838, STRATVRA TERTIA LATERCVLI CAPITVLARES NVM · LEG · XXII , “In the third layer large tiles of the number of the twenty-second legion.” A tile found in Hungary had scratched upon it two metrical lines in cursive writing:

Senem severum semper esse condecet
Bene debet esse povero  (sc. puero qui discit bene ;

and on others names such as Tertius, Kandidus, Verna, were incised. Idle boys in the brickfields often seem to have scratched the alphabet or other words in the soft clay, and complete Roman alphabets are found at Hooldorn and Stein on the Anger; the letters I K L M  on one at Winchester; on another at Silchester is ... E PVELLAM. On a tile in the Guildhall Museum (Fig. 195), found in Warwick Square, E.C., are the words AVSTALIS | DIBVS · III | VAGATVRSIB | COTIDIM , of which no satisfactory translation has been given, but it has been usually regarded as the gibe of a fellow-workman at a devout individual. On another, now at Madrid, the first two lines of the Aeneid  are written in excellent cursive characters of the first century after Christ.

The Roman tiles, if rightly used, are found very useful for judging the dates of buildings. For instance, a study of those in the Pantheon showed that the walls were neither the original ones nor those built by Agrippa in 27 B.C., but were restored in the second century or supplied then with new brickwork. On the other hand, the stamps from the Flavian amphitheatre and Thermae Antoninianae confirm the dates of those buildings. Those tiles which bear the name M. Aurelius Antoninus as consul seem to be the Emperor Caracalla's. In the time of Diocletian the dates cannot be definitely ascertained, but before his time the shape of the stamp is a good criterion. Rectangular stamps are found in the best period, and in the first century B.C. only one line of inscription is usual. Two lines denote the period 50–100 A.D. or later; semicircular or lunate forms came into use under Claudius, and lasted to the end of the first century; perfect circles belong to the same period. The type with the cut-out orbiculus  came in about Nero's reign, and the size of the orbiculus  gradually diminishes down to that of Severus, while the inscriptions gradually increase in length.

A considerable number of the Roman tiles are inscribed with the names of the consuls of the current year in which they were made, presenting a long and interesting series, from the consulship of L. Licinius Sura and C. Sosius Senecio (A.D. 107) to that of Severus Alexander (A.D. 222). Many of these consulships do not, however, appear to have been recorded in the regular fasti consulares  or official lists, and they were probably suffecti , whose names were not recorded after their temporary elevation. It seems likely that the occurrence of consuls' names implies that such tiles were destined for public buildings, and were so marked to prevent their being stolen with impunity. They are fewer in number than those which have merely the names of praedia  or potteries, but are yet sufficiently numerous to be an invaluable aid in tracing the succession for upwards of sixty years. Inscriptions of this class are only found on opus doliare , and chiefly in Italy. Their appearance is probably due to some law passed by the Senate about the reign of Trajan to regulate the potteries. As an example may be given a tile from Hooldorn in the Netherlands, inscribed SVB · DIDIO · IVLIANO · COSS ; the date is A.D. 179, the name being that of the future emperor (COSS  is a mistake for COS ).

The following examples are taken from Dr. Dressel's scheme of the chronological order of the stamps, and show the style of inscription characteristic of the different periods:

I. First century after Christ.

1.  (a ) With name of master only (either of praedia  or figlinae ):

Asini Pollionis.

(b ) With name of officinator  or potter:

C. Cosconi.

2.  (a ) Master and potter (often a slave):

Felicis Domiti Afri.

(b ) Master and conductor  (lessee of the pottery), or potter:

Tegula C. Cosconi, figuli Asini Pollionis.

3.  (a ) Master, potter, and name of pottery:

Amoeni duorum Domitiorum Lucani et Tulli, ex figlinis Caninianis.

(b ) Master, lessee or potter, name of pottery:

T. Grei Ianuari ex figlinis Caninianis duorum Domitiorum.

II. Second century to third century.

1.  (a Ex praedis L. Memmi Rufi.

(b Opus doliare L. Bruttidi Augustalis.

L. Lurius Martialis fecit.

2.  (a Ex figlinis  (vel praedis Domitiae Lucillae, opus doliare Terti Domitiae Lucillae  (vel ab Tertio servo ).

(b C. Comini Proculi ex praedis Domitiae Lucillae.

Ex figlinis Q. Asini Marcelli doliare opus fecit C. Nunnidius Fortunatus.

Opus doliare ex praedis domini n(ostri) ex conductione Publiciaes Quintinae.

3.  (a Ex figlinis  (vel praedis Caepionianis Plotiae Isauricae, fornace Peculiaris servi.

(b Opus doliare ex praedis duorum Augustorum nostrorum, figlinis Domitianis minoribus, Fulvi Primitivi.

During the greater part of the third century chronological indications are absent, but about the time of Diocletian the practice of signatures is revived. The inscriptions, however, differ now from the earlier ones, not only in the forms of the letters and of the stamp, but also in style; they are less regular in form, and present several peculiarities. The expressions opus doliare  and ex figlinis  are now no longer found, and in place of the latter officina  is invariable. Many of the officinae  are the same as in the former period, but new ones, such as the Britannica, Claudia, Gemella, and Jobia, occur, the latter with the cognomen  Diocletiana. Officina  is sometimes used twice over, for the pottery and for the workshop. In place of praedia  we have such expressions as statio rationes , or possessiones . Formulae are introduced in an abbreviated form which give the method of administration or character of the estates: as R · S · P ,ratio summae patrimonii or privatae S · P · C stationis patrimonii Caesaris S · R  for summae rei or stationis Romanae S · P  for summae privatae  or stationis patrimonii S · R · F  for sacrae rationis fisci ; or simply S  for stationis  or summarum . Apparently several stationes  might be united in one officina , or several officinae  in one administratio ; the number of the statio  is given in some instances. The name of the statio  may be replaced by that of the potter; or merely the administratio  is given, as OFF · PRIVATA. Besides the names of master, lessee, and potter, that of the negotiator  is sometimes mentioned. We also find the portus  or depôt in which the tegulae  were stored for distribution, as PORTU LICINI , or the name of the building for which they were destined, as PORTVS AVGVSTI CASTRIS PRAETORI (s )AVG (usti N (ostri ), HORREIS POSTVMIANIS. Some tiles dug up in Lambeth Hill, London, on the site of the Post Office, now in the British and Guildhall Museums, were impressed with the letters P · P · BR · LON  or PR · BR · LON  (Fig. 196), which have been interpreted as publicani provinciae Britanniae Londinienses .


Tiles made for military purposes are exceedingly common in the later period, and the stamps probably had a double use. In the first place, they show that they were made by the soldiers, from which we learn that in the legions, as in a modern army, there were many men acquainted with handicrafts. Secondly, they prevented theft or removal of the tiles, and served as a “broad arrow” to denote public property. They are not, of course, found in Rome, where there was no necessity for the legions to make bricks or tiles; here the camp seems to have been supplied by private individuals.

Of special interest are the inscriptions stamped on tiles which relate to the military divisions stationed throughout the provinces of the vast empire. These are found in soldiers' graves, as well as in their camps and quarters; they contain the names and titles of the legions, and mark the extent of Roman conquest. Thus the route of the thirty legions through Germany has been traced; and in Britain an examination and comparison of such tiles shows the distribution of military force and the migrations of different legions from one quarter to another. The stamps are in the form of long labels (tesserae ), circles, or crescents, occasionally surrounded by a wreath, or else in the shape of a foot, an ivy-leaf, or a vase; the letters are in relief, sharply impressed, as if from a metal die. The names and titles of the legions are given either in initials or in contractions, as LEG · II · P (arthicae ), and so on; sometimes the potter's name is added, with FIGVLVS or FECIT.

The tiles of the first legion have been found at Mainz and Nimeguen; those of the second, or Parthian, at Darmstadt, Ems, Hooldorn, Caerleon, and the Lake of Nemi; of the third, in Scotland; of the fourth, at Mainz; of the fifth, in Scotland, and at Baden, Cleves, Xanten, and Nimeguen; of the sixth, at Nimeguen, Neuss, Aix-la-Chapelle, Darmstadt, and Windisch; the seventh, at Aix-la-Chapelle and Xanten; the eighth, at Mainz, Baden, and elsewhere; the ninth, at Baden and York; the tenth, at Nimeguen, Hooldorn, Vienna, and Jerusalem; the twentieth, at Chester; and so on down to the thirtieth. At Bonn tiles have been found of the Legio Cisrhenana  on the left bank of the Rhine, and of the Legio Transrhenana  on the right bank. Cohorts have also left their names on tiles: the second Asturian at Acsica on the Roman Wall; the fourth (Breucorum ), at Huddersfield; the fourth Vindelician, at Frankfurt, Mainz, and Wiesbaden; the Ulpian Pannonian at Buda-Pesth. The vexillationes , whose main body was at Nimeguen, are similarly recorded; a British vexillatio  was attached to the army at Hooldorn and Nismes, and another to that of Lower Germany, as instanced by tiles inscribed VEX · EX · G · INF  (vexillatio exercitus Germaniae inferioris ), found at Utrecht and Nimeguen in the Netherlands, and at Xanten in Germany. Tiles of the British fleet, CL (assis )BR (itannica ), have been found at Boulogne, Lympne, and Dover.