Thursday, 29 April 2010

Roman Building Methods

The Romans built massive structures across the empire. Every area was encouraged to erect public buildings such as temples and basilicas to show how civilised and important the area and its people were.

To erect these structures the Romans relied on human and animal musclepower. Some machines did exist – such as cranes or hoists – but these all had to be powered by humans, mules or oxen.

Stone was cut in quarries. The stone was split by drilling holes into which were put wooden wedges. When the wedges were soaked in water they swelled and split the rock. The stone was then cut into blocks with iron saws.

Because stone is heavy and expensive to transport, most stone was used to make buildings close to the quarry. Only certain types of stone with special qualities was transported more than a few kilometres.

The final shaping of stones was carried out on the building site. Iron saws and chisels were used to make sure that each block was exactly the right shape.

Offcuts and mis-shapen stones were used to build cheaper structures. These were fixed into a wooden frame, then pounded with gravel and sand to form a solid mass. This was then covered over with plaster.

Bricks made from clay were widely used. They were smaller than modern bricks and made by hand in a wooden mould. Each brick was left to dry, then baked in a kiln to make it hard and waterproof.

Both bricks and stone blocks were held together by mortar. This was made by mixing lime with sand and then adding water. When the mortar set it was very hard and glued together the bricks and stones.

When gravel is added to mortar it becomes concrete. The Romans were the first to use concrete. By ad100 many buildings were being built of concrete, then faced with stone so that they looked as if they were made entirely of stone.

Most of the large public buildings put up during the time of the emperors were constructed by slave labour. Thousands of men would work at building sites in Rome and throughout the empire.

This is an extract from 1000 Facts - Ancient Rome by Rupert Matthews

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