On bricks

Contents of this chapter

  1. Text and translation
  2. Comment
  3. Bibliography
  4. Illustrations of the Cesariano edition
1. Itaque primum de lateribus, qua de terra ducio eos oporteat dicam. non enim de harenosa neque calculosa neque sabulone soluto sunt ducendi, quod ex his generibus cum sint ducti primum fiunt graves, deinde cum ab imbribus in parietibus sparguntur, dilabuntur et dissolvuntur paleaeque in is non cohaerescunt propter asperitatem. Faciendi autem sunt ex terra albida cretosa sive de rubrica aut etiam masculo sabulone. Haec enim genera propter levitatem habent firmitatem et non sunt in opere ponderosa et faciliter aggerantur.


1. Therefore, first I will speak about bricks, and from what kind of clay they ought to be brought. For they ought not to be made from sandy nor chalky soil nor gravelly soil: because when they are got from these formations, first they become heavy, then, when they are moistened by rain showers in the walls, they come apart and are dissolved. And the straw does not stick in them because of their roughness. But bricks are to be made of white clayey earth or of red earth, or even of rough gravel. For these kinds, because of their smoothness, are durable. They are not heavy in working, and are easily built up together.

2. Ducendi autem sunt per vernum tempus et autumnale, ut uno tempore siccescant. Qui enim per solstitium parantur ideo vitiosi fiunt quod summum corium sol acriter cum praecoquit, efficit ut videatur aridus, interior autem sit non siccus. et cum postea siccescendo se contrahit, perrumpit ea quae erant arida. Ita rimosi facti efficiuntur inbecilli. maxime autem utiliores erunt, si ante biennium fuerint ducti. namque non ante possunt penitus siccescere. Itaque cum recentes et non aridi sunt structi, tectorio inducto rigideque obsolidato permanente ipsi sidentes non possunt eandem altitudinem qua est tectorium tenere, contractioneque moti non haerent cum eo, sed ab coniunctione eius disparantur. Igitur tectoria ab structura seiuncta propter tenuitatem per se stare non possunt sed franguntur, ipsique parietes fortuito sidentes vitiantur. Ideo etiam Uticenses latere si sit aridus et ante quinquennium ductus, cum arbitrio magistratus fuerit ita probatus, tunc utuntur in parietum structuris.


2. Now bricks are to be made either in the spring or autumn, that they may dry at one and the same time. For those which are prepared at the summer solstice become faulty for this reason: when the sun is keen and overbakes the top skin, it makes it seem dry, while the interior of the brick is not dried. And when afterwards it is contracted by drying, it breaks up what was previously dried. Thus bricks crack and are rendered weak. But, most especially, they will be more fit for use if they are made two years before. For they cannot dry throughout before. Therefore when they are built in fresh and not dry, and the plaster is put on and becomes rigid, they remain solid only on the surface. Hence they settle and cannot keep the same height as the plaster. For by contraction and the consequent movement they cease to stick to the plaster, and are separated from their union with it. That is why the citizens of Utica use no bricks for building walls, unless the magistrate has approved them as being dry and made five years before.

3. Fiunt autem laterum genera tria. Unum quod graece Lydium appellatur, id est quo nostri utuntur, longum sesquipede, latum pede. Ceteris duobus Graecorum aedificia struuntur. Ex his unum pentadoron, alterum tetradoron dicitur. Doron autem Graeci appellant palmum, quod munerum datio graece doron appellatur, id autem semper geritur per manus palmam. Ita quod est quoquoversus quinque palmorum pentadoron, quod quattuor tetradoron dicitur, et quae sunt publica opera pentadoros, quae privata tetradoros struuntur.


3. Now there are three kinds of bricks: one which in Greek is called Lydion, that is the one which we use, a foot and a half long, a foot wide. Greek buildings are constructed with the other two. Of these one is called pentadoron, the other tetradoron. Now the greeks call the palm doron, because the giving of gifts is called doron, and this is always done by means of the palm of the hand. Thus the brick that is of five palms every way is called pentadoron; of four palms tetradoron. Public buildings are erected with the former; private buildings with the latter.

4. Fiunt autem cum his lateribus semilateria, quae cum struuntur, una parte lateribus ordines, altera semilateres ponuntur. Ergo ex utraque parte ad lineam cum struuntur, alternis coriis parietes alligantur et medii lateres supra coagmenta conlocati et firmitatem et speciem faciunt utraque parte non invenustam.
Est autem in Hispania ulteriore civitas Maxilua, item Callet, in Asia Pitane, ubi lateres cum sunt ducti et arefacti, proiecti natant in aqua. Natare autem eos posse ideo videtur quod terra est de qua ducuntur pumicosa. Ita cum est levis, aere solidata non recipit in se nec combibit liquorem. Igitur levi raraque cum sint proprietate nec patiantur penetrare in corpus umidam potestatem, quocumque pondere fuerint cogitur ab rerum natura quemadmodum pumex uti ab aqua sustineantur. Sic autem magnas habent utilitates, quod neque in aedificationibus sunt onerosi, et cum ducuntur, a tempestatibus non dissolvuntur.


4. Along with these bricks, half-bricks also are made. When these are built to the line of the face, on one side courses are laid with bricks, on the other side half-bricks are laid. The walls are bound together by the alternate facings; and the middle of the bricks, being placed above the joints, produces firmness, and a not unpleasing appearance on either side.
Now in Further Spain there is a town Maxilua, and also Callet, in Asia there is Pitane, where bricks, when they have been made and dried, swim in water if they are thrown in. Now it seems that they are able to swim because the soil from which they are drawn is like pumice. Thus, since it is light, when made solid by the air it does not admit nor drink up moisture into itself. Therefore since these bricks are of a light and open property, and do not allow the humid potency to penetrate into the body, of whatever weight the body shall be, it is compelled by Nature to be upheld by water like pumice-stone. So indeed they have great advantages because they are not heavy in buildings, and when they are being made, they are not dissolved by storm.


Vitruvius writes here about mud dried adobe which, with a stucco facing, was the common building material until the end of the republican period and even in the early imperial time. For this material he uses the word later, in contrast to fired bricks which he designates with the word testa and testaceus in chapter 8 of this book.
He clearly describes the production of these bricks from his own experience as an architect; the fact that he starts his description of building materials with brick and his emphasis on the importance of the drying process is a proof of the importance of this traditional material. The widespread use of fired bricks started only at the beginning of the imperial times and also the widespread use of marbles was an Augustan innovation. Indeed, in his Res Gestae Augustus boasted that he found Rome as a city of adobe and that he left it as a city of marble.


Les dix livres d'architecture de Vitruve, Corrigés et traduits en 1684 par C. Perrault, Paris, 1684.
Vitruvius, De Architectura libri X, ed. F. Granger, London, 1962.
Ton Peters, Vitruvius, Handboek bouwkunde, Amsterdam, 1999.
A.Boëthius-J.B.Ward-Perkins, Etruscan and Roman Architecture, Harmondsworth, 1970
A.McKay, Vitruvius, Architect and Engineer, London, 1978

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