On stone

1.De calce et harena quibus varietatibus sint et quas habeant virtutes dixi. Sequitur ordo de lapidicinis explicare, de quibus et quadrata saxa et caementorum ad aedificia eximuntur copiae et comparantur. Haec autem inveniuntur esse disparibus et dissimilibus virtutibus. Sunt enim aliae molles, uti sunt circa urbem Rubrae Pallenses Fidenates Albanae, aliae temperatae, uti Tiburtinae Amiterninae Soractinae et quae sunt his generibus, nonnullae durae, uti siliceae. sunt etiam alia genera plura, uti in Campani rubri et nigri tofi, in Umbria et Piceno et in Venetia albus, qui etiam serra dentata uti lignum secatur.


1. I have spoken of lime and sand, both of what varieties they are and what virtues they possess. Next in order coms the description of the quarries from which both squared stone and supplies of rubble are taken and furnished for buildings. Now these are found to be of unequal and unlike virtues. For some are soft, as they are in the neighbourhood of the city of Grotta Rossa, Falla, Fidenae and Alba; others are medium, as at Tivoli, Amiternum, Soracte, and those which are of these kinds; some har, like lava. There are also many other kinds, as red and black tufa in Campania; in Umbria and Picenum and in Venetia, white stone which indeed is cut, like wood, with a toothed saw.

2. Sed haec omnia quae mollia sunt hanc habent utilitatem quod ex is saxa cum sunt exempta in opere faciliter tractantur. et si sunt in locis tectis, sustinent laborem, si autem in apertis et patentibus, gelicidiis et pruina contacta friantur et dissolvuntur. Item secundum oram maritimam ab salsugine exesa diffluunt neque perferunt aestus. Tiburtina vero et quae eodem genere sunt omnia sufferunt et ab oneribus et a tempestatibus iniurias, sed ab igni non possunt esse tuta simulque sunt ab eo tacta dissiliunt et dissipantur, ideo quod temperatura naturali parvo sunt umore itemque non multum habent terreni sed aeris plurimum et ignis. Igitur cum et umor et terrenum in his minus inest, tum etiam ignis, tactu et vi vaporis ex is aere fugato, penitus insequens et interveniorum vacuitates occupans fervescit et efficit ea suis ardentia corporibus similia.


2. But all these quarries which are of soft stone have this advantage: when stones are taken from these quarries they are easily handled in working, and if they are in covered places, they sustain their burden, but if they are in open and exposed places, they combine with ice and hoar frost, are turned to powder and are dissolved: along the sea-coast, also, being weathered by the brine, they crumble and do not endure the heat. Travertine, however, and all stones which are of the same kind, withstand injury from heavy loads and from storms; but from fire they cannot be safe; as soon as they are touched by it they crack and break up. And the reason is that by the nature of their composition they have llittle moisture and also not much earth, but much air and fire. Therefore, since there is less moisture and earth in these, then also the fire, when the air has been expelled by the contact and violence of the heat, following far within and seizing upon the empty spaces of the features, seethes and produces, from its own substance, similar burning bodies.

3. Sunt vero item lapidicinae complures in finibus Tarquiniensium, quae dicuntur Anicianae, colore quemadmodum Albanae, quarum officinae maxime sunt circa lacum Volsiniensem, item praefectura Statonensi. haec autem habent infinitas virtutes. Neque enim is gelicidiorum tempestas neque ignis tactus potest nocere, sed sunt firmae et ad vetustatem ideo permanentes quod parum habent e naturae mixtione aeris et ignis, umoris autem temperate plurimumque terreni. Ita spissis comparationibus solidatae neque ab tempestatibus neque ab ignis vehementia nocentur.


3. But there are also several quarries in the neighbourhood of Tarquinii, known as the Anician, in colour like those of Alba, of which the workings are mostly round the lake of Bolsena, and also in the prefecture of Statonia. These also have infinite virtues; fot they can neither be injured by weathering under frost nor by the approach of fire. But the stone is firm and wears well over a long time, because it has little air and fire in its natural mixture, a medium amount of moisture, and much of the earthy. Thus solidified by its close composition, it is injured neither by weathering nor by the violence of fire.

4. Id autem maxime iudicare licet e monumentis quae sunt circa municipium Ferenti ex his facta lapidicinis. namque habent et statuas amplas factas egregie et minora sigilla floresque et acanthos eleganter scalptos. quae cum sint vetusta, sic apparent recentia uti si sint modo facta. Non minus etiam fabri aerarii de his lapidicinis in aeris flatura formis comparatis habent ex is ad aes fundendum maximas utilitates. Quae si prope urbem essent, dignum esset ut ex his officinis omnia opera perficerentur.


4. Now this we may especially judge from the monuments, which are about the municipality of Ferentum, made from these quarries. For they have large statues strikingly made, and lesser figures and flowers and acanthus finely carved. These, old as they are, appear as fresh as if they were just made. None the less also, coppersmiths in their bronze castings get moulds from these quarries, and find great advantages from them for casting bronze. And if these were near the city, it would be worth while to execute all works from these stoneyards.

5. Cum ergo propter propinquitatem necessitas cogat ex Rubris lapidicinis et Pallensibus et quae sunt urbi proximae copiis uti, si qui voluerit sine vitiis perficere, ita erit praeparandum. cum aedificandum fuerit, ante biennium ea saxa non hieme sed aestate eximantur, et iacentia permaneant in locis patentibus. Quae autem eo biennio a tempestatibus tacta laesa fuerint, ea in fundamenta coiciantur. Cetera quae non erunt vitiata, ab natura rerum probata durare poterunt supra terram aedificata. Nec solum ea in quadratis lapidibus sunt observanda sed etiam in caementiciis structuris.


5. Since then, because of their nearness, necessity compels the use of supplies from the quarries of Grotta rossa and Palla, and others which are nearest to the city, we must take precautions if we wish to complete our work without faults. When we have to build, let the stone be got out two years before, not in winter but in summer, and let it lie and stay in exposed places. Those stones, however, which in the two years suffer damage by weathering, are to be thrown into the foundations. Those which are not faulty are tested by Nature, and can endure when used in building above ground. And these precautions are to be taken not only in the case of squared stones, but also for rough stone or rubble walling.


In this chapter Vitruvius gives us a concise survey of the principal kinds of stones used during the Roman republican era. It may be surprising that he is not talking about marble: his books were dedicated to Augustus and Augustus boasted in his Res Gestae that he transformed Rome into a marble city. In this context it should be normal to describe the properties of marble as well as the properties of the other stones. One may ask why. Is it because, as we have suggested on other occasions, because Vitruvius is against the innovations of the Augustan era and looks back to 'the good old times' of the republic? Or do we have to see here a prove of the rather early date of these books. It has been suggested that the 'De Architectura Libri X' is nothing else than a series of notes Vitruvius made during his lifetime and career and that during the reign of Augustus he put it all together and wrote the ten prefaces as a unifying text. This theory seems plausible because marble began to be used on a wide scale only during the reign of Augustus when the marble quarries of Luna were discovered. Before this time marble was only scarcely used in architecture: we know of a marble floor in the Capitoline temple dated 146 B.C., and a temple of Jupiter Stator built by Q. Caecilius Metellus, also in 146 B.C.; in Rome the round temple of Vesta, dated in the first half of the first century B.C. is also of marble and we know that Sulla sent Corinthian marble columns to Rome after 83 B.C.
Apart from these testimonies of the early use of marble the main building stone in Roman architecture was tufa. Tufa was a mixture of pebbles, lava fragments and ashes produced by old (now inactive) volcanoes in the Alban Hills south of the Tiber and in the hill country to the north. Tufa was a porous amalgam of varying degrees of hardness which could be easily mined and worked. Lapis Albanus (mentioned in the text) is a blackish-grey compposite, quarried north of Lago Albano and was respected by builders for its durability and fireproof qualities It was used for heavy lintels, vaults and column drums. Lapis Gabinus came from Gabii. It is reddish in colour. Its hard, fireproof nature made it a favourite.
There can be no doubt that tufa was the approved material for foundations and for frame and wall construction throughout Republican times: aquaducts, theatres, temples, bridges and domestic architecture all incorporated this basic material. Also Campania had important quarries. The building material in Pompeii was mainly tufa up to Sullan times (80 B.C.)
Travertine is a sturdy limestone quarried from the second century B.C. near Aqua Albulae. Like tufa, Travertine is soft when first exposed and so makes quarrying easy but hardens soon afterwards. That's why Vitruvius says that it must lie exposed during at least two years. During this period the stone is allowed to give off the moisture of the quarry and has in the same time the occasion to harden.
Travertine was extensively used in the theatre of Marcellus and in the Colosseum.
From his own experience Vitruvius has seen the qualities of these stones. But, as we have seen elsewhere, he has no coherent explication for the phenomena he saw. Like he explained in the second chapter of this book his philosophy is mainly besed on the four elements: air, water, earth and fire. And all phenomena, let it be about human health or qualities of stones are explained through this vision. Like in human bodies humidity and heat also affect building materials.


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

Chapter 8
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