shawlaskewvilleUrban and Civil

Nov 29, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)


The cost of creation: technology at the service of construction

Janet DeLaine, Department of Archaeology, University of Reading

Technological innovation in Roman construction is usually associated with the
development of mass concrete construction as an inexpensive substitute for solid
stone or rubble

masonry. The economic impact is thus often seen as positive, by
making permanent, large
scale structures cheaper through the employment of large
numbers of unskilled or semi
skilled workers, in contrast to the highly skilled
craftsmen necessary for masonr
y construction. Even so, when this kind of
construction was applied to ordinary domestic architecture, it was in large part
replacing cheaper, not more expensive, construction methods such as timber, mud
brick and lightly bonded rubble. Once a strong pozzo
lanic mortar had been developed
in central Italy, the further potential of concrete was developed largely to fulfil the
demands of clients for increasingly large and novel structures, and it is in these areas
that the 'second
generation' of technological i
nnovations can be found. The invention
of the cross
vault to cover large rectangular spaces and the employment of iron in
concrete construction to resist tension in flat wide
span structures are two cases in
point, and it is no surprise that these develop
ments are associated mainly with major
imperial building projects in Rome and its vicinity. Away from the centre,
technological advances in local construction techniques seem largely to have been
designed to emulate the architectural achievements of the ca
pital, rather than to save
on labour costs. This paper thus argues that technological innovation in Roman
construction was driven by the demands of clients at Rome and in the provinces for
increasingly spectacular buildings which, while they redistributed
wealth in wages to
building workers, ultimately had a negative effect on imperial and provincial finances.