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p1098 Tegula

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp1098‑1099 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

TE′GULA (κέραμος, dim. κεραμίς, Xen. Hellen. VI.5 §9), a roofing-tile. Roofing-tiles were originally made, like bricks, of baked clay (γῆς ὀπτῆς). Byzes of Naxos first introduced tiles of marble about the year 620 B.C. (Paus. V.10 §2). Besides the superior beauty and durability of the material, these tiles could be made of a much larger size than those of clay. Consequently, when they were employed in the construction of the greatest temples, such as that of Jupiter at Olympia (Paus. l.c.), the Parthenon at Athens, and the Serapeium at Puteoli, their dimensions were in exact proportion to the other parts of the building; and the effect of the parallel rows of joint-tiles descending from the ridge to the eaves, and terminated by ornamental frontons, with which the lions'-heads (capita leonina, Vitruv. III.5 §15; χολέραι, Horapoll. Hier. I.21) over the cornice alternated, was exceedingly grand and beautiful. How highly this invention was prized by the ancients is proved by the attempt of the Roman censor Q. Fulvius Flaccus to despoil the temple of the Lacinian Juno of some of its marble tiles (tegulae marmoreae), in order to adorn another temple which he had vowed to erect in Rome (Liv. XLII.4; Val. Max. I.1 §20). A still more expensive and magnificent method of roofing consisted in the use of tiles made of bronze and gilt (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.3 s18).a

At Rome the houses were originally roofed with shingles, and continued to be so down to the time of the war with Pyrrhus, when tiles began to supersede the old roofing material (Plin. H. N. XVI.10, s36; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, vol. III p559).

Tiles were originally made perfectly flat, or with nothing more than the hook or nozzle underneath the upper border, which fulfilled the purpose of fixing them upon the rafters. They were afterwards formed with a raised border on each side, as is shown in the annexed woodcut (B) representing the section of four of the tiles remaining at Pompeii.


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In order that the lower edge of any tile might overlap the upper edge of that which came next below it, its two sides were made to converge downwards. See the next woodcut representing a tiled roof, from a part of which the joint-tiles are removed in order to show the overlapping and the convergence of the sides. It was evidently necessary to cover the lines of junction between the rows of flat tiles, and this was done by the use of semicylindrical tiles called imbrices. The above woodcut (A) shows the section of three imbrices found at Pompeii, and indicates their position relatively to the flat tiles. This is also shown in the next woodcut.


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The roof, by the exact adaptation of the broad tegulae and the narrow imbrices throughout its whole extent, became like one solid and compact frame-work (Xen. Mem. III.1 §7; confringit tegulas imbricesque, Plaut. Most. I.2.28; Plin. H. N. XXXVI.22 s44). The rows of joint-tiles divided the roof into an equal number of channels, down which the water descended into the gutter (canalis) to be discharged through openings made in the lions'-heads, the position and appearance of which are shown in the woodcuts. The rows of flat tiles terminated in a variously ornamented front, which rose immediately above the cornice, and of which four specimens are shown in the first woodcut. The first and fourth patterns are drawn from tiles found at Pompeii, and the two internal from tiles preserved in the British Museum and brought thither from Athens. The lions'-heads upon the third and fourth are perforated. [Antefixa.] The frontons, which were ranged along the cornice at the termination of the rows of joint-tiles, were either painted or sculptured so as to represent leaves, aplustria [Aplustre], or masks. The first woodcut (C) shows three examples of such frontons, which belong to the Elgin collection in the British Museum. They are drawn on a much larger scale than the other objects in the same woodcut. The invention of these graceful ornaments is ascribed to Dibutadesº of Corinth (Plin. H. N. XXXV.12 s43).º

Other highly curious details upon the tiled roofs of Greek temples may be seen in the Unedited Antiquities of Attica, Lon. 1817.

The same arrangement of tiles which was placed round a temple was also to be found within a house which was formed with an opening in the centre. Hence any person who descended from the roof into the open court or impluvium of a house, was said to pass "through the tiles" (per tegulas, Ter. Eun. III.5.40; compare Gellius, X.15; διὰ τῶν κεράμων, St. Luke, v.19).

Pliny mentions a kind of tiling under the name pavonaceum (H. N. XXXVI.22 s44), so called probably because the tiles were semicircular at their lower edge, and overlapped one another like the feathers in the train of a peacock. Ancient sepulchres and urns, made in the form of small temples [Funus], often represent very exactly the appearance of a roof with the above-mentioned varieties in the form of the tiles.


Thayer's Note:

a tiles made of bronze and gilt: The famous example is the gilt bronze tiles of the Pantheon, which had survived thru to the 17c only to be removed and melted down by Pope Urban VIII (Barberini) to make cannon. It turned out to be a pointless waste: the precious metals content of the tiles was too high for the intended use, so most of the metal wound up in the baldacchino of St. Peter's. It is this act that prompted the famous pasquinade, "Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini" ("What the barbarians didn't do, the Barberini's did"), reminding everyone for centuries of Urban's responsibility for one of the worst depredations of Rome in recent times, right up there with the 1999 destruction of a frescoed necropolis to build a parking lot for the Year 2000 Jubilee.

For details about the gilt bronze tiles of the Pantheon and the gilt bronze roof trusses destroyed with them, see this excerpt from Rodolfo Lanciani, The Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome. 
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