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Bill Thayer

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 p668  Later

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp668‑669 of

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

[image ALT: A man carrying a balanced load of bricks in a sling over his shoulders, while another looks on, returning with an empty sling. It is an ancient Egyptian painting.]
	LATER, dim. LATERCULUS (πλίνθος, dim. πλινθίς, πλινθίον), a brick. Besides the Greeks and Romans other ancient nations employed brick for building to a great extent, especially the Babylonians (Herod. I.179;º Xen. Anab. III.4 §§7, 11; Nahum, iii.14) and Egyptians. In the latter country a painting on the walls of a tomb at Thebes (Wilkinson's Manners and Customs, vol. II p99) exhibits slaves, in one part employed in procuring water, in mixing, tempering, and carrying the clay, or in turning the bricks out of the mould [Forma], and arranging them in order on the ground to be dried by the sun, and in another part carrying the dried bricks by means of the yoke [Asilla]. In the annexed woodcut we see a man with three bricks suspended from each end of the yoke, and beside him another who returns from having deposited his load.

These figures are selected from the above-mentioned painting, being in fact original portraits of two Αἰγύπτιοι πλινθοφόροι, girt with linen round the loins in exact accordance with the description given of them by Aristophanes, who at the same time alludes to all the operations in the process of brick-making (πλινθοποιΐα, Schol. in Pind. Ol. V.20), which are exhibited in the Theban painting (Aves, 1132‑1152; Schol ad loc.).

The Romans distinguished between those bricks which were merely dried by the sun and air (lateres crudi, Plin. H. N. XXXV.48; Varro, de Re Rust. I.14; Col. de Re Rust. IX.1; πλίνθος ὠμὴ, Paus. VIII.8 §5), and those which were burnt in the kiln (cocti or coctiles; ὀπταί, Xen. Anab. II.4 §12; Herod. l.c.). They preferred for the purpose clay which was either whitish or decidedly red. They considered spring the best time for brick-making, and kept the bricks two years before they were used (Pallad. de Rust. VI.12). They made them principally of three shapes; the Lydian, which was a foot broad, 1½ feet long; the tetradoron, which was four palms square, i.e. 1 foot; and the pentadoron, which was five palms square. They used them smaller in private than in public edifices. Of this an example is presented in the great building at Treves,º called the palace of Constantine, which is built of "burnt bricks, each of a square form, fifteen inches in diameter, and an inch and a quarter thick." (Wyttenbach's Guide to the Roman Antiquities of Treves, p42). These bricks therefore were the pentadora of Vitruvius and Pliny. At certain places the bricks were made so porous as to float in water; and these were probably used in the construction of arches, in which their lightness would be a great advantage (Plin. H. N. XXXV.49; Vitruv. II.3). It was usual to mix straw with the clay (Vitruv. l.c.; Pallad. de Re Rust. VI.12; Exod. v.7). In building a brick wall, at least crudo latere, i.e. with unburnt bricks, the interstices were filled with clay or mud (luto, Col. l.c.), but the bricks were also sometimes cemented with mortar (Wyttenbach, p65, 66). For an account of the mode of arranging the bricks, see Murus. The Babylonians used asphaltum in the cement (Herod. l.c.). Pliny (VII.56)º calls the brickfield lateraria, and to make bricks lateres ducere, corresponding to the Greek πλίνθους ἕλκειν or ἔρυειν (Herod. I.179, II.136).

The Greeks considered perpendicular brick walls more durable than stone, and introduced them in their greatest public edifices. Brick was so common at Rome as to give occasion to the remark of the emperor Augustus in reference to his improvements, that, having found it brick (lateritiam), he had left it marble (Sueton. Aug. 29).​a The Babylonian bricks are commonly found inscribed with the characters called from their appearance arrow-headed or cuneiform. It is probable that these inscriptions recorded the time and place where the bricks were made. The same practice was enjoined by law upon the Roman brickmakers. Each laid his mark, such as the figure of a god, a plant, or an animal, encircled by his own name, often with the name of the place, of the consulate, or of the owner of the kiln or the brickfield (Seroux d'Agincourt, Rec. de Fragments, pp82‑88). It has been observed by several antiquaries, that these imprints upon bricks might throw considerable light upon the history and ancient geography of the places where they are found. Mr. P. E. Wiener has accordingly traced the 22nd legion through a great part of Germany by the bricks which bear its name (De Leg. Rom. vic. sec., Darmstadt, 1830, p106‑137). In Britain many Roman bricks have been found in the country of the Silures, especially at Caer‑leon, with the inscription LEG. II. AVG. stamped upon them (Archeologia, V. p35).º The bricks, frequently discovered at York, attest the presence there of the 6th and 9th legions (Wellbeloved's Eburacum, pp13, 34, 118).

[image ALT: A close-up of part of a brick, with a round stamp ipressed into the clay. The stamp has two concentric circles of inscription, and a central device that may be the figure of a dancing man. It is an ancient Roman brickstamp.]

A Roman brick stamp, on most screens approximately ⅔ size, from the baths of Castellum Amerinum (now Serípola) in the Latium near the Umbrian border.

The term laterculus was applied to various productions of the shape of bricks, such as pastry or confectionery (Plaut. Poen. I.2.115; Cato, de Re Rust. 109); and for the same reason ingots of gold and silver are called lateres (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.17).

Thayer's Note:

a The Greeks considered perpendicular brick walls more durable than stone; Augustus having found that of brick, left it marble: Notice that these are two opposing views: and the Greeks turned out to be right. Marble is both intrinsically more fragile, being liable to attack from acids including that in rainwater, a situation much aggravated by modern pollution due mostly to automobiles; and more likely to be despoiled, either in order to ornament newer buildings, or to make lime whether for plaster or for lime-pits in times of epidemics.

Amusingly, it looks like the Romans themselves started to become aware of this. Writing in the early 3c A.D., 200 years after Augustus, when his buildings had already had some time to decay, Cassius Dio "covers" for Augustus by stating (LVI.30.3) that the emperor, you see, really didn't mean it!

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Page updated: 10 Apr 20