In today's marble quarries, extraction demands a skilled workforce, excellent coordination, and cutting-edge tools. If they didn't have modern machinery like bulldozers, how did ancient miners get the job done?
Since classical times, the Apuan Alps have been mined for marble. The finest structures of the Roman Empire were clad in the white or blue-grey Carrara marble.
The Pantheon and the Column of Trajan were both crafted from Carrara Marble, which was quarried near Rome. It was Augustus who famously declared, "He discovered Rome brick and left it marble" ("Marmoream relinquish, quam latericiam accepi"). Carrara's quarry provided stone for a number of important Renaissance sculptures, including Michelangelo's David.
Carrara derives from the Celtic word kair or the Ligurian word kar, both of which mean "stone," and the double R is derived from the French word "Carrière" (quarry). For a thorough examination of how marble extraction methods have developed through time, there is no better place to go than Carrara, because to its long history and massive output.
Many people have a one-dimensional image of Ancient Rome; the white marble of its temples and palaces sparkles in their minds, while the ochre and beige of the Roman Forum's ruins are all they see when they visit (or see Russell Crowe in Gladiator). Yet, in truth, the ancient city was a rainbow of hues:
- Wall-frescoes of varying colours adorned the inside walls of homes.
- Flower garlands and other floral arrangements were placed in public areas.
- Recent studies have proved that even the white sculptures were painted with bright colours to make them stand out.
Yet the old city's many-hued marbles were the most vibrant and spectacular feature it had. These came in hundreds of different colours, including yellow, black, red, and numerous blues and greens, and not just white (though there were several shades of white, just as a modern interior decorator might pick between eggshell and ivory). They would have been highly polished and placed in complicated geometric designs, overwhelming the senses and adding to the splendour of the city that was once the metropolis of the Mediterranean world.
Women Deities of The Islands
Definitely. Carrara marble from Italy is used to represent Greece. Since the Late Neolithic period (5300-4500 BC), but especially throughout the Aegean Early Bronze Age, marble has been an integral part of Greek sculpture (3000 BC). Female figures, presumably fertility goddesses, were sculpted in white marble from the Early Cycladic II period (2800-2300 BC) and posed in a standing position with their arms folded and their heads inclined back.
Marble from the Cyclades has long captivated onlookers due to its inherent beauty and almost transparent quality, making it perfect for carving sculptures. Nonetheless, both at this time and later, sculptors frequently painted vibrant colours over the white stone to further enhance the sculptures' appearance. Color remains on ancient marble sculptures, containers, and bone tools have been detected by modern laboratory analysis.
Rome And The Roman Empire
The Romans called marble from Carrara "marmor lumens," or "marble of Luni," since it was shipped out of the port of Luni, at the eastern extremity of the Liguria region in northern Italy.
People who had been sentenced to forced labour, slaves, and Christians made up the bulk of the workforce that carried out the extraction task, which was mostly manual. First-generation miners made use of the rock's inherent crevices by placing fig wood wedges into them and then filled them with water. Since the wedges were able to grow in size, the block separated without any more intervention.
The Romans utilised a technique called "panel" practise, which involved cutting a 15-20 cm deep hole in the chosen stone and inserting metal chisels. For uniformly sized blocks, approximately 2 metres in thickness, this technique was used. After a long period of pounding, the block was ultimately separated from the mountain.
Utilizing Black Powder: Probably Not the Best Plan of Action
Black powder was first used in the eighteenth century to aid in the quarrying of Carrara marble. Changes to the Apennine terrain were dramatic. Large piles of debris, known as "ravaneti," show how devastating the use of explosives was to the marble reserves.
Because any damage to the rock during extraction would render it unfit for further application, the methods used to remove decorative stones are quite specific. This is why a previous article stated, "the first concern is about not damaging the rock during the extraction, which would make it unsuitable for further use."
Producing Entities That Compete Directly Against One Another
Recent research has revealed that the islands of Naxos, Keros, Paros, and Ios supplied the majority of the world's supply of marble throughout the Bronze Age. About 800 B.C.E., marble work had once again become an important creative industry.
On Delos, the Naxians erected enormous dedications to Apollo, such as the colossal Lions (late 7th c. BC), Colossos (late 7th c. BC/early 6th c. BC), and Oikos (575 BC), the first building in history to have a marble upper structure and roof.
Paros's white marble was the best and easiest to carve, hence the island came out on top in the marble race. Parian marble was highly esteemed by sculptors in the Aegean and mainland Greece. Slaves worked underground under lamplight to quarry the stone, earning it the name "Lychnitis." The quarry on the island of Nymphs produced 100,000 cubic metres of marble, according to architect Manolis Korres.
In the sixth and fifth century B.C., Parian marble was used to construct Delphi's Treasury of the Siphnians, the second Temple of Apollo, and the Treasury of the Athenians. Just below the Temple of Apollo, where ascending guests viewed it first, the Naxians built a white marble sphinx in 550 BC.
Marbles from the Attic
The shrine of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis, renovated by Pericles in the 5th century BC, has the magnificent stone of Mt. Penteli, which was quarried in Attica.
Pentelic marble was initially used in the Older Parthenon after the Greek victory at Marathon (490 BC). In 480 BC, Persians destroyed this unfinished Athena temple. Pentelic marble was used extensively for the construction of the Acropolis and other structures, as well as for the creation of votive offerings and other statues, during Pericles' building campaign in the 440s BC.
Around 570 B.C., Pentelic marble began to be utilised for sculpture, while in the Archaic period, Mt. Ymittos marble was carved into steles for the Acropolis. Building the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio required the use of Agrileza, a soft, crumbly marble (444-440 BC). Marble "Kouros" statues abound in Attica, but not all of them were carved there. Construction of Sounion Kouros (about 600 BC) began on Naxos marble.
It's a Periclean Miracle
Massive quantities of Pentelic marble were needed to construct the Periclean Parthenon. The original superstructure was made entirely of marble, from the stepped crepidoma (foundation) up through the 444 coffered ceiling panels, 108 exterior and internal columns, 92 carved metopes, 160 m-long Ionic friezes, the cella's walls, pediments, cornices, architraves, and beams. Marble from Mt. Penteli, largely identical to the original material, was used to restore the Parthenon in recent years. The marble was quarried from a region behind the mountain's conspicuous peak, the scars of which may still be seen today.
Pentelic marble was used in the construction of the Temple of Hephaestus, which stands outside the Acropolis (445 BC). The cornice, ceiling, and frieze were all crafted out of Parian marble. There is Pentelic marble and limestone in the Stoa of Attalos, which was built in the second century BC. Marble from Pentelica was used to create the Lysicrates Monument, which dates back to 335 or 334 BC.
Classic Love's Eternal Toil
We are only now beginning to match the precision and speed of the ancient masons, even with the help of contemporary power tools and space-age technologies. Final items were made with little margins of error using iron chisels, sharp-tipped tips, saws, hammers, wooden and iron wedges, squares, compasses, and graduated measuring bars. The artisans presented their creations to the gods, especially Athena.
Because marble might have fractures, defects, and other problems, master marble masons are proficient at selecting the best stone to carve. They hauled stone down from the mountains using ropes, wooden winches, cranes, sledges, carts, and rollers.
A column's delicate flutes, for example, were carved right there on the spot before the column was finished. Restoration masons are trained in a new way to follow time-tested traditions. Even while a contemporary stonemason may "plough" marble in straight lines with his chisel, excavations of ancient monuments have revealed that their classical predecessors frequently perched on a block and chiselled in circular, zigzag patterns.
Indulgence in the Age of the Romans
Caesar and Octavian (Augustus) "archaized" the new Roman Agora with Pentelic marble from Athens (1st c. BC). In the second century AD, Emperor Hadrian erected a city gate and finished construction on the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Almost all of Pendeli's marble stockpile was used up by Herodes Atticus's need for veneering the Panathenaic Stadium (Kallimarmaro).
The Romans utilised a variety of stone colours and textures. Green, red, and grey marble were brought in from the Peloponnese, Evia, and Chios at the very beginning of the empire. In Skyros and Tinos, you could find green marble, while on Thasos, you could find white marble that was comparable to Pentelic.
The Romans adored the grey or bluish-grey marble that was extracted from Mt. Ymittos. The strange marble "dragon homes" above Kaisariani may have been dwellings for quarry workers; a relief of a quarryman ("Archedemus") with a hammer and square can be found in a cave atop Ymittos above Vari (ca. 400 BC).
Heritage Practices Carved Into Marble
The people of Tinos are famous for their marble craftsmanship. The Stoa of Attalos was restored by masons from Tinian in the 1950s, and later, their sons helped restore the Erechtheion. YSMA architect Lena Lambrinou claims that the Parthenon is currently being worked on by the third generation of these artisans.
It has long been believed on Tino's Island that Phidias taught the locals sculpture after he and his ship were forced to take refuge there. Whether or not this legend is grounded in reality, there is no denying the Tinians' contribution to the growth of contemporary Athens and the institutions it now boasts, such as the Academy of Athens, the Athens Concert Hall, and the National Library. Marble kitchen sinks and curbs were popular in many Athens apartments built in the 1960s and 1970s.
Was it the Greeks or the Romans?
As was previously established, the Romans admired the Greeks much. Many of the Greek statues and reliefs that were displayed in public locations around the city were collected by the aristocratic families and used to decorate their private houses.
Many items of art were imported to Rome from Greece before the Romans began mining their own marble. The majority of the marble used by Rome came from Greece. If you wanted a copy of a Greek statue, it was cheaper to commision a copy from the artist than to buy the original. That's why it's often hard to tell if a sculpture is a Roman copy or a Greek original.
The passage of time alone has elevated the perceived value of Greek artworks. The problem is that there are so many copies that it's hard to determine where the first one came from. Certain stylistic features will assist you differentiate between the two.
Distinctions Between Greek and Roman Sculpture
Statues in Greece typically skewed smaller since the Greeks were so enamoured with portraying human proportions. Massive statues that look like they were copied from ancient Greece by the Romans. Distorted proportions made Roman statues topple over. Roman sculptors would place a little slab of marble on the base of their statues to ensure the figures stood upright. If a statue has this block, it is Roman and not Greek.
Naturalistic portrayals were highly reviled by the Greeks. Both the male and female ideals of beauty were selected. You can see that they had young, robust bodies and ethereal faces in their statues. The realistic aesthetic of Roman verism stands in stark contrast to this. Some of the emperors and empresses modelled their physiques after the chiselled men and voluptuous women of classical Greece.
Hadrian was depicted with a beard because he was fond of Greek culture. Male portraits in Roman art are typically unshaven because the Romans did not enjoy beards. The beard was a popular accessory in Ancient Greek culture. With a long beard, men were seen as more wise and formidable. Their bearded deities, sages, and mythical heroes are a consistent theme throughout their literature.
Nakedness was more common among Greeks. Since the traditional male and female bodies were worshipped, Greek artists rarely clothed their models. The Romans often put togas or uniforms on statues. Whereas the Greeks favoured minimalism in sculpture, the Romans and Etruscans incorporated elaborate details.
A True Revolution Thanks to the Helical Wire
The development of the helical wire and the penetrating pulley at the end of the 19th century greatly improved the marble quarrying process. The process calls for a steel wire between 4 and 6 millimetres in diameter, silica sand, and water.
The helical wire, which is a steel loop under tension, travels at a rate of 5–6 metres per second and can cut marble at a rate of 20 centimetres per hour. This innovative method has replaced the use of explosives and has altered the landscape. Steps and platforms, known as "piazzali di cava," were meticulously carved out of the mountain.
Diamond wire sawing is still in use today in Carrara. Diamond wire sawing necessitates the drilling of two holes, one horizontal at the bench's base and one vertical from the top, perpendicular to each other.
The cable is rotated by a motorised device installed on a rail. A turn of the cord turns it into a saw. When cutting is done, the machine will back up on tracks to maintain cable tension. This method yields calibrated blocks with clean edges that are simple to modify.
Carrara Marble was quarried close to Rome, and it was used for both Michelangelo's David and the Column of Trajan. "He discovered Rome brick and left it marble," Augustus famously proclaimed ("Marmoream relinquish, quam latericiam accepi"). Cycladic marble's inherent beauty and almost transparent quality have long mesmerised onlookers. It's fitting that the material chosen to symbolise Greece is Carrara marble, which originates in Italy. Carrara marble was known as "marmor lumens" to the Romans.
At the height of the Bronze Age, the islands of Naxos, Keros, Paros, and Ios were the world's primary suppliers of marble. Paros won the marble race because its white marble was the highest quality and easiest to carve. In order to repair the Parthenon, specialists used Pentelic marble, which is nearly indistinguishable from the original. The area behind the mountain's prominent peak is where the marble from Penteli was extracted. Using iron chisels and saws, ancient masons created precision works of art with minimal room for error.
Most of Rome's marble requirements were met by imports from Greece. Grey or bluish-grey marble quarried from Mt. Ymittos was highly prized by the Romans. Athens apartments from the 1960s and 1970s often featured marble countertops and sinks. Since the Greeks were so fascinated with depicting human proportions, their statues tended to be on the diminutive side. Roman statues fell over because their proportions were off.
Some of the imperial couple took physical cues from the chiselled men and voluptuous women of ancient Greece. While the Greeks prefered simplicity, the Romans and Etruscans favoured complexity in their sculpture. Improvements in marble quarrying were made possible by the invention of the helical wire and penetrating pulley. In place of explosives, modern day Carrara still makes use of diamond wire sawing.
- The finest structures of the Roman Empire were clad in the white or blue-grey Carrara marble.
- The Pantheon and the Column of Trajan were both crafted from Carrara Marble, which was quarried near Rome.
- Carrara's quarry provided stone for a number of important Renaissance sculptures, including Michelangelo's David.
- Carrara marble from Italy is used to represent Greece.
- Recent research has revealed that the islands of Naxos, Keros, Paros, and Ios supplied the majority of the world's supply of marble throughout the Bronze Age.
- Massive quantities of Pentelic marble were needed to construct the Periclean Parthenon.
- Marble from Mt. Penteli, largely identical to the original material, was used to restore the Parthenon in recent years.
- The majority of the marble used by Rome came from Greece.
- Statues in Greece typically skewed smaller since the Greeks were so enamoured with portraying human proportions.
- Massive statues that look like they were copied from ancient Greece by the Romans.
- Naturalistic portrayals were highly reviled by the Greeks.
- Both the male and female ideals of beauty were selected.
- The realistic aesthetic of Roman verism stands in stark contrast to this.
- Whereas the Greeks favoured minimalism in sculpture, the Romans and Etruscans incorporated elaborate details.
- The development of the helical wire and the penetrating pulley at the end of the 19th century greatly improved the marble quarrying process.
- The helical wire, which is a steel loop under tension, travels at a rate of 5–6 metres per second and can cut marble at a rate of 20 centimetres per hour.
- Diamond wire sawing is still in use today in Carrara.
FAQs About Roman Marbles
For blocks of fixed size, usually of 2 meters thick, the Romans used the method of the “panel” practising in the selected block, a 15-20 cm deep cut in which were inserted metallic chisels. After a continuous pounding, the block was finally separated from the mountain.
Marbles are often mentioned in Roman literature, as in Ovid's poem "Nux" (which mentions playing the game with walnuts), and there are many examples of marbles from excavations of sites associated with Chaldeans of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. They were commonly made of clay, stone or glass.
Notable monuments and buildings. The marble from Carrara was used for some of the most remarkable buildings in Ancient Rome: Temple of Proserpina – later reused in many buildings in Valletta. The Pantheon.
White marble itself was prized for its brilliant translucency, ability to take finely carved detail, and flawless uniformity. A vast array of colored marbles and other stones were also quarried from throughout the Roman world to create numerous colorful statues (09.221. 6) of often dazzling appearance.
It was also extremely hard and required immense labor and skill to fashion and finish compared with other marbles. But expensive marble was used, too, for a more unexpected subject — representations of supplicant "barbarian" races conquered by the Romans.