Later, laterculus and testa: new perspectives on Latin brick terminology

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For centuries antiquarians and archaeologists have tried to reconcile the terminology of ancient writers on architecture, such as Vitruvius, with the perceived realities of the material record. One particular issue of debate concerns the interpretation of different words for "brick" in Latin. In this paper it is argued that earlier attempts to settle this question are unsatisfactory and leave several problems unresolved. A thorough examination of literary and epigraphic sources, combined with new insights in Hellenistic brick usage, suggests that primary distinctions in Latin brick terminology were based on shape and size, rather than on a mere division between fired and unfired bricks. Thus, it is argued that later basically signified a large moulded block, but normally was used to indicate mud bricks; that laterculus changed over time from being a diminutive (a small later) to becoming the standard term for the, relatively thin, fired bricks of the Roman Imperial period; and that testa originally and primarily signified a fragment of a roof tile (or a potsherd), but from the 1st century AD also may designate typical Roman Imperial bricks, after they have been divided into smaller, often triangular, pieces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-31
JournalOpuscula: Annual of the Swedish Institutes At Athens and Rome
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Nov

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Classical Archaeology and Ancient History

Free keywords

  • later
  • laterculus
  • testa
  • bricks
  • fired bricks
  • mud bricks
  • Roman architecture
  • Vitruvius


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