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The Roman Use of Concrete on Trajan’s Column and Modern Cinder Block Construction

R. Michael Cook

This paper was written to tie together three issues: modern masonry, Roman construction, and the reliefs on Trajan’s Column. More specifically, I have focused on the stone walls shown on these reliefs, ancient and secondary sources, and modern cinder block walls. Construction, and masonry, in the Roman Empire appear to be similar to my own experience. Materials have changed, standardization has increased, but the basic structure, or make-up of the walls has changed very little over time. The modern cinder block wall bears remarkable resemblance to the Roman walls built in Dacia in method, material, and design.

            Eight scenes from Trajan’s Column show Roman soldiers building walls. In each instance, the sculptors show realistic scenes of building, with only minimal artistic license causing confusion. Pliny and Vitruvius both offer useful explanations of some of the tasks and materials in the reliefs. Michael Harold Strickland, Jean-Pierre Adam, and James E. Packer provide a useful, modern scholarly perspective. The Mason Contractor’s Association of America, Arizona Masonry Guild, Pamela H. Simpson, and my own experience offer insight into modern construction and cinder block walls.

            Scholars disagree on whether the quality or quantity of the Romans works with stone is responsible for the legacy they left. While both quality and quantity have aided the Roman legacy, I argue that the longevity is more important. Quality and quantity mean nothing if they can no longer be observed, and much of Rome’s stonework can still be studied. The masons that built the Dacian walls stand as an excellent example of their work, having effectively laid the foundation for modern stone work and concrete. 

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The Next Generation: Papers by Undergraduate Classics Students

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