Marble décor in Roman architecture (2013-present)

Marble décor in Roman architecture: a socio-economic study of the use, provenance and trade of marble in Central Adriatic Italy.

 Opus sectile floor at Suasa - house of the Coiedii
Opus sectile floor at Suasa - house of the Coiedii
Roman society was highly hierarchical and its elite class was in constant search of means to showcase, maintain and increase their power and prestige. Monumental architecture, both public and private, was unarguably one of the most powerful material means for this. The grandeur of monumental architecture was not only expressed by the sheer investment of manpower or funds – the scale and elaboration of monumental buildings largely exceeded their functional requirements – but also by its elaborate décor.

Roman architectural decoration was highly functional; it served as an organising and structuring element within a building. Together with the building, architectural décor formed the physical setting where people (of different social classes) lived, met and interacted. Lavish décor was associated with Roman elite. In this view, it is an expression of social identity. It was used to express and reinforce membership of a certain social class, as well as to display, perpetuate and increase the political, social and economic power and status.

This research builds upon the concept of ‘cultural biography’ to study architectural decoration, in particular decorative stones such as marble, in the Roman period in Central Adriatic Italy. This material study wishes not only to enlarge our understanding of the socio-cultural, politic and economic importance of architectural décor; as an additional tool to historical and epigraphic data, it aims to be a key element in the debate of larger historical processes, such as those dealing with general aspects of the ancient Roman economy and the role of the elite in Roman society.

Objectives of this project concern mostly the following fields:

  • Material study of representative Roman towns in Central Adriatic Italy;
  • Characterisation, and provenance determination of the used decorative stones;
  • Interpretation of the research result using GIS analysis (transport modelling), network analysis and statistical analysis;
  • Contextualisation by comparison with the trade of other goods such as wine and olive oil.


Dr Devi Taelman