Imbrex and tegula

Imbrex and tegula

The imbrex and tegula (plurals imbrices and tegulae) were overlapping roof tiles used in ancient Greek and Roman architecture as a waterproof and durable roof covering. They were made predominantly of fired clay, but also sometimes of marble, bronze or gilt. In Rome they replaced shingles, and were used on almost every type of structure, from humble outbuildings to grand temples and public facilities.

The tegula (Greek solenes) was a plain flat tile, or a flat tile with raised edges, which was laid flat upon the roof, while the imbrex (Greek kalupter) was a semi-cylindrical roofing tile, like a half-pipe, laid over the joints between the tegulae. When well-made and properly imbricated (overlapped), there was little need for further waterproofing or sealant.

History and development

Imbrices and tegulae were first made by the Greeks. Like bricks, they were formed of wet clay in a four-sided mold, often shaped with a piece of wire, and then baked in an oven or kiln. More sophisticated molds were developed over time.

Tegulae were originally made perfectly flat, or with nothing more than a ridge underneath the upper border, which allowed the tile to be "hung" upon a sloping roof so that it would not slide to the ground. Later, tegulae were formed with a raised border on the two vertical sides, which would channel rainwater to the bottom of the tile, rather than allowing it to seep between tiles to dampen the roofing materials. Another improvement occurred when these two raised borders were made to converge, forming a broad v-shaped trapezoid with the narrowest edge downwards, nestling into the widest part of the tile below it to form a continuous channel.Warry, Peter. "Tegulae Manufacture, typology and use in Roman Britain". Archaeopress: Oxford, England. 2006. (ISBN 1-84171-956-0)]

The imbrices completed the waterproofing of the roof by arching over the joints between the vertical edges of the tegulae, dividing the roof into channels. Rain water flowed off of the curved imbrices into the channels and down over the surfaces of the tegulae, and descended into the gutter ("canalis"). In formal architecture the "canalis" had a plain or ornamented frontal piece set atop the entablature, immediately above the cornice. The semicircular opening at the front of the lowermost imbrex was often capped with an ornamental "fronton", and the spouts which drained the gutters were frequently decorated with lions' heads ("capita leonina") or other fantastic or grotesque faces.

By Roman times many tiles were being made under the auspices of various Roman legions, and were imprinted with a stamp of the legion's insignia. Imbrices and tegulae are common finds in archaeological sites, and their design and markings can be of use in dating the sites and identifying the inhabitants. For instance, a 1993 archaeological dig in Merseyside in England uncovered over 300 kilograms of tile and kiln remains. Some of the tegulae were stamped with the "LXXVV" insigniae of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix. [Swan, Vivien G. and Philpott, Robert A. "Legio XX VV and Tile Production at Tarbock, Merseyside". "Britannia", Vol. 31, 2000, pp. 55-67.] [Malone, Stephen James. "Legio XX Valeria Victrix: Prosopography, archaeology and history". Archaeopress: Oxford, England. 2006. ISBN 1-84171-922-6.] Romans also often recycled broken tiles by incorporating them into mortar.

Tiles of marble were first used around the year 620 BC.Pausanias, "Description of Greece", [ v.10 §2] ] Besides the superior beauty and durability of the material, these tiles could be made of a much larger size than those of clay. Consequently, they were used in the construction of the greatest temples, such as the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, the Parthenon at Athens, and the Serapeium at Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli). Still more expensive and magnificent tiles were made of bronze and gilt. [Pliny the Elder's "Natural History", [ Book 33.3 §18] ]



*Smith, William. [*/Tegula.html "Tegula"] . "A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities". John Murray, London, 1875. (public domain text)

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