Why Was Roman Concrete Such a Good Building Material?

The Roman Empire gave the world everything from great art and architecture to aqueducts and sanitation, but one magnificent creation took centuries to demonstrate its true potential.

Over time, ancient Roman concrete reinforces itself when seawater interacts with volcanic ash, creating strong new minerals.
Over time, ancient Roman concrete reinforces itself when seawater interacts with volcanic ash, creating strong new minerals.

Earlier this year, University of Utah researchers came up with an answer to a longstanding puzzler: Why does concrete from Ancient Rome become stronger over time? The team learned that when seawater enters Roman structures made of concrete, like piers and breakwaters, it dissolves the volcanic ash contained in the concrete. This prompts the growth of new minerals that form interlocking plates in any gaps, making the concrete stronger. It's similar to the mending of bones.

The researchers would now like to learn the recipe for the concrete, but so far they've come up short. "The recipe was completely lost," said geologist and leader of the study Marie Jackson.

All roads led there:

  • The Colosseum was the largest of more than 200 amphitheaters in Ancient Rome; it could hold up to 85,000 spectators.

  • In Ancient Rome, toga colors identified social standing; only an emperor could wear purple, but senators could have a purple stripe on their toga.

  • The Emperor Trajan built the world's first shopping mall (Trajan's Market), which sold goods and groceries, between 100 and 110 CE.

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    • Over time, ancient Roman concrete reinforces itself when seawater interacts with volcanic ash, creating strong new minerals.
      By: edk7
      Over time, ancient Roman concrete reinforces itself when seawater interacts with volcanic ash, creating strong new minerals.