ROMAN CONCRETE: RECIPE FOR LONGEVITY
Building with concrete dates farther back than you might think. The earliest known use of limestone was about 12,000 years ago, found in the Gobekli Tepe temple in modern-day Turkey. In 3000 BC, the Egyptians were using lime and gypsum – early forms of concrete - to build pyramids. After experimenting with concrete for 100 years, the Romans perfected the formula. In fact, almost 2000 years later, they are considered the undisputed masters of concrete, perhaps today more than ever.
Even the word “concrete” originated with the Romans. The Latin word “concretus” means “condensed,” figuratively, and “grow together,” literally. Construction on the Colosseum began in 70 AD. Roman Emperor Hadrian started building the Pantheon in 125 AD. Its dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. The Roman baths were completed in 360 AD. Not even Italy’s frequent earthquakes have felled these buildings; all are still standing today.
How is it possible that some of the Romans’ oldest structures are intact, and modern concrete buildings are breaking down in as few as 50 years? Turns out the Romans had a secret recipe, revealed in the concrete cores from an ancient Roman pier in Italy’s Orbetello region. The ingredients in the Romans’ durable marine concrete were a mixture of seawater, lime, lumps of volcanic rock, and volcanic ash. This very specific recipe has held together harbors, breakwaters, bridges, and aqueducts for nearly 2000 years.
Unlike the modern-day materials used to make concrete, the Romans’ ancient water-based structures became stronger over time. The seawater reacted with the volcanic material in the concrete, and within 10 years, new, very rare minerals called aluminum tobermorite and phillipsite crystalize, reinforcing the concrete and preventing cracks from growing. As a comparison, our modern-day concrete is not designed to change after it sets; any material reactions can cause damage.
The Romans knew how remarkable their concrete structures were. Around 79 AD, Pliny the Elder - philosopher, armed forces commander, and author of “Naturalis Historia” (“Natural History”) of the early Roman Empire, wrote that their concrete structures in harbors become “a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger.” Today’s scientific researchers are working on recreating a modern version of Roman concrete, including using volcanic materials. It’s a daunting goal, considering both of the rare minerals created by their unique formula have had centuries to create their full-strength concrete.
Concrete is the most widely used construction material in the world today. We require massive amounts of it to rebuild crumbling structures, many fewer than 100 years old. Modern technology has allowed us to decode the Romans’ ancient formula for making concrete that lasts for thousands of years, considered the best ever known. Sometimes the old and the new are a perfect match.
It’s easier than ever to work with concrete, thanks to the leader in cutting tools and masonry equipment, Ace Cutting. Call us at 888-283-2597, or visit our website: Acecutting.com.