Abstract: Out of Africa: How Roman Olive Oil Production Created Architectural Innovation
In this lecture I examine a building technique used in Roman North Africa for constructing vaults by means of small hollow terracotta tubes that are inserted one into another and “glued” together with mortar. By examining this unique building technique, she demonstrates how the building industry in North Africa was intimately connected with the production of olive oil destined for Rome and how the use of these tubes ultimately resulted in the creation of new forms of vaulting not found elsewhere in the empire. Recent field surveys have produced a wealth of new information regarding ancient agricultural technology for olive production, ceramic production for the amphoras containing the olive oil, and also fine ware production. The proliferation of the vaulting tubes was also part of this period of economic growth related to increased agricultural production.
This unique construction technique eventually was adopted elsewhere in the western Mediterranean, including Rome and Ravenna, where it was used to construct the dome of the famous Byzantine church of San Vitale. Through a series of interconnected technologies, the necessity to provide food for Rome ultimately resulted in a vaulting technique that created spectacular new architectural achievements.