Digging into the Collections September 2016

Roman Roof Tiles

The Ohio History Connection has three artifacts from Verulamium: two roof tiles and a pottery sherd.

The two tiles are both tegulae, flat rectangular roof tiles with raised edges on the two long sides.  Tegulae were part of an overlapping roof tile system used in Ancient Roman architecture consisting of imbrex and tegula (pl. tegulae).  Tegulae, according to the South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group website, “were laid side by side [along their raised edges], overlapping the rows below like modern roof tiles.”  Imbrex (pl. imbrices) were curved tiles placed over the edges of the tegulae used “to stop rain getting through the gaps between.”

An example of Imbrex and tegula roofing at Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex, United Kingdom. Immanuel Giel.

Smith, William. “Tegula”. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. John Murray, London, 1875.

Roof tiles in Roman Britain were made of fired clay.  They were molded by craftsmen, sun dried, and then fired in a kiln.  Sometimes during the drying process, animals would walk over the tiles leaving prints!  These are pretty unique insights into life in a Roman town showing us what types of animals lived in and near the area.  So far prints of cats, dogs, sheep, goats, deer, and pigs have been discovered.  Even a print of a teenager was found near Hardin’s Wall!  Unfortunately, neither of our tiles have prints on them.  One does, however, have a maker’s mark!

When the tiles were fired, they were placed in a shared kiln (like the ones Dr. Lockyear has found in his surveys and discussed in his presentation).  In order for the craftsmen to identify their product when picking them up after firing, they placed a mark on the tiles.  These marks usually consisted of swirls made with the craftsman’s fingers, according to Dr. Lockyear.  This one, however, consists of two lines dragged diagonally across the tile with a third line bisecting it.


Dr. Lockyear stated this mark was unusual as he had not seen it before at Verulamium.  He also noted the use of a knife to create the raised edge of the tile as signified by its sharp, crisp edge.  This is a typical technique for making tegulae.

Unfortunately, we do not know the provenience (the exact location of their recovery) of these roof tiles.  It is possible that they weren’t even found in their original context as hundreds if not thousands of tiles and bricks were taken from Verulamium to be used in the construction of the nearby town of St. Albans, particularly their monastery.

St. Albans Abbey, Hertfordshire, UK. Gary Houston.

But whether found in situ or reused at St. Albans, these tiles grant us great insight into life at Verulamium during Roman occupation and possibly life at St. Albans as well.

Posted September 15, 2016

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