The Roman Marble Trade
The export of the Karystian marble was only a part of what was an extensive trade in marmor during the Roman period. The materials came from many different parts of the Empire but chiefly from the two main areas of the Aegean and Egypt. Marmor included, as well as marble, granite and other stones, as the late John Ward-Perkins described it ‘any fine hard stone that could be used for sculpture or high-quality architecture’. ‘Strictly speaking’, he writes, ‘marble is a limestone which has crystallised through heat and pressure. But antiquity was not concerned with geological distinctions, but with how you could use a stone. Marble may be taken to cover a whole range of marbles, and breccias, as well as granites, porphyries,diorites, basalts and indeed some of the finer limestones. All of these are ‘honorary marbles’.4 W. H. Pullen describes these ‘honorary marbles’ as ‘any hard stone which is capable of receiving a fine polish’, and gives a list of 15 groups, ‘it being understood that the classification is purely arbitrary and is adopted for the sake of its practical convenience rather than its scientific accuracy.’ His groups include white or statuary marbles; black or grey marble; coloured marbles; veined or variegated marbles (this section includes cipollino); shell marbles, containing molluscous animals; breccia; africano; alabasters; jaspers, agates and precious stones; arenaceous and calcarous stones; serpentine such as verde antico; porphyry; granite; basalt; travertine and volcanic stones.


The area around Rome contained none of the colourful marbles which the Romans desired so they ‘imported it on a vast scale from distant lands’, and ‘many thousands of Christians were condemned to labour in the quarries of Asia Minor or one of the Greek islands, that the supply of marble should not fail’.As the industry developed the system of management changed. There was something approaching ‘nationalisation of the sources of supply and standardisation, stockpiling and prefabrication. By the mid-first century AD the major quarries were apparently in imperial or state control (the quarries or parts thereof would be leased out to contractors, if not overseen directly by imperial officials). Columns were usually exported in a nearly finished form, but with a projecting collar at either end, as for example with the Punto Scifo wreck columns and columns abandoned in the quarries at Chemtou, Karystos, and Mons Claudianus. So far as Rome itself was concerned, the system was in full operation by the second half of the first century AD and by the early second century fine marbles were available in quantity to any city or individual who could afford to pay for them.’6


The Area of the Cipollino VerdeThe cipollino verde (as well as the bigio, or brown version, to a lesser extent) is found in the arc of quarries situated between the towns of Styra and Karystos. The red variety, known as cipollino rosso, is a different marble found only in some parts of France and Italy. There are also varieties known as cipollino mandolato verde or marbre campan which is found in Campan, France, and cipollino marino which is found in Italy, but the patterns of the marble are quite different. The Apuan cipollino marble, found in the area of the Apuan Alps in Tuscany, was used much later. It has a similar pattern to the Karystian cipollino, although the green is a much lighter colour. It is sometimes confused with the Karystian marble, particularly when it was at times substituted for it, usually when the Karystian was not available or was found to be too expensive.Faustino Corsi, in his Delle Pietre Antiche, (1828) republished in 2002 with additions, appendices and plates, gives six different examples of the Karystian cipollino, most of them with the distinctive darker green veins on a light green or off-white background, some with a wave like pattern, some straighter, some with vertical lines some with horizontal but never completely straight.7 (Plate 1.1


)Raniero Gnoli, writing in 1971, cites various Latin and Roman authors in his eulogies of the cipollino of Euboea. ‘Stony Karystos, ferax varii lapidis, was not only famous for its asbestos (amianto) but also for the beautiful green marble which came from its earth’.8 ‘Karystos (according to Strabo) is situated at the foot of Mt. Ochi, and near here are Stira and Marmari, where are the quarries of the columns of Karystos and the temple of Apollo Marmario’9


The island of Euboea lies close to the mainland of Greece and is long and narrow; it stretches northwest to southeast for some 150 kilometres in length and is never wider than 50 kms. Midway along its west shore, at Chalkis, it can be reached by a bridge. Further south, where the towns of Karystos and Styra are located, between latitudes 38 and 39 N and longitudes 24 and 25 E, the island lies further from the mainland. But it is still easily accessible by ferry. It is a one hour journey from either Rafina to Marmari or from Aghia Marina to Styra.


At the time of writing the longer route from Rafina to Karystos is not operating. (Fig 1)Karystos is and always has been one of the principal towns of the island of Euboea and the main town in southern Euboea. So the green cipollino from this area is named after the town although it was quarried in many other places. According to Papageorgakis there are more than 140 ancient quarries in the area between Styra and Karystos. The area is mountainous and arid. ‘The southern part of the island is different from central and northern Euboea in climate and vegetation, and similar in both respects to Attica and the Cyclades. Geologically too, southern Euboea belongs to the Attic-Cycladic Massif of crystalline metamorphic deposits, which consist of gneiss, cipollino marble and various schists (mica, amphibole, glaucophane, sericite and chlorite schists)’10

In fact Karystos, which is feminine in Greek, like the islands, looking out as it does across the bay to the Cyclades, is very much like one of them itself. In summer, when temperatures reach between 30 and 40˚ C, it shares the same dry and barren earth, except where there is water. This comes largely from Mount Ochi which dominates the region and rises to 1398 m. Most winters the higher reaches of the mountain are covered in snow; occasionally, and twice during the last few years, snow has even reached sea level for some days. In spite of the dry summers water has always been plentiful but the very large scale development of the area, largely by Athenians who have now realised the easy accessibility of the island for weekend visits and have joined with the locals in continuous and extensive building, is now beginning to cause the supply of water in summer to be scarcer. The area has also always been well supplied with water for irrigation by the local farmers by means of flooding according to a system of timing relevant to the amount of land owned. The villages are to be found where there is irrigation and here olive, cypress and plane trees grow, as well as plum, fig, lowquat, apricot, cherry, apple and mulberry and citrus fruits of all kinds. Vegetables and food crops for animals are grown and also vines, mostly for making the local wine. ‘The region around modern Karystos and the south of Mount Ochi is today and, according to all indications, was in the past, the most populated, fertile and developed region in southern Euboea’.11

Apart from the extensive domestic building both on the mountain side and along the beaches in the last two decades, the landscape has changed much over the years. The ancient terraces which can be seen against the hillside are no longer used for cultivation and the goats, known to many as the scourge of the Mediterranean, have destroyed much of the natural vegetation. The hillsides are now mostly covered in scrub, some oleander, a few trees and occasionally olive groves. Near the refuge for climbers of Mount Ochi there are the remains of what was once a chestnut forest. ‘The main ground cover in southern Euboea is phrygana, made up of thorny burnet (poterium spinosa), marjoram (origanum onites) and spurge, the prickly euphorbia acanthothamos. In spring, there are many wild flowers on the lower slopes, including anemone, lavender, poppy, and cistus. In the summer the ground is dry, bare and stony, littered in some places with the debris from the quarrying of the past.’12 Fires, which are frequent in the hot summer months and are spread by the severe winds, particularly the meltemi, do considerable damage and greatly mar the countryside.

4 Dodge H., Ward-Perkins B. (Eds.), Marble in Antiquity, Collected Papers of J.B. Ward Perkins, Rome, Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome, 1992, No.6 Ch.4, 1992, pp. 13-14.
5 Pullen, H.W., pp.3-4 & 11-13
6 Ward Perkins, Marble in Antiquity, Collected Papers of J B Ward Perkins, Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome, Rome, 1992, p.26

7 See Plate 1.1 showing the six different versions; B1 showing wavy green lines, B2 showing mixed straight and wavy lines; B3 showing a darker mass of green together with paler masses; B4 showing pale green background with darker straight lines; B5 showing off-white waves on a green background; and A7 an off-white background with horizontal green lines. Corsi F., Delle Pietre Antiche di Faustino Corsi romano, ed. Franco Maria Ricci, Milan 2002 Tavola III.
8 Gnoli, Raniero, Marmora Romana, 1971, p.154, Note 5 quoting Stazio, sylvae, II, 2, 93.
9 Gnoli, R., p. 154 Note 6. quoting Strabo X, 446.
10 Bury 1886a, cited in Keller D.R., Archaeological Survey in Southern Euboea, Greece. A Reconstruction of Human Activity from Neolothic Times through the Byzantine Period, Ph.D. thesis, University of Indiana, July 1985. Cited in Sutherland, p. 259.

11 Keller, D.R., July 1985, p. 55.
12 Sutherland, J. and Sutherland, A., p, 251as

Maps and Plates

Fig 1.jpg

Fig 1 Map of Euboea