Chapter 1 - Introduction

The following little treatise does not pretend to be scientific, or complete, or classical. The study of marbles, as such, would occupy a lifetime, and require an efficient training in the principle of geology, mineralogy, and chemistry.1

This quotation is borrowed from H.W. Pullen, writing his Handbook of Ancient Roman Marbles, to start my introduction. I am very conscious of the limits of my knowledge and experience when compared with the many scholars who have written on the subject of Roman marble.

My interest in the green Karystian marble came about by chance. In the summers of 1979 and 1981, when my husband and I were living in Athens, we rented a small house in the south of the island of Euboea outside Karystos, in the village of Ano Aetos at the foot of Mount Ochi. Here we spent the weekends whenever we could get away from the heat of Athens. The house was owned by a professor of classics from California. In 1982 when Professor Chapman decided to sell the house we bought it, and after retirement spent the spring and autumn there, while other members of the family and friends occupied it during the rest of the year. Living as we did, in the shadow, so to speak, of the line of marble quarries stretching across the area of the Karystia, we could not but be fascinated by the story of the exploitation and exportation of the Karystian marble across the eastern Mediterranean, and impressed, as were the Romans and many others before us, by the great beauty of the stone itself.

We frequently visited the ancient Roman quarry situated just above the house, where one very large column and many other pieces of marble were lying, and soon discovered that there were other quarries with abandoned columns in them above the nearby village of Myloi. By chance we talked to one of our Athens visitors, the archaeologist Vronwy Hankey, about them. She had written about the Myloi columns but did not know of the existence of those above our house in Aetos and in the vicinity. From her we learnt that the green marble which was mined in these quarries was much prized by the Romans and exported by them to Roman sites in Greece and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. She encouraged me to look for the marble at sites that I visited and gave me lists of places where it
had been found by earlier archaeologists. It soon became a regular habit to look for columns or pieces of the marble whenever I visited a Roman site and I began to keep an account of my findings. Many years later, long after we had left the Embassy in Athens, I published a description of the Aetos quarry, something which I had wanted to do before unrestricted development of the mountain side might destroy the evidence. This was published in 2002 in the Journal of Cultural Heritage by Elsevier.

Now I have the opportunity to write about the destinations of the marble which left Euboea to adorn and beautify the homes, temples and cities of the Roman Empire. The marble became a favourite of the Romans because of its interesting green veined pattern and in the words of Corsi (1845, 97) it took in Italy the name of cipollino, ‘for the reason that amongst the calcareous constituents of such a marble can be found long and thick layers of mica along which the marble may easily be split, just as an onion might be peeled. The term would subsequently become very popular until in the last century it was assumed also to imply to very precise geological connotations now widely understood internationally. In fact cipollino commonly means an impure marble with greenish veins of mica and chlorite’.3

1 Pullen H.W., Handbook of Ancient Roman Marbles, Aberdeen University Press, London, John Murray 1894, p.1.

2 Sutherland, Jeanne, Sutherland, Anne, Roman Marble quarrying near Karystos Southern Euboea, Journal of Cultural Heritage 3 (2002) pp 251-259.
3 Lazzarini L, 2007 Poikiloi Lithoi, versiculores maculae: I marmi colorati della Grecia antica. Storia,

Maps and Plates

Plate 1.1.jpg

Plate 1.1 Six different examples of Karystian cipollino marble