Although the cipollino verde was one of the most popular marbles to be imported by the Romans, many other ‘marbles’ were being used at the same time. The Pantheon in Rome, for example, is made of granite. ‘Its façade is made up of sixteen columns, each forty Roman feet (11.8m) long and over fifty tons in weight; quite a problem to handle, even on the spot. How much more so, when one realises that they came from two localities in Egypt (Syene, Modern Aswan on the River Nile and Mons Claudianus in the Eastern Desert) and were shipped ready made to Rome.’1

Long before the Roman era the Egyptians extracted very large blocks such as obelisks of around 350 tons each (one still in the quarries at Aswan has an estimated weight of 1168 tons). In Greece, use of their own marble goes back a long way. Marble was often the ordinary local stone.2 During the late Minoan and Mycenean times mainland quarries were operating; and there are of course the well-known Cycladic idols of the third millennium BC.3 ‘It was not until the seventh and sixth centuries BC that the Greeks began to use white marble systematically both for sculpture and architecture’. The methods of quarrying did not change substantially and consisted of various systems depending on the type of the stone and the nature of the deposits; sometimes tunnelling into the hillside, sometimes merely splitting off available chunks as at Mons Claudianus; extracting the stone by cutting separate trenches or using iron or wooden wedges to split blocks from the quarry face. ‘In other words, for something like four millennia, from early dynastic Egypt down to the late nineteenth century, there was very little change in quarrying techniques and the methods of transport were just as conservative. Wherever possible, use was made of water transport; where that was not possible and the stone had to be hauled overland, the method preferred was by means of sleds and runners and main force, though this was by no means the only method’.4

Vanhove’s book is interestingly illustrated with sketches of both the quarrying of the cipollino and the means of transport, showing men, protected by head covering reminiscent of present day tourists, chiselling into the rock. It also shows the horseshoe shaped pieces cut out in situ except for the lower straight side.5

There are references to the quarrying of Karystian marble between the second century BC and the fourth century AD. But it would seem that the most active period was between the first century BC and the second century AD, the peak period of the Roman Empire.6 It is generally considered that the introduction of coloured marble to the Roman Empire (and especially to Rome itself) first occurred at the end of the second century BC, and that the Karystian marble was among the first to be introduced. ‘This seems plausible taking into account that the Roman conquest of Greece and Euboea took place some decades before this and that the cipollino was already known locally by that time’.7

‘The Marmor Carystium had already arrived in Rome by the end of the second century BC (Gnoli, 1988; Marchei and Sironi, 1989) when it was first used in small flakes, called scutulae, inserted into mosaic floors. In the first century BC it began to be used in slabs for facing walls and pavements (e.g. in the Basilica of Emilia) and in columns, and then its use spread all over the Mediterranean area (Dodge, 1988). In fact there are no Roman towns of any importance without at least one monument in which the cipollino verde was installed.’8

Raniero Gnoli, writing in 1971 says that the Karystian marble was one of the most widely diffused in the Roman era and ‘best known to Roman chisels’. He repeats that it was one of the first marbles to be introduced in Rome, ‘which we find from the time of Caesar’. According to Pliny, the Roman gentleman from Formia, Mamurra, (Mamurra was Julius Caesar’s chief engineer in Gaul), was the first to cover all the walls of his house on the Celian Hill in Rome with cipollino marble. ‘This Mamurra was the same person who was described in the poem of Catullus, and the indignity of whose invention has been clearly demonstrated.’ 9

All the authorities on the distribution of cipollino seem to cite Mamurra’s use of cipollino as an example of the earliest use of the Romans’ favourite import. In Rome in April 2009 when asked if and where one might find Marmurra’s house on the Celian Hill, the marble expert, Caterina Napoleone, replied that ‘it did not exist’.

Ioannis Papageorgakis tells us that ‘during the years of Caesar and Augustus, Karystion marble and other multi-coloured marbles were much sought after in Rome, restricting the use of white marble’. He quotes Strabo (C437).

Karystian marble was not at all suitable for sculpture due to the fact that it cracked easily. According to the records of the use of raw marble sent to Rome during ancient times, it was found that the greatest number of entries were for Karystian marble. Records and inscriptions indicate that Karystian marble was very much used during the period of the emperor Hadrian, especially between 132-135 AD. It seems that the marble began to be used in Greek architecture at the same time as in Roman architecture, or just before. (Blumner) Although it was also used during the Byzantine period it was used to a lesser extent than during the Roman. Much of the marble used in the Byzantine period came from the demolition of Roman buildings. It is not known where in Euboea the Byzantines excavated. We are led to the conclusion that the intense excavation of the Karystian marble, which led to the number of quarries in southern Euboea, must have occurred during the period when Caesar had consolidated his power (60-44 BC) until the end of the rule of Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD).’10
During the late Flavian to early Antonine period (Trajan 98-117 and Hadrian 117-138) there was a great increase in production. ‘Larger quantities and more different varieties were being traded as a result of the change in the ‘ratio marmarum’ or quarry system, whereby operations took on a more directly commercial approach. The essence of this reorganisation was a switch from command system to a demand system. Whereas in the past marble was only extracted in the imperial quarries to order, now it was produced on a large scale and a range of standard products was on offer.’11 This state of affairs continued until the end of Hadrian’s reign when the demand for variegated marble dropped. It picked up again under Septimus Severus (119-211) which may account for the large amount of cipollino to be found at Leptis Magna. Severus was African born, a native of Leptis Magna where he spent much time and which he is said to have preferred as a residence to Rome.

It is perhaps interesting to note at this stage that, according to Lazzarini, ‘cipollino was not among the most expensive of marbles cited in Diocletian’s price list (Gnoli 1988, 15) and had an average cost of 100 denari per cubic foot.’. 12 Breccia, on the other hand, which is a rock consisting of fragments of stone such as marble or limestones within a natural cement of contrasting colour was said to be only 40 denari per cubic foot and the cheapest of all the marbles quoted, according to the price list.

Maria Tsouli, Curator of Antiquities, Hellenic Ministry of Culture, writes that after the considerable expansion of the trade in marble in the middle of the 2nd century BC, the prices of coloured marbles increase enormously, whereas those of white marbles are much lower. In the Edictum Diocletiani 1 cubic meter of white Proconnesian marble is fixed at the sum of 40 denarii, whereas the price for the same quantity of the famous serpentine marble of Krokee (35 km SE of Sparta, at Laconia) reaches the sum of 250 denarii’.13

During the intense period of excavation in southern Euboea the town of Marmari (existing today as the main port for traffic between the mainland and the southern part of the island) was the centre for the loading of marble. There was also a temple dedicated to Apollo of Marmari, god of the quarries and crafted marble. Papageorgakis warns that ‘the true extent of quarrying in ancient times can only be ascertained if the necessary time and effort is sacrificed for a tour of the ancient quarries of southern Euboea, which will need at least four days of walking. According to conservative estimates, the total volume of columns and rectangular stone (Karystos marble) quarried and used during ancient times must exceed 150,000 cubic metres. This amount, of which the greater part was transported to Italy, is greater than the amount quarried in all the quarries of Greece during the five most productive years, between 1959-63.’14


At the time of the importation of the Karystian marble the Roman Empire already extended far beyond peninsula Italy. At Caesar’s death (44 BC) it reached as far as Gallia (present day France), Hispania (Spain and Portugal), Corsica, Sardinia, Illyricum (parts of the former Yugoslavia), Macedonia and Achaia (Greece), Bythnia and Pontus (Turkey), Syria, Palestina, Cyrenaica, Africa (Tunisia and Libya), and Numidia (Fig 4). By 117 AD, at the death of Trajan, there could be added Britain, Raetia (Helvetia), Noricum (modern day Austria), Pannonia (parts of present day Hungary and the former Yugoslavia), Dalmatia, Dacia (Roumania), Cappadocia, Egypt, Arabia and the rest of North Africa (Fig 5).

1 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, No. 6. Ch. 4 1992, p.13. Note 2 reads, ‘Davies et al. 1987 [E} discuss how the supply of the required column lengths may have radically affected the design of the Pantheon. It has been suggested that the original scheme involved the use of 50 foot columns but, as a result of their unavailability, 40 foot columns were used instead. This involved lowering the pediment of the porch. A papyrus document from Egypt mentions a 50 foot column, possibly from the Mons Claudianus quarries, and asks for a consignment of barley to feed the animals used for its transport (Peña 1989 [D]; see Chap. Nine, n. 45, for a papyrus dated to the reign of Diocletian relating to the provision of ships for the transport of columns down the Nile to Alexandria.’
2 Dodge H, Ward Perkins B. (Eds) p. 16 & 19.
3 Renfrew, Professor Lord, Chairman of the Council of the British School in Athens, in his lecture, (Excavating an Early Cycladic Ritual Centre, ‘Dhaskalio and Kavos: towards a resolution of the Keros enigma’) spoke of the deposits they had found of pieces of marble Cycladic figurines, and marble pebbles. He thought they might have come from Naxos, it being the nearest supply of available marble and that they were some kind of votive offerings. Lecture given at the AGM of The British School in Athens, 2 February, 2009.

4 Dodge H, Ward-Perkins B.(Eds), pp. 16-20. (See p.19, Fig. 10 for the obelisk abandoned in the quarry at Aswan).
5 Vanhove, D., Roman Marble Quarries in Southern Euboea and the Associated Road Networks, in: E.J. Brill (Ed.), Leiden, New York, Koln. 1966, Figs. 65,77,122-124.
6 Strabo, cited in Vanhove D.
7 Lazzarini, L., Poikiloi Lithoi, versiculores maculae: I marmi colorati della Grecia antica. Storia, uso, diffusione, cave, geologia, caratterizzazione scientifica, archeometria, deterioramento, Roma, 2007, p. 184.
8 Lazzarini L.’ Masi U., and Tucci P., Petrographic and Geochemical Features of the Carystian Marble, Cipollino Verde, from the Ancient Quarries of Southern Euboea (Greece), in Maniatis Y., Herz N., and Basiakos Y. (eds). The Study of Marble and Other Stones used in Antiquity, Asmosia III Athens: Transactions of the 3rd International Symposium of the Association for the Study of Marble and Other Stones Used in Antiquity, Archetype, London, 1995, p. 163.

9 Gnoli, Marmora Romana, 1971, pp.154-156.
10 I. Papageorgakis, Ta achaia latomeia tou Karistou Marmarou, Praktika tis Akademias Athinon, XXXIX. 1964, pp. 263-4.
11 Vanhove, D. p.36

12 Lazzarini L., 2007, p.185
13 Tsouli, Maria, Contribution to the study of the ancient marble quarries of the Mani Peninsula, SW Laconia, Peloponnese, Greece, 2007, p. 396.
14 Papageorgakis I, Ta achaia latomeia tou Karistou Marmarou, Praktika tis Akademias Athinon, XXXIX. 1964, pp. 263-4.

Maps and Plates

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Fig 4 Map of Roman Empire at Caesar’s death

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Fig 5 Map of Roman Empire at Trajan’s death