"Ye shall no more give the people straw to make
brick as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves."
Exodus V. 7
This quotation from the old testament in the bible attests to
the fact that bricks were well known many years, in fact millennia,
before the birth of Christ. The Tower of Babel was probably built
of brick, as was the city of Babylon built by Nebuchadnezzar (not
the one in The Matrix) in the sixth century BC. Historians have
asserted that bricks were first made in Mesopotamia, 2000 B.C.
Characters and figures fired onto the older bricks have been invaluable
in conveying historic facts to the present just as characters
and hieroglyphics have helped us understand ancient Minoan and
Augustus (63 B.C. to 14 A.D) boasted that he "found Rome
a city of bricks and left it a city of marble." Bricks embedded
in concrete were certainly a mainstay of the Roman construction
method as can be seen in the ruins of Hadrian's villa (below),
among other places.
The Romans made bricks that were long and flat, about
1.5 inches thick and 2 feet square, more like our modern tiles.
The name of the emperor and the date are stamped on bricks used
for civic buildings, which is how we know that the Pantheon was,
in fact, built by Hadrian and not Marcus Aurelius, even though
his name is emblazoned on the architrave.
These were used to make many Roman private and civic
buildings, the majority of which were later covered in marble.
The marble has long since been removed, but the brick is still
intact and readily observable. If bricks were used as a veneer
on a Roman building, chances are that the structure of the building
was concrete. Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, found the long,
slim, dimensions of Roman brick pleasing and used them in many
of his designs.
There were bricks recorded to be made by the Romans in England
in 44 B.C, thereby starting a long and rich tradition. The Renaissance
in England (Henry VIII and Elizabeth I) saw the first real enthusiasm
for brick as a building tool both for fireplaces and exterior
finishes. The size of bricks were regulated by Charles I in 1625,
and these are the sizes that we currently use.
Literally, a brick is a mass of clay and sand formed into a rectangular
shape, dried in the sun, and then fired in a kiln to be used in
building. If the rectangular mass is only dried in the sun and
not burned in a kiln, it is called an adobe. Vitruvius, the first
author of architectural treatises, describes how bricks that are
dried and not fired should be made in the spring or the fall so
that they dry evenly, and that the best bricks are dired for five
Burning of the clay mass in a kiln actually changes the chemical
character of brick, and thus it has totally different strengths
and applications. Before burning, the clay/sand block can be re-
hydrated and made, once again, into a plastic, formable mass.
After burning, this is impossible.