Cement Microstructures and Durability in Ancient Roman Seawater Concretes

  • Marie D. Jackson
  • Gabriele Vola
  • Dalibor Všianský
  • John P. Oleson
  • Barry E. Scheetz
  • Christopher Brandon
  • Robert L. Hohlfelder
Conference paper
Part of the RILEM Bookseries book series (RILEM, volume 7)


Roman hydraulic maritime concretes of the central Italian coast have pumiceous volcanic ash, or pulvis Puteolanus, from the Bay of Naples as mortar pozzolan. Petrographic and mineralogical analyses of cement microstructures in relict lime, tuff, and pumice clasts suggest that pozzolanic reaction at high pH produced gel-like calcium-aluminum-silica-hydrate cements. Orthorhombic 11 Å-tobermorite, with unit cell dimensions a = 5.591(1)Å, b = 3.695(1)Å, c = 22.86(1)Å, developed in the residual cores of portlandite clasts and in certain pumiceous clasts, as well. Ettringite and calcium-chloroaluminate formed in discrete, perimetral microstructures and in the cementitious matrix. Phillipsite and chabazite cements may reflect later dissolution of alkali-rich volcanic glass at pH 9–10. The cement systems have remained stable for 2,000 years, during partial to full immersion in seawater. Vitruvius’ De architectura and other ancient texts describe the raw materials of the concretes, preparation of lime, and construction of submerged wooden forms. Information concerning the materials, formulations, and installations of the concretes was apparently spread by movement of central Italian engineers around the Mediterranean but also, perhaps, by the circulation of sub-literary engineering manuals. Further analytical investigations will determine the diverse chemical processes that produced the cement microstructures, and why the harbour constructions have endured for two millennia.


Coarse Aggregate Cementitious Matrix Pozzolanic Reaction Pumice Clast Plane Polarize Light 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank U. Costa and F. Massazza at CTG Italcementi, and H.-R. Wenk and P. J. M. Monteiro, at University of California at Berkeley, for discussions regarding cement chemistry. B. Zanga, N. Colombi, M. Segata, C. Kosso, T. Hoisch, and B. Black assisted with this research. The Loeb Foundation at Harvard University and Project No: MSM 0021622427 at Masaryk University provided funding.


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Copyright information

© RILEM 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie D. Jackson
    • 1
  • Gabriele Vola
    • 2
  • Dalibor Všianský
    • 3
  • John P. Oleson
    • 4
  • Barry E. Scheetz
    • 5
  • Christopher Brandon
    • 6
  • Robert L. Hohlfelder
    • 7
  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of California at BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.CTG ItalcementiBergamoItaly
  3. 3.Institute of Geological SciencesMasaryk UniversityBrnoCzech Republic
  4. 4.Department of ClassicsUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  5. 5.Larson Transportation InstitutePennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  6. 6.Pringle Brandon ArchitectsLondonUK
  7. 7.Department of HistoryUniversity of ColoradoBouderUSA

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