Rome’s Burning Habits: fuel and the forest economy of the ancient city

Wednesday 13 June 2012  18.00

 

Rome’s Burning Habits: fuel and the forest economy of the ancient city

 

Robyn Veal (BSR, Ralegh Radford Rome Fellow)

 

Fuel is an area of research within studies of the ancient economy and the ancient environment that is relatively new.  Provision of wood for fuel (compared with provision for building timber) greatly dominated the consumption of forest resources.  Rome’s fuel economy in the Imperial period needed to service c. 1,000,000 people, for domestic cooking and heating; and to fuel industries such as bakeries, baths, bars, iron smithing and ceramics manufacturing.  We know fuel likely came from the Tiber Valley, and perhaps even further afield, but we do not know what types of fuel were used and whether raw wood, or charcoal fuel was preferred.  The extensive use of charcoal would have had a much greater impact on nearby forests since charcoal must be manufactured from a quantity of raw wood in a ratio ranging from about 4:1, (i.e. four volumes of raw wood to make one volume of charcoal), to as much as 10, or even 15:1, depending on a variety of factors. Broad estimates of fuel consumption can be made from the historical and demographic evidence, however, to understand the true nature of the fuel economy, we must look at the archaeological data, i.e. archaeological charcoal.  This discussion presents the first results of examining Rome’s fuel economy.  They form part of a longer project to evaluate and compare the fuel economies of ancient Rome and Londinium in the Imperial period.