I am working on an empire that exists in my world. I want to know if it makes sense for said empire to standardize the materials they use for construction across the empire.

In the heart of the empire important buildings are constructed using a particular local granite and the roofs are made of slate. The remainder of the buildings are a wooden timber frame, floors are made of both granite and ceramic mosaics.

Details:

  • Roman-esqe empire, similar in size and technology
  • The furthest provinces are roughly 800 miles (strait line) away from the capital, travel miles would be further.
  • Some provinces are on islands and others are accessible by land but it is impractical to ship large amounts of goods (mountains, distance, etc) to them
  • Temples and major civic buildings would be made from these particular materials
  • For the purpose of this question there is no limit to the quantities of the materials
  • The timber frame can be made from any functionally appropriate wood and the ceramics can be made anywhere

I want to know:

  • Are there historic examples of a nation/empire standardizing with these types of materials for use in important buildings?
  • Was it done only in parts of the empire or were there locations that could not be supported?
  • What methods of transport were used to get the items to the building sites?
  • 3
    Hauling materials any significant distance gets very expensive very quickly, so local materials seem likely to dominate most construction. Architectural features may be common across the entire culture, and distant/expensive materials that display wealth and status are a very human thing. – user535733 Nov 30 at 20:42
  • It's not at all clear what you are asking, because you must explain what you mean by "standardize" in the context of a medieval empire. Obviously you cannot mean "standardize" as in standardized bricks, standardized planks of wood, because they did not even have uniform units of measurement over a small country such as England, let alone over an empire. Consider for example the differences between the tower pound, troy pound and avoirdupois pound. The very idea of a standardized brick, for example, would have been utterly alien to medieval men. And they could not haul heavy loads overland. – AlexP Nov 30 at 21:13
  • @AlexP I very clearly state I want standard materials used in construction. Unless otherwise stated stick with Roman era standards (such as they are) You're reading too far into it. – James Nov 30 at 21:33
  • Do you actually have "standardized" or "single-sourced" in mind? – Alexander Nov 30 at 21:55
  • 1
    @chaslyfromUK This URL chinahighlights.com/greatwall/construction-materials.htm discusses material used to construct the Great Wall. The Ming Dynasty used bricks and kilns have been found at many locations. The bricks would have been standard bricks. Easier to make & build with. You're right about the construction of the Great Wall being a good model for medieval empire with standard construction. – a4android Nov 30 at 23:52
up vote 3 down vote accepted

It depends what you mean by standardisation. If you mean of identical size such as in making standard bricks then probably no.

However Transport of building materials was certainly carried out in the ancient world and in Egypt all efforts would have been made to standardise the colour of stone for their monuments. Likewise Rome transported marble across their empire to erect marble edifices as a symbol of power.

How were the pyramids built? Transporting stone blocks down the Nile

Along the Nile lie several quarries where different types of stones were quarried and brought to the building sites by boat. Granite stones from Aswan had to be ferried down the river on large barges about 934 km (approx. 700km linear distance). Ships transporting limestone from Tura had to cross the Nile and then cover about 13-17km on channels until they reached the harbor of Giza

https://www.cheops-pyramide.ch/khufu-pyramid/nile-shipping.html


Marbles to Rome: The Movement of Monolithic Columns Across the Mediterranean

http://www.academia.edu/3080968/Marbles_to_Rome_The_Movement_of_Monolithic_Columns_Across_the_Mediterranean

Certain structures represent the Empire. You want them to look Imperial.

The Empire might standardize a particular exterior look for structures which represented the power and authority of the Empire - for example government buildings or temples. Standardization could include architectural style and façade materials. The Romans did this.

Roman Building Materials, Construction Methods, and Architecture: The Identity of an Empire

Sir Bannister Fletcher in A History of Architecture relates the boast of Augustus that he found Rome a city of brick and left it one of marble...

One individual’s wishes, desires, and motivation, that of Augustus, impacted historical events, and his desire to drape Rome in marble provides one example of how the Empire came to be identified by use of a particular building material. The splendor and grandeur of Rome today, even in ruin, remains impressive. The Colosseum, Pantheon, arches, and spans of aqueducts are existing structures that produce admiration for the architectural and construction abilities of the Romans. These structures were used to expand, maintain and identify the world’s most impressive empire...

Each variety of marble had its signature color. They ranged from yellow veined, grey-blue, white-yellow veined, white, bright white, red-blue, violet, red, and green. The sight of Rome with facades of these colors would have been striking. The application of this building material, the result of Augustus’ taste and desire, provides a striking example of how materials were used to express empire.

  • 1
    Willk this doesn't really cover the whole question asked. – James Dec 1 at 6:35

If your empire has a technology that no one else has or has applied as broadly (Rome had concrete), and that can be used anywhere in the world, you could consider that as a possibility. Transporting knowledge is far, far easier than transporting materials. Maybe try some metal that they know how to smelt that no one else has figured out yet.

You'd definitely need some reason, culturally, for the empire to standardize like that instead of just adapting to what's around. That would be the background you'll need to make it ring true.

  • Why didn't I think of that! Portland cement may be a way off, starting with lime may be a step in the evolution. +1 – Duckisaduckisaduck Nov 30 at 22:43
  • I am not looking for alternatives GB, just an answer to the question. Please try to stick with the question that is asked. (you are right that would be easier, just not what I am looking for) – James Dec 1 at 6:37

Q: Are there historic examples of a nation/empire standardizing the materials used in important buildings like this?

A: No. There may be building decoration (ie, non-structural, like mosaics or veneers) which used material from a specific location, but structural components were typically what was closest and/or easiest to get.

Q: Was it done only in parts of the empire or were there locations that could not be supported?

It depends. You might have a situation such as Egypt where material came from the same quarries for different building projects, but even there most of the building material, when possible, came from near the site. The Great Pyramid is an example in that the limestone was quarried right at Giza, but the granite blocks came from granite quarries upriver.

Q: What methods of transport were used to get the items to the building sites?

Again, material would typically be sourced as close to the site as possible and whatever transportation method that could be used, would be used. Everything from dragging it with ropes and poles to shipping and lifting with sophisticated cranes.

Following the Roman invasion of Britannia, the empire's influence started to take hold as trade goods and materials flowed into the islands. Socially, Romanism became desirable due to the new availability of luxury goods from far off lands, newly made available by Roman trade routes. Once being Roman was socially desirable people wanted to live as Romans do, and that meant Roman architecture and materials. The buildings and clothing common from the empire became commonplace in the islands until the fall of the empire. Once the empire fell, the goods stopped flowing and eventually people stopped seeing themselves as Roman and started seeing themselves as something else (not British quite yet).

My point being, that at least in this example, standardization was a product of social constructs and not by decree. Additionally, when the trade routes were disrupted by barbarians in Gaul, goods stopped flowing. Britain was one of the first parts of the empire to really go without Roman trade as things contracted since it was the farthest out and the least accessible both geographically and due to barbarians in Gaul. This sort of falls under the "not be supported" part of your question.

Bricks and pottery were at least partially imported. We know this because craftsmen stamped their goods. Therefore, it follows that they were shipped over land and sea (via Gaul, then the channel) to Brittania.

Here are some sources and links for further research. Most of this is from memory from listening to the British History and The Fall of Rome podcasts.

  • Interesting information, could you elaborate on how this would apply to the materials used in the construction of buildings as described in the question? – James Dec 6 at 21:41

In addition to the issue that materials may not be available locally and transporting them is energy intensive, consider also that different locations require different styles of architecture because of temperature, wind, humidity, access to heating fuel, requirements for different animals, and so forth.

Materials that work to build a gathering hall in a cold windy town by the sea would be a disaster in a town in a hot dry climate with occasional light earthquakes. And vice versa.

In large countries/empires with different flora and climates, I don't know of any that standardized building until there was reliable transportation. In the United States, for example, adobe bricks were prominent in the southwest, wood in the northeast and midwest, etc. Until trains were common, it made no sense to try to ship building materials except for a few specialty items, or the very rich.

  • Cyn this is accurate but not really an answer to the question. – James Dec 1 at 6:36
  • I was primarily answering the question in the beginning of the post: "I want to know if it makes sense for said empire to standardize the materials they use for construction across the empire." – Cyn Dec 1 at 15:09

if you cant use marble stone or wood well what plants do you have. You can use reeds. Reeds are a type of aquatic grass. the Uru people of lake Titicaca in Peru built entire islands out of reeds. they made houses clothes boats and used reeds as food. If you had enough reeds and enough water to grow them i'm sure you can make an empire especially if the people also make and use concrete which is rock,sand, gravel, and water it could be rather successful. if there is mining oppurtunities you could hypothetically have precious metals which would add to the Rome like empire if not only it had water for the reeds but enough plain land then you could have goat and sheep.

Are there historic examples of a nation/empire standardizing the materials used in important buildings like this?

Rome had such a material it was called concrete basically every important building built in the empire after a certain period was made of concrete, not all that dissimilar to today concrete just offers too many advantages. Local sand and stone was used for the filler but you still always end up with concrete. An empire that refuses to use local materials goes broke and stops being an empire very quickly.

Brick or veneer facing might be used to give it different looks but you could easily say that does not happen or at least they use identical brick patterns (Rome basically had three brick patterns each with its own functional purpose)

Was it done only in parts of the empire or were there locations that could not be supported?

Shipping just the cement was much easier and cheaper than shipping everything you would use, shipping stone any distance is prohibitively expensive. Cement making was a well guarded secret, since it was the reason romans could build fortresses MUCH faster than anyone else, and it requires things like limestone, so cement was only made in few locations and then shipped everywhere else. since the army often used concrete it made its way to the far reaches of the empire.

What methods of transport were used to get the items to the building sites?

Like everything in the empire and basically the whole world, it was shipped by boat or cart. I'm not exactly sure what you want to know here.

  • John this really doesn't answer the question I asked. – James Dec 10 at 16:33
  • it answers your actual questions. I will edit for clarity. – John Dec 10 at 16:48
  • Except that you add a component in which I am not interested. I am not looking for alternatives but an answer to the question I asked. If the answer is 'no' so be it. I am not saying your answer is factually incorrect but it doesn't answer the question I want answered. – James Dec 10 at 17:46
  • It does however answer the one you asked, whether that is the what you wanted to know is on you. – John Dec 10 at 20:40
  • John, I am trying to explain that you don't answer what I want to know. You are keying in on one specific line and ignoring the rest of the content. – James Dec 10 at 20:54

It does not make sense

In general, it does not make sense for this to work. The foremost reason is that the units of measurement are not standardized in this time period. In the ancient world, the weight (or mass) of currency was rather well known, but that was a result of official dies for pressing coins being taken from one place to another. The roman foot was a recognized and widespread unit of measure; but, there was no universally fixed way to ascertain whether a foot was really a foot. That is, there was no guarantee that a foot as cut in the quarry in North Africa was the same foot the builders were using to line up the marble blocks in Ephesus.

That was not developed until the Scientific Revolution in Europe. Christopher Wren's definition of a meter by the length of a pendulum that took one second to swing was the first start in 1660 and more advanced measures followed. Until there was a standard unit of distance measurement, it was essentially impossible to manufacture standardized parts in remote locations. This isn't a problem so much if you cut all your marble blocks too big; but what if you cut a marble block too small before shipment? If you only only use standardized parts, then you have just wasted that block.

Effective as opposed to theoretical standardization took longer still, until the machine parts makers of the Industrial Revolution (~1790s onwards) started getting demand for accurately machines shafts and gears and dies and what have you.

So, I'd argue that until a scientific revolution allows accurate length measurements, then there is no such thing as "standardized" parts, because the parts cannot be easily standardized.

Long distance shipping to the capital can be done

If you aren't standardizing, then you are just shipping valuable building materials long distances to the capitol. There is plenty evidence of that happening.

  • The Romans looted several very large, millenia old obelisks from Egypt that are still there today.
  • Rome itself was famous for its many colored marbles, each sourced in a different part of the Empire:
    • The Carrarra mines are famous for the pure white marble that many associate with Rome today. In particular, the statue of David is made of Carrarra marble.
    • Rosso Antico was a deep red marble from Greece.
    • The Chemtou marble quarries were famous as export sites for mass quantities of marble in the later Empire; and also for marbles in "Numidian yellow."

Conclusion

It makes a lot of sense for building materials to be brought from all over an empire to the capital, or the other large cities (like Alexandria, Carthage, Ephesus, and Antioch of the Roman Empire). It doesn't really make sense to build these materials in standardized sizes, because the scientific technology of the time was not enough to ensure that they would fit.

  • The difference in this case is that Rome is shipping material to itself to brag about how powerful it is, but the Roman government isn't trying to replicate the same buildings with the same materials from the same sources throughout the empire, at least on the scale of building construction as opposed to decoration (aside from concrete). – Keith Morrison Dec 10 at 22:34

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