The Roman Empire, like any other super power, needed a reliable source of energy to fuel day-to-day activities and industry that were vital to the success of the Romans. Without fuel wood the Romans would not have been able to cook, heat their bath houses, fire ceramics and bricks, or make the lime that literally held the Roman infrastructure together. Hayden and my last article examines how this essential resource was managed so that fuel wood could supply the needs of the massive population.
Fuel wood powered the industries that made metal, ceramics, glass, and lime. Metal was used for weapons, tools, pipes, and even locks and keys. Ceramics included amphorae (the vessels used to transport wine and olive oil), roof tiles, and bricks, and was essential for trade and iconic Roman infrastructure like the aqueducts, the Roman forum, and the Colosseum. Glass was used for windows but was produced only in small quantities and served mostly as a status symbol. Lime, like I said above, was the cement that held everything together, like the mortar between bricks today. Based on each product’s uses and fuel wood required, the author presents this hierarchy for fuel wood consumption by industry during the Roman empire: (1) Metal, (2) ceramics, (3) lime and, (4) glass.
With such an important, complex industry, we might assume today that government intervention was required but extant documents show that government only intervened in the case of fuel wood for bathhouses but otherwise didn’t pay attention to fuel wood management. This means that the resource was managed only by small-scale in production to handle this important resource.
The following small scale adjustments were made: (1) locating industry near where the required resources was available and abundant, (2) cycling production seasonally to allow for regrowth of the resource and, (3) clustering of similar industries to allow for more effective distribution of a resource which includes the relocation of an industry if the resource required becomes to scarce.