How the Roman emperors quarried their marble.
High in the mountains of Egypt’s eastern desert, one of the world’s most magical marbles is to be found: porphyry. Porphyry is a red marble which the Roman Emperors thought was extremely beautiful and they reserved it for their palaces. Porphyry is only found in the eastern deserts of Egypt. It must be quarried from near the top of the mountain, then brought down the mountain, followed by a 200 mile journey across the desert to the Nile, and then down the Nile, before finally being trans-shipped to Rome.
This ensured that it was extremely expensive. Recently not only have the quarries been excavated, but also the accounts have been found, and these record the everyday life in fascinating detail. In particular it emerges that there were no slaves. If you have to bring in all food and supplies from 200 miles away, it is essential that every workman counts and therefore they used the best, most highly paid workforce: after all, the pay was only a small part of their overall cost.
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