Saturday, May 07, 2005

Wood in Ancient Rome

Youngest Daughter (YD) is studying Ancient Rome, with particular fascination with Pompeii and Herculaneum. One curiosity, to my eyes at least, is the paucity of furniture in Roman homes. The books applaud this as a lack of clutter, but I'm a bit puzzled. Cabinets are such useful things . . .

Perhaps this was just the fashion at the time, or perhaps termites were so troublesome that wooden furniture wasn't all that desirable.

Or perhaps wood was just hard to come by. If they burned their forests for cooking and cremations, then after you've built a few ships furniture starts to get rather expensive. But I can't get the numbers to come out right--I keep estimating only a few square km per year deforested.

From the Cranky Professor

.....Deforestation is greatly overstated in most of the current histories (esp. the popular ones). Archaeology is beginning to show that the flora base of the Mediterranean has never really been all that different during human history (at least for the last 15,000 years or so). Poets weeping about deforestation seem to be engaging in an "everything runs down" theme rather than real observation. My copy of _The_Corrupting_Sea_ is at school or I'd offer some references.

.....Furniture almost never survives. ALL the surviving ancient furniture is accidental. We would have had much more from Pompeii if they'd invented the plaster-casting-the-voids technique earlier. There is a significant amount of hardware surviving from chests. On the other hand, the rooms probably were simpler than ours.

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