Heritage100

Roman floor tile with handprint

Handprint on tile

...the tile maker has left their handprint right in the centre of the tile, probably as a signature.

This is a large flat Roman floor tile called a sesquipedalis which was used to cap an elevated floor supported by pillars of smaller tiles.

The tile is scored with a comb pattern which enabled a good bond with mortar, and in this example the tile maker has left their handprint right in the centre of the tile, probably as a signature.

This tile was recovered with other discarded tiles and materials from a well discovered during excavations at Brading Roman Villa in 1881. These building materials may have come from an earlier phase of building which was demolished and used to infill the disused well.

Quick Facts

  • Place made Isle of Wight
  • Date made about AD300
  • Dimensions Length 430mm, Width 420mm, Thickness 55mm
  • Made of red ceramic tile
  • Excavated in 1881
  • Excavated at Brading Roman Villa
  • Accession number BDGRV: 1881.1.1495

Facts

  • The raised floor, of which this tile was a part, was heated from below by hot air generated from a furnace, which circulated between the under-floor pillars and escaped through tubular tiled vents built into walls. The whole under-floor heating system is known as a hypocaust, and was used in special rooms of Roman houses and villas, and especially in bath houses. It was a forerunner of modern central heating.
  • The Romans used standardised sizes of tiles which made up the pillars (pilae) and floor tiles in under-floor heating systems (hypocausts). Tile makers frequently identified their work by making simple patterns with their fingers, creating a ‘signature’.

Did you know?

Although there is some evidence that earlier cultures such as the Greeks may have invented the hypocaust, the Romans, as in so many other things, extended and developed the idea into a highly practical application.

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