On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

Vitruvius Pollio, creator; Morgan, M. H. (Morris Hicky), 1859-1910, translator

15. It is worth while to know how this wood was discovered. The divine Caesar, being with his army in the neighbourhood of the Alps, and having ordered the towns to furnish supplies, the inhabitants of a fortified stronghold there, called Larignum, trusting in the natural strength of their defences, refused to obey his command. So the general ordered his forces to the assault.

In front of the gate of this stronghold there was a tower, made of beams of this wood laid in alternating directions at right angles to each other, like a funeral pyre, and built high, so that they could drive off an attacking party by throwing stakes and stones from the top. When it was observed that they had no other missiles than stakes, and that these could not be hurled very far from the wall on account of the weight, orders were given to approach and to throw bundles of brushwood and lighted torches at this outwork. These the soldiers soon got together.

16. The flames soon kindled the brushwood which lay about that wooden structure and, rising towards heaven, made everybody think that the whole pile had fallen. But when the fire had burned itself out and subsided, and the tower appeared to view entirely uninjured, Caesar in amazement gave orders that they should be surrounded with a palisade, built beyond the range of missiles. So the townspeople were frightened into surrendering, and were then asked where that wood came from which was not harmed by fire. They pointed to trees of the kind under discussion, of which there are very great numbers in that vicinity. And so, as that stronghold was called Larignum, the wood was called larch. It is transported by way of the Po to Ravenna, and is to be had in Fano, Pesaro, Ancona, and the other towns in that neighbourhood. If there were only a ready method of carrying this material to Rome, it would be of the greatest use in buildings; if not for general purposes, yet at least if the boards used in the eaves running round blocks of houses were made of it, the buildings would be free from the danger of fire spreading across to them, because such boards can neither take fire from flames or from burning coals, nor ignite spontaneously.

17. The leaves of these trees are like those of the pine; timber from them comes in long lengths, is as easily wrought in joiner's work as is the clearwood of fir, and contains a liquid resin, of the colour of Attic honey, which is good for consumptives. With regard to the different kinds of timber, I have now explained of what natural properties they appear to be composed,

and how they were produced. It remains to consider the question why the highland fir, as it is called in Rome, is inferior, while the lowland fir is extremely useful in buildings so far as durability is concerned; and further to explain how it is that their bad or good qualities seem to be due to the peculiarities of their neighbourhood, so that this subject may be clearer to those who examine it.