From the raised inscriptions on bricks found in different places, it would appear that these products of the industry of the early Egyptians date from the 15th or even the 16th century B.C. The numerous examples which we possess, both of bricks and pottery, prove that not only was the art of firing bricks well advanced in Egypt in those early days, but that enamelled pottery was also known.
We read in Exodus (chap, v., verses 7 to 19) that one of the numerous labours imposed upon the Hebrews by the Egyptians was the making of bricks. A painting found in a tomb at Thebes shows the manner in which they worked: two slaves, whom we take to be Israelites, are drawing the slime from a basin; another works up the clay and probably adds straw to it; and a third slave moulds the brick in a mould similar to those which the Egyptians still use at the present day.
Although the firing of bricks was known to that nation, raw bricks were used in large quantities, and monuments built of them, such as certain pyramids of Dahschour dating from the 3rd dynasty, have remained intact to our day, thanks to their facings of stone. These bricks were not used fresh, as in Assyria, but were dried in the sun.
Why is it that in countries like Asia Minor and especially Egypt, where stone, porphyry, and granite were abundant, and in which economy would scarcely have influenced the Governments, we find such a relatively large consumption of raw or fired brick in their public monuments?
Although the ancient history of this part of the world is not as well known to us as that of the countries previously mentioned, we find in the ruins of ancient monuments an index of the civilisation attained by the inhabitants of the country before its discovery by Christopher Columbus. As an example of brick construction we may mention the pyramid of Cholula in Mexico, whose horizontal dimensions are greater than those of the great pyramid of Egypt, and which is built of raw bricks bound together with a clay mortar.
In Peru, ruins of palaces are found, built of peculiar bricks which do not seem to be baked and yet offer great resistance to the inclemencies of weather; they have remained intact, heaped up on the ground. We can understand that masonry constructed of such materials is of great solidity, and this is confirmed by the examination of some of the ruins which, in the parts still standing, offer as great a resistance as if they were built of very hard stone. This method of hardening bricks seems to be lost, for the modern bricks of those countries have no longer that remarkable quality.
The tombs explored in the valley of the Ohio also prove the antiquity of the use of baked clay in the New World.
Instead of taking the history of each country separately, it will be better to follow the different periods of architecture from the Greeks and Romans in modern times.
The use of brick in Greek monuments has only been proved by the writings of authors and the numerous traces found almost everywhere, for no single brick building exists which can be affirmed to be of Greek origin. But according to the works of the Roman architect Vitruvius (2nd century B.C.), the Roman author Pliny (1st century), and the Greek geographer Pausanias (2nd century), a certain number of temples, and other monuments of a date anterior to the Roman domination, were built of raw or baked bricks. Certain parts of the walls of the Acropolis at Athens contain these materials.
According to Vitruvius, there existed three kinds of Greek brick: the didoron (.3 x.15); the tetradoron (.3 X .3), used in special work; and the pentadoron (.37 x .37), used in public works.
In contrast to the Greeks, those great builders, the Romans, have left as traces, wherever they have passed, remarkable and imposing monuments which offer numberless examples of the use of bricks.
The first materials used by the Romans must have been raw bricks, although none have been found in the remains of monuments of that period; but Vitruvius describes their manufacture with details from which our brick-makers may still derive benefit The same author is silent as to the time when fired bricks first entered into Roman architecture, but it is certain that their use dates from a fairly distant period. The finest specimens of the monuments in which brick plays an important part are of the early years of Imperial Rome, and imposing ruins remain to prove their solidity of construction.
Roman fired bricks were of various shapes and sizes, for they were often made to fit the place they were to occupy in the buildings. Generally they were square, the large ones having about .6 edge and .055 thickness, the medium .445 and .05, and the small .2 1 5 and .04. Large square bricks, .65 and .05 (ancient house of Civita Vecchia), and triangular bricks for the facing of block masonry have also been found. At the period when brick-making reached its apogee (1st century), it was carried out with the greatest care under the supervision of the Government, who required the maker's mark to be on the products. These marks, some of which bear the names of great personages who were proprietors of brickworks, were a guarantee of good quality, and in consequence have acquired historical and archaeological interest, for from the reign of Trajan (1st century) the names of the consuls were added to those of the proprietor and maker; thus by examining these marks it is easy to determine the age of a Roman monument.