The History of Cement and Concrete Part 1

The History of Cement and Concrete


Cement and concrete have a long and illustrious history. From the Ancient Egyptians to modern buildings, both have served as materials for the most astonishing of construction projects. This five-part series tracks how the materials have developed over time.

Part 1: Who first used cement?

Natural cement has been around for at least 12 million years. Ancient Egyptians used cementitious materials – those that bond things together – including lime, clay and gypsum, to create the Pyramids. Early Chinese civilizations used these substances in the Great Wall. And Babylonians and Assyrians were using cements to bind stone and brick.

The use of cements and concrete was widespread in the Roman era. Polozzana cement from Italy, made from volcanic ash from Mount Etna, was used to build structures that are still here today. The Appian Way, the Coliseum, and the Pantheon all used cement. Wherever they went, the Romans found ways to use the local natural materials to create bonding substances. They adapted the materials and processes to a huge variety of construction, including bath houses, walls, and aqueducts.

The use of both concrete and cements was documented by Marcus Vitruvius Pollo, a Roman Architect, in his ‘Ten Books of Architecture’. In the series, he includes instructions for pouring a concrete floor and a ‘recipe’ to mix the polozzana cements.

Unfortunately, widespread knowledge and use of cements was lost at the end of the Roman era only to be rediscovered in the later years of the Middle Ages.