When the Romans lost their marbles

You don’t often hear much about architecture on the religious news programme on Radio 4 on a Sunday, but this morning was an exception. The programme was discussing a forthcoming exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford at which a centrepiece will be a ‘flatpack’ Roman church that is nearly 1500 years old, and was found in a shipwreck.

You don’t often hear much about architecture on the religious news programme on Radio 4 on a Sunday, but this morning was an exception. The programme was discussing a forthcoming exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford at which a centrepiece will be a ‘flatpack’ Roman church that is nearly 1500 years old, and was found in a shipwreck.

In some ways it bore little resemblance to today’s flatpacks in that it was made of marble, not ticky-tacky wood.

But they did find some similarities, not least that one of the recovered columns was found complete with its assembly instructions. One of the curators, however, described the enterprise as more like set dressing since the idea was that decorative elements could be installed within a standard building ( had they got the concept of long life, loose fit so long ago?).

The elements were going from Turkey to Sicily, as the island had no marble of its own. Evidently the intention was to create a really splendid effect. Unfortunately, the flat pack may be the reason why the ship sank. Although there were dedicated ships for carrying stone, even those suffered from the heavy and unbalanced loads, and had a tendency to founder in storms.

Perhaps we should be less critical of IKEA. At least its transport tends to survive the journey.

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