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May 2007: Marmor Iassense, Caria, Western Turkey

The town of Iasos (Caria, Province of Milas, Asia Minor) occupies a small island, long and rather narrow in shape, which may have been joined to the mainland by an isthmus in Greek times. The town is situated at the bottom of the Mandalya Gulf, flanked by two bays: in ancient times these formed two deep, natural and well defended harbours (fig. 1).

The town's important resources certainly included the quarrying of the marble called Marmor Iassense or Marmor Carium by the Romans and also known known as Cipollino Rosso and Africanone By modern stonecutters (Gnoli, 1988; Andreoli et al., 2002). Already in use locally in Hellenistic times, this became one of the most important coloured marbles of Late Roman antiquity-Early Byzantine times, as confirmed by written sources such as Paulus Silentiarius and Constantine the Rhodian.


There exist three varieties of Marmor Iassense, all bearing Italian names : (figs. 2-3):

- Marmo Iassense Venato, the veined variety, the commonest and most sought-after for columns and large facing slabs, often fixed in Byzantine buildings so as to form very decorative lozenge-shaped patterns (“a macchia aperta”, in Italian)

- Marmo Iassense Brecciato, the brecciated variety, more rare than the Venato and used for small columns, but mostly for “opera sectilia” (floor and wall facing), tubs, trapezophoroi (pedestal of tables)

- the homogeneously-coloured variety, so far not known and without a name, the rarest, used almost exclusively for statuary of small dimensions, most probably as a substitute for Marmor Taenarium (Rosso antico). It was quarried from relatively thin (max. of 1 m) levels of a uniform red colour. We propose here to call it Marmo Iassense Rosso.


The ancient quarry basin has been located in the north-eastern sector immediately inland from the town of Iasos, where three areas of exploitation have recently been defined (fig. 1). It is not yet possible, under the present conditions, to establish how long they were exploited.

Area 1 is intersected by the road leading towards the main road to Milas. It lies on the Arigedige Tepe, a short distance from one of the characteristic Ottoman cisterns that locate the ancient road network. This area was already noted for the presence of a terraced structure constructed with blocks of Iasian marble, variously considered a “Lelegian” work, or else as having a function for the quarry itself (an open air deposit?) (Lazzarini,1990).

It comprises a wall, about 80 metres long and 6 metres high, which is linked to the steep slopes of the mountain by means of short angled sections at either end; it is built of blocks of our marble. and back-filled with rubble from the quarrying and cutting processes.

The construction appears to date from the II century B.C.. and it may be supposed (from archaeological finds, mainly of bricks and coins) that the subsequent quarrying activities led to its being used for a considerable period of time.

Area 2 is situated south-east of Cirkinçe Tepe. A small abandoned village located there is made up of houses with one or, at most, two rooms, built of small, rather irregularly-shaped blocks of marble which - judging by shapes and dimensions - appear to have been quarried for the purpose. The quarries are situated immediately above the village. Although elements to aid dating are not yet available, the regularity of the settlement would suggest that it dates back to ancient Roman times.

Area 3 covers the south-western slopes of Cirkinçe Tepe. In spite of the damage caused by modern-day quarrying, in one sector of this area an unfinished column has been unearthed; remains of ancient huts constructed with extracted material can also be seen (figs. 5-6). Another sector is occupied by a chapel and the remains of scattered, modest buildings that contain fragments of Byzantine marble artefacts.

Iasos was obviously a primary user of architectural elements and artefacts made from the local marble which became a natural, intrinsic part of its productive-commercial process. This is testified, for example, by the storage of numerous partly-worked blocks found near the eastern harbour.

Distribustion maps related to Roman and Byzantine primary use of Marmor Iassense and to its re-use in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance show the main Mediterranean areas reached by this marble (fig. 7), e.g. Italy and North Africa in the West, Greece, W. Asia Minor, N. Egypt and Phoenicia, in the East (Lazzarini 2007 a).


All varieties of Marmo Iassense belong to the same geological formation of the Cretaceous age (Campanian-Maastrictian) outcropping N, NE of the gulf of Iasos. Petrographically they may be classified as impure marbles coloured red by fine dispersed hematite particles. Calcite is the main component of the rock: it appears well recrystallised, with a fine grain size (average around 0,6 mm, MGS varying from 0,25 to 1,78 mm). The insoluble residue varies from 5 to 12% w and is normally composed of quartz, albitic plagioclase, micas (phengite and more rare phlogopite), chlorite and hematite. The larger grain size is somewhat characterising Marmor Iassense among other similar red marbles such as Rosso Antico, which normally features less pronounced recrystallisation due to a lower metamorphic degree. A clear distinction is however difficult, also when based on isotopic analysis (Lazzarini, 2007 b), and may be obtained only through chemical quantitative analysis of the minor and trace elements (such as Ni/Fe, fig. 8) followed by a statistical elaboration (discriminant analysis) of data (fig. 9)(Gorgoni et al, 2002).


Andreoli A., Berti F., Lazzarini L., Pierobon Benoit R., 2002, New contributions on Marmor Iassense. In “ASMOSIA VI, Interdisciplinary Studies on Ancient Stone” (L.Lazzarini ed.), Padova, 13-18.

Gnoli R., 1988, Marmora Romana, Roma.

Gorgoni C., Lazzarini L., Pallante P., 2002, New archaeometric data on Rosso Antico and other red marbles used in antiquity. In “ASMOSIA VI, Interdisciplinary Studies on Ancient Stone” (L.Lazzarini ed.), Padova, 199-206.

Lazzarini L., 1990, Rosso Antico and other red marbles used in antiquity: a characterization study. In “Marble, Art History and Scientific Perspectives on Ancient Sculpture”, Malibu, 237-252.

Lazzarini L., 2007 a, The Mediterranean distribution of the Most Important Stones of Roman and Medieval Antiquity. In ASMOSIA VII proceedings, in press.

Lazzarini L., 2007 b, Poikiloi Lithoi, Versiculores Maculae. I marmi colorati della Grecia Antica, Pisa, 84-88.

Text by Lorenzo Lazzarini


Fig. 1a. Location map by GoogleEarth. Click here or on map to get a bigger map.

Fig 1b. Location map and overlay map with exploitation areas. Click here or the location map to explore the area in more detail. Click the Play Tour button (bottom of the Places panel), and you can also adjust the transparency level of the overlay map with the additional slider on bottom of the Places panel.


Fig 2. Marmo Iassense Venato, the veined variety.


Fig. 3. Marmo Iassense Brecciato, the brecciated variety.


Fig 4. Quarry face


Fig. 5. Unfinished column (area 3)


Fig. 6. Wedge marks, area 3


Fig. 7. Distribution map, primary and secondary use of Marmor Iassense.


Fig. 8. Quantitative analysis of Ni/Fe


Fig. 9. Statistical elaboration (discriminant analysis) of data (Gorgoni et al, 2002)





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Coordinator: NGU - Geological survey of Norway, Tom Heldal. Tlf: +47 73 90 40 00 . Partners. Layout: Lisa Løseth, NGU.