Roman Vaulting Tube (tubi fittili)


Roman Vaulting Tube (tubi fittili)


Clay Vaulting Tube


Vaulting tubes (tubi fittili) are hollow terracotta tubes which were employed in Roman architecture to construct the framework of a vault, an arched structure which formed the ceiling of a room. Vaulting tubes were used primarily between the 2nd and 7th centuries C.E., often in the construction of bathhouses and major churches throughout the Roman Empire. They are found predominantly in North Africa, though examples have also been found in Sicily, Italy, Spain and Britain, as well as in shipwrecks throughout the Mediterranean.

The vaulting tube featured here is open at both ends, with one end narrowing to form a nozzle-like projection. This nozzle would be slotted into the open end of an adjacent tube, thus enabling the tube to interlock with its neighbour. The tubes would be mortared together one at a time from each side of a room, set at a slight angle to one another in order to form an arch over the room to be spanned. When the line of vaulting tubes was set into position, the tubes would be connected by a ‘keystone’ tube, open at both ends, at the crown of the arch. Once this arch was completed, the procedure would be repeated with the other vaulting tubes in order to create a vault over the entire room. The vaulting tubes created a framework for the arch of a vault, and were not meant to be visible once construction was completed. A layer of mortared rubble caementa would be poured upon the outside of the vault, and the underside of the tubes would be rendered invisible with the use of plaster. This vaulting tube features a lightly corrugated surface, likely made by a potter’s fingers while the tube was being fashioned upon the wheel. The corrugation may have served to improve the adherence of the vaulting tubes to the mortar which encased them.

The advantage of using vaulting tubes was that they provided a fast and efficient method of building a durable, light-weight vault. Traditional Roman construction methods required substantial wooden centring and scaffolding, but vaulting tubes could be rapidly produced by potters and could be erected with minimal support. As a result, vaulting tubes were an especially appealing method in areas with little timber to spare for construction.


From Stone to Screen


North Africa - probable.


From Stone to Screen


Roman Imperial Period (2nd-7th centuries CE)


Chloe Martin-Cabanne (Research and Content)
David Assaf (Web Design)
Jessica Matteazzi (Photography)
Chelsea Gardner (Collection Curator)





Bound, M. (1987). Tubi fittili (vaulting tubes) from the sea—the Roman wreck at Punta del Fenaio, Island of Giglio. The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and underwater Exploration. 16. 187-200.

Lancaster, L. (2009). Terracotta vaulting tubes in Roman architecture: a case study of the interrelationship between technologies and trade in the Mediterranean. Construction History. 24. 3-18.

Vann, R. (1993). Vaulting tubes from Caesarea Maritima. Israel Exploration Journal, 43. 29-34.

Whitehouse, D. (1988). Comment on ‘Tubi fittili (vaulting tubes) from the sea—the Roman wreck at Punta del Fenaio, Island of Giglio’. The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and underwater Exploration. 17. 197-200.

Wilson, R. J. A. (1992). Terracotta vaulting tubes (tubi fittili): on their origin and distribution. Journal of Roman Archaeology 5. 97-129.

Other Useful Sources:

Allen, H. L. (1974). Excavations at Morgantina (Serra Orlando). 1970-1972: Preliminary Report XI. American Journal of Archaeology 78. 361-383.

Kostof, S. (1965). The Orthodox Baptistry of Ravenna. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Lancaster, L. (2005). Concrete vaulted construction in Imperial Rome: Innovations in context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mason, D. J. P. (1990). The Use of Earthenware Tubes in Roman Vault Construction: An Example from Chester. Britannia 21. 215-222.

Wilson, R. J. A. (1979). Brick and tiles in Roman Sicily. In A. McWhirr (ed.) Roman brick and tile: studies in manufacture, distribution and use in the Western Empire. Oxford, UK: British Archaeological Reports. 11-44.

Wilson, R. J. A. (1983). Piazza Armerina. London, UK: Granada Publishing. See p. 23 and 25.

Zienkiewicz, J. (1986). The Legionary Fortress Baths at Caerleon (Vol. I). Gloucester, UK: Alan Sutton Publishing. See p. 105-6 and 334-36.


Ceramic - Terracotta


Ceramic Technology


Roman Vaulting Tube


Roman Construction Techniques; Roman North Africa; Ceramic Technology

Original Format

Ceramic Vaulting Tube

Physical Dimensions

12.8 cm x 5.4 cm




From Stone to Screen, “Roman Vaulting Tube (tubi fittili),” UBC CNERS Artifact Collections, accessed July 16, 2018,