Roman Roof Tile with Imprints of a Dog

The image depicted shows a component of the Roman roofing system called the tegula. To create a waterproof roof, the tegula is put together with an imbrex, making a complete structure that channels the water down and off of the roof. The tegulae are laid flat on the roof next to each other, while an imbrex is used to cover the upright edges and close the gaps between the tegulae. The roof tiles are made from clay molded into shape and left to harden in the open air before being fired in the kiln.

3D model of the Roof Tile

It was not uncommon for animals or children to leave their footprints on the roof tiles during the drying process. This particular Roman tile is part of the collection at Centre Céramique in Maastricht, the Netherlands, where the Romans settled during the first century AD, leaving behind archaeological discoveries such as this roof tile.

This object belongs to the following theme:



Place of Origin
Kerkrade, The Netherlands

Time period of Use (ca.)
1 – 100 CE

Fired clay

Dimensions (cm)

3D Model

Canon EOS 250D

Processing software
Agisoft Metashape Professional Edition

Riley Aronson & Francien van den Dool

Raising the roof: a Roman story

What is a tegula?

Roman roofing structure (Image source)

This heavy orange tile is called a tegula. This specific tegula was designed and made by the Romans and used in the Netherlands while they were established here. This tile was found in Kerkrade where it might have been used on a Roman house. Tegulae were used in combination with imbreces to create what is now called the roman roofing structure (Yates, 2017). Two of the sides of the tegula (a in the image) are upstanding and an imbrex was shaped as half a pipe (b in the image). The upstanding sides of the tegula were placed against each other and the imbrex was placed over this junction. Vertically the tegulae and imbreces were placed on top of each other with a slight overlap. This way there is no way for water to seep through any gaps in the roof. Next to the upstanding side of the roof tile that is still intact a small gutter can be spotted. Via these gutters water was channelled down the roof and onto the ground. With this structure, the Romans created a weatherproof and stable roof (Warry, 2006).

The heaviness of this tile can make one wonder about how strong the structure of Roman buildings had to be. To carry the combined weight of the hundreds of tegulae and imbreces on the roof, the houses would have had to have exquisite foundations and building materials. The photos added in the gallery give an impression of what Roman buildings and structures would have looked like in the Roman era. One of the images shows the still-existing foundations of a Roman bathhouse in Heerlen, and the other image shows a reconstruction of what a Roman house looked like in the north of Europe (Thermenmuseum, n.d.).

Roman house (Image source)

Roman foundations (Image source)

How were tegulae made and where?

When looking at the roof tile one will notice the imprints of a dog paw. This was not a stylistic choice the Romans made but it was rather caused by an accident in the making process. Tegulae are made from a material called fired clay. Fired clay usually exists of a mixture of materials to create the right texture needed. In this tile we can for example find reused clay, straw, and quartz, but there are many more materials that can be used in the making of fired clay (E. Wetzels, personal communication, March 8, 2023). When the Romans reached a material mix with the right texture they started putting this clay into molds to create the shape of the tegula. After this, the formed tegulae were laid out to dry in the open air (Wheeler, 2019). Since these tegulae were made in big batches this was done in big fields. The tile maker could not watch over such a big field by themselves and that is how accidents like imprints on the tile happen. During the drying process, a dog must have sneaked onto the field and walked over the still-wet tiles creating a trail of pawprints on them. It is very common to find animal prints or footprints of children on tegulae from the Roman era. After the drying process, the tiles were transferred into fire kilns where the tiles were fired to make them harden out completely. After this step, the tile was ready to be used on Roman roofs be it with imprints of something or without (Daley, 2017). 

A little up north of Maastricht in the province of Limburg is a town called Tegelen. Tegelen has probably been named after the roman tegulae as it was a place where tegulae were made during the Roman occupation (Kemp, 1946). The town had a big supply of clay which made it the perfect place for Romans to create a settlement for tegula production. In the town of Tegelen, many old tegularia were found by archaeologists. Tegularia were the kilns in which the tegulae were fired (Driessen, 1952). It is likely that tiles produced in Tegelen were used in other Roman settlements in Limburg. The tiles were transported between the settlements by horsecarts or by boat (E. Wetzels, personal communication, March 8, 2023).

The Roman Era in Maastricht

The first Roman settlements in Maastricht began to appear during the first century AD, although the exact date is unknown. The city was located along the Via Belgica, a 400-kilometer road that the Romans relied on to travel to and from their Empire in the North-west to their newly conquered lands, or imperialist possibilities, in the North (“On the traces of the Via Belgica,” 2021). This route nearly passed through the center of current-day Maastricht (“Over Via Belgica,” 2022). 

Maastricht also lies at the intersection of two major rivers, the Jeker and the Meuse (Maas). This is a significant point for two reasons: it posed an obstacle to the Romans and, at the same time, it made the land a prime location for soldier settlements. To enable passage across the Meuse River, the Romans built Maastricht’s first bridge (Maastricht Marketing, 2021). Built in the middle of the first century, the bridge (depicted mapped image below) was located slightly south of the currently standing St. Servatius Bridge, although the original bridge is no longer intact today (“Roman settlement,” n.d.). This bridge allowed soldiers to settle in Maastricht, where they built guard stations and small villages (“Via Belgium,” 2023). The bridge soon allured everyday people to live and work in Maastricht (“Roman settlement,” n.d.), including farmers who provided the Roman troops with food (Lendering, 2020).

The Via Belgica bridge (Image source)

While literature is sparse regarding Maastricht during the Roman Era, “Romanisation” reached throughout the Southern Netherlands, in larger and smaller settlements alike, however, there is little visible evidence of this (“The Romans in the Netherlands,” n.d.). Along with the bathhouse in Heerlen mentioned above, there is also proof that there was a Roman bathhouse in Maastricht as well (Lendering, 2020). Although there are no images or visible physical remains of this bathhouse, it was likely constructed using the same techniques as other bathhouses. The practice of bathing was a communal aspect of Roman life (Fagan, 2001), meaning that tegula and imbrex style of roofing was neither confined to the poor nor the rich. The prominence of farmers and farmhouses in Maastricht (Reddé, 2017) also supports the notion that people of any profession could have had a sturdy, waterproof roof. Thus, this specific tile could have come from a humble farmhouse, a sacred religious building, or any structure in between. The implementation of the tegula-imbrex roofing structure may symbolize the importance of a functional and sturdy lifestyle, built to withstand the test of time.

Written by Riley Aronson & Francien van den Dool