Tile-making evolved from primitive pottery manufacture, and the earliest architectural sites give evidence of the use of tiles. As soon as the art of glazing was discovered, it became possible to use the thin slabs of hard-burned clay, decorated in colors, as a decorative adjunct to architecture. This aesthetic use of tiles as a facing for walls distinguishes them from other ceramic products, such as brick, terra-cotta, and roofing units, which are essentially structural. Colored glazed tiles dated from 4700 B.C. have been found in Egypt.
Ancient ceramics were perfected in Mesopotamia. Large wall surfaces were faced with bas-relief decorations executed in enameled tiles resembling modern bricks in shape, most notably at the palace at Khorsabad (722–705 B.C.) in Assyria, near ancient Nineveh, and the Ishtar Gate (c.7th cent. B.C.) in Babylon. From these regions ancient Persia acquired ceramic techniques for the fine bas-reliefs of animals and archers in the palaces of Susa and Persepolis (5th cent. B.C.).
The earliest tile sewer pipes are those excavated at Crete (c.1800 B.C.). The Greeks also employed tile drains and conduits as well as tiles for roofing. Their architectural ceramics were mostly confined to cornices and cornice adornments and are customarily classed as terra-cotta. The Romans made wide use of floor tiles of various shapes and of floor mosaics, as well as a variety of wall tiles, including a type similar to modern hollow tiles, which were used in bathing establishments for the passage of warm air and smoke and as insulation. Roman tiles received no colored or glazed decoration.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.