A word used by the Roman writers, especially Tacitus and Pliny , to indicate a species of
mineral pitch or oil. The corresponding Greek word is ἄσφαλτος
, the modern asphalt. It was brought chiefly from the Dead Sea
(Asphaltites), and was used in building as a cement. In Syria it was quarried in solid blocks.
In Zacynthus (Zante) there was and still is a pitch spring that has been at work for more than
two thousand years. See Pliny,
H. N. viii. 15
; xxviii. 10.