According to Bernd Brunner’s “The Ocean at Home,” printed in 2005 regarding the first fish kept indoors,
“These fish were kept in opaque tanks, often made of marble, in front of the house. The first fish to enter the interior of a house in imperial Rome was the sea barbel, a much cherished and expensive breed. Allegedly, they were kept in small tanks underneath the cushions of the guest beds. Around 50 AD, panes of glass were brought to Rome, Herculanaeum, and Pompeii, to replace one wall of the marble tanks…”
Unfortunately, in today’s modern information society, anything found on websites such as Wikipedia is regarded as absolutely true, and Wikipedia echoes this information above. However, as noted by others who have studied the history of the indoor aquarium, the statement has no method of validation provided either by Brunner, or by Hermann Mostar in his “Die Arche Mostar” printed in 1959, from which Brunner copied much of his information. In Mostar’s work on the topic, he states that fish were kept this way in Roman households as being a fact (with no references), but Brunner was skeptical of this as well and uses the word allegedly when discussing the topic, as shown above. In an excellent article entitled THE MYTH OF THE ROMAN AQUARIUM: Reflections on Aquarium Hobby History Research by Albert J. Klee, Ph.D., Professor Klee offers extensive conversation on why the Roman fish under the bed tale is likely a myth. His article is well worth the read for both history buffs and aquarium historical truth seekers.
The more properly documented appearance of the first home aquariums seems to be in England in the first half of the 1800’s. The aquarium of the time would have been framed with metal and would have a slate bottom. The slate bottom was necessary at first, as the way these were kept warm was by use of an open flame on the bottom of the aquarium. This would warm up the slate, which would then warm up the water. At first, it wasn’t practical to keep saltwater fish for a variety of reasons, which included corrosion of the metal aquarium frame, and difficulty of access to marine animals.
Watch out for Part 2, and follow the evolution of the aquarium towards aquariums we have now.