Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.04.23


L. Richardson, Jr., A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. Pp. xxxiv + 459. $65.00. ISBN-0-8018-4300-6.


Reviewed by Daniel P. Harmon, University of Washington.

Since 1929 A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome by Samuel Ball Platner, which was completed and revised by Thomas Ashby, has been the standard English reference work on the subject and has become a classic in its own right. Richardson was inspired to compile his new dictionary by the fact that the 1929 text is largely out of date. He offers the New Topographical Dictionary as a replacement for Platner-Ashby. The fact that it takes into account most of the advances in our knowledge since 1929 makes it a most valuable book. The entries in the new dictionary are usually more concise and readable than the sometimes rambling articles in Platner-Ashby. The bibliographic summaries at the end of most articles are helpful, and Richardson's general bibliography (which is seven pages in length) is excellent. Illustrations, though somewhat less numerous than one would have liked, are well chosen. The volume is attractively produced with ample margins and spacing. Given its nature and size, the book is well priced in today's market. It is a welcome addition to the field. Few American scholars have the breadth of knowledge which has enabled Richardson to produce this work.

It is sometimes difficult to decide, however, the audience for whom the work is intended. The introduction to the book, which surveys the development of topographical study, is well written. It would be difficult to find a more clearly expressed treatment of this background material, which is essential for our understanding of the discipline. The introduction is directed largely to the reader with relatively little experience in topography. Richardson is generous throughout the dictionary with help for such readers. He includes entries that define basic terms such as atrium, domus, insula, mausoleum, monumentum, pagus, regio, rostra, vicus, villa, and many others. The various assemblies or comitia are defined, and there is explanatory treatment of the types of cultic buildings, such as aedes, templum, etc. A ten-page glossary gives helpful definitions of some technical terms, building techniques, building materials, and religious vocabulary. It will be a very welcome feature of the book to most readers. I am at a loss, however, to understand why certain of these terms have been included in the list while others have been omitted. By what rationale, for example, does Richardson include the name of such religious functionaries as the fetial or camillus but not the flamen or pontifex? In any case, explanations like these, though they will be largely superfluous for many students of Roman archaeology and religion, will be useful for the novice to these disciplines, and most readers (I would imagine) will be from this category.

A basic and most laudable aim of the book, then, is to make the study of topography more accessible and less formidable to those for whom it is only an ancillary field. But Richardson's tendency to use highly technical and at times idiosyncratic vocabulary often works against this aim. For example, in his definition of opus reticulatum he explains that the network pattern is "quoined ... with masonry." The word 'quoined' will likely cause difficulty for the very reader not used to technical vocabulary, and who thus needs to consult this entry in the glossary. Richardson seems almost to delight in the rarified when more straightforward terms would do. Many expressions will be unfamiliar to some novice readers: "pavilions and pleasances" (p. 119), "addorsed colonnade" (p. 167), "master coroplast" (p. 222), a roof supported on "eagles of wood" (p. 223), "semicircular arches with a large cutwater surmounted by a flood lunette ..." (p. 298), the "parterre surrounding the bath" (p. 392), a "multilobate hall" (p. 398). Specialists will find little difficulty with these expressions. Others who consult the dictionary, including many classicists, will find some of them daunting.

Clarity of expression should be among the highest desiderata in a standard reference work. But Richardson's choice of words, as I have noted, seems to me a bit idiosyncratic at times. He occasionally uses terms with a sense at some remove from their ordinary connotations. In several places, for example, he employs the singular 'stair' when 'stairs' would be preferable. Architects may now and then refer to a 'stair' of five or ten steps. But for most readers, 'a stair' is the combination of one tread and one riser, and a number of stairs (or 'steps') in succession, which enables the passenger to ascend from floor to floor, is commonly called 'a set or flight of stairs.' To give another example, the flow of water which collected run-off from the surrounding hills and ran through the Forum is several times referred to by Richardson as 'a brook' or even the 'Cloaca brook,' as though Cloaca (which is from *clu*: 'purify, cleanse') were the original name of this waterway. But the word 'brook,' which connotes a sparkling rivulet of cool clear water, ordinarily conjures up an almost pristine and idyllic world. The watercourse (Platner-Ashby describe it as a 'stream') which became the sewer that we know as the cloaca maxima was not a 'brook' in the usual sense of the word. In a similar way, the description 'an ornamental water' which Richardson applies to certain stagna or nymphaea calls attention to itself because of its quaintness. If word usage seems now and then to be out of date, the reader might occasionally worry that some of the information is also passé, and this would be unfortunate.

There are times when other elements of the style do not assist in achieving clarity. The reader -- especially a reader who is not well versed in technical terminology -- has much to sort out in sentences such as that on p. 21, which reads: "[The Arco di Portogallo] was a single-fornix arch, the masonry perhaps lightly rusticated up to the springing of the arch, adorned on either side with pairs of columns of verde antico on bases of a single torus above complicated bowed plinths, the capitals composite, carrying an entablature decorated with a frieze of acanthus scrolls that broke out forward over the columns." Or (p. 33): "This [temple] consisted of a base step with a pronounced offset, a base molding of a fine, slightly flattened, cyma recta above a high step, a plain die with wide drafted margins, and a crown molding of cyma reversa profile."

Concern for the etymologies of place names and religious terms is one of the great strengths of the book; nonetheless, I find room for differences of opinion in some of the derivations which Richardson proposes. For example, he derives Albula (an ancient name of the Tiber) from the "whitish color of sulfur-charged waters" which enter from the Anio (p. 5). This explanation seems unnecessarily elaborate to me. There exists a host of European stream and river names which are apparently derived from *albh, including the simple forms Alba (Pliny NH 3.22), French Aube, German Alf, Alb, and Elbe. Suffixed forms such as German Elber (<*Albira), Spanish Albuera (<*Albora) and the Raeto-Romansch Alvra (< Albula) in Graubünden are close to the Latin river name Albula, which was found in the area of Tivoli (Vitruvius 8.3.2) and Picenum (Pliny NH 3.110) as well as in Rome. The word seems to have become a near synonym for 'stream,' and indeed modern Swedish älv, which means 'river,' belongs to this group. It is possible, in many cases, that these names in some way relate the rivers and streams to mountains and mountainous districts (cf. Alba Longa -- though this might be related to Alp, which has often been interpreted as a pre-Indo-European word for mountain.)

Richardson's proposed derivation of Esquilinus from aesculus (p. 146) is intriguing but seems to me problematic on phonological grounds. Aesculus (the name of a variety of oak and probably related to Germ Eiche, Eng. oak and Grk. AI)GI/LWY) should be from *aig-slo, giving *aisklo (by metathesis) and then *aiskulo (with anaptyctic vowel). Esquiline, in contrast, shows the labiovelar; and an initial ai would not easily yield e in the early native Latin of Rome. The usual explanation, which makes Esquiline a compound of ex 'outside' and *quel* 'inhabit,' still seems preferable. The Esquiline, then, will once have been thought of as lying outside the bounds of the original Palatine city.

Janiculum does not work well as a diminutive, though Richardson (p. 205) seems to take it as such. The first part of the word, based upon *ia* 'go' (with a transitional suffix -n), presents little difficulty. Janus is a god of passages and passageways. The problem is with the suffix. In its fullest sense, the name Janiculum refers to the long ridge on the west bank of the Tiber. Even if we apply the term only to that part of the Janiculum directly opposite the heart of the ancient city (a length of about two kilometers), the presumed diminutive would be difficult to explain. The termination -culus, -culum in Latin can also represent the Indo-European suffix -tlo, denoting the instrument by which or the place in which an action is performed. Most nouns with this suffix are based upon verbs but there are exceptions; for example, the word senaculum, used of the place where the senatores assembled, was probably created on analogy with such words as cenaculum and spectaculum with their related forms cenatorius and spectatores. In a similar way, Janiculum, with a base meaning 'pass through' or 'set out,' seems to be formed on analogy with such motion words (which attract the suffix -tlo) as curriculum and vehiculum. It would, on this interpretation, mean 'the setting out place.' Indeed, Festus (p. 93L) explains the name Janiculum by reference to the fact that it was the place which the Romans passed through when they left for Etruria. The Janiculum is, then, the place allowing passage to and from Rome.

Richardson suggests that pomerium might be derived from ponere and murus (p. 293). But compound nouns in which the first element is a verb form and the second element, a noun (while frequent enough in Greek) are quite rare and usually of late appearance in Latin. Thus the widely accepted etymology from *pos (a variant of post used before consonants) + moiriom (cf. classical murus) still seems preferable. In this explanation, the religious term *posmoirium becomes and remains fixed in the archaic form pomerium (with long e from oi before r).

Richardson seems further to suggest (p.422) that the Vicus Cuprius should be derived from a word ciprum or cyprum 'copper.' He does not explain why the street should have a special association with the metal. We are, on the other hand, told by our sources that an ancient shrine of Diana was situated along the Vicus Cuprius where it crossed the Vicus Orbius, and that a short street leading down from the Tigillum Sororium on the extension of the Sacra Via fed into it. The Vicus Cuprius thus had a revered character. The Umbrian and Picene goddess Cupra mater (probably equivalent to the Roman Bona Dea), as well in all likelihood as the epithet Cyprius enjoyed by the Umbrian Mars (CIL XI. 5805), makes it clear that cyprus/cuprus was in use as a divine epithet in the Italic dialects, and the evidence of Varro (LL 5.159) that there was a Sabine word cuprum meaning 'good' is credible. Cuprus is probably to be derived from *cup* 'desire' with the extension -ro giving a passive sense (cf. gnarus, clarus) 'sought after, desired' and thus 'good.' For the Romans, this Italic word cyprus/cuprus lived on only in an archaic street name, probably derived from an epithet of some divinity (perhaps Diana) worshipped in the environs. On the Adriatic coast in Cupra Marittima, which preserves the ancient name of the goddess, Cupra had a temple and was identified with Hera or Juno (Strabo 5.4.2).

Richardson's discussions of Roman cult, while on the whole good, do not always seem to take all the evidence into account. A number of his observations upon Roman religion in my view merit further examination: That the name Janus implies a permanently inaugurated bridge (p. 207), along with some other conclusions derived from L. A. Holland's pioneering work Janus and the Bridge (1961), should (I believe) be rethought. Georges Dumézil's explanation of the Niger Lapis inscription might well have been considered among the theories about the nature of that monument (p. 268). That the Quirinal (p. 324) was the only hill (except for the Salutaris) which took its name from a divinity worshipped on the hill seems questionable to me. How, for example, do we explain the relationship between the deity Pales and the Palatine? The Viminal was sometimes said to be named from the presence of Jupiter Viminus on that hill (Varro LL 5.51, Festus p. 516L). Why are we to suppose that Carmentis (p. 72) was "probably originally a water nymph"? Richardson's suggestion that there were originally twenty-eight shrines of the Argei, instead of twenty-seven (p. 39), runs counter to much recent research and (in my view) probably to the very nature of the rite. Richardson cites, but does not seem to follow, the hypothetical reconstruction of the ceremony by G. Maddoli (PP 26 [1971], pp. 153-166).

The strictly archaeological information in the dictionary is on the whole accurate and up-to-date. While it is possible to disagree with some of Richardson's topographical interpretations, a full discussion of such matters would require the length of a review article. For most readers the New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome will replace (but for others, supplement) Platner-Ashby. It is an eminently impressive and useful work. I found very few typographical errors, a remarkable achievement given the complexity of the material. Those responsible for the production of the book have every reason to be proud of the result. Many classicists will want a copy in their personal libraries for quick reference. For more expansive treatment of the material, with a review of contemporary scholarship, we will also have the advantage of being able to consult the new five-volume Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae (Edizioni Quasar) with contributions from many experts, including (to name a few) F. Coarelli, D. Degrassi, P. Gros, I. Iacopi, F. S. Kleiner, R. T. Scott, P. Somella, M. Torelli, T. P. Wiseman, and F. Zevi. Volume I (containing entries from A-C) appeared this spring.