Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.10.19

Ray Laurence, Roman Pompeii: Space and Society. New York: Routledge, 1994. Pp. xi + 158; 13 figures., 31 maps, 23 b & w plates. $45.00. ISBN 0-415-09502-6.

Reviewed by Michele George, McMaster University (

Although long a cornerstone of Roman archaeology, in the last fifteen years Pompeii has enjoyed a rejuvenation of sorts. The detailed publication of individual buildings, the application of computer technologies, and excavation work on the site by Italian scholars are among the most significant contributions to this renaissance. With this book, Ray Laurence continues the shift in Pompeian studies away from the antiquarianism of the last two centuries. It is the site of Pompeii as an urban entity which provides the focus for L.'s book, which formed part of his doctoral thesis. The "social meaning" of the site (ix), specifically the reflexive relationship between space and society, is the aspect which L. primarily addresses. To do so he combines the traditional historical and archaeological approaches of classical scholarship with the cross-cultural and theoretical methods of modern anthropology and sociology. L's interests lead him to consider broader issues as well, such as the validity of Finley's consumer city' model for the Pompeian economy and its potential consequences for public space.

Each chapter explores a different aspect of urban space at Pompeii. In ch. 1 L. contrasts the modern notion of the planned city' with the ancient by briefly sketching the evolution of town planning in 20th century Britain and its influence on perceptions of classical urbanism. Although Pompeii has a grid plan and a forum which resembles the so-called Central Business District of contemporary urban geography, the town's development was more organic than planned, with no apparent attention paid to the complex social and economic issues which are the explicit concerns of modern urban planners. Although there is a fundamental contrast between the forum and its functions and the residential blocks of the city, there is no evidence of socio-economic zoning which organizes citizens of similar means into designated neighbourhoods. The kind of organization seen at Pompeii, says L., is the result of underlying social values, rather than conscious planning. Theorists such as A. Giddens (The Constitution of Society), H. Lefebvre (The Production of Space), and B. Hillier and J. Hanson (The Social Logic of Space) are shown here to be fundamental influences on L.'s thinking.

In ch. 2 L. examines the effects of colonization on the town, and the additional facilities which were built to accommodate the colonists. He recounts the erection of public buildings throughout the site, but notes in particular the renovations in the forum, since it is here that the changing civic identity of Pompeii is most clearly reflected. The construction of new buildings and repairs to existing ones were undertaken by prominent citizens eager to contribute to the emerging character of the new colonia. L. summarizes current scholarship on the identification and function of these buildings, a subject still debated, although L. largely follows P. Zanker's view. L. stresses the participation of the local elite, the evocation of an imperial presence in their dedications, and the imitation of models from the capital in their choice of construction projects. In this way the physical appearance and the urban identity of the new colony connected it to Rome, and to the Roman emperor. In ch. 3 it is the identity of neighbourhoods within the city which concerns L. According to him, residents possessed a neighbourhood identity formed by both elements of the physical space and acquaintance with their actual neighbours. Using epigraphic evidence to prove that Pompeii, like Rome, was organized into pagi and vici, L. further distinguishes a local identity within the vici themselves. He suggests that neglect of altars to the Lares Compitales reflects the decline of that cult in favour of worship of the Lares Augusti, a trend which has been noted at Rome. The former were located at the boundaries of vici, while the latter had a central location within the vicus; L. therefore proposes that the shift from one to the other represents the development of a local identity for each vicus. L. extends this notion of local identity to political activity, suggesting that pressure from neighbours may have influenced voting. The rest of the chapter considers the organization and placement of public fountains. Since the majority of the population lived within 80 metres of a fountain, and probably used the source nearest to their home, public fountains may have contributed to a sense of neighbourhood.

Ch.4, "Production and Consumption", deals with the economy of Pompeii and how it shaped the use of urban space. The local economy can be traced archaeologically in several industries, notably bread-making, weaving/fulling, and metalworking. These businesses were more commonly located along through-routes (e.g. Via dell'Abbondanza, Via di Stabia, Via degli Augustali), and in the area east of the forum. Bakeries without mills were concentrated in central areas, and thus specialized in retail sales, while those with mills tended to be away from the centre, making the delivery of grain easier. In the textile industry, officinae lanifricariae were most numerous in region 7, while fulling and dying establishments were spread throughout the town, most often near the centre and through-routes. Metalworking shops also tended to be located on through-routes. Agricultural production in the form of market-gardens and to a lesser extent animal husbandry also occurred within the city walls, and has been traced by W. Jashemski predominantly in the southeastern part of the town, in the gardens of private domus and tabernae. Beyond these general tendencies in location, however, there are no clearly defined industrial areas; land use was mixed. L. compares a study of land use in the Adobe city at Mendoza in Argentina, where a similar pattern of mixed use is in evidence. The homogeneity of the colonial grid plan, the absence of regulation, and a low-density land-use pattern meant that privately-owned urban property was put to a variety of uses within a single city block. In putting the local economy within the wider economic setting L. follows modifications which have been made to the consumer city model. He argues that items such as Pompeian Red Ware and garum (likely produced outside the city itself) indicate a greater complexity in production and consumption than Finley's model allows. Although agricultural output likely served only a local market, Pompeian workshops did produce goods for export, shipped probably, L. suggests, from the nearby port of Puteoli. Pompeii was therefore not merely a consumer city.

In ch. 5 L. considers "deviant behaviour", a category in which he puts drinking, gambling and prostitution. In the location of brothels, fast-food stands (popinae) and bars (cauponae) L. sees the reflection of male, rather than female, leisure activities and values. Prostitution was tolerated and even controlled by the aediles in Rome, and thus its profits could be taxed and prostitutes identified. L. suggests that this monitoring could have also ensured that brothels were located in those parts of the city which were separate from regular domestic life. Roman literature reflects this, as in it the activity of prostitutes is associated with public entertainment buildings like the circus, theatres and baths, and marginal areas such as alleys, tombs, or recognized red-light districts like the Subura. For Pompeii L. relies on a recent study by A. Wallace-Hadrill which reduces the traditionally high number of brothels to 9, 7 of which are cellae meretriciae; most were centrally located in the area east of the forum, but on side streets rather than main roads. It is interesting to note that they are routinely near large atrium houses which however have their primary entrances off main streets; out-of-town-clients would have to know the precise side street and doorway to locate the brothels. Thus, they were distanced from wives and children, and neither corrupted family life nor compromised the proper reception activities which were so much a part of the elite house. Popinae and cauponae were often the workplaces of prostitutes, and as such had a negative moral penumbra. Cauponae tended to be near city gates (especially the Stabian and Herculanean gate), in the area east of the forum, and around the amphitheatre. Popinae were more evenly distributed, but occur most often on main streets, where they were easily accessible to the poor who were mostly likely to frequent them. This economic distinction in clientele is also reflected in the tendency for popinae to be segregated from the wealthier houses, which generally had their own cooking facilities and where hospitality was an important aspect of social standing. L. provides a map of "deviant streets" (map 5.4), and identifies a "deviant street network" in region 7 east of the forum. These areas existed cheek-by-jowl to other businesses and houses, but were subordinate to them, and most significantly were separated from women and children, who were thereby "zoned into domesticity" (87) by the patriarchal nature of urban organization.

Ch. 6 and 7 consider the underlying social significance of the relationship between structures within insulae and the streets that define them. For both chapters L. employs methods of analysis adopted from British spatial theorists B. Hillier and J. Hanson in their book The Social Logic of Space. In ch.6 L. relates the number and distribution of doorways to the frequency of activity in a street, i.e. a high number of doors reflects greatest use of street frontage. L. applies a formula to the streets and doors of Pompeii, comparing the length of streets with the number of doorways to obtain the occurrence of doors throughout the urban grid. As might be expected, main through-streets such as the Via dell'Abbondanza and the area east of the forum had a higher number of doors and therefore likely greater levels of social interaction, while other regions were more residential. The use of graffiti (or "message occurrence") reinforces this conclusion. Comparison of door occurrence from Rome and Ostia shows a markedly more even distribution of high street activity at these sites, which L. attributes to the higher population density of these cities and the dominance of multi-family and mixed-use insulae versus the Pompeian atrium house.

In ch.7, "The Production of Space", L. seeks the "spatial generators" (104) which lead to the patterns in doorways and levels of activity he identifies in ch. 6. He examines the dominant location of doorways in insulae, concentrating on regions 6 and 7. Both are near the forum, but have quite different street plans: region 6 is defined by a regular orthogonal grid, while region 7 has a highly irregular street arrangement. To find the underlying cause of these patterns, L. uses Hillier and Hanson's gamma analysis, a method for studying the interiors of buildings. By way of demonstration, L. offers a conventional linear plan of the House of the Vetti and a gamma map (fig.7.1), an alternative form of graphic representation for structures. A gamma map transforms a traditional linear plan into a schema of dots and lines, wherein dots represent spaces within a building, and lines the connections between them. Space is thus converted into a new morphic language', which shifts the focus of linear architectural plans on the solids in a structure (the walls) to the voids (rooms or open spaces such as atria). These maps can also be reduced to a numeric form which represents the relationship of spaces within a structure and the street, what L. refers to as their Relative Asymmetry. This is arrived at through the measurement of mean depth and the number of spaces in a building. The numerical results provide a basis for measuring the degree of integration (or separation) between the street and a structure in an insula. From this data L. concludes that the spatial logic which leads to the patterns of doorway occurrence at Pompeii stems from the amount of activity and the density of settlement in an area. Thus, region 7 (east of the forum) is shown to be a unique locus in the town and one of particularly intense activity, due to the pressure to use street frontage to maximum effect.

Although the account of ch. 6 and 7 given here is somewhat condensed, L.'s text does not provide a great deal more explanation of the Hillier and Hanson methodology, but merely refers the reader to the relevant pages in the Social Logic of Space. Even those who have had reason to dip into Hillier and Hanson would likely benefit from a refresher course. For the true novice, and I suspect this includes many classical archaeologists and Pompeii scholars of various stripes, L. offers little clarification. Consequently, despite their brevity, or indeed because of it, both chapters are rather tough going. Some readers might also question the value of such seemingly complicated methods, since L. offers only succinct conclusions, with little elucidation. For example, in ch. 6 L. states that the fact that through-routes ran from the city gates indicates that the "social relationship between inhabitant and stranger was stronger than that between inhabitant and inhabitant" (103). Although it is presented without argumentation, such a statement requires discussion, such as which inhabitants and which strangers are meant here, and what kind of social relationships. L. does not explain the assertion, nor place it in the wider context of Roman social studies. Also problematic are several of his conclusions, which are at times simplistic, e.g. that the pattern of doorway occurrence was "related to the amount of activity and the density of settlement in an area" (121); or that through-routes from city gates ran toward the town centre "implies...that there was a high frequency of visitors to Pompeii" (103). To judge from this exercise, theoretical analysis of this kind tells us little that is new about Pompeii. Spatial theory is not well-served here; indeed, the use of both unfamiliar jargon and unexplained methodology, and the dearth of adequate argumentation are bound to alienate some readers.

And yet this reviewer is not unsympathetic to L.'s intentions. An approach like his, which does not eliminate but does subordinate the traditional historical and literary framework, and which produces results in unfamiliar forms, challenges our perceptions and assumptions about life in the ancient world. For example, the morphic language' of Hillier and Hanson offers an alternative route to interpreting spatial use. L. is one of the few among us to brave these particular theoretical waters, filled as they are with foreign terminology and a rather fearsome use of numerical formulae, graphs and charts to define space and interpret its use. To some, the cross-cultural approaches L. uses will be equally unfamiliar, and need more explanation. A careful translator is needed, one who both values innovative approaches but is also proficient in the conventional methods of classical scholarship. Since L. seems well-equipped to serve as interpreter between these two worlds, this part of the book represents something of a lost opportunity. A fuller investigation of these novel strategies would likely have been welcomed by many curious classical archaeologists.

The final two chapters return to more familiar ground. In ch. 8 L. deals with the temporal aspect of spatial use, in both public and private contexts. Drawing on literary sources he recounts the course of the day for different ranks within Roman society, and concludes that it was the activities of the male elite which determined when and how space was used. Thus, in the morning and evening the house was needed by the male head of the household for the salutatio and evening entertainment; in the middle of the day domestic space became female-dominanted, as Roman men went out to conduct business and visit the baths. L. suggests that the custom of public displays of status in the form of processions of the elite and their clients through the streets led to a distribution of elite houses throughout the city, rather than wealthy residential enclaves. So, although elite males frequented public baths, it was not desirable to live near them, since part of the point of visiting the baths was the public show of the entourage on the way there. The concluding ch. 9 reiterates the main themes of the book, that urban life was a product of complex social factors, and that both the nature of structures within the city and spatial use were the result of these social factors and were dictated by the needs of the male elite. Thus, the failure of the consumer city model to give sufficient weight to social as well as economic issues renders it inadequate. L. touches on a number of big ideas' in this chapter, including critiques of the consumer city model, alternative analyses of urbanism developed by theorists like D. Harvey, and in the work of Giddens and Lefebvre. However, this chapter suffers from the same compression as several of the others; more consideration of these authors and their concepts is required to demonstrate their applicability to the study of Pompeii.

Overall, the volume lacks coherence, perhaps due to its previous existence as part of a greater whole. L. draws on a wide range of material and approaches and touches on many themes; a more thorough synthetic chapter is needed to bring together the diverse strands of his argument. Contrary to Callimachean wisdom, in this case a bigger book would probably have been a better book. As it is the volume is slim and (in hardback) fairly expensive for its size. There is an abundance of maps which illustrate the distribution of the different establishments throughout the city, as well as a number of photos, charts and graphs. Typos in the text are minimal, although several works in modern languages other than English suffer from errors in spelling and accentuation in the bibliography. Because of its concise character, it is hard to recommend this book for use by undergraduates. Much background knowledge of both Pompeii and the Roman world is assumed by the author or condensed into the bracketed references (footnotes are few), and even specialists who pursue L.'s disparate sources are likely to find themselves venturing into hitherto unexplored sections of their library. This in itself however is not a bad thing. The transformation of classical archaeology from the proverbial handmaiden of history into a legitimate discipline of its own is still very much in process. A book like this offers a chance to broaden the traditional lines of inquiry and to see old material in radically new ways. Despite the aforementioned criticisms, therefore, L.'s book presents a valuable new perspective on a well-known subject.