Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.01.21

John J. Dobbins, Pedar W. Foss (ed.), The World of Pompeii.   New York:  Routledge, 2007.  Pp. xli, 662; maps 4; figs. passim.  ISBN 978-0-415-17324-7.  $250.00.  



Reviewed by Carol C. Mattusch, George Mason University (Mattusch@gmu.edu)
Word count: 2220 words

The editors' (hereafter JD and PF) modest hope that The World of Pompeii will serve as an updated variation on the themes of August Mau's Pompeii: Its Life and Art (p. xxvii) is no preparation for the wealth of information presented here, not to mention access to the thoughts and work of many leading Pompeii scholars from the eighteenth century onwards. This is primarily a book about architecture, urban design, and society: those of us who are interested in the entire Bay of Naples region, in its art, or in the rediscovery of the ancient sites will be disappointed, but there are some notable exceptions, such as chapters on houses not in Pompeii but in Herculaneum (J.-A. Dickmann), on the suburban villas in the region (E. M. Moormann), and on the evidence provided by the casts and the 1,450 skeletal remains from Pompeii and Herculaneum (E. Lazer).

August Mau's Pompeii: Its Life and Art (trans. Francis W. Kelsey [1899]) has 8 sections and 59 chapters that Mau himself wrote. JD and PF have assembled essays by 40 different authors, half of whom are well known for their fieldwork and publications on various aspects of ancient Pompeii, but only five of whom are Italians. Many of the essays here refer directly to Mau's work, revealing its importance in the development of Pompeian studies, particularly to students of architecture. Indeed, the second edition of Mau (1907) is accessible through this book's website: http://homepage.mac.com/pfoss/Pompeii/WorldOfPompeii/index.html. Also frequently cited is J. H. D'Arms's Romans on the Bay of Naples, which, since its production in 1970, continues to be indispensable for the range of topics that he illuminated, guided of course by the evidence provided by the ancient literary testimonia.1

The editors faced all the problems regarding length, coverage, organization, and format that can be expected in a project involving many authors. The essays generally range in length from 10 to 20 pages, with a few longer ones. Those that have sub-headings and conclusions are easier to follow than those without. Five of the essays have no illustrations, and many of the others have fewer than ten: all are black and white and of poor quality. In today's world of archaeological publishing, it is simply not acceptable for a recitation of the four styles of Pompeian wall-painting (V. M. Strocka) to be printed without color illustrations (ch. 20). This is also a drawback in ch. 21, a far more readable overview of mosaics and stuccoes (J.R. Clarke).2 Indeed both of these essays stand in need of references to monographs on particular Pompeian houses and their décor, particularly those more recently published.3

Although there is much new information in this volume, it is difficult to locate, and many recent publications are of course not included, particularly those in Italian which have been appearing at an extraordinarily rapid rate. Two essays have no footnotes, and twenty-five have no bibliography. The lack of a comprehensive bibliography limits the book's value, and may encourage academics to choose only a few chapters for their students to read. It would have been useful for students and non-specialists to be given lists of surveys and of the catalogues of the many exhibitions about Pompeian subjects that have rekindled public interest in the region around the Bay of Naples during recent years.

The plans of Pompeii and Herculaneum (maps 2, 3, 4) are too small to read without magnification. Although there is a cd at the back of the book and each plan is given in pdf, tif, and jpeg formats, one has to load the plan, orient oneself, and enlarge the relevant portion. Larger plans printed on heavy stock in a pocket would have been far easier to handle and to consult while reading those chapters that require them or while visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum. Maps 1 and 2 benefit from the color provided on the cd. Fig 3.1, showing the different phases of Pompeii's excavation (p. 30), is also easier to read in the color image. Pompeii's districts, shown on fig. 10.1 (p. 130), are perfectly legible in black and white, and need not be viewed in color as presented on the cd.

That this book should serve as "an introduction to Pompeian studies" (p. xxvii) is only true up to a point, owing to the uneven character of the essays, and to the fact that the contents are limited for the most part to architectural and urban studies. The question was also not resolved of how closely to focus the book on Pompeii alone, given that the sites on the Bay of Naples are all so closely related to one another in many ways, not least of which is their location. The intention that each essay should be "a self-contained unit" (p. xxviii) is an excellent one but is very difficult to carry out in a work of this size, particularly because of the frequent cross-references to essays and illustrations elsewhere in the volume, as in R. Ling's ch. 9 on the forum and public buildings in Pompeii.

The World of Pompeii has 4 parts: Beginnings (I); The Community (II); Housing (III); and Society and Economy (IV). The book covers pre-79-AD Pompeii, as Mau of course did not, in chapters by P.G. Guzzo, P. Carafa, S. De Caro, and H. Geertman. The current work combines Mau's separate sections on Trades and Occupations, Tombs, Art, and Inscriptions within Part IV (Society and Economy). Topics of many of the chapters follow Mau as well, but the essays that adhere to Mau most closely are perhaps the least successful. F. Pirson, for instance, in an apparent attempt to adhere to Mau's chapters 47 and 48, deals with conditions of work for bakers and fullers (ch. 29) rather than with the wide range of Pompeian industries for which there is both direct and indirect evidence. Mention should have been made of at least some of them--painters, marble-carvers, plasterers, lamp-makers, woodworkers, and jewelers, along with selected references to individuals who have worked on these topics, such as T. Budetta, M. Pagano, C. Landwehr, A. d'Ambrosio, and E. De Carolis. J. DeFelice's brief account of inns and taverns (ch. 30) also follows Mau's ch. 49 too closely for comfort.

Four of the eight chapters in Part I could serve well as background reading for a college course on Pompeii: they cover the region (ch. 1, P. G. Guzzo); the ancient history and testimonia about Pompeii (ch. 2, J.-P. Descoeudres); the history and impact of the 18th- and 19th-century rediscoveries (ch. 3, P. W. Foss); and recent investigations of the early town of Pompeii (ch. 5, P. Carafa). To those four should be added A. Laidlaw's fine guide (ch. 39) to the early excavators of Pompeii.4

Two chapters on historiography in Part IV--on the economy and on inscriptions - are more difficult for general readers. In ch. 32 W. M. Jongman observes that whereas early studies of Pompeii's economy "provided optimistic images of a world hardly different from our own" (p. 503), we should instead recognize that Pompeii "was not a happy little town, hardly different from our own world" (p. 513). J. Franklin's overview of the scholarship on inscriptions, graffiti, and wax tablets and their evidence for the nature of Pompeian society and public offices (ch. 33) can be augmented by hundreds of actual texts that are now available with translations.5 Being primary sources, these may appeal to students in a way that an historiographical summary of the scholarship does not.

H. Sigurdsson's dense chapter (4) on volcanic activity is difficult reading, and terms like "arcuate," "paleosoils," "fluviatile," and "phreatic," that may baffle non-volcanologists, do not appear in the 11-page glossary, which is in general very thorough. Some editing is needed here, and this essay would have benefited as well from citations of locally published books and articles about the Vesuvian region.6

J.-P. Adam's ch. (8) on building materials, construction, and chronology with J. J. Dobbins's appendix on concrete are clear and workmanlike overviews for newcomers to the field. In contrast, S. De Caro's case study of archaic sanctuaries (ch. 6) and H. Geertman's survey of the growth of pre-Roman Pompeii (ch. 7) are better suited to architectural and urban specialists and do not fit very well within the stated intentions of this work.

In Part II, C. Chiaramonte's description of the walls and gates and their history (ch. 11) is fascinating, and ties in neatly with the chapters by Westfall (10) and Dobbins (12). In C. W. Westfall's (illustrated) essay on Pompeian districts, readers can see clearly "the linkages between the forum and the city's districts" (p. 138). And the results of new work carried out through the Pompeii Forum Project in Dobbins's lengthy chapter provide succinct overviews of the history and significance of these buildings and this region of the city, making another valuable chapter for readers interested in the big picture.

In Part II, A.M. Small's chapter 13 on religion in the region of Mt. Vesuvius, particularly in Pompeii and Herculaneum, might be read alongside De Caro's ch. 6 in Part I on early sanctuaries.7 C. Parslow's excellent chapter 14 on public entertainment--the buildings and the entertainments carried out therein--can be paired with A. O. Koloski-Ostrow's new study in ch. 15 of bathing facilities--both the architecture and uses of these complexes, and the history of scholarship from Mau onwards, with concluding sections on "New Research" and "New Directions for Bath Research." In a short chapter (16) on wells, cisterns, pipes, sanitation, and waste disposal, G. Jansen provides brief answers to some but not all frequently asked questions, such as the nature and functions of the water features that became common in Pompeian gardens after the introduction of the aqueduct.8

Part III, on Housing, covers architectural topics ranging from the uses of space to house types to the design of insulae to what is known about coastal villas. P.A. Allison (ch. 17) focuses on the design of the atrium house and the evidence for the uses of various rooms provided by the material remains from thirty Pompeian houses. A. Wallace-Hadrill (ch. 18) surveys house types and construction materials with Vitruvius in hand, using the archaeological evidence to link houses in Pompeii to domestic architecture elsewhere in Italy, tracing Hellenization, and seeing the atrium house as 'not a single model of construction, but a set of paradigms that allowed many different expressions' (p. 288). J. C. Fant (ch. 22) considers real and faux marble décor, the origins of the marbles either actually used or depicted as used, providing testimony to the relationship between "house owners' aspirations" (p. 341) and courtly tastes in exotic marbles, piquing our interest in the foreign marble trade to Roman Italy. These chapters are followed by four specialized case studies: of insulae and changing house plans in Regions I and II (S.C. Nappo, ch. 23); of early house plans in Regions V and IX (K. Peterse, ch. 24); of housing developments in Insula VI.1 (R. Jones and D. Robinson, ch. 25); and of multi-level homes along the southern and western walls of Pompeii (R.A.Tybout, ch. 26).

As for other sites on the Bay of Naples, J.-A. Dickmann's welcome chapter on the houses of Herculaneum (ch. 27) provides interesting general information regarding the size of Herculaneum (about one-third the size of Pompeii at ca. 320 x 350 m), the amount of the city excavated to date (one-fourth), and the greater depth of the site in contrast to Pompeii (for his '10 m' [p. 421] substitute '20--30 m').9 E. M. Moormann's review of suburban villas, with sections on the chronology for villa construction, ownership and management, includes villas at Stabiae, Boscoreale, and Herculaneum, images of villas (unillustrated), and, unusually for this book, he includes references up to 2005.

The late W. Jashemski's summary of her work on gardens (ch. 31) is an impressive reminder of the impetus her work has given to the study of Vesuvian flora. Indeed, the Antiquarium at Boscoreale contains a good deal of material relating to this subject.10 A chapter on garden décor would be welcome at this point in the volume.11 A. O. Koloski-Ostrow and C. L. Lyons edited a very useful book about women in antiquity,12 not mentioned by F. Bernstein in ch. 34, which is based instead upon the author's own Ph.D. thesis of 1987. Although in ch. 35 we learn something about the roles and habitats of slaves in Pompeii, and about how these are easier to determine than how many slaves there were (M. George), there are no chapters devoted to children or education.13

For readers interested in material remains, the study of artifacts is introduced in ch. 19, in which there is a case study of a well-to-do household (the House of the Beautiful Impluvium, I.9.1-2) whose artifacts point to "dining and dicing, toilet activities and personal adornment" (p. 299). But this is all there is about the contents of Pompeian homes. K. Welch considers three types of Pompeian portraits (ch. 36) - public, domestic, and funerary. That Vesuvian sites provide contextual evidence adds to the value of this chapter. And finally, the importance of multiple approaches to ancient Pompeii is nicely demonstrated by the two complementary chapters on death--E. Lazer on the human remains (ch. 38), and S. Cormack on Pompeiian tombs, covering location, typology, chronology, décor, and texts (ch. 37).


Notes:


1.   See now J. H. D'Arms, Romans on the Bay of Naples and Other Essays on Roman Campania, ed. Fausto Zevi (2003).
2.   On mosaics, for example, see C. Cicirelli and M. P. Guidobaldi, Pavimenti e mosaici nella Villa dei Misteri di Pompei (2000), and S. De Caro I mosaici: La Casa del Fauno (2001).
3.   For brief and well-illustrated overviews of these and of many other general topics, as well as for illustrated descriptions of individual structures, readers might consult S. C. Nappo, Pompeii: Guide to the Lost City (1998).
4.   An indispensable resource for all the sites around the Bay of Naples, the finds, the archaeologists and scholars, politicians and travelers, and the region itself, is, of course, I.C. McIlwaine's Herculaneum: A Guide to Printed Sources (1988), which Laidlaw does not cite.
5.   A.E. Cooley and M.G.L. Cooley, Pompeii: A Sourcebook (2004 pb.).
6.   See, for example, N. di Fusco and E. Di Caterina, Il Vesuvio (1998).
7.   The bibliography for ch. 13 might now include S. De Caro's booklet, Il santuario di Iside (2006).
8.   This essay should have made reference to recent publications like V. Marchis and G. Scalva, "The Science and Technology of Water," and their references to Italian sources (Pompeii: Life in a Roman Town ed. A. Ciarallo and E. De Carolis [1999], 291-293).
9.   Dickmann notes that he submitted his essay in 1998.
10.   See G. Stefani, Uomo e ambiente nel territorio vesuviano: Guida all'Antiquarium di Boscoreale (2003?).
11.   Among the many recent works on Vesuvian gardens that readers might wish to consult are three paperbacks by A. Ciarallo, Il Giardino Pompeiano: Le piante, l'orto, I segreti della cucina (2002), Pompei verde (2006), and Flora pompeiana antica (2007). For garden paintings, see Il Giardino dipinto nella Casa del Bracciale d'Oro a Pompei (exh. cat. 1991). Also of interest is a recent exhibition in Florence: Il giardino antico da Babilonia a Roma: Scienza, arte e natura, eds. G. di Pasquale and F. Paolucci (2007). And, on a related topic, see V. E. Pagán, Rome and the Literature of Gardens (2006).
12.   Naked Truths, ed. A. O. Koloski-Ostrow and C. L. Lyons (1997).
13.   For a study of this topic, see now L. Garcia y Garcia, Pupils, Teachers and Schools in Pompeii: Childhood, Youth and Culture in the Roman Era (2005).

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