Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.03.35

Girolamo F. De Simone, Roger T. MacFarlane (ed.), Apolline Project Vol. 1. Studies on Vesuvius’ North Slope and the Bay of Naples, Quaderni della ricerca scientifica: serie beni culturali 14.   Naples; Provo, UT:  Università degli Studi Suor Orsola Benincasa; Brigham Young University, 2009.  Pp. 380.  ISBN 9788896055007.  

Reviewed by Myles McCallum, Saint Mary's University (


This book is the first of what promises to be a series of publications to disseminate the results of archaeological research undertaken as part of the Apolline Project on the north slope of Mount Vesuvius. This project, which includes researchers from the Università degli Studi Suor Orsola Benincasa di Napoli and Brigham Young University in Provo, developed out of a collaborative research effort between the University of Tokyo and the Università degli Studi Suor Orsola Benincasa di Napoli in 2002, seeks to shed light on the Roman archaeological remains of a long neglected region within of the Bay of Naples. At the book’s core is a preliminary presentation of the results of investigations completed between 2006 and 2007, principally at the site of Pollena Trocchia, località Masseria de Carolis. The book contains contributions from Italian, American, and Japanese scholars, most of which are written in Italian with a minority composed in English.

The book is divided into three sections: The Bay of Naples; The North Slope of Vesuvius; and Students’ Papers. The fist section seeks to provide the archaeological and historical background to the Bay of Naples into which subsequent discussion of Vesuvius’ north slope will be inserted. The third section is a collection of student essays on a wide range of topics related to archaeological activity on the volcano’s north slope. For obvious reasons, this review focuses on the first two of these sections.

The first section presents a very broad view of the archaeology of the Bay of Naples, including articles—or perhaps what may be described better as essays—by Pappalardo, Belli, Ciardello, Franciosi, and Grimaldi, covering topics such as the urban development of Pompeii, Roman villas on the Bay of Naples, and the decorative frescoes from Oplontis. In general, these essays present little new information to serious scholars of the Bay of Naples during the Roman period, although they are generally well written and contain useful bibliography. The essays would be of great utility to upper-level undergraduate students in North America taking courses on Pompeii and the Bay of Naples; unfortunately, all but one is written in Italian, thereby making them inaccessible to the audience that might most benefit from them. Overall, the collection is not very tightly connected: there is no overt acknowledgement on the part of authors that they are writing as part of a larger, synthetic work; nor is a direct connection made to the material on Vesuvius’ north slope presented in section 2.

Section 2, which is approximately 200 pages in length, presents a few more essays, this time on topics related to archaeological research on the volcano’s north slope, the preliminary results from excavations at Somma Vesuvio and Polenna Trocchia, località Masseria de Carolis, and some discussion of the historical context of the archaeological remains at these two sites. This includes an article by Matteo della Corte, written in the 1930’s but never published, on Augustus’ last visit to the Bay of Naples.

In general, section 2 presents some information that is new and of great interest to those engaged in archaeological research in the Bay of Naples, particularly those focused on the region after the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius. MacFarlane’s essay, “Vesuviuan Narratives: Collisions and Collusions of Man and Volcano,” presents the historical narratives for eruptions dating to AD 472, 505, and 512, as part of a longer meditation on metonymic vs. metaphoric discourse. As part of this discussion, MacFarlane asks his reader to imagine what future narratives of these late antique eruptions will be once the Apolline project has run its course and published its results; this may be of moderate interest to archaeologists but of little real utility (although it is something that I may bring up in my undergraduate Pompeii course in the future). The data presented by Tomoo Mukai, Cohe Sugiyama, and Masanori Aoyagi on the locally produced coarsewares and finewares from Somma Vesuvio is interesting and generally well- presented, and the same can be said of the results from the excavations at Pollena Trocchia written by De Simone, MacFarlane, Lubrano, Bartlett, Cannella, Martucci, Scarpati, and Perrotta, although in both cases the data is presented in a preliminary fashion and, with respect to Pollena Trocchia, in a rather fragmentary form. Not all of the trenches opened are discussed in the same detail or format, and, as a result, information is lacking with respect to a number of the trenches. The overall occupational history of the site is, however, discussed in some detail and compelling reasons and sound data for dating the site and identifying activities in particular parts of it at different historical periods are presented. Other articles present information on the territory of Nola, what is known of settlement patterns and productive infrastructure on the volcano’s north slope in late antiquity, the Constantinian churches of Campania, and some insights on archaeobotanical data from the Vesuvius region during the Roman period. Overall, however, section 2, like section 1, takes a scattergun approach, with no direct or overt elements connecting the various contributions, and with not all of the contributions focused on the archaeological remains found on Vesuvius’ north slope. While De Simone and MacFarlane point out in their introduction (page 20) that the work reflects the multidisciplinary nature of the project in its initial years, presumably a determined editor could connect the dots in a more satisfactory manner.

In the final analysis this reviewer finds the complete publication interesting, potentially useful, but a bit of a puzzle. Some sections (essays, preliminary reports, and articles) present new and interesting data, while others present information that is available to readers elsewhere in more detailed publications. The format of the book is uneven and its contents do not form much of a cohesive whole, reading more like a collection of conference papers rather than a focused, book length treatment of archaeological research on the north slope of Vesuvius. To make matters worse, with the exception of the two presentations of preliminary excavation results noted above, the visual evidence is presented poorly, particularly in the essays in section 1, where tiny black and white photographs, drawings, and plans appear in the margins, with few of them labeled and equally few clearly legible. The reviewer is also puzzled about the inclusion of student essays in section 3, something that is likely of little interest to the intended audience. As the volume is in part published by Brigham Young University, perhaps these essays were a required element to secure funding from an academic dean or vice president, but this is pure speculation. Having said this, let me repeat that there are some good things in this volume, but the wheat and the chaff have not been separated; those looking for a presentation of the results from the Apolline project may feel rather let down when they realize that out of a total of 369 pages of text, less than 40 are dedicated to this task. Despite the above criticisms, this reviewer eagerly anticipates future publications of the Apolline Project; the archaeological approach appears sound and the results should greatly expand our knowledge of a part of the Bay of Naples and a historical period that have too long lingered in the shadows of archaeological research focused on the first century AD conducted at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

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