Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.06.19

Steven J. R. Ellis (ed.), The Making of Pompeii: Studies in the History and Urban Development of an Ancient Town. JRA Supplementary series, 85.   Portsmouth, RI:  Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2011.  Pp. 196.  ISBN 9781887829854.  $99.00.  

Reviewed by Anna Anguissola, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (

Table of Contents

The collection brings together the results of the most recent archaeological fieldwork focusing on the pre-A.D. 79 history of Pompeii. Three principal goals are explicitly set in the short preface. The authors and editor intend first “to tell the history of Pompeii by combining data from the standing remains with that derived through recent archaeological excavation of stratified deposits”, second “to better contextualize the results across Pompeii and beyond”, and finally “to publish these outcomes to a broad readership which in recent years has been insufficiently informed by the publications of ongoing excavations”. The second objective, to set the findings against a wider background than their immediate chronological and topographical contexts, presents the greatest difficulties and highest risks, as wisely remarked by the editor himself (“the greatest challenge comes in standing back from the wealth of data generated by most excavations”, p. 9). It is precisely in this effort of crossing the boundaries of individual projects with a view to a comprehensive reconstruction of pre-A.D. 79 Pompeii, that the book is particularly successful, notwithstanding the preliminary nature of data derived from ongoing researches.

The book is divided into nine chapters, each exploring a different aspect of the layout, monumental landscape, and socio-economic organization of pre-A.D. 79 Pompeii. Most papers focus on the periods between the 6th and the mid-2nd centuries B.C. Several contribute, from various perspectives, to the debate over the history and function of the so-called Altstadt, an area in the southwestern sector of the site (ideally surrounded by the curving streets around the Forum: the Vico dei Soprastanti, Via degli Augustali, Vico del Lupanare, and Via dei Teatri), which is thought to have been the Archaic nucleus from which the larger city grew – a hypothesis which seems less and less satisfactory, as the knowledge over the earliest phases of Pompeii increases.

Chapter 1 constitutes an introduction to the whole book, as Pier Giovanni Guzzo summarizes the key moments in the formation of the city: from the earliest evidence for human activity in the Bronze Age, to the scattered settlements of the 7th century B.C., the growth of the city in the 6th century B.C. (when several major building projects were undertaken: the Doric Temple, the Temple of Apollo, and the defensive wall in pappamonte), the decline of the 5th century B.C., and the following revival under the influence of the new Samnite presence, in the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. Chapter 2, by Mark Robinson, concentrates on the earliest phases only, while broadening the perspective beyond the boundaries of the site, to include the whole Sarno valley. This well-documented article provides a clear overview of the many issues related to the prehistory and proto-history of the region, until the Orientalizing Period.

Chapter 3 summarizes some results of the largest and most ambitious ongoing program in Pompeii: the Progetto Regio VI, which brings together scholars from several Italian universities (Perugia, Naples “L’Orientale”, Venice, Trieste, Siena). Filippo Coarelli and Fabrizio Pesando outline the earliest development of Pompeii in light of the new data from the stratigraphic investigations in Regio VI. Recent research suggests that a strategy already guided the arrangement of buildings in Pompeii’s northwestern sector by the Archaic period. Three streets can be securely assigned to this period: Via Consolare, Via di Mercurio, and Vicolo del Fauno (and perhaps also Vicolo dei Vettii). After the “hiatus” of the 5th century B.C., which may be imputed to a natural disaster or, more likely, to changing population levels and settlement patterns, Pompeii knew another period of steady development. By the end of the 4th century B.C., the final version of the street grid was in place. The article includes a short survey of the domestic typologies identified for the 3rd century B.C. (the élite houses with Tuscan atrium, the so-called twin houses, and dwellings like that detected beneath the Casa del Centauro, with rooms flanking the entrance fauces and at the far side of a testudinate atrium).

In Chapter 4, Steven Ellis charts the growth and reorganization of the urban manufacture of salted fish (salsamentum) and its by-products (fermented fish sauce or garum). The research draws upon the results of the Porta Stabia Project, initiated in 2005 and based at the University of Cincinnati. In the immediate proximity of the Porta Stabia (at VIII.7.1-15 and I.1.1-10), archaeologists detected the remains of a series of small- scale fish-salteries, all of which were built within the second half of the 2nd century B.C. Other fish-salting vats have been recovered in pre-A.D. 79 levels in various areas of the town (above all, near Porta Ercolano). Almost all of these fish-salteries ceased to be used in the Augustan period and were converted to retail outlets. No such installation has been identified at Pompeii for the later periods, which is difficult to reconcile with the archaeological and epigraphic evidence for the successful activities of the garum merchant Aulus Umbricius Scaurus and with Pliny’s mention of Pompeii as a producer of high-quality garum. Ellis convincingly argues that the sudden surge of Spanish salted fish products and the increase of Spanish imports to Italy determined the contraction of the old Pompeian industry. The author suggests that, as a consequence, local producers may have chosen to relocate their manufacturing activities outside the town, in larger and more efficient workshops.

Chapter 6 by Paolo Carafa investigates the sanctuary usually known as the Triangular Forum, which occupies an area close to the city walls, between the theatre quarter and the southernmost insula of Regio VIII. The author identifies four main building phases. The first construction of a temple, perhaps in wood, should date to the second quarter of the 6th century B.C., replaced around 530 B.C. by the Doric Temple. According to Carafa, a second phase is to be dated between c.325 B.C. and c.130 B.C. (around the end of the 4th century the temple’s roof was decorated with antefixes depicting the head of Athena/Minerva and Hercules). Profound changes involved the sanctuary and the surrounding landscape between the late 2nd century B.C. and c.30 B.C. During the Augustan period, the area was reorganized once again, as both the neighboring Samnite Palestra and theatre underwent restoration. After the earthquake of A.D. 62, the Triangular Forum acquired its definitive appearance and was enclosed on three sides by a Doric colonnade. Carafa closes his discussion by comparing the location and monumental history of the Triangular Forum with those of the principal open space in Pompeii, the Forum.

Chapters 6 to 8 explore the history of pre-A.D. 79 Pompeii in light of three research programs focusing on different areas of the town: insula V.1 in the northeastern sector, the Insula Occidentalis along the southwestern boundary, and a zone north of the so-called Altstadt, including insula VII.2 and the Casa di Arianna (VII.4.31/51). Domenico Esposito, Pia Kastenmeier, and Catello Imperatore (Chapter 6) present the results of several campaigns (since 2004) at insula V.5 and the Caserma dei Gladiatori (V.5.3). Underneath the Caserma dei Gladiatori, built at the beginning of the 1st century B.C., the researchers identified several residential units dating to the 3rd century B.C., later involved in the extensive rearrangement of the following century. The oldest stratigraphic context brought to light within the Caserma dei Gladiatori is a massive structure made of blocks of pappamonte, which may have supported a wall of less durable materials. The two dense paragraphs by Domenico Esposito on the typology and function of the pappamonte structures in Pompeii (at pages 121-133) constitute one of the finest contributions to this collection (which could well have been presented as an individual article) and a useful supplement to most of the other papers. Much different is the history of the Casa di Marcus Fabius Rufus (VII.16.22), which is the subject of Chapter 7 by Mario Grimaldi. Since 2006, this house has been under investigation by a team from the Università Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples, that undertook excavations in the extramural garden and conducted an architectural survey of this exceptional “urban villa”. The paper charts the phases of urbanization for this part of the town and the changes that took place in the Casa di Marcus Fabius Rufus between its building in the second half of the 1st century BC and the eruption that wiped Pompeii off the map. In Chapter 8, Luigi Pedroni summarizes some results of the investigations conducted by the Institute for Archaeology of the Innsbruck University on the insulae VII.2 and VII.4. The author suggests that part of this area may have been occupied by the avant-corps of a fortification wall running north of the Altstadtm along the Via degli Augustali (to which may be referred the remains underneath the tabernae VII.2.27 and 30, beside the Casa di Mercurio). This structure ceased to be used after the beginning of the 3rd century B.C. and the area started being occupied by private dwellings. The mid-2nd century B.C. layout of the Casa di Arianna, for instance, supplanted a smaller building dated between the late 3rd and the early 2nd centuries B.C. Pedroni argues that, following the deduction of the Sullan colony, colonists of higher status occupied the houses in the proximity of the Forum, such as those in the northern sector of Regio VII (the Casa di N. Popidius Priscus and the Casa di Arianna, in fact, were in part renovated with frescoes of the Second Style).

The last section (Chapter 9) deals with an issue which has seldom been specifically addressed in the scholarly literature on Pompeii: the influence of the terrain on urban development. The research by Maija Holappa and Eeva- Maria Viitanen draws on the study of the insula IX.3 and the Casa di Marcus Lucretius (IX.3.5/24) conducted by the team of the Expeditio Pompeiana Universitatis Helsingiensis since 2002. Relying on the stratigraphic investigation in various areas of Pompeii, the chapter accounts for the ways by which terrain was adapted and exploited over three main phases: the Archaic period, the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., and the urban arrangement in A.D. 79.

The book is beautifully produced, well illustrated, and almost free of typesetting mistakes.1 Articles include updated bibliographies, generally providing a full list of the previous publications about each individual project.2

Certainly, this collection has been designed neither as a reference work nor as an (immediate) instrument for teaching. As a book for a specialized audience, it will rather appeal chiefly to the community of Pompeianisti and the students of the neighboring sites of Campania. Readers with a specific interest in Pompeii will find in these pages a number of stimulating ideas and a wealth of precious information, as well as an update on current research. The editorial venue is particularly well-chosen when considering the third objective established by the authors: to disseminate their results “beyond the typically specialized outlets”. In this sense, few series are as widely available and referred to by the students of Italian archaeology as the Supplements of the Journal of Roman Archaeology. Besides, the choice of having most chapters translated into English further increases the accessibility of the work.

It is to be hoped that, as the stratigraphically analyzed area of Pompeii increases, this deserving effort will be followed by similar undertakings, aimed at periodically collecting the results of recent research with a focus on the invisible history of the site, buried below the A.D. 79 level. Only within a broader, city-wide frame, the amount of information produced by individual projects may contribute to a comprehensive view of pre-Roman Pompeii, and its urban and social structures.


1.   Minor typos include: at p. 186, note 47 the mention of Ghedini 2003 does not find any match in the bibliography (where is instead cited a volume edited by Ghedini and Rosada in 1993); at p. 61 “I.1-10 (Table 1)” instead of “I.1.1-10 (Table 1)”. American and English ways of spelling alternate in the various chapters.
2.   One could perhaps only lament the absence of the collection Subterraneae domus (eds. Basso and Ghedini, 2003), from the bibliography about underground and semi-underground rooms provided in Chapter 9.

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