BMCR 2001.06.17

Pompeii. Art guide. Itineraries

, , Pompeii. Art guide. Itineraries. Napoli: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 1998. 160 pages : illustrations (some color), maps ; 25 cm.. ISBN 888265026X $24.95.

The present book, which is an unrevised reprint of an earlier edition from the year 1998,1 exists as a publication of the Paul Getty Museum from 2000 as well. It is written mostly by one of the two authors, Antonio d’Ambrosio, who already edited in the same year 1998 a small guide-book in German on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the excavations of Pompeii, which was published by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompeii.2 This volume, which contains only 64 pages, presents a brief overview of the most important monuments of Pompeii, which were explained somewhat disjointedly in three small itineraries with the help of some copperplate engravings but almost without maps. Some of these shortcomings could be managed in the recent publication: on almost every page there can be found colour photos of good quality and also clear maps with itineraries.

The book consists of five parts: an historical introduction written by the director of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompeii, Piero Giovanni Guzzo (sometimes his first name is written as Pietro or also Pier—perhaps as a kind of mistake), three itineraries through Pompeii composed by Antonio d’Ambrosio, and one page for a thematic and geographical index of places and buildings. A preface is lacking as well as a conclusion. On p. 158 the book abruptly closes with the description of the tablinum of the Villa of the Mysteries. A short bibliography would also have been useful.

The introduction consists of 20 pages; after a short discussion about the discovery there follows on pp. 8-27 an historical survey of the city and its settlement. What is a little bit curious is the derivation of the name “Pompeii” from a supposed Italic root connected with the number five. According to Guzzo this was because of the joining together of five ethnic groups. Such a connotation, however, can not be attested from the sources.

On pp. 30-90 we find an itinerary A with the discussion of 31 sites. It starts in the western part of the city at the porta Marina and goes at first in the northern direction to the House of the Vettii and then through the Vicolo del Lupanare again back south to the theatre and finishes at the house of the Ceii. Afterwards the south-eastern part of the city, starting at the Via dell’Abondanza and finishing at the porta Nocera, is described in the itinerary B on pp. 91-114, discussing in all twelve places. Finally on pp. 115-158 the last 15 sights are described in a third itinerary C. It starts in the centre with the house of Iulius Polybius and ends at the northern most point of the town with the villa of the Mysteries. With the help of these three tours of two to three hours almost all the ancient city can be visited in a well coordinated walk.

As the intention of this publication is rather to serve as a small guide without representing special literature for archaeologists, it is not astonishing that it doesn’t give new scientific knowledge. Each stop is discussed in a few lines without profound scientific statements. For the non-specialist, for whom the book seems to be composed primarily, explanations of termini, e. g. expressions for building techniques translations of Latin words are given; on the other hand one would have expected the four styles of wall paintings to be described properly in the introduction. An explanation follows only after frequent reference to the wall paintings, often without links to the main discussion (of only the first two styles) on p. 119! The information given to the reader in these few lines is scanty; D’Ambrosio hardly gives any hint of the history of the buildings or any details. For example the forum-complex is described in nine pages (four pages text, one map and ten photos), which is—compared with the 44 pages and a map for each building on the forum in the guide from Coarelli3—not much. The information is scanty, often lacking building phases or dimensions of places and buildings; it would have been better to stress some places and to ignore others. The description normally follows a pattern: after the information about the dating, reflections about the function and a small description of the site are presented. As a further criticism it can be said that in many cases the photos are not described properly. Descriptions like “detail from a life-size painting” (p. 19) or even more stereotypical and short “detail of painting” (pp. 22, 23) should have been interpreted with more care.

Besides there are some errors: On p. 32 the building construction of the porta Marina is described as opus cementitium (with a wrong spelling—instead of caementitium) whereas the whole porta is made of opus incertum.4 There are in general many mistakes with regard to Latin words. The building of Eumachia was not either built in opus lateritium (written incorrectly instead of latericium), but in opus incertum.5 On p. 137 the duumvir M. Lucretius Fronto is called M. Lucretius Frontone. It can’t be only a printing mistake, as on p. 153 the Latin word for an imperial priest in the nominative is translated as augustale. Moreover d’Ambrosio refers to Coarelli’s maps with some numbers without reproducing them or including a reference (e.g. on pp. 49, 50, 52, 54, 59, 67, 70, 72, 83, 89, 95, 100, 104, 106, 107, 109, 118, 125, 126, 127, 129, 131, 137, 142).

Furthermore sometimes one would have expected more details. On p. 38 Eumachia is said to have presided over the guild of fullones. No reasons are given for this hypothesis, though there exists an inscription from the fullones, dedicated to their patrona. From the tomb of Mamia e.g. (p. 153) the author only mentions that it should be a semicircular base (schola) of the priestess Mamia, as is said on the backrest. About the inscription and the person of Mamia he does not give further information.

So the authors don’t deliver anything new. On the contrary, it seems as if the guide from Coarelli was only excerpted sometimes with little care. It is only a small guide book without scientific standards. Often, perhaps because of the shortness of the descriptions, there are some errors, although the book offers a clear itinerary with maps and photographs of good quality. It seems to be composed for the non-specialist public; but someone who doesn’t know Pompeii will be confronted with some mysteries.

Principally it must be said, that this publication is one of many small guides to the site of Pompeii, published in recent years. Like the one by Marchi and Pago6 or the 48 page volume by Rice (and others)7 it gives a short overview. As there is not any new scientific knowledge from recent excavations the choice has been either to write a summarizing guide or to concentrate on a special detail. So the study from Zanker8 concentrated on the building situation in Pompeii, whereas Gesemann9 discussed the development of the streets. More scientific views with new discussions were also presented in an catalog from an exhibition of the years 1993/1994 in Rome.10

None the less it must be acknowledged—as already stressed—that this guide gives some primary information with good photographic documentation.


1. A. d’Ambrosio and P. G. Guzzo, Pompeii. Art guide; itineraries, Roma 1998.

2. A. d’Ambrosio (ed.), Pompeji entdecken. Besichtigungsrundgänge anlässlich des 250. Jahrestages seit Beginn der Ausgrabungen, Mailand 1998.

3. F. Coarelli (ed)., Pompeji. Archäologischer Führer. Verf. und aktualisiert von E. La Rocca u.a. Augsburg 1997.

4. Ebd. 112.

5. Ebd. 156.

6. E. Marchi and Th. Pago, Neapel mit Pompeji und der Amalfi-Küste, Rheda-Wiedenbrück 1999.

7. M. Rice, R. Bonson, and E. Schweikart, Pompeji. Der Untergang einer Stadt, Hildesheim 1999.

8. P. Zanker, Pompeji. Stadtbild und Wohngeschmack (= Kulturgeschichte der antiken Welt 61), Mainz a. Rhein 1995.

9. B. Gesemann, Die Strassen der antiken Stadt Pompeji. Entwicklung und Gestaltung (= Europäische Hochschulschriften R. 38, Bd. 56), Frankfurt a. Main u.a. 1996.

10. Riscoprire Pompei. Catalogo della mostra negli Musei Capitolini, Palazzo dei Conservatori, 1993-1994, Roma 1993.