BMCR 2010.04.47

Framing Public Life: The Portico in Roman Gaul

James F. D. Frakes, Framing Public Life: The Portico in Roman Gaul. Wien: Phoibos Verlag, 2009. xi, 487. ISBN 9783901232961 €98.00.

[Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

Porticos are rarely studied on their own; due to their flexibility they are ubiquitous in the Roman world and are often treated as architectural building blocks that require little special consideration. Likewise, provincial architectural studies seem to have lagged behind similar studies on art. Thus, Frakes’s volume, which looks at public porticos in Roman Gaul, arguing for their importance in the urban fabric in the three provinces of Gallia Narbonensis, Lugdunensis and Aquitania, is a welcome contribution. The book is divided into six chapters, followed by a monumental catalogue (111-454), bibliography and three appendices.

In Chapter One, “Introduction: Scope and Methodology”, Frakes sets forth the aim of the book which is to look at “Romanization” and acculturation of Roman Gaul through the lens of public colonnaded architecture (p. 1). He also outlines his typology for Gallo-Roman porticos, methodology and theoretical approach. The author is interested in how the experiences of the portico were “crucial components in the Roman acculturative process” (p. 3); he uses a Phenomenological model to study these porticos (pp. 12-15).1 He also argues for treating the portico as a “form” or type of architecture in its own right. For this study he uses MacDonald’s system of organization for street porticos (pp. 6-7)2 and then sets forth his own typology (p. 9), identifying “five basic types”—the “plataea or plaza portico, the street portico [an unmodified version of MacDonald’s typology], the facade portico, the stoa portico and the cavea portico”.

In Chapter Two, “The Imagined Space of the Colonnade: Ancient Textual References,” Frakes reviews selected passages on portico architecture from the ancient sources and organizes their treatment of porticos according to four themes: 1. Architectural practice 2. Public euergetism 3. Suspected vice 4. Knowledgeable display (p. 19). This chapter establishes that public porticos were important settings for many activities; that Roman authors often portrayed the public portico as having specific social or political meanings; and that the portico played a role in forming a Roman identity in the provinces. Although his study is not philological, a more detailed discussion of some of the terminology, such as porticus triplex, might have been useful, as many of these terms are contentious. The final section of this chapter focuses on the role of the portico in education and display of learning and the link between Greek philosophy and stoicism. Certainly this association between philosophy and stoa is well attested, but consideration of the libraries found in the Porticus Octaviae and in porticos on the Palatine (associated with the Temple of Apollo), aside from in a footnote (n. 152), might have yielded further insights specific to Rome. Other scholars have also interpreted the public Roman porticus (the Porticus Pompei or the Porticus Liviae, for example) as a type of museum;3 therefore, engagement with this idea might have also been enlightening.

In Chapter Four, “The Augustan Settlement of Gaul: the Ordering Role of the Portico”, Frakes looks at the context of the porticos in Narbonensis and the capital of Lugdunensis, Lyon, to argue that there was a major urban transformation of Gaul under Augustus and that porticos played an integral part in this change. He first considers the porticos at Autun (Cat. No. 128-129), about which we have a 3rd century AD text. In this text Eumenius, the author, emphasizes how integral the porticos were for the reconstruction of Autun’s urban framework and to the city’s Roman identity in the 3rd century AD (pp. 41-45); this persuasive example demonstrates that by the High Empire the portico was a typical, if not essential, architectural form of the urban Gallic landscape. Frakes wants to see the Gauls as initiating these large urban projects rather than Roman authorities or individuals, but he provides little substantial evidence or argumentation for his view and observes that 60-100 of the Augustan porticos were built “in a land that formerly had very little experience with the architectural form” (p. 45). To bolster his case, he might have considered the few pre-Roman porticos known in Gaul, which are included in his catalogue, as way to argue that there was an interest in porticos and monumental architecture before the Romans arrived.4 Likewise a more detailed discussion of inscriptions in Gallic and Latin at certain sites could have supported his argument. Finally, as there are clear elements of Gallic character in much of provincial art from the region, one wonders whether any architectural elements could be cited as similar examples of a local variation on Roman architectural elements.

While the famous Forum of Nîmes and the porticos of Orange, which became a retirement city for the 2nd Legion Gallica, suggest a strong Roman presence in these cities rather than a local impetus for such architecture, other cities, such as Ruscino and Glanum, had fora whose forms were flexible adaptations of the Roman original. The urban form of these cities also saw the extensive use of the porticos and grids, which suggests a local population that actively engaged with Roman architectural forms and adapted them to suit their needs. Frakes then considers religious quadriporticus plazas that were not a part of fora; these are rarer and have less Roman iconography, again suggesting a local variation of this type of portico. Finally, his discussion of the forum and portico architecture of Lyon highlights how important porticos were to the capital of Gallia Lugdunensis.

In Chapter Four, “Representations of Columnar Space in Roman Gaul”, Frakes looks at artistic representations of columnar space to argue for the idea that “portico architecture was, in Gaul, as transformative on the level of imagination as it was on the ground” (p. 67). Specifically, he considers artworks that depicted porticos alongside the remains of porticos from the city of Vienne. He cites several examples of vases and goblets that show columnar architecture, including the Aco globet by Chrysippus (named for the potter’s mark on the vessel) (71; Fig 8) and a vase from Aoste (72; Fig. 9). He assumes that these vessels depict public porticos rather than private architecture, despite the fact that he observes that the goblet probably copies Roman wall paintings. He does not present any arguments in support of his interpretation. Frakes might have also considered whether the use of columnar architectural forms on ceramics is a local fusion of a Roman artistic tradition with the Gallic interest in pattern that is typical of metal work and other small objets d’art found in the North-West provinces.

Chapter Five, “Gallic Colonnades of the 1st and 2nd Centuries”, expands his discussion both “geographically and chronologically” (79) to deal with Gallic street porticos from the three provinces during the Julio-Claudian, Flavian and High Empire periods. He considers the experience of these porticos, porticos in rural sanctuaries and, finally, the Gallic porticos of the 2nd century AD and their decline. The summary plates demonstrate that porticos were integral urban elements of many of these cities and that they were constructed throughout the Julio-Claudian era. While Frakes does not discuss the function of these porticos, he applies the phenomenological method to explore the experience of walking in these porticos and streets. The descriptions of experiences in some of the porticos are interesting and more of this type of analysis would have been welcome additions to the volume. The decline of the porticos, also well outlined, matches the decline of the Western Empire.

Throughout the whole volume, a more extensive discussion of the function of different porticos and the possible experiences of these porticos would have been beneficial. Likewise a larger discussion of how the materials used—wood, limestone, stucco, as well as the lack of marble and, in many cases, elaborate entablatures in the porticos—and inscriptions, especially the bilingual ones, would have been interesting and may have strengthened his arguments. However, the extensive catalogues of public porticos more than makes up for these shortcomings. The bulk of Frakes’s effort clearly has gone into the catalogue (pp. 111-453); this section is outstanding. Frakes has gathered a tremendous amount of information and organized it logically and clearly. The descriptions are good, and the measurements included (including depth of the portico, column measurements, capital types, etc) are helpful for a scholar wanting to compare sites. He also gives the topographical context for the sites as well as the types of remains found in each portico. The plans are clear, easy to read and easily compared since Frakes tried to use the same scales where possible. Each site entry also contains a useful bibliography. The catalogue will be an important reference for scholars and students who want to study Gallo-Roman porticos, but also for those who are interested in Gallo-Roman urbanism, forum and sanctuary architecture. The appendices, which organize the material into alphabetical, metrological and chronological concordances (pp. 463-487), are also very helpful again allowing scholars to use the catalogue for a range of purposes.

The book is beautifully produced on lovely paper, and the images are very good, which explains the cost; however, the editing could have been better as there are numerous incorrect references in the text to catalogue entries in Chapters One and Five.

Typically, provincial studies are written in the modern language of that province, so such a publication in English may help to broaden the appeal of provincial studies and encourage more comparison of architecture throughout the empire. Thus, the book is noteworthy and important work for scholars who work on Roman public architecture and urbanism, especially those interested in the northwest provinces.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents v
List of Illustrations vii
Acknowledgements xi
Chapter 1—Introduction: Scope and Methodology 1
Agricola’s Porticoes: the Cultural Seduction of the Subject 1
The Geographical Selection of Roman Gaul 4
Defining the Roman Portico 5
A Typology of Porticoes 6
Architecture, Social Identity, and ‘Romanization’ 10
The Phenomenological Model 12
The Structure of the Study 16
Chapter 2 -The Imagined Space of the Colonnade: Ancient Textual References 18
Building the Intercolumnar Space 19
Euergetism: Pleasing the Public With Porticoes 22
Misstepping: The Ambiguity of the Portico 27
Thinking Spaces: The Education of the Body Politic 34
Chapter 3 – The Augustan Settlement of Gaul: the Ordering Role of the Portico 39
Roman Communities in Gaul Before Augustus 39
The Experience of the Portico in Roman Gaul 41
Establishing the Civic Center: the Forum of Nimes 46
Fora of Augustan Gaul: Location and Layout 49
Fora of Augustan Gaul: Architecture and Ornament 57
Non-Forum Quadriporticus Plazas in Augustan Narbonensis 61
Creating a Capital: Lyon as a Platform for Gallic Urbanization 64
Chapter 4 – Representations of Columnar Space in Roman Gaul 67
The Porticoes of Vienne: Architecture and Ceramics 68
A World at One’s Feet: Commerce and Portico Mosaics 74
Conclusion 78
Chapter 5 – Gallic Colonnades of the 1st and 2nd Centuries 79
Gallic Urban Plazas under the Julio-Claudians and Flavians 79
Street Porticoes: Delineating the Experience of the City 83
Shaping the Countryside: the Colonnades of Rural Sanctuaries 90
Maintaining the Framework: The Aging of Gallic Porticoes 100
Chapter 6 – Conclusions 105
Public Life Unframed: The End of the Gallo-Roman Portico? 107
Catalogue Introduction 111
Catalogue Part I – Gallia Narbonensis 112
Catalogue Part II – Gallia Lugdunensis 239
Catalogue Part III – Gallia Aquitania 369
Bibliography 455
Appendix I: Alphabetical Concordance of Gallic Porticoes 463
Appendix II: Metrological Concordance of Gallic Porticoes 465
Appendix III: Chronological Concordance of Gallic Porticoes 470


1. Some recent work that might have informed this discussion is not cited. See, for example Bergmann, B. (1994). “The Roman House as Memory Theater: The House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.” ArtB, 76(2): 225-256; Clarke, J.R. (1991). The houses of Roman Italy, 100 B.C.-A.D. 250: Ritual, Space, and Decoration. Berkeley; Oxford: University of California Press; Kuttner, A. L. (2003). “Delight and Danger in the Roman Water Garden: Sperlonga and Tivoli.” In Landscape Design and the Experience of Motion. Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, 24. Edited by M. Conan, 103-156. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks; Laurence, R. (1994). Roman Pompeii: Space and Society. London: Routledge; O’Sullivan, T. (2006). “The Mind in Motion: Walking and Metaphorical Travel in the Roman Villa.” CP 101(2): 133-52; (2007) “Walking with Odysseus: The Portico Frame of the Odyssey Landscapes” AJP 128 (4): 497-532; Corbeill, A. (2002). “Political Movement: Walking and Ideology in Republican Rome.” In The Roman Gaze: Vision, Power and the Body. Edited by D. Fredrick, 182-215. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press; (2004). Nature Embodied: Gesture in Ancient Rome. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

2. MacDonald, W. (1986). The Architecture of the Roman Empire II: An Urban Appraisal. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.

3. Kuttner, A. L. (1999). “Culture and History at Pompey’s Museum.” TAPA 129: 343-373; Macaulay-Lewis E. (2009), “Political Museums: Porticos, Gardens and the Public Display of Art in Ancient Rome,” in S. Bracken, A. Gáldy and A. Turpin (eds), Collecting and Dynastic Ambition. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 1-21.

4. See Jefferson, V. “The Monumental Architecture of ‘Hellenistic’ France” in Quinn, J. and Prag, J. (eds) The Hellenistic West. Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.