BMCR 2024.05.24

Pompei i 13 per angusta itinera: il settore sud occidentale, l’angolo nord orientale

, Pompei i 13 per angusta itinera: il settore sud occidentale, l'angolo nord orientale. Studi e ricerche del parco archeologico di Pompei, 47. Rome: "L'Erma" di Bretschneider, 2022. Pp. x, 236. ISBN 9788891325167.

Pompeian studies are thriving. For the first time in decades, clearance excavations are revealing parts of the city that have been lost since the eruption of 79 CE, while installing new hydraulic infrastructure to protect the site from its most common source of degradation. Alongside this work, university-led subsurface excavations are delving into the stratigraphy underlying Pompeii, while major conservation projects are restoring its standing buildings. Other studies, meanwhile, conducted in the archives and on the ancient streets, continue to demonstrate the potential of non-invasive methods to introduce new understandings. Such efforts are made all the more exciting by devoting much of their attention to the lower classes. This movement has been building since the 1990s but has come to a peak recently, best encapsulated by the opening of the exhibit, “L’altra Pompeii: Vite comuni all’ombra del Vesuvio” at the archaeological park in December 2023; during the same month, the park welcomed its four millionth visitor of the year, breaking all previous records for tourist numbers. Gallo’s book fits well into this flourishing period for the city, demonstrating the value of returning to overlooked areas of Pompeii and conducting thorough analysis of their surviving remains and archival records to shed light on the lives of the non-elite.

This study represents Gallo’s final publication of nearly 40 years of work in Region I, Insula 13 at Pompeii. His efforts in the block began with stratigraphic sondages in I.13.1 in the late 1980s and I.13.2 in the early 1990s.[1] After completing a study of the Casa degli Epidii (IX.1.20) in the mid-2000s, he returned to Insula I.13 on the advice of then-Superintendent Grete Stefani. The city blocks of Regions I and II had been exposed during Amedeo Maiuri’s rapid clearance excavations of the 1950s, a project funded primarily by selling removed volcanic pumice to the state for use in construction projects. The work was extremely poorly documented, and confusion in the records was made all the worse by the concurrent introduction of a new address system for the southeastern quadrant of the city. As a result, the few finds kept from those years often were mislabeled and attributed to the wrong spaces. Stefani had begun an archival study attempting to sort out the artifacts from I.13.8 and I.13.9 and she suggested that Gallo pick up where she had left off. Her advice led to his 2017 publication of those properties.[2] The current book completes his work on Insula I.13, studying the remaining unpublished properties of the southwestern and northeastern corners of the block.

Beyond simply documenting the finds, Gallo undertakes a full analysis of these buildings. The book is divided into two sections, the first devoted to the properties of the southwestern area of the block (I.13.10–16) and the second to those in the northeastern zone (I.13.3–7). Each section follows the same arrangement, with the first chapter devoted to standing architecture, the second to wall and floor decoration, and the third to a catalog of finds. In the first section, on the properties of the southwestern corner, these core studies are followed by synthetic chapters on the historic development of the architecture, economic recovery after the earthquake of 62/3 CE, and the incorporation of sacred spaces into the buildings. After the three primary chapters of the second section, on the northeastern properties, comes a brief discussion of the central building’s presumed owner, Taedia Secunda (who is mentioned on an electoral endorsement on its façade), focusing on her economic activities in the period immediately preceding the eruption.

Gallo’s work is well-grounded in the history of scholarship on Pompeii. His chapters on architecture proceed room-by-room, discussing every surviving wall. Rather than stratigraphic reading of construction units—an increasingly common way of drawing meaning from the standing architecture of Pompeii—he uses the traditional method of documenting building material and construction typologies.[3] The approach largely limits him to discussion of changes made following the earthquake, and he concentrates on reconstructing the use of spaces by finding Vitruvian architectural labels for the various rooms.[4] His description makes clear the incredible multiplicity inherent in these spaces: they integrate commercial, production, and very likely also domestic activities to a degree missing from the more elite buildings of the city.

The chapters on decoration are likewise thorough, examining any preserved wall plaster or floor decoration from each room and calling on archival photographs and drawings (where available) to supplement the discussion. Most rooms were simply decorated with plain plaster, often of the hydraulic “cocciopesto” type that incorporated broken ceramics as temper; most of the more elaborate spaces had simple fourth-style walls, all of which Gallo attributes to the so-called Bottega di via di Castricio.[5] The chief exceptions were in I.13.12, where one small room had first-style walls, and I.13.16, which featured a garden biclinium with elaborate fourth-style decoration, including a central panel of Venus flanked by smaller erotic scenes, with marble busts of Hercules and Bacchus set into niches in the upper parts of the walls. Several properties also had well-decorated shrines, including one at I.13.11 painted with large snakes in a vibrant garden, and another at I.13.4 with molded plaster snakes.[6] Gallo’s effort to incorporate the archives into his study is especially commendable, given that Insula I.13, like most of the blocks in this area of the city, received no conservation following the 1950s clearance and degraded rapidly in the following decades, culminating with the catastrophic Irpinia earthquake of 1980. That disaster affected nearly the entire site of Pompeii but hit the vulnerable southeastern portion especially hard. Today, even many walls that were well-preserved upon excavation are now missing nearly all their original plaster; the panels of the garden biclinium at I.13.16, for example, are nearly illegible, and almost all the plaster has fallen from the shrines at I.13.11 and I.13.4.

The core chapters of the book are the catalogs of finds. Unfortunately, enough documentation survived to assign only the finds from the southwestern corner to specific properties, but the catalogs are nevertheless instructive. Most objects are illustrated, many with new color photographs, and each is provided with a thorough description and bibliography. These chapters make clear the intensity of 1950s selection practices: the majority of preserved finds are metal, with significantly smaller numbers of glass, stone, and bone objects; ceramics are entirely limited to red slip tablewares and lamps. Some of the finds appear quite fine, despite deriving from seemingly humble spaces, including a bronze lamp stand, bronze figurines of Hercules and Minerva, a figurine of Diana in amber, and some pieces of marble sculpture that Gallo suggests derived from statuary groups broken in the earthquake of 62/3 CE. Among the bronze finds were toilet objects, including a bathing set that included a strigil, a well-made bronze oil jar, tweezers, and a mirror from I.14.15; additional strigils came from I.14.10. Other objects appear more closely related to the productive and commercial uses of these spaces, and include bronze cookwares, knives, weights, scales, locks and keys, a bronze axe, an iron rake, and a stone mortar and pestle. No coins are recorded from these properties; either they were not recovered or, more likely, were small bronze issues that went undocumented and unpreserved.

The synthetic chapters following each catalog pull together the preceding information—architecture, decoration, and finds—to discuss the history of the buildings and their occupants in 79 CE. Gallo concludes that these structures represent once larger homes that had been broken apart just before or immediately following the earthquake and thereafter devoted to commercial and industrial uses within an urban milieu of dynamic real estate investment by the lower classes, and in particular by socially mobile freedmen.[7] Based on his reading of the architecture, he argues that the block began to urbanize in the first half of the second century BCE, and that many of the structures were remodeled in the early Imperial period before undergoing a final phase of hasty reconstruction following the earthquake. Drawing together decoration and finds, Gallo reconstructs I.14.12–14 as having various uses, with a bar at the front and a workshop devoted to the first phases of processing wool at the rear. He also sees the small building at I.14.15 as devoted to wool-working; and concludes that both workshops operated along with a weaving workshop he had previously identified in I.14.2.[8] Given the recovery of small scales, he sees the “Casa di Taedia Secunda” (I.14.2) as hosting a pharmacy, likewise operating with an optometrist in I.14.2. Its biclinium and erotic art lead Gallo to interpret I.14.16, meanwhile, as an inn where prostitutes were available for hire.[9]

While these interpretations might strike readers as tenuous, the value of Gallo’s study remains. His book is well researched and extensively cited. It is also beautifully produced and illustrated with full color images throughout. Most importantly, the data it includes provide a resource for future scholarship, while the method models one approach to illuminating degraded and disregarded parts of the city. Future work—including but not limited to stratigraphic excavation—might revise his conclusions, but will be aided by his efforts. Gallo’s methodology, furthermore, could be adapted for the study of similarly ignored spaces across Pompeii, allowing other overlooked buildings and blocks to be included in our evolving understandings of the ancient city.



Allison, P.M. 2001. “Using the Material and Written Sources: Turn of the Millennium Approaches to Roman Domestic Space.” AJA 105.2: 181–208.

Clarke, J.R. 1998. Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C. to A.D. 250. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Comegna, C. et al. 2023. “Il Larario della Casa IX, 10 1.” E-Journal degli Scavi di Pompei 6: 1–15.

D’Anna, C. Forthcoming. Pompei I 14: Le Unità Abitative e i Materiali in Contesto. Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider.

De Vos Raaijmakers, M. 1981. “La Bottega di Pittori di Via di Castricio.” In Pompeii 1748–1980: I Tempi della Documentazione, 119–30. Rome: Multigrafica.

Esposito, D. 2009. Le Officine Pittoriche di IV Stile a Pompei: Dinamiche Produttive ed Economico-Sociali. Studi della Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei 28. Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider.

Gallo, A. 1988. “Saggi di Scavo nella Domus I,13,1.” RStPomp 2: 154–84.

Gallo, A. 1994. La Casa di Lucio Elvio Severo a Pompei. Naples: Arte Tipografica.

Gallo, A. 2017. Pompei I, 13, 8–9. Domus et Labor: Piccole Produzioni Domestiche. MemAccArchNap 19. Naples: Accademia di Archeologia Lettere e Belle Arti.

Hay, S.E. 2016. Building Private Pompeii. A Standing Structure Survey in Insula I.9. PhD diss. University of Southampton.

Leach, E.W. 1997. “Oecus on Ibycus: Investigating the Vocabulary of the Roman House.” In Sequence and Space in Pompeii, edited by S.E. Bon and R. Jones, 50–72. Oxford: Oxbow.

Maiuri, A. 1942. L’Ultima Fase Edilizia di Pompei. Spoleto: Istituto di Studi Romani.

Poehler, E.E. 2021. “Masonry Analysis at Pompeii: The Maturation of a Stratigraphic Method.” In A Quaint & Curious Volume: Essays in Honor of John J. Dobbins, edited by D. Rogers and C. Weiss, 18–41. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Wallace-Hadrill, A. 1994. Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Princeton: Princeton University Press.



[1] Gallo 1988.

[2] Gallo 2017.

[3] For the development of stratigraphic approaches to masonry analysis at Pompeii, see: Hay 2016: 5–56; Poehler, 2021. For a recent stratigraphic analysis of the architecture of Insula I.14, immediately south of I.13, see: D’Anna forthcoming.

[4] Against this style of analysis, see: Leach 1997; Allison 2001.

[5] De Vos Raaijmakers 1981; Esposito 2009, 197–201.

[6] Compare to the shrine recently uncovered in volcanic clearance of Insula IX.10 (Comegna et al. 2023).

[7] Following Maiuri 1942. Critiques of this reconstruction are too common to list here but begin most effectively with Wallace-Hadrill 1994.

[8] Gallo 1994.

[9] Contra Clarke 1998: 145–242.