Two Roman Towns Part 1 | Pompeii and Ostia | Roman Architecture | Second edition

Two Roman Towns Part 1 | Pompeii and Ostia | Roman Architecture | Second edition

Two Roman Towns | Pompeii and Ostia | Roman Architecture | Second edition | (Part-01)


The eruption of Vesuvius in ad 79 not only buried but also preserved the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, so that even food, such as eggs, cakes and nuts, have been preserved. The very bodies of Pompeians have been recovered by plaster injection, a method used for any organic matter, including wood. Household objects such as wooden shutters, screens and doors survive, as well as upper storeys, balconies and roofs, objects not usually preserved elsewhere. Much too has been learnt about Pompeian gardens, the water-system and everyday life in general.

Pompeii is situated on a lava spur on the SE slopes of Mount Vesuvius (Figure 6.1). The river Sarno ran past its south side and turned to run along its west side into the sea. In ancient times the sea was much closer than it is today and there was a sea gate on the west side of the town. In the SW corner of Pompeii is the outline of a smaller town, covering an area of 9.3 hectares (23 acres). It may represent the earliest settlement, which was Oscan according to Strabo (Geo. 5.4.8) and is usually dated to the eighth century bc. The city came under Etruscan domination in the period 600–575 bc, a time when the Etruscans expanded into Campania. Their power in Pompeii seems to have lasted until about 475 bc, to judge by the discovery of fragments of bucchero, a black, shiny pottery, with Etruscan graffiti. The first city wall, of tufa and lava and 3.2 kilometres long, was built around the entire lava plateau in the early to mid sixth century bc, enclosing 63.5 hectares (157 acres), perhaps built to defend against encroachments from Greek settlers in Campania. The second half of the sixth and early fifth century bc was a period of prosperity for Pompeii. The Temple of Hercules in the Triangular Forum, which seems to date to the period 550–530 bc, has Doric columns of the Archaic Greek type. In the first half of the fifth century bc the walls had to be rebuilt in Sarno limestone orthostates. By 475 bc the Etruscans were under increasing pressure and Pompeii once again seems to have come under Greek influence.

Towards the end of the fifth century bc the Samnites, a hardy mountain people, took over most of the Greek and local coastal towns, except Naples. The Samnites spoke Oscan, one of three main groups of Italic languages, Umbrian and Latin being the others, and in Pompeii it was still spoken until ad 79. The walls of Pompeii were again rebuilt at the end of the fourth century bc, this time of squared limestone blocks with an agger (earth mound) built against the inner face. The city gates seem to have been built at this time and the grid expanded. The first few blocks east and north of the old town were fairly irregular and the streets seem to have followed the lines of old roads leading out of the city. Presumably the wide street running between the Vesuvius and Stabian gates determined the axis of the adjacent streets, but it appears that only a dozen or so square or rectangular blocks were laid out at this early period. As the city expanded its grid plan was enlarged and extended north and east of the old nucleus, following Greek principles of town planning with long rectangular

Figure 6.1  Pompeii, general plan. 1, Triangular Forum; 2, House of the Surgeon; 3, House of the Faun; 4, Villa of the Mysteries; 5, Temple of Apollo; 6, Temple of Jupiter; 7, Macellum (meat and fish market); 8, Basilica; 9, Large theatre; 10, quadriporticus; 11, Stabian Baths; 12, Forum Baths; 13, Small theatre; 14, Amphitheatre; 15, Castellum Aquae; 16, Civic Offices; 17, Building of Eumachia; 18, Temple of Fortuna Augusta; 19, House of the Menander; 20, House of the Vettii; 21, House of Octavius Quartio; 22, Central Baths.

blocks (insulae) bounded by broad avenues (plateiai) and narrow access streets (stenopoi). The period of Samnite domination of Pompeii (c. 400–80 bc) is usually divided into two phases: the Limestone period and the Tufa period. These periods are called after the main building materials used. In the Limestone period (400–200 bc) rough, ochre-coloured Sarno limestone was the principal building material, and can be seen in the fine façade of the House of the Surgeon (VI.1.10), which belongs to the fourth/early third century bc (Figure 1.2b). In its earliest phase the house lacked an impluvium, which was not introduced until the second century bc. In the course of the second century bc a new material, hard black lava, was used in the facing (opus incertum) of walls and at the same time a strong mortar containing black volcanic sand and lots of lime came into use. Sarno limestone was usually used for the quoins. Fine examples of this technique can be seen in the façade of the House of Epidius Rufus (IX.1.20) and the quadriporticus behind the theatre.

At the time of the Second Punic War (218–201 bc), a new city wall was built behind the first. It was higher than the previous wall and a higher mound was built against its inner face. Following the invasion of Italy by Hannibal the walls were remodelled and a series of tall towers in the Hellenistic manner were built. During the second century bc Rome’s power was expanding all over the Mediterranean, which offered great opportunities for trade with Spain, North Africa, Greece and Asia Minor. It was the Italians, particularly the Campanians, rather than the Romans who took up this challenge and Italian businessmen (negotiatores) were particularly active in the Aegean and Asia Minor. The principal port of Italy at this time was Puteoli (Pozzuoli), where luxury goods and grain were imported, and wine, olive oil and wool were exported. Because of the wealth brought by the new trading opportunities Pompeii entered a period of unprecedented prosperity, as a result of which new buildings went up all over the city. Layers of stucco applied in later years conceal the fact that many of Pompeii’s major buildings are much older than they seem, and that the built environment of Pompeii is to a large extent a product of the second century bc.

Although the Classical Orders came from the Hellenistic world, most of the buildings succeeded in remaining Italic in their layout. This can be seen in the forum, which was laid out on regular lines with a fine two-storey Doric colonnade of tufa erected across its southern side (Figure 6.2).1 The Temple of Jupiter which dominated its northern end was also typically Italic in layout; it was prostyle with a porch of 4 × 6 columns facing down the forum, resting on a high podium and approached by a frontal staircase. However, in both cases the architectural details were fully Hellenistic. To the west of the forum is the old sanctuary of Apollo, which dates back to the sixth century bc. It was rebuilt in the second century bc, once again Italic in layout and enclosed in a peristyle of tufa columns. In the NE corner of the forum is the macellum (meat and fish market), a rectangular enclosure with shops on the south side and further shops to the west, accessible from the forum. There were also shops facing the street on the north side of the market where the goods were protected from the sun. Perishable items such as fruit, bread and cakes were found there. The circular space in the middle was surrounded by bases for 12 wooden poles which supported the roof. There was probably a pool underneath, used for the cleaning and gutting of fish to judge by the bones and scales found in a nearby drainage trough. The fish and meat were sold from a large room in the SE corner which has counters running around three sides.

The Stabian Baths took their present form during the second century bc, although a bathing establishment had existed on the site since the fourth century bc (Figure 2.6). Recent excavations have shown that the trapezoidal shape of the palaestra dates back to the fourth century bc, as do the row of small hip baths to the north of the palaestra. In the second century bc a complex of bathing rooms was added to the east side of the palaestra (Figure 6.3).

The northern rooms were for women and the southern for men. The entrance hall of the men’s baths leads to the apodyterium (undressing room) and from there to the warm and hot rooms. The small circular room was originally the sudatorium (sweating-room) but became

Figure 6.2  Pompeii, general view of the forum looking north. The columns in the foreground belong to the second century bc.

Figure 6.3  Pompeii, palaestra of the Stabian Baths, second century bc, rebuilt after the ad 62 earthquake

the cold room when the under-floor heating system was installed in the first century bc. As for the theatre, it was established in the second century bc, but was totally rebuilt in the Augustan period and therefore it will be discussed later. However, the quadriporticus behind the theatre belongs to the second century bc. It was a huge open area bounded on all sides by colonnades of Doric columns, 74 in all, where people could stroll. Tufa colonnades were also built along two sides of the Triangular Forum where the old Doric temple stood, but the third side, which commanded a superb panorama towards the sea, was left open.

The basilica, one of the oldest known, is dated to the period 100–90 bc, judging by Oscan graffiti and roof tiles stamped with the words ‘N. Pupie’, the name of an Oscan magistrate (Figure 2.3). Measuring 57.4 × 21.8 metres, it opened onto the SW corner of the forum. Its main entrance was on one of the short sides and the tribunal for the magistrates was at the far end. Internally the building was divided into a nave and aisles by 4 × 12 giant order Corinthian columns whose shafts were made of brick, the earliest known example of this technique at Pompeii. A row of Ionic half-columns about half the height of the giant order was engaged into the side walls. Above these is visible the lowest part of an upper order. Many fragments of free-standing Corinthian columns of the same diameter as the upper order were found near the north wall. Until recently nobody had been able to account satisfactorily for these columns and as a result no proposed elevation was fully convincing. Maiuri for a while accepted Sogliano’s theory that the nave was unroofed, but his excavations under the floor of the basilica in 1951 disproved the theory. Ohr’s reconstruction of the building solved the problem of the elevation (Figue 6.4).2 He took account of the fact that the fragments of the Corinthian columns have the same diameter as the upper order of engaged columns, and concluded that the two belong together. This would mean that for half their height they were engaged into a masonry balustrade and that above they were free standing. This solution had

Figure 6.4  Pompeii, basilica, 100–90 bc: restored elevation and section. (After K. Ohr, Die Basilika in Pompeji, [Karlsruhe: Diss. Darmstadt, 1973].)

precedents in Hellenistic building practice, for example the late fourth/early third century bc theatre at Metapontum, the upper order of the Stoa of Attalos in Athens and the columns which run around the upper part of the atrium in the Samnite House at Herculaneum. Thus the Pompeii basilica was lit by the spaces between the columns and there was no clerestory.

Until the second century bc Pompeian houses consisted of an atrium which gave access to all the rooms and perhaps a small garden behind the house, as for example in the House of the Surgeon (Figure 1.2b). As a result of contact with Greece the peristyle became fashionable,

Figure 6.5  Pompeii, House of the Faun, second century bc: plan. 1, fauces (entrance passage); 2, Tuscan atrium; 3–5, cubicula; 6, tablinum; 7–8; triclinia; 9, Tetrastyle atrium; 10, animal stall; 11, latrine; 12, bath; 13, kitchen; 14, triclinium; 15, exedra with the Alexander mosaic; 16–17, gardener’s rooms.

but it did not supplant the atrium, as can be seen in the enormous House of the Faun, which has two atria and two peristyles (Figure 6.5). Although the Romans often borrowed from others, particularly the Greeks, in their art and architecture they usually succeeded in making the borrowing their own. The Roman peristyle was derived from the Greek, but when it reached Italy it looked quite different, apart from the obvious differences in the materials used. For example, the Greek peristyle was paved and often had a mosaic in the middle; the Roman peristyle was planted as a garden, as in the House of the Gilded Cupids (Figure 6.6). The Greek peristyle was the focus of the house as a whole and the main rooms were grouped

Figure 6.6  Pompeii, peristyle of the House of the Gilded Cupids.

around it. The Roman peristyle was added to the house behind the atrium, which remained the formal and public part of the house.

In the course of the second century bc the Roman house developed into a social environment where the importance of the owner of the house and his family was put on display.3  Visitors to a great house would have had to wait outside on the benches provided. When admitted they would have been ushered into the atrium and unless invited they would penetrate no further. Even so, one of the most striking things about a Pompeian house is the vista which passes from the front door through the entire house to the back wall of the peristyle. The vista was not as open as it is today. It would have been partially screened off with shutters and curtains, so that the visitor could gain only tantalising glimpses of what lay beyond. When running water became available this vista often terminated in a mosaic fountain. Out of this poured quantities of water to cool those who inhabited the most private part of the house, an indulgence available only to the wealthy. In contrast, the atrium, such as that of the House of the Menander (Figure 6.7), was an imposing if somewhat sombre public room. Grand, formal, usually the largest room of the house, it was a room designed to impress. On display would be the things which marked the owner out as an important personage: the arca or money chest in which the wealth of the house was stored; the lararium or family shrine, a reflection of a dutiful household; and the imagines or ancestral busts, which evoked the lineage of the family. The walls of the atrium and the rooms opening off it would usually have been decorated with frescoes which reflected the taste of the master and family. In short, the atrium was a place where the owners could make a statement about themselves, visitors however humble were admitted, negotiations were conducted and petitions were received. Finally a small tip (sportula) was paid to the clientes (followers or dependents) who had come to pay their respects. The peristyle, on the other hand, encompassing perhaps a summerhouse (diaeta), a reception room (oecus), a summer dining room (triclinium aestivum), a library

Figure 6.7  Pompeii, House of the Menander, view of the atrium looking towards the front door.

(bibliotheca) and even a small bathing suite (balneum), was by invitation only. Running water, introduced at the time of Augustus, further enhanced the peristyle by making possible the fountains, pools and nymphaea which assume pride of place in houses such as the House of Small Fountain at Pompeii and the House of the Mosaic Atrium at Herculaneum.

Circulation around the house would have been controlled by servants who also had to attend to the family and minister to their needs. This posed problems of planning. The servants’ quarters had to be removed from the rooms occupied by the family and their guests; yet the servants had to be available everywhere. The House of the Menander shows how skilfully a Pompeian house was designed. The servants’ quarters were discreetly tucked away so as not to detract from the grandeur of the house, but they surrounded the main rooms so that the servants could always be on hand (Figure 6.8). Another example is the House of the Faun built in the second century bc, and from the street looking remarkably egalitarian (Figure 6.5). The Tuscan atrium to the left, (west) with its rich decoration and mosaics, belongs to the family and the tetrastyle atrium to the right (east) is part of the undecorated servants’ quarters. A glance at the plan shows that the latter rapidly disappear, the first peristyle taking up threequarters of the width of the house and the second peristyle its entire width.

In 90 bc a rebellion of Rome’s Italian allies broke out and Pompeii joined the rebel side. In 89 bc the Roman general Sulla besieged and captured Pompeii. Holes caused by missiles aimed at the walls can be seen at various points along the outer face of the circuit. Reprisals

Figure 6.8  Pompeii, House of the Menander: plan. The hatched parts are the servants’ quarters. (After E. La Rocca et al., Guida Archeologica di Pompeii [Milan: A. Mondadori, 1976], 178.)

followed and a military colony, called Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum, was established in 80 bc. Roman weights and measures were adopted, Latin became the official language and changes were made to the forum. It was paved with limestone and statues began to be erected in honour of worthy citizens in the same way as they were in Rome. Many new buildings were put up to appeal to the new colonists, such as the amphitheatre, the Small Theatre, the Forum Baths and the Temple of Venus. The amphitheatre (Figure 6.9), measuring 135 × 103 metres, was built before 70 bc and is therefore the oldest permanent amphitheatre in the Roman world. The word ‘amphitheatre’ derives from the word ‘theatre’, but the ‘amphi’ part refers to the fact that the seats run all around a central arena, where gladiatorial games and animal hunts (venationes) took place (Figure 6.9). Built in the SE corner of the

city, where it could utilise the earth embankment of the city walls, its arena was excavated 6 metres into the ground and the earth was then used to create an embankment to support the upper parts of the seating. The upper seats were for the lowest social classes and access to them was by two external staircases. In addition, four passages run from the outside down to an annular passage which separates the lowest section of seats (ima cavea) from the middle (media cavea). A number of staircases lead from this passage to the seats of either the lower or middle sections. The magistrates would have occupied bisellia (thrones of double width) close to the arena. The spectators were shaded from the sun by an awning (vela) hanging on masts and spars around the rim of the building. This awning can be seen in a wall-painting depicting the amphitheatre riot of ad 59.

The Forum Baths had facilities similar to those of the Stabian Baths but were more compactly designed. Built before there was an aqueduct, their water came from a cistern SW of the complex on the other side of the road, measuring 5 × 15 metres and supplying 430,000 litres. The bath was divided into separate men’s and women’s sections and the furnaces (praefurnia) were situated between the two sets of hot rooms (caldaria). Both these and the Stabian baths seemed quite old-fashioned in later times. Although they had hypocausts (under-floor heating) the heat rose up the walls through the spaces created by lugged tiles (tegulae mammatae), a primitive system which was replaced in the later first century ad by hollow rectangular tubes (tubuli).

The Small Theatre or theatrum tectum (roofed theatre), used as a concert hall (odeum), stood next to the Large Theatre. The juxtaposition of large unroofed and small roofed theatre is found elsewhere in South Italy, and Statius (Silvae 3.5.91) mentions the ‘twin masses of open and closed theatres’ in his native Naples. Its 16 rows of seating were enclosed within rectangular walls measuring 27.75–28.60 × 34.80 metres, and the timber roofing beams were laid across the walls. It had a much smaller capacity, 1,500–1,850, than the Large Theatre.

The orchestra, 15.3 metres in diameter, was paved in coloured marbles, and was surrounded by steps for the bisellia (thrones) of the magistrates. The scaenae frons was rectilinear and had three doorways. It was built by the same magistrates, C. Quinctius Valgus and M.

Porcius, who also financed the amphitheatre.

The Sullan colony brought new construction methods to Pompeii, in particular the introduction of opus quasi-reticulatum with brick quoining, examples of which can be seen in the Small Theatre and the Forum Baths. The so-called Second Style of wall decoration also began at this time. At its height, in the middle of the first century bc, the whole wall was dissolved into illusionistic architecture, with arches, vaults and columns, and often a tholos (circular building) set in a colonnaded court. Examples of this can be seen in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii (c. 60–50 bc), the Villa of the Poppeii at Oplontis (c. 50–40 bc) and the Villa of Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale (40–30 bc). Brick became commonly used for columns and the tufa columns of older houses were frequently covered in a thick layer of tufa and painted. By the end of the first century bc opus reticulatum came into use and was sometimes used to create interesting polychrome effects (Figure 4.8). The technique of alternating rows of cut tufa blocks and rows of tiles (opus listatum) came in at the time of Augustus and can be seen in the Herculaneum Gate.

The Augustan period which followed (27 bc–ad 14) was a period of peace and this provided an incentive for trade and industry. Already there were signs of a breakdown of the patrician household which for centuries had been a self-sufficient unit based upon a rigid master–slave relationship. With the imperial peace more grain was entering Italy from Egypt and Africa, and at the same time Gaul and Spain were producing more wine and olive oil. As a result, the old independent farm households were less viable than before. Also, as the cities developed and populations increased there was a greater demand for manufactured goods. A slave who had baked bread in the house of his patrician master could open a shop and supply an entire district. Masters saw the advantage of this and set up emancipated slaves in business in return for a percentage of the profits. Division of labour increased and certain goods were mass-produced, for example the famous Pompeian garum or fish sauce (Martial, Epigr. 13.82). These businesses made the former slaves who owned them enormously rich. The activities of emancipated slaves illustrate the profound social changes which were taking place in Julio-Claudian Pompeii. Many had become doctors, teachers, accountants, barbers, cooks, craftsmen and tradesmen. Because of their skills many became extremely wealthy and several important houses in Pompeii, like the House of the Vettii (VI.15.1), came into the ownership of former slaves.






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