Friday, 26 April 2013

Chronique des activités archéologiques de l'Ecole française de Rome

Two interim reports of last summer campaigns have been published on-line about:
  • The kiln out  of Porta Ercolano in Pompeii (Via dei Sepolcri, NE, 29), by L. Cavassa, B. Lemaire, J.-M. Piffeteau.
  • A new project on domestic paintings in Herculaneum, by A. Dardenay and H. Eristov.
More to follow within a few days...

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Vesuvian wines and more

If you happen to be in England and fancy a short trip to Cambridge or Reading, you might be interested in coming to one of these talks:

"A new view of old wines: Vesuvian vineyards before and after the Pompeian eruption"
Friday 26th of April (tomorrow!) at 1.15pm at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Downing Street, Cambridge.

"Beyond Pompeii and Herculaneum: archaeology on the dark side of Vesuvius"
Wednesday 1st of May at 4pm at the Ure Museum (in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building) Whiteknights Campus, University of Reading.

The latter is a broad overview of what the Apolline Project is carrying out since 2004. For those who are acquainted already with the project, you will find also new interesting updates.
The talk in Cambridge provides some insights into the "wine ecosystem" (ecofacts, architecture, trade) before AD 79 and its changes after the eruption.

It would be nice for me to have a drink (or two!) with some of the contributors/followers of this blog after the speeches.

Monday, 22 April 2013

News article: The mafia left Naples in ruins. Can they do the same to Pompeii?

The mafia left Naples in ruins. Can they do the same to Pompeii?
After years of neglect, the World Heritage site is getting public money for restoration, and that is attracting the Camorra.

Having been buried under ash from Mount Vesuvius almost 2000 years ago, the Roman city of Pompeii managed to rise again – becoming one of the world’s most famous historic sites and tourist attractions.

But over the past decade – under the weight of 2.3 million trampling visitors’ feet every year – it has fallen into woeful neglect and is in urgent need of restoration.

This was amply demonstrated in 2010 with the collapse of the site’s House of the Gladiators.

“We’re stunned when walls fall down,” said Andrea Carandini, a world-renowned archaeologist, at the time. “But these are ruins not systematically maintained, so the miracle is that so few of them collapse.”

Yet in the fight to save Pompeii, another enemy has emerged in the guise of the Naples mafia, and now some observers fear it might take another miracle to protect Pompeii, ancient Rome’s version of Sin City, from the clutches of the mob.

Last week, investigators announced a probe into suspected Mafia involvement in Pompeii restoration works undertaken as part of a €105m (£90m) project funded by the Italian Government and the European Union following decades of “neglect and mismanagement” at the site.
Read the full article here.


Currency and Exchange in Ancient Pompeii

Congratulations to Richard Hobbs who has just published Currency and Exchange in Ancient Pompeii: coins from the AAPP excavations at Regio VI. Insula 1.  This is Supplement 116 if the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies (London ISBN 978-1-905670-14-3). 

It is so hot off the press that the Institute has not yet had time to put it on their website ( ) so I will quote the blurb here.

"Currency & Exchange in Ancient Pompeii examines how coinage became a key component of the economic life of the town from the third century BC to the dramatic destruction of Pompeii by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.

The study discusses one of the largest assemblages of coins found so far from below the layer of destruction of AD 79. Over 1, 500 coins were found during a ten-year campaign of excavation of Regio VI, Insula 1 by the Anglo-American Project in Pompeii (AAPP).

Currency & Exchange in Ancient Pompeii looks at the range of coins found, from mints across the Mediterranean, reflecting Pompeii's wide ranging trade connections, in particular, Ebusus, Massalia, and Rome, and the development of local imitations, many unique to Pompeii.

The book reviews other evidence for Pompeii's economic life such as the price of goods and services, the activities of bankers and money-lenders, and the 'live' coinage left behind by those fleeing the volcano.  A full catalogue of the AAPP assemblage andthe 'Bathhouse hoard' is included with illustrations of many of the coins.

This book is an invaluable resource for all interested in Pompeii, its economy, and the everyday life of its'small change' "

It can be ordered from the institute website.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

NYT article: The Latest Threat to Pompeii’s Treasures: Italy’s Red Tape

An article and accompanying video have just been published in the New York Times:
The Latest Threat to Pompeii’s Treasures: Italy’s Red Tape
Destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, Pompeii survived excavation starting in the 18th century and has stoically borne the wear and tear of millions of modern-day tourists.

But now, its deep-hued frescoes, brick walls and elegant tile mosaics appear to be at risk from an even greater threat: the bureaucracy of the Italian state.

In recent years, collapses at the site have alarmed conservationists, who warn that this ancient Roman city is dangerously exposed to the elements — and is poorly served by the red tape, the lack of strategic planning and the limited personnel of the site’s troubled management.
Read the full article here. This is the video. The Italian press has picked up on this article. See here for a response in Il Mattino.

Friday, 19 April 2013

iPhone and iPad app: Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

The British Museum has brought out an iPhone/iPhone app to accompany its current exhibition.

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum HD
By British Museum
Description This app uses fascinating objects from the British Museum’s major exhibition Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum to transport you to the heart of the life and times of the people of the Roman cities that were destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.

Immerse yourself in the life of the two Roman cities

Over 250 objects featured in the exhibition are plotted onto street plans of the two cities. They are grouped into themes (urban context, commerce, religion and beliefs, wealth and status, grooming and adornment, relaxing in luxury, entertaining, food and drink), each of which features an exclusive video introduction by the exhibition curator, Paul Roberts.

Detailed information and fully zoomable high resolution images are provided for each object, and a selection have additional expert commentary provided by Paul Robert, Mary Beard, Professor of Classics, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Director of Research, both at the University of Cambridge, and Amanda Claridge, Professor of Roman Archaeology at Royal Holloway.

Browse an interactive timeline of the eruption story

The app also features an interactive timeline that plots the devastating progress of the volcano in the 24 hours of the eruption.

Based on an artist’s impression of a typical street in both Pompeii and Herculaneum, the viewpoint shifts between the two cities as time progresses. Specially recorded excerpts from the first-hand account of Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the eruption, provide the narrative, as part of an immersive soundscape that brings the animation to life and illustrates how the two cities and their inhabitants met their deaths.

At each key point in the timeline, you can access additional information about the volcano and the eruption, the people who died, and the objects found with their bodies.


Follow the story after the eruption, exploring the re-discovery and excavation of the two cities, recent archaeology and the build-up to the British Museum exhibition of 2013.

Category: Education
Released: 19 April 2013
Version: 1.0.0
Size: 567 MB
Language: English
Developer: The British Museum
© Trustees of the British Museum
Rated 4+

Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
This is the URL.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Book: Privata Luxuria – Towards an Archaeology of Intimacy: Pompeii and Beyond

Out recently:
Anna Anguissola (ed.), Privata Luxuria – Towards an Archaeology of Intimacy: Pompeii and Beyond. International Workshop Center for Advanced Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (24–25 March 2011). Munich: Herbert Utz Verlag GmbH, 2012.
I. A Space of One’s Own  
1. A Bedroom of One’s Own (Laura Nissinen) 
2. The Dynamics of Seclusion. Observations on the Casa del Labirinto and the Casa degli Amorini Dorati at Pompeii (Anna Anguissola) 
II. Work and Leisure under One Roof 
1. Working and Living Under One Roof: Workshops in Pompeian Atrium Houses (Miko Flohr)

2. Pompeian Cauponae in Their Spatial Context: Interaction between Bars, Inns, and Houses (Antonio Calabrò)

III. Quantifying Privacy 
1. The Form and Function of Boundaries in the Campanian House (M. Taylor Lauritsen) 
2. Domestic Spaces and Commercial Activities in Selected Domus of Regiones V and VI at Pompeii (Chiara Maratini)

IV. Organizing Privacy 
1. Spatial Organization in Middle-Class Houses of III and II c. B.C. at Pompeii: The Example of the Casa del Granduca Michele (VI 5,5) (Dora D’Auria)
2. Transformation of Domestic Space in the Vesuvian Cities: From the Development of the Upper Floors and Façades to a New Dimension of Intimacy (Riccardo Helg)

V. Privacy beyond Pompeii 
1. Intimacy in the Cubiculum: From Textual Sources to Material Evidence in Roman Africa and Iberia (Margherita Carucci) 
2. Comparing Houses. Domestic Architecture in Ephesos from the Mid Imperial Period to Late Antiquity (Helmut Schwaiger)

New (and freely accessible!) contributions on Vesuvian sites

I would like to draw your attention to some new contributions authored by the Apolline Project research group. For those who are not acquainted with this project, it operates since 2004, mostly on the ancient territories of Neapolis and Nola.

Its flagship component is the full excavation and study of the Roman villa with baths in the town of Pollena Trocchia. The main publication of the artefacts found there is now out, others on trade patterns have been submitted a long time ago and will be out soon. A glimpse of what we are up to recently can be seen here.

Since many years though, the project operates on many other sites as well. The Suor Orsola Benincasa University in Naples, which is one of the hosting institutions, requested some quick reports which recently have been published (unfortunately the composition done there has not been very careful, thus we are providing our error-free versions as well). These contributions include:

- A general report on the dig in Pollena Trocchia, with new data on the burials.
- A preliminary report on a suburban villa of Nola, noticeable especially for the pottery analysis.
- The study of a Medieval church (with Roman spolia) in the Nolan countryside.

We are also making accessible a contribution on the conservation and future planning for the archaeological sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae, and the so-called Villa of Augustus in Somma Vesuviana. The articles dates back to 2007, but I think it is still thought-provoking.

For those who are enjoying the British Museum exhibition and are curious about the Dionysiac relief from Herculaneum, my thoughts on that are available in this contribution (towards the end of it).

The complete list of our publications is available here, more frequent updates on what we are up to are on our channels in the social media.

The Apolline Project is an open network, if you want to join, contact us.

N. De Carlo, V. Castaldo, "Roccarainola, località Cammarano: una chiesa altomedievale e i resti di una villa romana",Annali. Università degli Studî Suor Orsola Benincasa 2011-2012: 245-278 [ISSN: 2037-5867] (official version) (error-free version)

M. Lubrano, G. Boemio, S. Sannino, “Note preliminari sulla villa romana di via Saccaccio a Nola”, Annali. Università degli Studi di Napoli Suor Orsola Benincasa 2011-2012: 219-243 [ISSN 2037-5867] (official version) (error-free version)

C.S. Martucci, G. Boemio, G. Trojsi, G.F. De Simone, "Pollena Trocchia (NA), località Masseria De Carolis. L'analisi dei reperti per la ricostruzione del contesto economico e sociale della villa romana", Amoenitas II (2012): 87-117 [ISBN: 978-88-240-1335-2]

G.F. De Simone, M. Lubrano, M. Torino, A. De Luca, A. Perrotta, C. Scarpati, La villa con terme di Pollena Trocchia in località Masseria De Carolis: architettura, abitanti, eruzioni, Annali. Università degli Studî Suor Orsola Benincasa 2011-2012: 195-217 [ISSN: 2037-5867]

Monday, 15 April 2013

Reply to "Review: In Search of the Romans"

As a follow-up to last week's post by Guy de la Bédoyère where he reviewed the new publication "In Search of the Romans", I'm publishing some further thoughts by author James Renshaw. It would be great if any other Blogging Pompeii contributors or readers would like to send us your comments on the challenge of teaching the Vesuvian sites.

I welcome some critical feedback on In Search of the Romans, and having read Guy de la Bédoyère's review, my feelings are rather mixed: 
  • some of Guy's criticisms are really useful, particularly where he has spotted errors (which will inevitably occur in any publication - the trick is to spot them and correct for the next print run). In addition, his points about needing a 'further reading list' and a much better bibliography and index are well made. Since Duckworth has recently been taken over by Bloomsbury, I think that there will be more technical and financial resources available in future, and so issues such as this can be addressed in a second edition, which might only be in a couple of years or so. I think that this will also improve the look of the book (which he refers to). 
  • There are some points I'd hold my ground on, in particular on the scope of the book. Chapter 1 is very definitely supposed to be a whistlestop tour through Roman history, and so of course it will be rudimentary. However, I've had very positive feedback on this chapter, even from school teachers who didn't have a good appreciation of what happened when. I was really just trying to give sign-posts to work from when dealing with the Romans. In addition, the point that the Pompeii chapter is 'serviceable enough' but that there are plenty of other better resources rather overlooks the fact that most of those resources are not written for school students. Books such as Joanne Berry's are excellent resources, but perhaps students need something more manageable first - I'd be happy to recommend books such as hers for further reading, and would agree with Guy that this would be a good idea. 
  • His points about exam syllabuses obviously reflect a key interest of his. In general, we've written the book with the purpose of it not being an 'exam factory' book, but more of a general reader, albeit one which includes everything on both GCSE syllabuses. There just wasn't the scope to include all the A Level syllabus material too, although I agree that we could have included more on Herculaneum to overlap with the A Level syllabus - particularly since there are far fewer books for 'further reading' on Herculaneum as opposed to on Pompeii. We can certainly look at this for a second edition.
  • In terms of how to structure the book, his suggestion that it could have been done differently (e.g. by themes such as houses, baths, amphitheatres) is to my mind arguable but not clearly preferable- I think that if I'd structured it in the way he suggests some would have suggested that I should have structured it as I have done! There are copious cross-references (although I take on board the places he suggests others could be added), and this was going to be inevitable however the book was structured. 
  •  All in all, therefore, I think that a lot of what he has to say is very helpful, and will be listened to by Bloomsbury. Conversely, I do think that we have the scope of the book about right, and so far the sales are very good (about 1700 copies sold in the first year), suggesting that it has hit a spot. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Sad news: Death of Annamaria Ciarallo


Archeologia vesuviana, addio alla biologa Annamaria Ciarallo
Il mondo dell´archeologia vesuviana in lutto. Sabato scorso, presso l’Ospedale Civile di Nocera Inferiore, è deceduta tragicamente, in circostanze che ancora devono essere chiarite dalla magistratura, la biologa Annamaria Ciarallo (nella foto). La studiosa è stata la fondatrice e per anni la direttrice del Laboratorio di Ricerche Applicate presso gli Scavi di Pompei, nato nel 1994, che costituisce una vera e propria sezione staccata in situ del CNR. Insieme alla sua équipe ha studiato molti reperti organici, scavati nei parchi archeologici vesuviani, con lo scopo di ricostruire ambienti naturali, modi d’abitare e di produrre, costumi ed interessi di Pompei e dintorni all’indomani dell’eruzione del 79 d. C.. Attraverso l’analisi di pollini, fossili, materiali organici e calchi di radici delle piante, il suo Laboratorio ha descritto lo scenario e l’ambiente di vita nell´antica Pompei. E’ stato così possibile ricostruire nei dettagli il paesaggio dell’area compresa tra il Vesuvio ed il fiume Sarno (in cui si trovava Pompei) di quasi duemila anni fa. Ne è derivata la conoscenza approfondita sul sistema e le tecniche di coltivazione agricola dell’epoca: vale a dire il modo di mangiare, quello di vestire e di abitare. Altri studi importanti hanno riguardato la fissazione della data dell’eruzione del Vesuvio. Se sull’anno della catastrofe non ci sono stati mai dubbi, grazie alle menzioni di testi classici, grandi discussioni ha causato, invece, la stima della data. Gli esperti hanno cercato (con risultati alterni) di stabilire se l’eruzione pliniana che ha distrutto Pompei sia avvenuta in estate o in autunno inoltrato.
Read the full article here.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Convegno (April 6, 2013) Amedeo Maiuri e Pompei

Late notice, unless you're nearby, but there's a Convegno tomorrow (6 April, 2013), complete with a public unveiling of a monument to Amedeo Maiuri in P. Bartolo Longo.  The Convegno is:

Amedeo Maiuri e Pompei: A cinquant'anni dalla scomparsa

Program commences at 10am, in the Commune. 

Speakers include:
Avv. Claudio D'Alessio (Sindaco di Pompei);
Dott.ssa Teresa Cinquantaquattro (Soprintendente Arch. di Napoli e Pompei);
Dott.ssa Maria Luisa Storchi (Soprintendente Archivistico per la Campania);
Dott. Stefano De Caro (Presidente dell' ICCROM);
Prof. Steven Ellis (American Academy in Rome; University of Cincinnati);
Dott.ssa Nella Castiglione Morelli (Consiglio Amici di Pompei);
Prof. Umberto Pappalardo (Direttore del Centro Internazionale Studi Pompeiani);
Prof. Rosaria Ciardiello (Università "Suor Orsola Benincasa");
Dott. Mario Grimaldi (Università "Suor Orsola Benincasa")

Anyone been to Pompeii recently or there now?

Hi all,

I was just wondering if anyone has been to Pompeii recently?  My supervisors are taking a group of MA students in a few weeks and we are trying to put together an itinerary!  I was just curious to know what houses/properties are (generally) open daily?  Accessible with special request?  Can you still make reservations for the suburban baths/House of Prince of Naples/Chaste Lovers? All the reservation links are seemingly gone from the new website!  Also, anyone know if there are any closures to main properties due to work (aside from the Vettii which has been closed FOREVER!)!

Any up-to date info would be great as I haven't been there in a while!

All the best,

Review: In Search of the Romans

Following on from yesterday's post, here is the first review of In Search of the Romans. I'm posting this on behalf of Guy de la Bédoyère who is currently off on professional adventures in Australia.

In Search of the Romans, by James Renshaw (Bristol Classical Press, London 2012)

The stated purpose of this handy-sized and solid-looking book is to provide a ‘strong and broad foundation’ for students starting out on Classical Civilization courses. It is undoubtedly true that Classical Civilization is not well-served by bespoke textbooks. This is becoming more and more obvious at a time when examination boards are increasingly commissioning textbooks for their mainstream courses, such as History and English Literature, with dedicated content directly linked to their specifications. Classical Civilization, at school level, is unlikely to be taken other than by small numbers of students if it is offered at all, making bespoke textbooks unviable. Recommended reading lists produced by examination boards therefore tend to resort to existing publications that all too often means patchy and inadequate coverage, which is especially challenging for non-specialist teachers.

So any effort to produce a background work is to be welcomed though given the range of options usually offered with Classical Civilization courses it is a tall order to provide a jack-of-all-trades even if the focus is restricted, as in this case, to the Roman world. There is no clear indication in this book of whether it is aimed at GCSE, GCE or degree level and the implication is that it ought to be of use to a wide range of courses. In that respect the book clearly has a very general remit, which may be ideal for some readers, though this does not help a potential reader (or teacher) identify easily whether or not the book is ideal for his or her course in terms of specific content. It might have been useful therefore to have given an indication of which courses the book is explicitly useful for, but I can appreciate that this carries the risk of built-in obsolescence. However, the impression I gained is that the author has, for example, taken little or no notice of A-level courses (see comments on Herculaneum below).

The text is divided into four thematic chapters: history, religion, society, and entertainment, together with a fifth and sixth chapter on Pompeii and Herculaneum respectively. Several appendices tackles variously Rome the city, Roman politics, money, clothing and ‘time’ (here meaning calendars). Review boxes scattered through the book provide students with questions to answer which ought to aid their reading and digestion of the text. The text is well broken-up with headings, an essential feature for today’s student who seems increasingly dependent on everything being neatly packaged. The focus on Pompeii and Herculaneum is obviously important since these form the epicenter of any course focused on the Roman world.

The book undoubtedly looks as if it ought to be useful as a kind of general background textbook but an essential ingredient is the apparatus of referencing, bibliography and index. In all these respects the book is a little wanting and I felt this was a real pity since this undoubtedly reduces its utility if its ambition is to serve courses beyond GCSE.

There is a very short (one page) index, of minimal value from which for example the frequently cited sources are omitted, and also many of the topics in the book, though conversely ‘drama’ merits a listing along with six sub-listings in page order rather than alphabetical order. Five classifications start with ‘Roman’. A reader seeking information, for example, on a haruspex has to flick through the chapter on religion to find it on p. 99. Further comments on the index follow below.

There is no Bibliography or suggested further reading which seems strange in a book aimed at students. I appreciate that a GCSE student is unlikely to want to wander much further but it is a pity he or she is not encouraged to look beyond the book; A-level and university students should definitely be encouraged to read further. It is also worth bearing in mind that Classical Civilization courses are quite often delivered in a school context by non-specialists who would doubtless welcome more guidance on where the evidence has originated or where to dig further, even if this book is an answer to some of their prayers in other respects.

The text is mostly competent and well-written, but there are occasional infelicities when it comes to detail. On p. 41 Augustus is started to have had ‘ensured he was always elected a tribune of the people’. In fact Augustus held the power of a tribune but was not elected to the actual post; this power was renewed annually but it was a means by which he avoided the legal obstruction to a patrician holding the actual post and, as Barbara Levick puts it, ‘the collegiality inherent in the consulship and other offices’ (2010, 84). While one does not want to carp about minor points, this is a technicality of enormous significance and it is a pity a mistake has been made which is  amplified on p. 364 where we are told Augustus held the position either of consul or tribune annually, suggesting it was an either/or. Augustus’s tribunician power was renewed annually from 23 BC and recorded on the base-metal coinage. He held the consulship annually until 23BC and again in 5BC and 2BC, of course holding the tribunician power simultaneously. Augustus’s crucial possession of imperium goes unmentioned.

For obvious reasons the book does not and cannot get deeply involved in arcane historical debates, but by the same token an up-to-date synthesis ought at least to reflect something of contemporary thinking. Instead on p. 44 we learn that according to Suetonius Tiberius led a life of ‘disgusting immorality’ (without any evidence being cited). There is no sense of critical evaluation of this judgment which appears to be accepted at face value. Caligula’s reign is condemned with the comment that ‘he became drunk on power and ruled with great cruelty’, again with nothing to substantiate that judgment and no suggestion that modern revisionist perspectives like that of Richard Alston (1998) exist. Here the lack of a reading list is a shame because it would help demonstrate the whole subject to be far more dynamic than the impression created by the sense that all ancient historians do is reiterate Suetonius.

The principal emperors are awarded a few sentences each, making for an enjoyable trawl if one knows nothing about the Roman Empire but providing little hint at what might be usefully researched further. The pace hots up when the third century is tackled in little more than a page and the end result is that the whole of Roman history is afforded less space than that allocated to Pompeii.

The chapters on Religion and Society have a useful litany of topics and anecdotes but the sparse index inhibits the sort of dipping and quick referencing a book like this will mostly be used for. The text sometimes seems unnecessarily fragmented. For example, on p. 64 we are told that the Romans primarily objected only to exclusive cults like Judaism or Christianity because ‘Romans expected all the inhabitants of their empire to worship their gods as well as any others’. This was surely an opportunity to cross-reference the Pliny-Trajan correspondence on dealing with Christians which the author discusses and quotes from on p. 120 (using the Penguin translation by Betty Radice, but uncredited). Family religion appears incongruously in the chapter on Society at pp. 133-5 and is indexed under ‘family religion’.

An absence of footnotes here and elsewhere and limited or erratic use of references also makes it difficult to research the author’s points further. On p. 74 the author references book and chapter in Livy for his point about the early worship of Apollo whereas a box on the imperial cult on p. 80 includes quotes but no information on the author’s sources. The latter is far more typical of the book as a whole. On p. 284 the CIL reference is given for the Holconii at the Pompeii theatre. That’s all very well, but CIL will mean nothing to the average student (or non-specialist teacher) who will have no access to the source material anyway; moreover, in the absence of a Bibliography or Further Reading, the reader is not supplied with any expansion of CIL, any other abbreviations or list of ancient sources. It would have been far better in this instance at least to add a reference to the Cooley Sourcebook of inscriptions from Pompeii which is both in English and in print.

The chapter on Pompeii is serviceable enough with a potted history of the town, the eruption, excavation and the physical remains. But one wonders just how useful this book would be even to a casual student when so many other books are available with considerably more detail. Baths, for example, are covered in under ten lines and obviously therefore little substantive information is supplied though a rare cross-reference directs the reader to p. 250 and a plan of the Stabian Baths in a more general section on baths. Other buildings such as the theatre are treated in slightly more depth and linked to other sections in the book (see below). The brief descriptions of some public buildings and houses, together with their plans are useful but anyone with a serious interest (perhaps for a GCSE Coursework option) would need to investigate further; without any notes or suggested further reading this is not easy.

The Herculaneum chapter follows the same pattern though very few buildings are described in any detail, these mainly being the Forum Baths, the House of the Wooden Partition, the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, and the Villa of the Papyri, while considerably more space is devoted to the skeletons found in the vaulted chambers along the shoreline. As a passing matter of interest, none of these buildings is specifically cited amongst the prescribed material for OCR’s A-level paper CC6 (City Life in Roman Italy) or AQA’s A-level Option E on Roman Architecture and Town Planning; the several Herculaneum buildings that are in these specifications are more or less ignored. The Herculaneum buildings he has included are useful, but it does seem odd that they appear to have been featured at the expense of structures which A-level students will have a specific interest in. Instead, the included material appears to have been built almost entirely around AQA’s GCSE in Classical Civilization. Nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that the potential for meeting the book’s wider remit is limited.

I wondered whether it would not have been better to deal with these classes of buildings in a single place, rather than scatter the information. Housing, for example, ends up being dealt with generally from pp. 125-32, at Pompeii from pp. 308-24, and at Herculaneum from pp. 341-8. Temples are covered generally at pp. 85-7, but also appear in other places such as pp. 112-13 where Pompeii’s temple of Isis is featured, and then other temples at Pompeii on pp. 290-2. Temples are, however, only indexed at pp. 85-7 making it unlikely a reader would appreciate initially that he or she needed to look in at least three different places. Theatres and amphitheatres (amongst others) escape the index altogether unless one looks under ‘drama’; in any case they too are dispersed – a general section on theatres appears at pp. 225-6, with a description of the theatre district at Pompeii on pp. 283-5. A general description of amphitheatres is a component of a section on Gladiatorial Games in Chapter 4 (Entertainment) between pp. 211-22, but then we have three pages on the Pompeii amphitheatre starting at p. 285; all these are only indexed under ‘gladiatorial games’.

The images which proliferate throughout the book are generally well-chosen and range from the familiar to the new. Some are clearly recent shots, such as those taken at ground level in Pompeii whereas others such as the aerial view of the Herculaneum excavations (p. 338) are positively antediluvian. Quality of reproduction is patchy – some seem to bear the hallmarks of relatively low resolution digital images (a common issue with digital pictures taken around five years ago or more), while others are sharp and well-defined. Captions are of limited utility and often do not attribute artifacts to precise locations. For example, the ‘Cave Canem’ mosaic illustrated on p. 128 is from Pompeii’s House of the Tragic Poet but this is not mentioned, and the furniture casts and replica illustrated on p. 131 are from Pompeii’s House of Julius Polybius but this is also not stated. Various other statues and reliefs are illustrated throughout but most give no provenance or information beyond the basic, such as ‘a young man in a toga’ (p. 147) or ‘Mars dressed in armour’ (p. 73) where, in addition, no hint of size or scale is provided. The Piazza Armerina bikini mosaic is illustrated on p. 244 but not identified as such, and nor is it supplied with a date. Some are simply wrong although these are very few – the image captioned ‘Marcus Aurelius’ on p. 52 is actually of Caracalla.

 Images seem totally appropriate for this sort of book but I could not help wondering whether the book has the aura and appearance of a title produced a generation or more ago; students today are entirely accustomed to high resolution colour images available in a trice on tablet computers or other media. To be fair this affects many BCP titles so perhaps it is time the publishers looked into upgrading their approach to illustrations.

In the end then, does the book fulfil its remit? The overall impression I obtained was that this book has been assembled laboriously from an extensive archive of personal interests but has lacked the discipline of an editor who might have borne the needs of the reader, rather than the author, in mind and who might have encouraged a more precise link to the exam board specifications. For this the BCP editorial committee must bear some responsibility. Had the book been armed with guidance on where to take research further this would have ameliorated the inevitable consequences of trying to wedge a quart into a pint pot. I can see this book finding a place in a school classroom where a student might dip casually into it, but it would have been vastly improved by the simple expedient of fuller referencing, a comprehensive and properly-organized index, detailed captions and a less fragmented text.

These criticisms may seem too harsh if the book’s intended readership is really restricted to GCSE students and their teachers. In that respect it will probably fulfil its purpose well, in spite of the limited assistance to encourage further research. However, this should be made much clearer in the book. If the intended purpose is genuinely to serve a much wider range of courses including A-level then my feeling is that it will be of no more than limited utility.

Conversely, at around £16.99 in terms of pages per pound this book represents sound value compared to most of Bristol Classical Press’s offerings which are mostly around two-thirds of the price but a third or less of the length.

Guy de la Bédoyère

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Learning about the Vesuvian sites

The recent publication of In Search of the Romans by James Renshaw seems like a good opportunity to start a discussion on the resources available for learning about the Vesuvian sites. We will be posting a couple of reviews of this book on the blog but it would be of real interest to know what the general consensus is about the material currently available for teaching/learning at all levels, what works and what is missing. What do you want from a text book? What other materials do you need? What themes and case studies are difficult to teach due to a lack of resources? Your feedback in the comments section of the blog or on the Facebook would be really useful - a large number of you in the Blogging Pompeii community teach and are ideally placed to talk about the significance of the Vesuvian sites for teaching archaeology, Classics or Roman courses. I'd also be interested to hear your thoughts on how best to encourage learning on site but also off site (the reality for most) when the fun of the archaeology is far away...

I'll start the ball rolling with some background by James Renshaw on writing In Search of the Romans and what his view is as a UK teacher working with GCSE students. If anyone is available to write similar viewpoints from their teaching experience, please send them to me and I'll post them.

"Being asked to write In Search of the Greeks and In Search of the Romans under the Bristol Classical Press imprint (now owned by Bloomsbury) was a remarkable opportunity for me which came out of the blue. I had been teaching Classical Civilisation GCSE at St Paul's School in London, and had got thoroughly fed up with an exam reading list which was limited to books written decades before. some of which were out of print, and many of which contained glaring errors or inaccuracies. The aim therefore was to write coursebooks which would be up to date, entertaining (hopefully!), and give students a good introduction to Classical Civilisation at GCSE and A Level. I had no idea what mountains I was setting myself to climb, and I know far more about the Greeks and Romans now than I ever did before. 

When it came to writing In Search of the Romans, it was clear that there should be a chapter on Pompeii, since both exam boards (OCR and AQA) have a topic on the city. However, only AQA include Herculaneum as well, and so while I was clear that I wanted a separate chapter on the smaller town, I was not sure which way my editor would go. To my delight, she was enthusiastic, and so we were able to create a separate chapter which in many ways runs as a follow-on to the Pompeii chapter (for example, the eruption is described in detail in the Pompeii chapter). It was not too hard to work out what to include in the Pompeii chapter - together the two boards test a wide variety of information on the site - although I would have liked to have included a little more on Herculaneum, and wonder if readers of this blog have thoughts on what might usefully be added. However, I was very fortunate while writing on Herculaneum to have conversations with Sarah Court of the HCP, and I was able to add in important material on the preservation of the site. I also wanted to introduce students to the debate over the Villa of the Papyri. 

Of course, I couldn't include everything on both sites, and there are a few notable omissions, not least some important houses in each site. I wonder if those readers who have used the book - student, teacher or even general reader, have ideas on what works well, what needs improving, and what they would like in addition. There is likely to be a second edition sooner rather than later, so any thoughts gratefully received!"
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