After returning from the Summer School at London I had about ten days home before heading off to Rome and the Campania region. The University of Edinburgh helpfully provided the needed funds to pay for my research trip. I was afforded the opportunity to stay at the British School at Rome, and it was quite impressive. The British School is open to all students at British Universities. The place is equipped with a fully stocked library, which is open 24 hours a day, and a wonderfully peaceful setting for writing. Also, artists from all over the world rent studios here to practice/produce their art. The school gathers all the residents for nightly communal dinners. The food was fantastic and the conversation even better. I had the opportunity meet some amazingly talented scholars and artists. For any future research trips to Rome, I plan to use their accommodations.
As for my purpose in Italy, I needed to secure photos of coins, graffiti, and artefacts from Rome, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. Though these places catalogue their finds quite well they rarely publish high quality photos online for closer inspection and reuse. Also, part of my research trip was to familiarise myself with Herculaneum and Pompeii, two sites I had never been to, though will likely be a feature in my dissertation. I had just travelled to Rome with Leah and the kids in February and had done the touristy sites, which meant I could focus my attention on the Museums housing important artefacts. As in the last blog, I will only discuss one of my favourite features from each city.
A piece of my dissertation intends to trace the history of the Roman rex (i.e. “King”). In ancient literary sources of Roman history, the kings play a prominent role. Modern scholarship, in many respects, has either overlooked (with prospects of getting to the more interesting periods) or sought to discredit the veracity of ancient author’s claims. Certainly, myth is the kernel of Rome’s foundation. For example, the child (king) Romulus, the founder of Rome, and his brother Remus were not actually nursed and cared for by a she-wolf (see image above) after being abandoned to die. It is along with these mythical stories that Roman kingship in its entirety has been cast off. However, over the last century some important archaeological finds have helped solidify the early reality of Roman kings. Among the most important was a piece of pottery (i.e. a bowl) from the 6th century BCE with the inscription “REX” found in the Regia (The Regia was the royal residence of the early kings of Rome and later functioned as the headquarters for the Pontifex Maximus [i.e. the “high priest” of Rome]). Another important inscription was found under the Lapis Niger (lit. “black marble”), in the ancient comitium, i.e the earliest known worship centre of ancient Rome. The inscription “RECEI” was found on a cippus (i.e. a pillar) and written in archaic Latin. The form (i.e. boustrophedon) places this inscription to the first half of the 6th century BCE, the earliest known Latin inscription. The inscription appears to be a dedication to a rex (“king”). These were a few of my favourite finds in Rome.
Herculaneum and Pompeii:
Naples is located about an hour and a half by train from Rome. It’s the main city to stay for travel between Herculaneum and Pompeii, both being less than a 30-minute train-ride away. So, I decided to cover Herculaneum and Pompeii over a course of two days. The main purpose of my trip to these cities was (1) to familiarise myself with the city, but also (2) to investigate politically charged graffiti. However, in this small blog I didn’t want to discuss that aspect of my project, but focus on two interesting locations in Herculaneum and Pompeii.
The ancient city of Herculaneum lays nine miles East of Mt. Vesuvius. Vesuvius erupted on the 24th and 25th of August 79 CE, leaving the city decimated under a 100-foot thick layer of volcanic ash. The historian, Pliny the Younger describes the scene:
“Ashes were falling, hotter and thicker…followed by bits of pumice and blackened stones, charred and cracked by the flames.”
“Meanwhile on Mount Vesuvius broad sheets of fire and leaping flames blazed at several points.” (Pliny the Younger, Epistles VI.16)
However, the volcanic ash that destroyed the city also perfectly (for the most part) preserved it, as it stood before the eruption. Left in the remains were private houses along with household items like food and even wooden furniture. Public buildings, statues, roads, and restaurants were also found beneath the ash. For me, the most intriguing piece of the site was the harbour with twelve boathouses full of skeletons. The skeletal remains were those of fleeing refugees. Early excavation of the city revealed the remains of only six people, which led many scholars to believe that most of Herculaneum’s 4,500+ population had been safely evacuated. However, further investigation of the harbour and the beach revealed a different picture. Over 250 skeletal remains have since been found in the harbour and the beach. Along with the skeletal remains, archaeologists found a large over-turned boat that had apparently sunk at the inlet and upon rescue, leaving the group of refugees stranded. The charred remains of those on the beach and those huddled in the boat-houses likely reveal that two strong pyroclastic clouds (watch video of a modern pyroclastic cloud) of volcanic ash burning at nearly 900°F and moving at about 200-400 mph hit the city. Those bodies that were found on the beach died instantly as the fluid in their bodies evaporated. However, the group huddled in the boat-houses did not have direct contact with the pyroclastic cloud leaving them to die of thermal shock and suffocation as the fine burning coals/ash were inhaled into their lungs. Some remains show marks of skull fractures likely in part caused by flying debris. The archaeological evidence in part confirms the words of Pliny as he describes the scene.
Pompeii, too, suffered the same tragic end (and preservation!) as Herculaneum. The site at Pompeii is probably 10x (if not more) the size of Herculaneum and boasted a hefty 20,000-person population in its prime. My favourite site was the Lupanare, which is a brothel. The building is two stories with each floor having five small rooms. It seems that only the lower floors were used for prostitution and the upper floors as lodging for the workers. The beds on the lower floor are made of cement, though I’d imagine they put pillows and the like down while they provided their services. For privacy, each room would have been closed with a wooden door. The building was likely constructed in 72 CE as evidenced by a coin imprint left at the first room on the left of the main entrance. The multiple inscriptions and graffiti found on the walls reveal that both the customers and the workers were from the lower class. The cost for these services would have been as low as 2 assi, which is equivalent to a loaf of bread. Most interesting was the erotic artwork above each room. The paintings show multiple couples engaged in various sexual positions. The purpose of these paintings not only intend to arouse the customers sexual drive, but also to make them feel—for the moment—as though they were part of the elite class…as it was the upper classes, who engaged in regular sex parties. In any case, I found this part of the site extremely interesting and thought I would share.
Coarelli, Filippo, Alfredo Foglia, and Pio Foglia. 2002. Pompeii. New York: Riverside Book Co.
Mühlenbrock, Josef, Dieter Richter, and Paola Barbon. 2005. Verschüttet vom Vesuv. die letzten Stunden von Herculaneum. Mainz am Rhein: P. von Zabern.