A city on the end of a lava
stream thrown out S-SE from Vesuvius and overlooking
the sea just NE of the mouth of the Sarnus (Sarno). It
was called Pompaia by Strabo, and the Sullan colony
bore the name Colonia Veneria Cornelia Pompeianorum.
In its last century (destroyed A.D. 79) it was the port and
chief city of the S half of the bay of Naples, with an
urban population not exceeding 20,000; Strabo (5.4.8
says it was port for Acerrae (NE of Naples) as well as
Nola and Nuceria. In addition to trade and agriculture,
its principal industries included cloth finishing, the manufacture of lava mills, and the production of fish sauces.
The name is of doubtful origin, possibly Oscan. Strabo
says that the site was once held by Oscans, later by Tyrrhenians and Pelasgians, and after that by Samnites, who
were also expelled. But the earliest remains that have
come to light are Greek of the 6th c. B.C., a Doric temple
on the S edge of the city and Attic black-figure sherds in
deposits in the precinct of Apollo on the forum. Since
Pompeii must have figured in the trade route that carried
Etruscan metal to Poseidonia and Greek goods back to
Capua, it is more likely that the Greeks who built the
temple came from Poseidonia than from Cumae. Greek
remains are scant, and no Etruscan remains have been
positively identified. Probably Pompeii in this period was
no more than a village and watch tower on the bay.
The occupation of the site by the Samnites must fall
toward the end of the 5th c. B.C. as in other cities of
Campania. These tribes, moving down from the mountains, were already considerably Hellenized in their tastes
and probably a good proportion of the existing population was absorbed into the new amalgam. Temple antefixes of the 4th c. which have close affinities with others
from Fratte di Salerno suggest that the pattern of commerce and communication at least remained unbroken.
Under the Samnites Pompeii flourished, reaching its
apogee in the 2d c. B.C. (the so-called Tufa Period). By
290 it had allied itself with Rome, and while nothing is
known of its role in the second Punic war, the evidence
suggests that it emerged unscathed. Through the 2d c.
the archaeological record shows continuous building and
expansion. But in the social war it was allied with the
other Campanian cities against Rome, took a leading
part, and stood siege in 89 by L. Sulla. In 80 it had to
bear the additional burden of a colony of Sulla's veterans
and became as thoroughly Romanized as any city in the
region, being inscribed in the tribus Menenia.
There is no indication that the Samnite population was
generally dispossessed, nor was Pompeii's vigor diminished; under the Romans it continued to be a major port
and city. Cicero and the Julio-Claudians had property
there, and while it did not itself become a resort, as did
its satellite Stabiae and Herculaneum, several rich villas have been discovered in the environs. In A.D. 59 a
riot in the amphitheater between factions from Pompeii
and Nuceria cost many lives (Tac. Ann
. 14.17.1). In
February A.D. 62 an earthquake nearly leveled the city
. 6.1.1; Tac. Ann
. 15.22.4), but the survivors
benyenergetically to the task of rebuilding it on a grander
In late August A.D. 79, after centuries of inactivity,
Vesuvius erupted with great violence. Pliny (Ep. 6.16, 20
has left an eye-witness account of the disaster. The eruption threw out vast quantities of dust, ash, and pumice;
there is no mention of lava. Undisturbed deposits at
Pompeii show a base of small pumice (lapilli) 2-4 m
deep and a thinner (1-2 m) stratum of ash. It appears
that for some hours the danger was not acute and operations of evacuation were orderly; more was to be feared
from the collapse of roofs than from the volcano and
from fires that broke out where hearths had been abandoned. Then a shift of wind brought ash saturated with
poisonous gas and a downpour of rain, and those who
had stayed behind were killed by this. It is hard to estimate how many may have perished, but clearly the large majority escaped.
The survivors did not contemplate rebuilding the city
but ransacked the ruins; the Forum proper was stripped
of every statue. Private houses were both thoroughly explored, sometimes by tunnels driven through walls, and
selectively sampled by wells sunk to recover valuables.
Pockets of residual gas killed many salvagers in the pits
they dug. Titus had awarded the property of those who
had died without heir to the survivors; but its recovery
was perilous and, fortunately for us, was undertaken only
sporadically. Consequently the site is our best evidence
for Roman life in a prosperous Italian town in the 1st c.
Pompeii was forgotten in the Middle Ages and rediscovered in 1748. Excavation has proceeded intermittently
since, first as a royal treasure hunt but since 1861 with
ever increasing scientific precision. Nearly three-quarters
of the city has now been uncovered.
The city is roughly oval (1200 x 720 m) and surrounded by a strong wall (3d-2d c. B.C.), originally a
plain ashlar front with buttresses tailed into an earth
agger backed in some sectors with great flights of steps
that served both as retaining walls and as access for
defenders. Rectangular towers at regular intervals in the
NW and SE sectors are a late modification, perhaps in
preparation for the siege of Sulla. In the agger were
found remains of an earlier fortification that has been
dated to pre-Samnite times. The seven gates are keyed
to the traffic pattern of the city; most of these, lofty and
arched, are contemporary with the towers.
The city is divided by two approximately straight and
parallel arteries running NE-SW, sometimes called decumani, the Strada di Nola and the Strada dell'Abbondanza
with its continuation, the Strada Marina. There was probably a single artery NW-SE, the Strada Stabiana. All
terminate at gates at both ends, except the Strada di
Nola at the SW; here it turned its traffic NW into the
Strada Consolare, which passes through the Porta di
Ercolano. No gate is clearly more important than another.
The public buildings cluster in three areas: SW around
the forum, around the Forum Triangulare, and SE around
the amphitheater. The first area is the largest and most diversified. The forum, on the Roman pattern, is long and
narrow, almost excessively so. Since the port of Pompeii
seems to have been a river port on the Sarnus, which
Strabo says was navigable in both directions, and its traffic
must have gone through the Porta di Stabia, the location
must depend on factors other than accessibility (cf. Vitr.
1.7.1). In its later life it had lost most of the aspect of a
market, except on market day. The only frankly market
buildings on the forum were set off at the N end, and the
macellum at the NE corner was arranged to interfere as
little as possible with other activities. The forum proper,
closed to wheeled traffic, was a place for religion, politics,
law, and spectacle, like the Forum Romanum. The insulae
around the forum tend to be small and square, while
elsewhere in the city they tend to be long and narrow,
fronting at the end on a thoroughfare. Consequently it
has been thought that the area around the forum was
the original nucleus; a settlement has been postulated in
which the Via degli Augustali-Vicolo del Lupanare was
the wall street.
The forum is dominated on its long axis by a Corinthian temple on a high podium; originally (ca. 150 B.C.)
the Temple of Jupiter, it became the Capitolium of the
Roman colony. It had a deep Italic pronaos and lateral
interior colonnades; vaults in the podium may have served
as the aerarium. The other ancient temple on the forum
is the precinct of Apollo; here an Ionic peristyle tightly
encloses a peripteral Corinthian temple on a very high
podium. The finds in the area show it to have been a
cult center in the 6th c. B.C.; in its present form it must
be largely 2d c., refurbished after A.D. 62. Across the
forum lies the Temple of the Genius of the Emperor,
more likely originally Nero than Vespasian, notable for
its altar reliefs and the use of stucco panels with alternating pediments and lunettes on the enclosing walls, like
the Aedificium Eumachiae, the grand cloth hall preceded
by a chalcidicum next to it on the S.
A large trilobate building just N of this has been
identified as the Sacellum Larum Publicorum; there is
almost no support for the identification, and the building
wants study. The Temple of Venus Pompeiana stood at
the S point of the site, SW of the forum, dominating the
sea and the mouth of the Sarnus. Since the richly porticoed sanctuary was at the start of rebuilding at the eruption, little remains.
The S end of the forum was assigned to politics and
business. Along the deep S portico open three large halls,
once revetted with marble, commonly identified as the
curia and offices of the duoviri and aediles (or tabularium). Architecturally the identification is unlikely. Still
less likely is the identification of the square building at
the SE corner of the forum as the comitium (the theater
would serve better).
The colony was governed by two duoviri iure dicundo
and two aediles, all elected annually, the duoviri of every
fifth year having censorial powers and responsibility for
the lectio senatus. The aediles had charge of the public
streets and markets, the temples, and baths. The
supreme council of the city was the ordo decurionum;
there was occasional recourse to popular referendum.
Elections in Pompeii were warmly contested, as the
wealth of programmata painted along the streets attests.
About the administration of Samnite Pompeii we know
The basilica at the SW corner of the forum is one of
the finest buildings (ca. 125 B.C.). It is approached from
the forum on its long axis through an Ionic vestibule.
The main hall had great fluted columns (4 x 12) around
a central nave, with columns in two stories responding
along the perimeter wall, an engaged Ionic lower order
with Corinthian above, at least some of which stood free
to light the gallery that ran on three sides. No capital
of the main order survives. At the far end is a raised
tribune with Corinthian columns in two superimposed
orders, the upper engaged in the facade of a windowed
The forum was being refurbished with limestone colonnades in two stories at the time of the eruption. These
were to have run along the whole W side and as far
along the E as the Templum Vespasiani, Doric in the
lower order, Ionic above. A separate Corinthian colonnade in marble preceded the macellum. Around the forum more than 50 statue bases, several for equestrian figures, can be counted.
The public buildings of the Forum Triangulare area,
a center of cultural life, begin with the ruins of the
archaic Doric temple, a pteron (7 x 11; possibly shortened at some time) and an exceedingly small cella, evidently not original. The temple fronts on a mysterious enclosure and poses many problems. In the tufa period
the triangular precinct was given long Doric colonnades
on two sides and a lofty Ionic propylaeum, and a race
track was laid out along the NE portico as an adjunct
to the little palaestra connected near the N corner, where
a copy of the Doryphoros of Polyklitos served as cult
image. Other doors lead E to the summa cavea of the
Greek theater, and a grand stair, presumably for pompae,
descends to the level of the orchestra behind the scaena.
The theater, built on a natural slope, is not older than
the 2d c. B.C., while the scaena, tribunalia, and upper gallery are later additions. In its final period the scaena conformed to Roman taste, even to having installations for jeux d'eau
. Behind the scaena lies the spacious theater
portico surrounded by small adaptable rooms, used in
the last days as a Ludus Gladiatorius and perhaps always
employed for a variety of purposes. East of the Greek
theater a Theatrum Tectum was built after the foundation
of the Roman colony. In the roof the architect used
trusses of impressive span, but the details show decline
from the best tufa period architecture. North of the
Greek theater is the Temple of Isis, rebuilt after A.D. 62,
remarkable chiefly for its stuccos and painted decorations,
the latter now in Naples. The temple itself is bizarre in
plan, with arrangements for theatrical effects; the aedicula in which Nile water was kept in an underground tank is of special interest.
In the E corner of the city lies the oldest known amphitheater (80-70 B.C.), built by piling earth dug from the
arena around it as base for the cavea. The city wall acts
as retaining wall for part, completed by an arc of massive
vaults, to the top of which rise double stairs, while tunnels sloping to an anular corridor under the ima cavea
pierce the base. Access to the arena is arranged on the
long axis. West of the amphitheater is the “Great Palaestra,” a vast enclosure of Augustan date with porticos on
three sides and a big swimming pool in the open area.
The attractive idea has been advanced that this was the
campus of Pompeii; it must have served as theater portico for the amphitheater as well as sports field and drill ground.
Three public bath establishments are known; two more
seem to have been part of clubs; and a number of large
houses have private baths. Oldest are the Thermae Stabianae, originally dependent on well water, later extensively rebuilt with not only separate facilities for men and women but a row of cubicles for men who wished
to bathe in privacy. Although the big hot rooms had
hypocausts and heated walls, there were only two of them
and the fenestration was poor. In the Terme Centrali, still
unfinished at the eruption, great windows to the SW were
opened in the hot rooms and a laconicum added. Recently
a Republican bath abandoned in antiquity has been discovered and excavated.
The water of Pompeii came originally from wells, public and private, driven through the lava plateau, and from
rain collected in cisterns. An aqueduct, probably of the
Early Empire, entered the city at its highest point, the
Porta del Vesuvio, and was distributed into three channels by a castellum aquae inside the gate and carried
throughout the city by a network of lead pipes, with pressure maintained by standpipes. Most of the water was
delivered to public fountains and baths, and the street
fountains were allowed to spill into the streets to flush
them by running on the surface for some distance before
entering a sewer. The number of aqueduct-fed fountains
in private houses was very large. The extensive sewer
system evidently emptied into the Sarnus.
Pompeii is most famous for its houses and their decoration. The houses range from mansions, occupying all
or most of an insula, to one-room shops with lofts, the
latter rarely decorated. In the better houses the atrium-peristyle plan of Vitruvius (6.3) is the rule. Although
the tendency is toward rigidity of plan and proportion in
older houses as well as grandeur of scale (Casa di Sallustio), comfort, intimacy, and the view were later considered important (Casa dei Vettii & Casa di Giuseppe II).
Despite repeated search, no impluviate atrium older than
the 3d c. B.C. is known, and perhaps the impluvium came
after the vaulted cistern. In Pompeii the oldest houses are
already impluviate but still bound to the rectangle framing the atrium, with a walled garden behind (C.d.Chirurgo). Then through the tufa period the Pompeians
vied with one another in the splendor of their houses.
They used relief stucco work to give the walls architectural articulation (First Style), mixing in marble dust to
get luminosity and painting it rich colors; they paved the
floors with fine colored mosaics free of the garishness of
glass. They took the peristyle from their Greek neighbors
and added it to the atrium, and a Tuscan atrium often
has a second atrium with Ionic or Corinthian columns
alongside it. Peristyles are Doric or Ionic, or Doric in the
lower story with Ionic above. The gardens seem by preference to have been green gardens, and kitchen gardens
seem to have been common in the peristyles. Triclinia and
oeci multiplied, but furniture was scant, and the cooking
was done in a back court. The finest house of this period
is the Casa del Fauno.
Around the time of the Roman colony a new style of
decoration appeared. It covered flat walls with painted
vistas of architecture, beginning with illusion on the
plane of the wall itself and developing beyond in vistas
that approach Renaissance perspective (Second Style).
Probably it began as an imitation of First Style in
painted illusion, but it developed rapidly and the introduction of figures (first as statues) must have come early.
To go with the richer decoration of the walls, the floors
from now on were paved with black and white mosaic,
with occasional color in the border, or with cocciopesto
picked out with lines of tesserae or bits of marble. House
architecture did not change greatly from the preceding
period, but there was more use of unusual forms: vaulted
ceilings, Rhodian porticos, Corinthian and tetrastyle oeci.
(C.d.Nozze d'Argento, C.d.Criptoportico, Villa dei Misten)
The Third Style of Pompeian decoration is Augustan,
an egyptianizing style of flat panels framed by mannered
architecture and miniature figures, alone, in friezes, and
grouped in scenes against pale grounds; genre scenes are
especially popular. The style is best suited to small rooms
and small houses, but rich houses of small scale had now
appeared; the finest in Pompeii is the Casa di Lucrezio
Frontone. Sometimes the style is adapted to larger rooms
by the introduction of panoramic landscapes in which
myths are depicted with tiny figures.
The Third Style was essentially an aberration; the
Fourth, no example of which is certainly pre-earthquake,
returns to the architectural vistas of the Second, but with
flamboyant theatrical architecture, and a cluttering of
every part of the architectural frame with figures, statuairy, objects, and small pictures. The central pictures are
usually mythological; these repeat from house to house
and must be copies of famous pictures, but far removed
from the originals, and the originals are hard to trace.
The subjects sometimes show curious taste (Achilles on
Skyros, Hercules and Omphale); Roman subjects are
very uncommon, except in landscapes. Such decorations
tended to be heavy and served to furnish their rooms; to
go with them the architecture of the houses emphasized
windows and gardens, which were now livelier in plan
and color and often populated with small bronzes and
marbles, seldom of good quality, or given a nymphaeum
encrusted with brilliant glass mosaic. Water was used
extensively; the capitals and entablatures of peristyles
were fantastically stuccoed and painted, and houses
turned so much to their gardens that the tablinum, once
the focus of the house, tended to become insignificant
(C.d.Amorini Dorati) or was entirely suppressed (Cd.
Vettii). There were now garden houses (C.d.Apollo,
C.d.Loreio Tiburtino) and terrace villas with porticos in
several stories overlooking the view (V.d.Diomede), but
the atrium house continued to the end of Pompeii.
Much of the material, especially that from the Bourbon
excavations, is in the Museo Nazionale at Naples. There
is a small antiquarium at Pompeii.
A. Mau, Pompeji in Leben und Kunst
(2d ed., 1908; tr. F. W. Kelsey, 2d ed., 1902)MPI
; L. Curtius, Die Wandmalerei Pompejis
(1929; repr. Hildesheim
1960); A. W. van Buren, A Companion to the Study of
Pompeii and Herculaneum
(2d ed., 1938); R. C. Carrington, Pompei
(1936); V. Spinazzola, Pompei alla luce
degli scavi nuovi di Via dell'A bbondanza
, 3 vols.
; A. Maiuri (tr. S. Gilbert), Roman Painting
; id. (tr. V. Priestly), Pompeii, the new excavations, the Villa dei Misteri, the Antiquarium (Itinerari
dei musei e monumenti d'Italia
, no. 3; 7th ed., 1965);
K. Schefold, Die Wände Pompejis
(1957); id., Vergessenes Pompeji
(1962); P. Ciprotti, Conoscere Pompei
(1959); H. G. Beyen, Die pompejanische Wanddekoration vom zweiten bis zum vierten Stil
, 2 vols. (1938 &
1960); M. Della Corte, Case ed abitanti di Pompei
L. RICHARDSON, JR.