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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 (Sen. QNat. 6.1.1; Tac. Ann. 15.22.4), but the survivors benyenergetically to the task of rebuilding it on a grander scale.

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 comparatively little.

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 gallery.

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. (1953)MPI; A. Maiuri (tr. S. Gilbert), Roman Painting (1953)I; 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 (3d ed., 1965).


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