Online Review: Book

Poseidonia–Paestum. Vol. 5, Les maisons romaines de l'îlot nord

Kathryn Lomas

114.2

By Irene Bragantini, Rosa De Bonis, Anca Lemaire, and Renaud Robert. Pp. xv + 348, b&w figs. 189, color figs. 72, tables 16, plans 12. École Française de Rome, Rome 2008. $195. ISBN 978-2-7283-0803-3 (paper).

This volume is the most recent in the series of publications by the École Française de Rome about the excavations at Paestum. It presents the results of excavations undertaken in the 1950s and more recent investigations undertaken in the 1970s. It is also the first volume to concentrate on an area of private housing; the previous publications focused on the forum/agora area and the public buildings. It covers the area of Block In (n-2)—the block located immediately west of the forum—an area of significant Roman building from the second century B.C.E. to the second century C.E., which also has evidence of occupation in late antiquity. The structures in this block are identified as a series of houses dating to the period of Roman occupation, and the presence of elite houses so close to the principal public area of the city raises important questions about the development of urban space in Roman and Latin colonies of the third century B.C.E., particularly in light of similar discoveries elsewhere. Studies of the buildings around the forum at other colonies of this date—especially Cosa—have revealed similar juxtaposition of elite housing and public space. The volume therefore presents important data for the study not only of nonpublic areas of the city but also for the cultural transitions from the pre-Roman to Roman city and for the later abandonment of the site.

The volume also highlights the difficulties inherent in publishing older excavations and how the nature of data recording has placed limitations on publication, notably in the treatment of small finds. In the southern part of the excavated area, there is little surviving documentation for the stratigraphy and location of finds within the buildings. The volume is, accordingly, divided into two sections. The first deals with the southern part of the block (Houses A/B, C, D, and E) and focuses mainly on the structural remains for this group of houses but includes no information on the objects found within. The second, shorter section deals with Houses F and G, while including analysis of the finds from these houses. Inevitably, this creates a rather cumbersome bipartite structure and undermines the coherence of the volume, although this outcome is perhaps inevitable, given the difficulties posed by the recording of the earlier excavation, as noted by the authors in the introduction (4–6, 11–18). It would also have been useful if the authors had included some indication of the number and nature of small finds from Houses A–E, even if the records of the 1950s excavation did not permit them to be fully analyzed or integrated into a house-by-house discussion.

The first (and longest) section is devoted to a detailed description of the structures at the southern end of the block. These form a complex set of buildings with multiple phases of development, containing five houses (Houses A–E) that were in use from approximately the late second century B.C.E. until the second century C.E. Their size, proximity to the forum, and surviving decoration, including fragments of mosaic and second-style wall painting, all suggest that these were elite residences. The authors place them within the same Campanian tradition as Pompeian houses, structured around an atrium and a peristyle, or in some cases additional atria and courtyards.

The second section covers Houses F and G, excavated from 1976 to 1981 and occupying the northern part of the same block. These houses also have a complex history with many phases of rebuilding and adaptation that pose considerable difficulties of interpretation. Unlike Houses A–E, however, they have a recorded stratigraphy and a record of the location of the small finds (mainly pottery) from the area, enabling the construction of a more secure chronology and an examination of the surviving domestic contents.

Despite the difficulties posed by the recording of the material, the authors have done an excellent job in presenting the data in a user-friendly and clear form, which pays due attention to the problematic nature of the evidence and its interpretation. It is also more than just a report on the excavations. The houses are discussed in the context of recent research on the social/cultural developments and significance of Roman house types, as well as their architectural development. The significance of the evidence for occupation in late antiquity is also explored. Overall, the volume is to be welcomed as a resource for scholars investigating the archaeology of urban development in Italy and as an important addition to the literature on Paestum.

Kathryn Lomas
Institute of Archaeology
University College London
London WC1H 0PY
United Kingdom
k.lomas@ucl.ac.uk

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1142.Lomas

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