Online Review: Book

The Furniture and Furnishings of Ancient Greek Houses and Tombs

Lisa Nevett

115.1

By Dimitra Andrianou. Pp. xvi + 213, figs. 24. Cambridge University Press, New York 2009. $86. ISBN 978-0-521-76087-4 (cloth).

Originally unearthed between 1830 and 1832, the Casa del Fauno at Pompeii was immediately recognized by its size and decoration as one of the town’s most important houses, a position it still occupies in many respects. This volume presents the results of a German excavation of the house below the 79 C.E. levels that has remained unpublished for more than 40 years. The first part (19–54) offers a succinct structural history of the house by Hoffmann, who draws on the documentation of excavations from the first quarter of the 20th century (by René von Schöfer), from 1939 (by Arnold Tschira), and from 1961–1963 (by Tschira and Friedrich Rakob), integrating their work with his own on-site study of the house (1976–1981), which constituted his habilitation in architecture at the University of Karlsruhe in 1986. The results of Hoffmann’s structural analysis were refined by the much more comprehensive chronological framework subsequently established by Faber, who in 1993 began studying the largely ceramic finds from the three seasons of fieldwork conducted by Tschira and Rakob. Faber’s analysis of the finds comprise the second part (55–115), while a catalogue of those finds fills out the bulk of the volume (116–241).

Unfortunately, there is only scant documentation of the limited sondages in the portico of the north peristyle dug by von Schöfer, with no details about their depth or exact position. In 1961, Tschira and Rakob sought to verify and extend von Schöfer’s work by excavating strategically in four areas of the house: the entrance and two rooms off the tetrastyle atrium; a set of four rooms in the northeast corner of this atrium; the south portico of the north peristyle (including the exedra in which the Alexander mosaic was found); and two rooms off the east side of the small peristyle identified as the kitchen and triclinium. Most important, the rigorous stratigraphic approach and careful documentation of Tschira and Rakob enabled Hoffmann and Faber, working four decades later, to establish a structural history of the house based on a more precise chronological scheme, rather than approximate phases based mainly on a stylistic evaluation of its interior decoration.

Despite the lack of publication in the intervening years, some of the conclusions reached here about the house’s construction and internal renovation have become standard wisdom. Nevertheless, it is rewarding to see them convincingly set out in a systematic fashion, and there are indeed elements new to this reviewer. The evolution of the Casa del Fauno is recounted several times throughout the volume, but the most straightforward version is given in the summary, with a bibliographic overview, for which there is also an Italian translation. Ceramic evidence from the sixth to fifth centuries B.C.E. for activity in this part of Pompeii adds another piece to the puzzle of the still poorly understood early phase of settlement. This included several postholes, possible ceramic production, and a drainage ditch or latrine that yielded faunal remains indicating a diet that included beef, veal, sheep, goat, venison, and limpets. The earliest walls on the site, dated to the mid third century B.C.E., probably belonged to a house, to judge from the loomweights, opus signinum pavement, and cistern that were found.

Strikingly ambitious from its inception, the first incarnation of the Casa del Fauno (CdF1), dated to ca. 180 B.C.E., occupied two-thirds of the insula and was replete with shops off the street front, two atria, a peristyle, and a service area to the east. Lead paving stones pierced with nails formed the support for wall decoration in the large tuscanic atrium, while the area at the back, later filled in by the north peristyle, was probably a hortus. Minor renovations ca. 150–125 B.C.E saw amplification of the water supply and drainage, along with latrines made of amphoras in several rooms. A major renovation phase (CdF2), beginning ca. 110 B.C.E. and ending ca. 75 B.C.E., comprised completely new decoration in the so-called First Style (including all the well-known mosaic pavements), as well as the insertion of a second entrance into the tetrastyle atrium, a switch from Doric to Ionic in the portico of the small peristyle, and the construction of the large north peristyle. Since the fill beneath the Alexander mosaic was disturbed when it was lifted in 1843, the pavement cannot be dated more precisely; however, chicken and fish bones found in the drain outside the exedra suggest it was used for banquets. Between 50 and 20 B.C.E., a bath with a hypocaust and tubuli was built into the service area, making it one of the earliest private baths in Campania. The house had only one story, with the exception of pergulae over the shops and a few small rooms off the back, until ca. 20 C.E., when rooms in the southeast corner of the tetrastyle atrium received a second floor, thus constituting the third building phase (CdF3). In the Claudian era (or after the earthquake of 62 C.E.), fallen columns in both peristyles were replaced with wood, probably as a temporary measure, and were still in place in 79 C.E.

The catalogue provides detailed descriptions of the ceramic evidence and profiles, ordered by stratigraphic context, as well as several forms of statistical and quantitative analysis, such as cluster and correspondence analysis, seriation, and dendrograms (69–74). These features of modern archaeological fieldwork are unusual in Pompeian scholarship, given its long and somewhat checkered excavation history, although they have appeared to a limited extent in the study of Pompeian mills, loomweights, artifacts, and ceramics. Earliest among the pottery is Campanian bucchero of the sixth to fifth centuries B.C.E., but the assemblage also includes black glaze, Campanian Ware, and several types of amphoras, including Punic. Faber’s catalogue entries are detailed and thorough, thereby integrating this material into mainstream ceramic studies. The catalogue also covers the 18 coins that were found; the earliest is from Lucania ca. 380–350 B.C.E., but most date to the Republican era.

The accompanying DVD-ROM includes the 11 phased plans and statistical illustrations (e.g., dendrograms) that appear in the hard copy and in addition furnishes 127 detailed, colored, hand-drawn stratigraphic sections (on graph paper), scanned presumably from the three excavation seasons of Tschira and Rakob, complete with penciled notations. (The latter, however, are somewhat difficult to read.) Instead of seeming incongruous, the juxtaposition of old and new in this volume is persuasive and demonstrates the value of good documentation to later generations of scholars. However long overdue, this publication of an old excavation of the Casa del Fauno gives this star attraction the methodical archaeological pedigree it deserves.

Michele George
Department of Classics
McMaster University
Hamilton L8S 4M2
Canada
georgem@mcmaster.ca

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1151.Nevett

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