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Die Ehrenbögen in Pompeji

Die Ehrenbögen in Pompeji

By Klaus Müller and Valentin Kockel. Pp. 140, figs. 115, pls. 23. Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden 2011. €59. ISBN 978-3-89500-817-7 (cloth).

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After Rome itself, Pompeii is probably the most famous Roman city in the world, even though for most of its life it was not a Roman city. Buried by the Vesuvian eruption of 79 C.E., Pompeii has for centuries been a magnet for foreign visitors not only because of the exceptional preservation of its buildings and frescoed walls but also because of the romantic allure of its sudden demise. Pompeii’s arches, the subject of this new monograph, all stood in or near the forum at the heart of the original settlement. Unfortunately, those arches are among the least attractive remains in the buried city and consequently have received much less scholarly, as well as popular, attention than the city’s other public monuments—and far less than its well-appointed private homes.

Müller’s study is part of a larger project, under the direction of Kockel, to clarify the chronology of the monuments in Pompeii’s forum, and Kockel has contributed important sections to the volume. Die Ehrenbögen in Pompeji documents in exhaustive detail and more than 100 photographs and measured drawings what remains of the five arches erected in or near the forum during the first century C.E. Alas, not much more than the brick cores of these arches survives, and their original appearance is difficult to reconstruct; the identity of those the arches honored is also impossible to determine.

The monograph opens with an introductory chapter by Kockel in which he briefly recounts the history of the excavations in the forum and collects and analyzes the many prints, drawings, and attempts at reconstruction of the arches beginning in the early 19th century, notably those of François Mazois, William Gell, and Carl Weichardt. There follows a long second chapter, the core of the book, by Müller, examining each arch in turn. A short Ausblick by Kockel completes the volume.

Arch 1 stands at the center of the south end of the forum and is of modest size, little more than 4 m tall. It is less an arch in the sense of a gate or passageway than an arcuated base for a statue or statuary group. Once associated with a fragmentary inscription honoring Augustus, the identity of the person portrayed in the lost statue the "arch" supported will never be known.

Arches 2 and 3 were more impressive. They date to the first half of the first century C.E. and formed a pair at the north end of the forum flanking the Capitolium. The arches served as dramatic visual frames for Pompeii’s chief temple and were aligned with the front of the columnar porch. Only the brick core of Arch 2 still stands, but it is likely it was revetted in marble with pilasters on the piers and a pediment above the passageway, as shown in the lararium relief in the House of Caecilius Iucundus. Arch 3 was probably the twin of Arch 2, but it was torn down before, or, less likely, as a consequence of, the earthquake of 62 C.E. There is no archaeological evidence for statuary atop either arch, but it would be surprising if there was none; it would most likely have been togate or equestrian portraits of local dignitaries.

Arch 4 is Pompeii’s most elaborate arch. It seems to have been a replacement for Arch 3 on the east side of the Capitolium, but it was set much farther back, aligned with the temple’s rear wall and bridging the space between the Capitolium and the Macellum. It served as the monumental entrance to the forum from the part of the town that included the Forum Baths, the House of the Faun, and the street leading to the Herculaneum gate. Some of its marble revetment is preserved on the southern facade, facing into the civic square. The arch had engaged columns framing statue-filled niches in its piers. On the north side, the piers incorporated small fountains.

Arch 5 stands on the Via di Mercurio near the Forum Baths and the Temple of Fortuna Augusta. Also once clad in marble with a pair of pilasters on either side of its passageway, this arch is most noteworthy for the fortuitous preservation of a fragmentary bronze equestrian statue. Little remains of the horse, but the rider’s portrait head is intact, save for the inlay missing from its eye sockets. As is usually the case, efforts have been made to identify the portrait as an emperor or prince of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, but it must represent a local official, probably of the Tiberian era. None of Pompeii’s arches is a “triumphal arch,” and all of them probably honored Pompeian magistrates, not members of the imperial family. They were indeed Ehrenbögen, not Triumphbögen.

It may fairly be said that this study by Müller and Kockel does not make a lot out of a little, but it does make something out of very little. In the end, we do not know much more about the arches of Pompeii than we knew before our German colleagues undertook this investigation. That is regrettable, given the investment of time and money that this research and publication represents, but it should not come as a surprise. What remains today are only the sorry remnants of what were once marble-revetted monuments gloriously crowned by bronze statuary, and what little the remains can tell us, Müller and Kockel have meticulously recorded.

Fred S. Kleiner
Department of History of Art & Architecture
Boston University
725 Commonwealth Avenue, Suite 302
Boston, Massachusetts 02215

Book Review of Die Ehrenbögen in Pompeji, by Klaus Müller and Valentin Kockel

Reviewed by Fred S. Kleiner

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 4 (October 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1164.Kleiner

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