You are here

Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space

Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space

Edited by Ray Laurence and David J. Newsome. Pp. xix + 444, figs. 77, tables 13. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011. $150. ISBN 978-0-19-958312-6 (cloth).

Reviewed by

Roughly 30 years after interest in the social nature of space revolutionized the study of Roman urban history and archaeology, the editors of this volume seek to mark a new point of departure for future research through a collection of 15 chapters from scholars united by a common interest in the social and cultural meaning of movement. The result is an innovative but varied cross-section of current research undertaken from numerous theoretical perspectives, focused on the cities of Rome, Ostia, and Pompeii. Context and background are provided by Newsome’s introduction, while a forward-looking afterword by Laurence completes the work. Several coordinating themes give an overall impression of the volume in this review, although the chapters are not organized in this way in the volume itself.

The flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic through city infrastructure and its impact on urban layout is considered in several chapters. Malmberg and Bjur, for instance, demonstrate convincingly the interaction between traffic flow and urban development of Rome’s Porta Esquilina and Porta Tiburtina from the Augustan period through the fifth century C.E. Stöger employs spatial syntax methodologies to demonstrate that Ostian scholae and their tabernae were both internally structured and geographically situated to participate in areas of high traffic flow. Conversely, Ellis suggests that a Roman “cult of the right” enshrined in post-64 C.E. Neronian legislation restricted the process of situating shops in response to pedestrian traffic that he previously identified at Pompeii. Poehler undertakes a detailed spatial study of probable transport destinations at Pompeii, revealing the effect of private and commercial transportation in generating the urban fabric of the city. Other authors instead emphasize the interruption of traffic flow. Kaiser, in a dramatic reappraisal of surviving data, points to legal restrictions and physical limitations on the movement of vehicles through Pompeii, implicating local neighborhood and cultural biases as the likely instigators. Similarly, Hartnett employs the frequent obstacles and inconveniences to urban movement at Pompeii to suggest that social and political prestige likely trumped the power of legal regulations. Two authors focus specifically on the space and movement portrayed within ancient literature. Spencer’s reading of Varro’s De Lingua Latina suggests that movement was an important analogy for conceptualizing and communicating the ideals of Late Republican citizenship, while Laurence indicates that space and time are the key elements driving the portrayal of Rome in Martial’s epigrams. While new methodology is not a primary goal of the volume, innovative approaches appear in several chapters, particularly in advocating a more humanized approach to ancient space. Van Nes employs both traditional and novel methods of spatial syntax analysis to examine the micro-scale interface between buildings and streets in Pompeii. In an exploratory study that highlights the visual and kinesthetic bias of previous spatial work, Betts invites greater attention to sound, smell, and touch in the examination of Roman urban space. Other contributors help to repopulate the streets of Rome with the multiplicity of actors and activities they once contained. Holleran illuminates the considerable number of sometimes seedy but vital social and economic interactions that transpired in these seemingly transitory spaces. Favro imaginatively models the effect that constructing the Arch of Septimius Severus had on the urban infrastructure of Rome, emphasizing the considerable social impact of imperial construction.

Three chapters examine movement in Rome’s public buildings. Macaulay-Lewis details the modalities of pedestrian movement, suggesting that porticoes and portico-temples (e.g., the Templum Pacis) structured leisured walking. Newsome examines the increasing restriction of movement to and through the Forum Romanum, culminating in the creation of the imperial fora and highlighting the changing cultural attitudes that these modifications reveal. Trifilò interprets the high social visibility of gaming boards inscribed in pavements of fora in Rome and Timgad to categorize them as socially acceptable games of skill rather than illegal gambling. A stimulating epilogue by Laurence articulates the value of the study of movement, both predicting and invoking the future examination of movement networks in Roman archaeology, urban history, and the social sciences.

The editors aim to “open a new chapter in the historiography of Roman urbanism” (386) while signaling a paradigm shift toward understanding movement as meaningful. Though it is not entirely convincing that earlier research, including Laurence’s own seminal text Roman Pompeii: Space and Society (New York 1994), really failed to examine this aspect of the built environment, there can be little doubt that in presenting a broad collection of scholarship explicitly focused on movement, the editors have reinvigorated future research on space and movement and have proven its interdisciplinary applicability. Nevertheless, several aspects of this collection may prove to be disappointing to some readers. Throughout the volume, the scale of analysis is exclusively that of the city as a whole and its infrastructure. Research dedicated to movement inside domestic structures or areas outside of the public or commercial environment is curiously absent, a lack felt all the more acutely given the particular cities under scrutiny. The collection also downplays methodology and generally eschews spatial syntax techniques, favoring narrative explorations, which, while significantly enriching the cultural relevance of a research direction often criticized for overly abstracting behavior in the societies it aims to study, do not themselves lay the groundwork for new analytical techniques. The contributors generally appear not to have read one another’s contributions, so that key points of argument are introduced multiple times (e.g., the text of the Tabula Heracleensis), and interesting interpretive disagreements are left without comment. The unusual chapter-length introduction appears to critique several of the volume’s own chapters, highlighting the well-known risks of incomplete archaeological datasets, the dangers of applying modern meanings to ancient texts, and making critical observations that are neither addressed nor resolved elsewhere. Occasional bibliographic errors, combined with confusion over contributors’ academic titles, also mar the overall impression of the work. Despite these shortcomings, this volume is an ambitious and innovative collection of stimulating scholarship that is certain to have a considerable impact on the future of spatial studies and will clearly form a core text for both scholars and students of Roman urbanism for many years to come.

Michael A. Anderson
Department of Classics
San Francisco State University
San Francisco, California 94132

Book Review of Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space, edited by Ray Laurence and David J. Newsome

Reviewed by Michael A. Anderson

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 117, No. 4 (October 2013)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1174.Anderson

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.