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Privata Luxuria: Towards an Archaeology of Intimacy. Pompeii and Beyond. International Workshop Center for Advanced Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (24–25 March 2011)

Privata Luxuria: Towards an Archaeology of Intimacy. Pompeii and Beyond. International Workshop Center for Advanced Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (24–25 March 2011)

Edited by Anna Anguissola (Münchner Studien zur Alten Welt 8). Pp. 239, figs. 75, tables 6. Herbert Utz Verlag, Munich 2012. €59. ISBN 978-3-8316-4101-7 (cloth).

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Roman houses—their architecture, decoration, and use of space—have been studied intensively since the 1980s. Old interpretations from the late 19th century have been scrutinized and shaken in the works of such scholars as Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Penelope Allison, and Eleanor Windsor Leach. New approaches have been developed to conduct holistic analyses aimed at setting the houses within their wider context as well as producing detailed documentation and analysis of singular aspects of Roman houses. Even “new” sources have been added as material culture in the houses has been employed in the analysis of space in addition to the traditional architecture and decorative elements. New fieldwork has also produced data on the development of the Roman house. Pompeii is central to many of these studies because of its remarkable state of preservation and new projects documenting the extant remains. This volume, edited by Anguissola, is a collection of papers presented in a workshop at the Ludwid-Maximilians-Universität München in 2011. Most of the authors are involved in various fieldwork projects in Pompeii, and the papers provide an interesting overview of different aspects of one central theme of Roman houses: privacy.

The book is divided into five sections, each containing two papers and exploring different aspects and approaches to privacy. Eight of the 10 papers are on Pompeii, but the last section discusses houses in Roman provinces. The organization of the book seems logical at first, but while reading, I felt as if the papers in all sections did not really belong together. The first section discusses intimacy and seclusion—Nissinen and Anguissola have studied literary sources and Pompeian archaeology, respectively. The theme of the second section is combining workshops, commercial spaces, and domestic life, and it features papers by Flohr and Calabrò on workshops and food and drink retail in Pompeii. Lauritsen and Maratini in the third section employ quantitative methods in their studies on boundaries and interaction of domestic and commercial spaces. However, methodological approaches are not strong enough in either to warrant a specialized section, and the papers would have fit the two previous sections better. The fourth part is on organizing privacy, and the papers by D’Auria and Helg concern changes in the architecture of houses in Pompeii over time. The cases outside Pompeii concern cubicula in houses of Roman Africa and the Iberian peninsula (Carucci) and changes in Imperial-period houses in Ephesos (Schwaiger). Carucci’s paper would have been better placed in the first section on intimacy, and Schwaiger’s is similar to those concerned with the changes in architecture in the fourth section. Despite this organizational problem, the papers are well written and easy to read. Unfortunately, the images do not always complement the text in the way they were perhaps intended. The black-and-white images require more contrast, as now some of them are difficult to understand—the color plates at the end of the book are a good addition, but not all the crucial images have been printed in color.

The main topic of privacy in the Roman house has been discussed widely in recent years, but the chapters offer much to contemplate. Anguissola, Carucci, and Nissinen have all studied cubicula, or “bedrooms,” and what happens in them. Nissinen’s paper is based on literary evidence and features also a connection to sociological theory and research on the topic of sleeping arrangements—her conclusion is that elite Romans had a very similar idea of privacy and requirements of good sleeping environment as the contemporary West. Anguissola offers an analysis of sets of rooms in two houses with respect to access and seclusion for different social groups in the house. Carucci’s analysis of houses in the provinces accentuates their difference to the architecture of the houses in Roman Italy. Lauritsen’s paper challenges the current paradigm of the visibility and public nature of the Roman house. Detailed study of doors and closing of other openings shows that boundaries, which seem permanently open now, were often closed. The visual axis connecting the front door to the peristyle at the back of the house can also be interpreted to emphasize the intimacy and seclusion of the latter area.

The second main theme is the combination of work and domestic life. The study of Roman houses has been heavily leaning toward elite dwellings, but studying how commercial and production activities were combined with ordinary domestic activities needs further examination. Maratini’s analysis of the urban texture emphasizes the mixed nature of Roman cities. The workshops producing noises, smells, fumes, and smoke were located next to the prestigious private houses. Flohr’s statistics on workshops and atrium houses are interesting, as about half of the recognized workshops are connected to atrium houses, although only a small proportion of the atrium houses features signs of production. Calabrò demonstrates convincingly how the food and drink outlets were designed with regard to facilities (such as water source) used also by the inhabitants of the house.

The last theme is changes in the houses over time. The discovery of remains of old, well-preserved atrium houses under later houses in Pompeii (e.g., the chapter by D’Auria) afford a unique possibility to observe third-century B.C.E. building techniques as well as architectural and decorative design. Both stability and change can be observed, and they are healthy reminders of how little we know of domestic architecture before the first century B.C.E. Helg’s and Schwaiger’s papers discuss later periods and emphasize that the changes in society influence house design. Dwellings may maintain traditional forms for long periods of time, but changes in the world around them also transform the house.

This collection demonstrates well how little we know about Roman houses and what happened in them. Some answers to old questions have been presented, but it seems that more new questions emerge. Nevertheless, combining literary evidence with archaeological material for studying different kinds of activities or types of rooms ultimately affords us a better understanding of how ancient Romans lived.

Eeva-Maria Viitanen
Department of World Cultures, Institutum Classicum
University of Helsinki
00101 Helsinki

Book Review of Privata Luxuria: Towards an Archaeology of Intimacy. Pompeii and Beyond. International Workshop Center for Advanced Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (24–25 March 2011), edited by Anna Anguissola

Reviewed by Eeva-Maria Viitanen

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 4 (October 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1184.Viitanen

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