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The social spread of Roman luxury: sampling Pompeii and Herculaneum1

  • Andrew Wallace-Hadrill
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2 Roman luxury as a social phenomenon still awaits proper treatment. There have been several recent accounts of censorial involvement with luxury: including Clemente, G., ‘Le leggi sul lusso e la società romana’, Società Romana e Produzione Schiavistica, ed. Giardina, A. and Schiavone, A., vol. iii (1981), 114; Slob, E., Luxuria: Regelgeving en maatregelen van censoren ten tijde van de Romeinse Republiek (1986); Astin, A., ‘Regimen morum’, JRS 78 (1988), 14–34; Baltrusch, E., Regimen Morum. Die Regelmentierung des Privatlebens der Senatoren und Ritter in der römischen Republik und frühen Kaiserzeit (1989). Broader and more sociological approaches are adumbrated in the doctoral dissertations of Miles, Deri P., Forbidden Pleasures: sumptuary laws and the ideology of moral decline in ancient Rome (London 1987), and Edwards, Catharine, Transgression and Control: studies in ancient Roman immorality (Cambridge 1989), on both of whom I draw gratefully. See also Rocca, E. La, ‘Il lusso come espressione di potere’, Le tranquille dimore degli Dei (1986), 335.

3 Discussed in my Suetonius: the Scholar and his Caesars (1983), 177ff. See now Zanker, P., The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (1988), 129: ‘The emperor and his family set the standard in every aspect of life, from moral values to hairstyles. And this was true not only for the upper classes, but for the whole of society.’ The importance of social diffusion of luxury is fully grasped by Zanker, who in a series of works points the way to further research. See esp. Die Villa als Vorbild des späten pompejanischen Wohngeschmacks’, Jdl 94 (1979), 460523; also ‘Zur Bildnisrepräsentation führender Männer in mittelitalischen und campanischen Städten…’ in Les bourgeoisies municipales Italiennes aux IIe et Ier siècles av. J.-C. (1983), 251–66. His recent essay, Pompeji. Stadtbilder als Spiegel von Gesellschaft und Herrschaftsform (1988) is primarily concerned with the public buildings of the city, but see 23f on ‘Wohngeschmack’.

4 For Pliny's views on luxury see my discussion, Pliny the Elder and Man's Unnatural History’, G &R 37 (1990), 8096.

5 Thus Macmullen, R., Roman Social Relations (1974), 88ff, stressing the ‘verticality’ of Roman social relationships, and minimising any ‘middle’ class.

6 Thirsk, J., Economic Policy and Projects (1978), esp. 106–32 for social diversity and differentiation, and 12ff for moralising protest.

7 E.g. Bradley, Richard, The Social Foundations of Prehistoric Britain: themes and variations in the archaeology of power (1984); Hodder, Ian, Symbols in Action. Ethnoarchaeological Studies of Material Culture (1982).

8 Friedländer, L., Roman Life and Manners, vol. ii (1908), 131 ff.

9 This account of luxury is indebted to Douglas, M. and Isherwood, B., The World of Goods: towards an anthropology of consumption (1979) and Elias, N., The Court Society (trans. Jephcott, E. 1983); for a historical review, Sekora, E., Luxury: the concept in western thought from Eden to Smollet (1977).

10 The model, and its impact on changing artistic fashions, is lucidly set out by Morris, Ian, Burial and Ancient Society. The Rise of the Greek City-State (1987), 16f, drawing on Miller, D., Artefacts as Categories: a study of ceramic variability in central India (1985), 184ff.

11 See now Henner, v.Hesberg, and Zanker, P. (eds.), Römische Gräberstrassen. SelbstdarstellungStatus-Standard (Munich 1987).

12 D'Arms, J. H., Romans on the Bay of Naples (1970) remains basic on the social context.

13 Among art historians who have shown interest in the social aspect should be singled out Zanker, Paul (above) and Strocka, V. M., esp. ‘Pompejanische Nebenzimmer’, in Neue Forschungen in Pompeji, ed. Andreae, B. and Kyrieleis, H. (1975), 101–14; Die Casa del Principe di Napoli (VI 15,7.8) (1984), esp. 49f. The works of Schefold, Karl, especially Vergessenes Pompeji (1962) and Pompejanische Malerei, Sinn und Ideengeschichte (1952), are also concerned with the implications of decoration for society, though I find his model of how art reflects society unconvincing, cf. JRS 73 (1983), 182.

14 Minimal use of archaeological evidence is made in the (otherwise illuminating) studies of Andreau, J., Les affaires de Monsieur Iucundus (Coll. Ec. Fr. **Rome19, 1974), Castrén, P., Ordo Populusque Pompeianus. Polity and Society in Roman Pompeii (Rome 1975); and recently Jongman, W., The Economy and Society of Pompeii (Amsterdam 1988). The main (glowing) exception is Jashemski, W., The Gardens of Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Villas destroyed by Vesuvius (New York 1979). Also valuable is the recent dissertation of Gassner, V., Die Kaufläden in Pompeii (Diss. Wien178, 1986).

15 Montias, J. M., Artists and Artisans in Delft: A Socio-Economic Study of the Seventeenth Century (Princeton 1982).

16 Benedict, P., ‘Towards the comparative study of the popular market for art: the ownership of paintings in seventeenth-century Metz’, Past and Present 109 (1985), 100–17.

17 Zeldin, T., France 1848–1945. Taste and Corruption (1980), 98.

18 The methodological weaknesses of della Corte's work are well exposed by Castrén, P., Ordo Populusque Pompeianus, 31–3, cf. Andreau, J., ‘Remarques sur la société pompéienne’, Dial. Arch. 7 (1973), 213–54.

19 So Maiuri, A., Ercolano. I nuovi Scavi (1927–1958) (1958), 247f. Maiuri's views are popularly accessible in his Pompeii (English trans. Novara 1960), esp. 72ff; scholarly argument rests on L'ultima fase edilizia di Pompei (L'ltalia Romana. Campania Romana II, 1942), esp. 162ff. Like Lepore, E., ‘Orientamenti per la storia sociale di Pompei’, in Pompeiana. Raccolta di studi per il secondo centenario degli scavi di Pompei (Napoli 1950), 144–66 at 161f, I find his whole scheme of social classification ‘troppo rigida’; I discuss this issue in detail in ‘Elites and trade in the Roman town’ (above n. 1).

20 A helpful introduction for non-mathematicians is Rowntree, D., Statistics without Tears (1981). I am grateful to colleagues in the Department of Applied Statistics at Reading for advice and discussion; despite the possibility of using more sophisticated mathematical procedures to analyse my material, I have felt the potential advantages to be outweighed by the danger of confusing myself and my readers.

21 On the principles of sampling, cf. the salutary remarks of Hopkins, K., Death and Renewal (Cambridge 1983), 130ff.

22 There has been surprisingly little study of smaller houses, despite the example set by Packer, J., ‘Lower and middle class housing in Pompeii: a preliminary survey’, Neue Forschungen in Pompeji 133–42; see now Gassner op. cit. (n. 14). Note the useful insights of Hoffmann, A., ‘L'architettura’ in Pompei 79. Raccolta di studi… ed. Zevi, F. (1984), 97ff.

23 Published by Maiuri, , NSc 1927, 383; 1929, 354–438; Elia, O., NSc 1934, 265344.

24 Ling, R., ‘The insula of the Menander at Pompeii: a preliminary report’, Ant. Journ. 62 (1983), 3457.

25 According to the directorate of Pompeii, steps are now being taken to repair these much lamented omissions. But despite descriptions of individual houses (esp. de Vos, M., Med.Ned.Inst.Rom. 1976, 3775 on I 9.13; ibid. 1975, 47–85 on I 11.12 and 14; Jashemski, , Archaeology 20 (1967), 3744 on I 11.11), there can be no substitute for a true excavation report. Note also forthcoming volumes on I 6.15, I 7.1 and I 11.6–7 in the ‘Häuser in Pompeji’ series (Strocka, , Rivista di Studi Pompeiani 2 (1988) 246f).

26 Insulae 15 and 16 are particularly well reported, by Sogliano, A. in NSc 1897, 1942; 1906, 374–83; 1907, 548–93; 1908, passim, and by Mau, , Röm.Mitt. 1898, 354 etc.

27 The finds are now in course of publication, in the series Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei Cataloghi, starting with Höricht, L. A. Scatozza, I vetri romani di Ercolano (1986) and De Spagnolis, M. Conticello and De Carolis, E., Le lucerne di bronzo di Ercolano e Pompei (1988), and with a projected volume on jewelry by Scatozza Höricht. Welcome though this is, this form of publication succeeds in maximising the divorce of finds from the context of discovery, and so in minimising their archaeological and historical utility.

28 Corpus Topographicum Pompeianum, ed. Van der Poel, H., IIIA (1987). Eschebach is sharply criticised, e.g. on pp. 12, 14.

29 Repertorio delle Fotografie del Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale. Pitture e Pavimenti di Pompei, ed. I. Bragantini, M. de Vos, F. P. Badoni et al.; Parte I (Regioni I, II, III, 1981); II (Regioni V, VI, 1983); III (Regioni VII, VIII, IX, 1986).

30 Cic. de Off. i. 139, cf. de Domo 116; Sallust, Cat. 12.3, ‘villas … in urbium modum aedificatas’; Seneca, de Ben. 7.10.5, ‘aedificia privata laxitatem urbium magnarum vincentia’, cf. Ep. 114.9; Suetonius, Aug. 72.1; Cal. 37.2. Cf. D'Arms, , Romans on the Bay of Naples, 40.

31 Tarenti, Lex Municipii, CIL I, 22590 = ILS 6089 = FIRA i.18, at lines 26ff.

32 Notable examples of deserted houses include I 6.13 (cf. NSc 1929, 430), I 9.8/9/10 (cf. CTP IIIA, 16). Evidence of earthquake damage and incomplete recovery in A.D. 79 is widespread, cf. Maiuri, , L'ultima fase edilizia, 216f. The importance of deserted houses is brought out in Phythian-Adams, C., The Desolation of a City. Coventry and the Urban Crisis of the Late Middle Ages (1979), a case where a city in steep economic decline had as many as 25% of its houses empty.

33 Maiuri, , L'ultima fase edilizia, esp. 161 ff. Yet even without earthquake damage, constant adaptation of housing stock is to be expected; cf. the substantial changes now revealed in insula I 20, Nappo, S., Rivista di Studi Pompeiani 2 (1988), 186ff.

34 NSc 1927,38–9.

35 The population of this type of accommodation has been much more thoroughly studied: by Packer, J., The Insulae of Imperial Ostia (MAAR 31, 1971); Hermansen, G., Ostia. Aspects of Roman City Life (Univ. of Alberta, 1982), 17ff; Boersma, J. C., Amoenissima Civitas: Block V.ii at Ostia (1985), questioning the basis of Packer's population estimates (cf. Ling, R., JRS 63 (1973), 279–81).

36 Eschebach, H., Neue Forschungen in Pompeji, 331 briefly characterises some of the regional contrasts of Pompeii; cf. now the much fuller analysis of G. F. La Torre (below n. 45).

37 Most recently discussed by Jongman, , Economy and Society, 108–12.

38 I discuss the bearing of these statistics on population in detail in ‘Houses and households’ (above n. 1).

39 The contrasts are brought out well by Jashemski, Gardens of Pompeii (cited n. 14).

40 Dig.; 25.1.6; 50.16.79.

41 Cf. below, section VI.

42 Eschebach, , Neue Forschungen in Pompeji, 331f.

43 Jashemski, , Gardens of Pompeii, 24 offers a histogram of land-use.

44 Raper, R. A., ‘The analysis of the urban structure of Pompeii…’ in Spatial Archaeology, ed. Clarke, D. L. (1977), 189221.

45 La Torre, G. F., ‘Gli impianti commerciali ed artigianali nel tessuto urbano di Pompei’, in Pompei. L'informatica (1988), 75102, a valuable discussion.

46 Gassner, V., Die Kaufläden in Pompeii, 1ff offers good discussion of the usage of taberna, which is used of shops, workshops, ‘taverns’, and in general of the dwellings of the poor (e.g. Horace, , Odes 1.4.13f: pallida Mors aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas regumque turris). Further enquiry into Roman terminology is needed here, particularly into the boundaries between tabernae/tabernarii and officinae/opifices.

47 Trades that have attracted close study are the most visible: Mayeske, B., Bakeries, Bakers and Bread at Pompeii (1972); Moeller, W., The Wool Trade of Ancient Pompeii (1976); Irelli, G. Cerulli, ‘Officina di lucerne fittili a Pompei’, in L'instrumentum domesticum di Ercolano e Pompei nella prima età imperiale (1977), 5372; Curtis, R. I., ‘The garum shop of Pompeii’, Cronache Pompeiane 5 (1979), 523; and the particularly good survey of metal workshops of Gralfs, Bettine, Metallverarbeitende Produktionsstätten in Pompeji (BAR Int. Ser. 433, 1988).

48 See Kleberg, T., Hôtels, restaurants et cabarets dans l'antiquité romaine (1957); Packer, J., ‘Inns at Pompeii’, Cron.Pomp. 4 (1978), 30ff and Jashemski, , Gardens of Pompeii, 167f.

49 As argued in ‘The social structure of the Roman house’, (above n. 1).

50 Cato fr. 175 Malcovati = Plutarch, , Cato ma. 4.4; cf. fr. 185 for his criticisms of others.

51 Varro, , RR 1.2.10; cf. 1.13.7; against frescoes and mosaic floors in general 3.1.10, 3.2.4 etc.

52 Papirius Fabianus in Seneca, , Controversiae 2.1.13 (I owe this reference to Catharine Edwards); Pliny, , NH 35.118.

53 ‘The social structure of the Roman house’, (above n. 1).

54 The classic study is still Pernice, E., Die hellenistische Kunst in Pompeji VI. Pavimente und figürliche Mosaiken (Berlin 1938). De Vos, M., ‘Pavimenti e mosaici’ in Pompei 79. Raccolta di Studi, ed. Zevi, F. (1984), 161–76 comments on the rarity of mosaics, which constitute on her figures 2.5% of the available floor space (p. 162). On the lithostrota decried by moralists, Donderer, M., Jdl 102 (1987), 365–77. Floors have been little studied in comparison to walls, and almost never in conjunction, as should be the case.

55 Gassner, , Die Kaufläden in Pompeii, 13 rightly suggests that the renting of tabernae must, to judge by literary sources, have been the normal pattern. Further, ‘Houses and households’, (above n. 1).

56 Vitruvius 6.5.1–2: ‘So those of common fortune have no need of magnificent vestibules or tablina or atria, because they pay their respects going round the houses of others, and are not themselves called upon.’

57 Shop decoration is well discussed by Gassner, , Die Kaufläden in Pompeii, 35f. On her reckoning, up to half the shops in Pompeii have some traces of plaster; but this is rarely anything more than simple white, or a high red socle with white above.

58 Maiuri, , Ercolano. I nuovi Scavi, p. 238. Further, ‘Elites and trade in the Roman town’, (above n. 1)

59 Illustrated by de Vos, M., Meded.Ned.Inst.Rom. 1977, pl. 54–5. Gassner l.c. for the tiny handful of other ‘nicely’ decorated shops.

60 See now the excellent study of Ehrhardt, W., Stilgeschichtliche Untersuchungen an römischen Wandmalereien von der späten Republik bis zur Zeit Neros (Mainz 1987), esp. 112 on external dating

61 For imitations of earlier styles, cf. Ehrhardt, 133ff; Schefold, , Vergessenes Pompeji, 140ff; Laidlaw, A., The First Style in Pompeii: Painting and Architecture (Rome 1985), 42–6.

62 I am grateful to Jean-Paul Descoeudres who, by pointing out the rarity of early decorative styles in smaller houses, suggested this approach to me.

63 Note, however, the fragments of first style decoration emerging in houses of middling size in the blocks near the amphitheatre, e.g. I 20.4: Rivista di Studi Pompeiani 2 (1988), 189. There is also a fair scatter of first style in the houses in Region I south of the Via di Castricio which fall outside this survey.

64 Contrast, e.g., Beard, M. and Crawford, M., Rome in the Late Republic (1985), 20: ‘The explosion of culture did not involve the poor or the lower classes, as either producers or consumers. It involved, rather, progressively broader bands of the Roman and Italian elite…’ Even for the Republic, this statement is too uncompromising.

65 On the popularisation of wallpaper, see Zeldin, , Taste and Corruption, 81f.

66 Cf. ‘The social structure…’, PBSR 1988, 74.

67 Schefold, , Vergessenes Pompeji, 124, characteristic of the tone of the chapter on ‘Vespasianic’ decoration. Maiuri took an equally dim view of the vulgarisation of imperial art: e.g. L'ultima fase edilizia 216, ‘…al mutamento e pervertimento di gusto nel genere e nello stile della decorazione degli ambienti…’

68 PBSR 1988, 74–6.

69 E.g. Strocka, , Casa del Principe di Napoli esp. 37f on ‘Filigranborten’; Ehrhardt, Stilgeschichtliche Untersuchungen (above n. 60), passim, and much of the work of M. de Vos.

70 A theme much stressed by Maiuri, , L'ultima fase edilizia, 162f.

71 Elia, , NSc 1934, 320f. On the importance of furniture as a status indicator, cf. Zeldin, , Taste and Corruption, 82: ‘What the people of this period [1848–1945] liked in their furniture was thus first of all a symbol of status. The poor had virtually no furniture; even the middle classes took a long time to collect more than the bare essentials—a bed, a table and cheap chairs.’

72 Corte, M. della, Case ed Abitanti, 251, cf. NSc 1934, 317.

73 Jongman, , Economy and Society, 163.

74 Robinson, D. M. and Graham, J. W., Excavations at Olynthos VIII. The Hellenic House (1938), 209: loom weights found ‘in nearly every room of every house excavated’. See also my remarks in Ant.Journ. 66 (1986), 434.

75 Ercolano. I Nuovi Scavi, e.g. 220, 252, 260 etc.

76 NSc 1934, 292308 on the finds of I 10.7, a stunning collection meticulously recorded; 336–9 on the disappointing haul of I 10.11, esp at 336: ‘The condition of complete confusion in which the material from the eruption presented itself, as far as several metres from the ground, the frequent presence of breaches made in series along each side of the house, in such a way as to render all the rooms intercommunicating, the disappearance of any trace of the furniture commonest in the houses of Pompeii, beds, portable tables and chairs, points clearly to the partial recovery of furniture … in a return after the catastrophe.’

77 I am greatly indebted in this section to Pim Allison of Sydney University, who has persuaded me both of the importance and the difficulty of closer examination of the finds. Valuable results are to be expected from her own research into these questions.

78 Heers, J., Family Clans in the Middle Ages (English translation 1977), cited by Jongman, , Economy and Society, 309f.

79 So Ling, , Ant.Journ. 62 (1983), 56f.

80 ‘Die Villa als Vorbild…’ (above n. 3).

1 The argument of this paper hangs closely together with those of three others: ‘The social structure of the Roman house’, PBSR 56 (1988), 43–97; ‘Houses and households: sampling Pompeii and Herculaneum’ in Marriage, Divorce and Children in Ancient Rome, ed. B. Rawson (Oxford 1991), 191–227; and ‘Elites and trade in the Roman town’ in City and Country in the Ancient World, ed. John Rich and A. Wallace-Hadrill (London 1991), 241–72. Acknowledgment is due to the authorities in the Soprintendenza at Pompeii, particularly to the present Superintendent Dr Baldassare Conticello, to Dr Antonio Varone, Director at Pompeii, and Dr Tomasina Budetta, Director at Herculaneum, for their willingness to facilitate my project; and to Mattia Buondonno and many other custodi for patience with a multitude of keys. I reiterate thanks for financial support which made the underlying fieldwork possible to Magdalene College, Cambridge, the research boards of the Universities of Leicester and now also of Reading, the British Academy, and the British School at Rome. My ideas have benefited greatly from discussion in seminars in Britain and Australia; particularly with Pim Allison, Jean-Paul Descoeudres, and Frank Sear. I have also profited from constructive comments on earlier drafts by Roger Ling, Dominic Perring, Paul Zanker, and the Editor. None of these should be held to blame for my views.

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The social spread of Roman luxury: sampling Pompeii and Herculaneum1

  • Andrew Wallace-Hadrill


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