CITIES, ANCIENT, AND DAILY LIFE Pt 2

Friday, October 12, 2012





Case Studies
In order to explore further the issues raised above, let us examine five archaeological sites that are particularly well known for evidence concerning daily life, both from the Old World and the New. With our Old World examples, we shall proceed in reverse chronological order, from later to earlier.



Pompeii
Pompeii, near Naples (Italy), is justly famous for its rich evidence for daily life. This provincial Roman city, founded in the late sixth century BC, was destroyed in AD 79 by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius, buried under volcanic pumice and ash (see Volcanism and Archaeology). Despite some salvage, looting, and sporadic occupation, the city was never dug out and reinhabited. Thanks to the building materials of stone, brick, and concrete, the architectural fabric of the city did not disintegrate, but remained remarkably well preserved, offering us an unparalleled glimpse into Roman city life in the late Republic and early Empire. Excavations began here in 1748, among the earliest of organized archaeological expeditions anywhere, and have continued to the present.

The walled city housed a population of c. 10 000- 20 000. For the most part, the city was laid out on a grid plan, with the earliest sector, the `forum' (city center) in the southwest. The forum and its environs contained the most important public buildings of the city. A long, narrow rectangular space, the open-air forum was lined by colonnaded porticoes. At the north, short end, stood the Temple of Jupiter, the major shrine of the city. Behind the porticoes lay civic, commercial, and additional religious buildings. Civic buildings at the south end of the forum offered meeting space for the town council, chief magistrates, and the police. Commercial buildings, on the east, included a guild hall for wool processors (Eumachia's building) and a meat and fish market. Religious buildings consisted of a Temple to Apollo and a shrine to the deified emperor Vespasian. Emperors were routinely worshipped as divinities; the cult of the deified emperor served to link towns throughout the vast empire.

Archaeology at Greek and Roman sites has often concentrated on grand public buildings, so the view of ordinary street life that Pompeii gives is exceptional. Streets here had sidewalks and large stepping stones at intersections so one could step over any mud or sewage. Shops were frequent. They included amill and a bakery, with stone mills for grinding flour and an oven for baking bread, and wine shops or snack bars with huge clay jars embedded in the counters for easy serving of beverages. Street walls were covered with advertisements and graffiti on all sorts of topics, such as politics, sex, and love, with many people named.

Pompeii had its own theaters, like all Roman cities. Types included a large, open-air half circle, a design taken from Greek tradition; the odeum, a smaller covered theater; and the amphitheater (lit. `double theater'), here a large oval, used for the gladiatorial combats, the violent spectacles enjoyed by the Romans. A barracks for gladiators was identified in a portico behind the large theater, thanks to finds of helmets, armor, weapons, and graffiti referring to teams of gladiators. Nearby, skeletons of at least 52 people, including children, were found, together with much jewelry; they were gathered here intending to escape through the nearby city gate to the harbor, but never made it.

The private houses, numerous and well preserved, range in size and decoration from large and rich to modest. They typically have a lararium, a shrine to the lares, the deities who protected house and family. Traditional Italic houses feature the `atrium', a room with a square or rectangular opening in the ceiling, letting in light, air, and rain. The rain would fall into a basin below, then into a connected underground water tank. Arranged around the atrium were smaller rooms. Since furniture was portable, the functions of these rooms could easily vary. In winter, they could be closed off, heated with portable braziers. At the rear, the important rooms were located, the main reception room (tablinum), where the owner of the house and his family formally greeted guests, and the dining room(triclinium). Houses of the wealthy might also have a `peristyle' court, an open space surrounded by a colonnaded portico. A feature borrowed from Greek architecture, the peristyle in Roman Pompeii typically enclosed a garden. Explorations of the cavities left by plant roots, by pouring plaster down them to recover their shapes, have allowed researchers to reconstruct the kinds of plants cultivated, and to replant some gardens in the ancient manner.

House decorations typically included walls plastered and painted with a variety of images in a realistic style, and floor mosaics. A spectacular example of the latter is the Alexander Mosaic, a large (5.1 x 2.7m2) scene of Alexander the Great confronting the Persian king Darius III at the Battle of Issos.

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