restricted access Cities of Roman Italy: Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia by Guy de la Bédoyère (review)
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Reviewed by
Guy de la Bédoyère. Cities of Roman Italy: Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia. Classical World Series. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press. 2010. Pp. US $23.00. ISBN 978-1853997280.

The cover of this slim book is doubly misleading; firstly, it does not reflect the author’s focus on expressions of social status, and secondly, one must advance past the cover and the frontispiece to the title page to find the book’s subtitle and thus discover that only three cities will be discussed. To judge from de la Bédoyère’s preface (7–8), Cities of Roman Italy is a product of teaching the A-level course of the same title in his capacity as high school teacher of classical civilization, and thus the book is intended for a nonspecialist audience of late high school or early university students.

The first two chapters are largely introductory, and the material is extremely attenuated so as to provide the briefest and broadest of surveys. Chapter 1, “Background to the Cities: History and Development” (9–20), provides overviews of the histories of each of the three cities, and reveals some of the driving forces behind their development. For Ostia, the focus is on the construction of the harbour facilities; for Pompeii on its transition from local to Roman authority; and for Herculaneum on its apparent role as wealthy resort town. Surprisingly, no maps or town plans are provided here. Especially desirable, given the intended audience, would have been a map locating each of the three cities in relation to each other, to Rome, and to the other important sites which are mentioned. Chapter 2, “Government and Social Structure” (21–38), outlines some fundamental social topics (social ranks, classes of citizenship, the familia, patronage) and then focuses on civic administration. The reader is introduced to the titles, powers, and responsibilities of municipal magistrates, to the nature of electioneering in Pompeii, and to the socio-political roles of collegia, freedmen, and the Augustales.

With the basics of urban history and civic institutions out of the way, de la Bédoyère moves on to the thematic focus of the book: the expression of social status. Chapter 3, “Public Institutions and Identity” (39–60), describes many of the public buildings in the three cities. We are told first about the forum and its associated structures: the basilicas of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Ostia’s commercial zone, and the building of Eumachia in Pompeii. Then the chapter moves on to a selection of other public buildings: theatres, amphitheatres, baths, the Capitolia of Ostia and Pompeii, Pompeii’s temple of Isis, and the firefighters’ barracks and great warehouse of Ostia. Along the way, remarks are made about the social aspects of these public buildings, with particular reference to opportunities for, and evidence of, social self-promotion through munificence. [End Page 464]

Chapter 4, “Private Expressions of Social Identity” (61–85), provides a sampling of domestic structures from each city, with special focus on the expression of status through architectural vistas and decorative embellishment. After a series of quick introductions (Martial’s “Roman day”, the Vitruvian atrium house, the brick-faced apartment blocks of Ostia, styles of wall and floor decoration), de la Bédoyère describes a representative sample of houses, three from each city. From Pompeii, we see the Houses of the Menander, of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus, and of Octavius Quartio; from Herculaneum, the Samnite House, the House of the Stags, and the House in Opus Craticum; from Ostia, the House of Apuleius, the Garden Houses, and the House of Diana. In the process of reading through these architectural and decorative overviews, the reader is exposed to some of the most important interpretive considerations for Roman domestic spa-ces: the line between public and private, the adaptability of rooms to several uses, the significance of internal sightlines, and the uses of decoration. Particularly well expressed is the organic nature of these structures: by highlighting the constant rebuilding and remodeling evident in all these remains, de la Bédoyère demonstrates that our floor plans are the end products of an ongoing process of adaptation to the owners’ changing fortunes and social environment.