Thursday, April 14, 2011


Antonella Coralini, Cultura abitativa nella Cisalpina Romana. 1. Forum Popili . Flos Italiae. Documenti di archeologia della Cisalpina Romana 9. Firenze: All'Insegna del Giglio, 2010. Pp. 344; CD-Rom. ISBN 9788878144149. €32.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Saskia Stevens, Utrecht University (

Version at BMCR home site


[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The study of Roman domestic culture still largely focuses on the well-documented sites of Pompeii, Ostia and – to a lesser degree – Rome. The series Cultura abitativa nella Cisalpina Romana, of which this is the first volume, aims at publishing in-depth archaeological studies of relatively less familiar cities in Roman Cisalpine Gaul, an area roughly corresponding to the northern part of the Italian peninsula. Coralini's initiative originates in the longstanding research tradition of domestic architecture of the Archaeology and Ancient History Department at Bologna University. Coralini herself has been involved for years in the excavations of the Casa del Centenario in Pompeii and it is the contextual approach to Pompeii's domestic culture that has been applied since the late 80s of the last century that she also wants to apply to the cities of Roman Cisalpine Gaul. Even though several isolated excavation reports exist on the cities of Cisalpine Gaul, one of the major aims of the book is to offer a synthesis or, in Coralini's words ,"integrare l'archeologia dell'abitare, ovvero l'analisi dell'evidenza materiale, con la rilettura critica della storia delle ricerche e degli studi" (p. 8).

A first glance at the table of contents shows that, despite the title, not all contributions in the volume are on Forum Popili exclusively. The first chapter, by Riccardo Helg, deals in fact with a larger theme discussing the history and status quaestionis of research on Cisalpine Gaul's domestic architecture, which for a long time focused on extra-urban living. This trend was mainly triggered by the discovery of the so-called Villa di Russi near Bologna in 1938. The Villa became the new paradigm and research topics such as Roman villa culture and economy dominated the scholarly debate. Urban housing was more difficult to study. The few examples that were available did not allow for the identification of a standard typology – that is, in comparison to the well-known Pompeian domus. Or, as Helg phrases it: "l'irregolarità planimetrica degli edifici allora conosciuti induceva a ipotizzare una pluralità di modelli abitativi" (p. 15). One characteristic the Cisalpine houses did seem to share was the latitudinal organisation of space. This is contrary to the centro-Italic or Pompeian houses that were longitudinally arranged. In the 1980s a new impulse to the study of urban housing was given primarily by the work of Daniela Scagliarini Corlàita, which studied the domus in relation to the urban context. In addition, functional analysis provided an insight to the functions of various spaces inside the house. Helg's contribution also includes a section on building techniques. Spoliation and the systematic reuse of building material make it hard to study Cisalpine building techniques; though there is some evidence for brick production, many of the techniques included organic material.

Sara Graziani's chapter discusses the archaeological evidence for urban housing in the Roman cities of Ariminium (Rimini), Caesena (Cesena), Faventia (Faenza), Forum Corneli (Imola), Forum Popili (Forlimpopoli), Ravenna and Sassina. The evidence presented offers great comparisons for the development of the centro-Italic domus and the shift of focus within the house from the atrium to the peristyle in the early first century AD. The chapter contains many detailed descriptions of houses and their spatial development and has a catalogue at the end including plans. Of particular interest is a house in Rimini (Ar6). In its third phase, dated to the second half of the second century AD, the house has a plan similar to that of the so-called 'cassette-tipo' apartments in Ostia, a series of almost identical medianum apartments dated to the Trajanic period.1 The main characteristic of a medianum apartment is the arrangement of rooms on three sides of a centrally positioned rectangular space, the so-called medianum. The medianum usually has windows opening towards a street or courtyard and was, as a result, the main light source of the apartment. So far, the medianum layout has only been attested at Ostia. This makes the Rimini house, varying significantly from the 'standard' centro-italic domus, truly unique.

The last two chapters focus exclusively on Forum Popili. Alessia Morigi's contribution, taking up nearly 200 pages, represents the main bulk of the book. The chapter concerns the urban development of Forum Popili and aims at providing a synthesis of all data that have become available during excavations over the years. Starting with a research history, the text also presents relevant literary and epigraphic data as well as a hydro-geological study of the territory. A catalogue containing over a hundred entries of archaeological findspots in Forum Popili (pp. 113-163) appears rather disruptively in the middle of the chapter. It would have fitted better at the end. The archaeological evidence is subsequently divided into various categories and described as such (the forum, cult buildings, spectacle buildings, baths, domestic architecture, ceramic production sites, necropoleis). The section on the city's infrastructure discusses the urban water system which mainly consisted of a series of wells, followed by an exploration of both the urban and regional road networks. Next a paragraph on building techniques, which can be narrowed down to two variations: tuff blocks or bricks generally joint by mortar. The last part of the chapter (sections 11 and 12) deals with Forum Popili's original urban design, which factors determined it and to what extent it is still recognizable in the city's current layout. The analysis concludes with a reconstruction of the town's urban development from the pre-Roman period to the 4th century AD.

Marzia Ceccaglia's final contribution to the book focuses on Forum Popili's mosaic floors. A total of 56 mosaics have been discovered so far ranging from opus spicatum and opus signinum floors to bicoloured tessellated floors with geometric patterns. After an exploration of possible comparisons for the town's mosaics both inside and outside the region, Ceccaglia briefly discusses the importance of mosaic floors for functional analyses of Roman houses. A catalogue and a map marking the findspots of the mosaics are included.

The volume comes with a CD-Rom and a foldable plan of the archaeological maps of Forum Popili and its territory. The CD-Rom contains digital versions of the book and the archaeological maps. Even though it might be convenient to have the maps digitally, the CD-Rom hardly adds value to the book.

The most important asset of the volume is that it presents a synthesis and an overview of the archaeological evidence for Roman domestic architecture and urbanism in Cisalpine Gaul, with a focus on Forum Popili. The contributions are very detailed and descriptive and will as such primarily be of interest to scholars of Roman domestic architecture and urbanism, offering an original data set for future research and publications.

Table of contents:

Antonella Coralini, "Sull'abitare nel mondo romano. Spigolature." 7
Riccardo Helg," Studi sull'edilizia residenziale urbana nella Cisalpina. Appunti per uno status quaestionis." 13
Sara Graziani, "Abitare in città nella Romagna romana. La documentazione archeologica (I sec. A.C. – III sec. D.C.) "25
Alessia Morigi, "Forum Popili: forma e urbanistic" 101
Marzia Ceccaglia, "I pavimenti di Forum Popili." 297


1.   For recent literature on the topic: J. DeLaine (2004) "Designing for a market: medianum apartments at Ostia," JRA 17, 146-176; Gering A. 1999, "'Medianum-apartments': Konzepte von Wohnen in der insula im 2. Jh. n.Chr.", Meded 58, 102-115.

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