Monday, January 14, 2013


Ray Laurence, David J. Newsome (ed.), Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xv, 444. ISBN 9780199583126. $150.00.

Reviewed by T.K. Henderson, University of Alberta (

Version at BMCR home site



The articles in the edited volume Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space examine movement as a variable in the Roman city. The contributors approach the topic from their respective disciplines—history, architectural history, and archaeology—resulting in an interdisciplinary conversation that highlights various theoretical and methodological approaches. While movement and space are central themes, the volume builds upon recent work on urbanism in the ancient world.1 The articles demonstrate how movement was a crucial factor in shaping and defining space in the ancient Roman world and how the 'residues of movement' can be identified in both the textual sources and the archaeological remains.

The editors divide the fifteen articles into three thematic groups: articulating movement and space; movement in the Roman city: infrastructure and organization; and finally movement and the metropolis. The articles are seamlessly integrated into a cohesive whole and the connections between lines of thought and the evidence used to construct the arguments in individual contributions are succinctly detailed in in the introductory chapter by David Newsome. Ray Laurence provides an endpiece, reflecting on the ideas presented in the volume as well as his vision of how the individual articles contribute to what he considers to be the next paradigm shift in spatial studies—movement and mobility.

Articulating Movement and Space

Diane Spencer analyses the terminology of movement in books 5 through 7 of Varro's De Lingua Latina identifying within it an epistemological tool linking citizenship with movement. Spencer argues that Varro, writing in the turbulent times of the late Republic, redefines the relationship between citizen and movement through the city. The words Varro chooses to discuss movement are indicative of social standing, with sitting, strolling, and talking representative of elite status (p. 63). The result is an eloquent synthesis on how Varro navigates his contemporaries through the urban landscape focusing on the significance of how movement defines citizen status.

Ray Laurence analyses the spatial signifiers in Martial's Epigrams. He views the city of Rome as a text and contextualizes the books into their respective historic periods. Laurence identifies key themes in each, for example the prevalence of Augustan monuments rebuilt after the fire of 80 CE (p. 85) in Book 1, subtly commending Domitian for the restoration. He also views Martial's text not only as describing the city but also presenting 'the illusion of realism' in how it uses both spatial and temporal descriptors to discuss movement through the city (p. 84). Laurence's article is a nice juxtaposition to Spencer's article and together they make evident how movement through the city changes from the late Republic to the Flavian period.

Akkelies van Nes applies the methodology of space syntax and Depthmap software to Pompeii to better understand interaction on the streets of Pompeii at a macro and micro level. The premise behind the study is that an analysis of the relationship between entrances to buildings and the street provides information on various issues such as urban safety (p. 100). First the methodology is explained (pp. 101-104), followed by an explanation of which maps of Pompeii were used and why (pp. 104-108), then van Nes analyses the data from his micro-scale analysis and offers concluding remarks (pp. 108-117). The innovativeness of van Nes' approach to the subject is laudable but the conclusions are generalized statements, with van Nes stating that societal organization 'in terms of the location pattern of its activities, has not changed much in two thousand years' (p. 116). Nevertheless extensive use of maps visualizing the Pompeian street network explores social interaction within both a social and economic framework.

Eleanor Betts introduces a framework on how to develop multisensory mapping from literature, epigraphy, and the archaeological record. Betts' main focus is developing questions that reframe the sterile versions of Roman streets devoid of people, sounds, and smells that digital reconstructions create. Betts argues that in order to fully appreciate the experience of movement through a Roman street the data from literary sources must be integrated into these reconstructions.

Movement in the Roman City: Infrastructure and Organization

Jeremy Hartnett explores how nuisances reveal urban dynamics such as movement, law, inscribed social privilege and visibility (p. 136). A large part of the article is dedicated to defining nuisances and supplying a list of the various nuisances he examines (pp. 137-143). This, however is not the central focus of Hartnett's argument but rather provides a new perspective on how streets could be cumbersome to maneuver due to all the various nuisances. Hartnett uses the Tabula Heracleensis as an example of rules and regulations, that defined, for example, who was responsible for maintaining the streets. The laws, as Hartnett points out, seem to favour unhindered passage through the city for the common good.

Stephen Ellis analyzes the location of doors in Roman shops and links their location to superstitious beliefs in Roman society. In Pompeii 381 shops had entrances located on the right side with 226 on the left compared to 502 right side entrances in Ostia and 37 on the left side (p. 165). Exploring the predilection in favour of entrances on the right site Ellis explains the statistical difference between Pompeian and Ostian shops linking the transformation to new construction projects and organization principles of Ostia, which was firmly under the control of Rome during the 2nd century CE revival and would have implemented the new building codes instituted after the 64 and 80 CE fires. The significance of the article is, as Ellis points out, that it changes how entrances can be used to infer ambulatory traffic flows in cities. Whereas the position of the shop entrance can be informative for Pompeii, the same can not be said for Ostia, which appears to have succumbed to the new urban ideal in street facades that was applied to shop fronts.

Alan Kaiser challenges previous scholarship on the efficiency of cart traffic arguing that legal codes, such as the Tabula Heracleensis, do not in practice regulate cart traffic but that the Pompeian physical evidence indicates that residents had a legal right to block cart traffic (p. 176). Kaiser focuses his study on where impediments such as block stones, kerbs, and sidewalks were located and provides archaeological evidence to support the literature on negative Roman attitudes towards carts.

Eric Poehler questions the notion of inefficient systems of transportation within Roman cities by examining one aspect of this system—the storage of wheeled vehicles at Pompeii. Poehler's main premise contradicts Kaiser's, viewing traffic in Pompeii as efficient. Examining the spatial and social distribution of wheeled vehicles Poehler identifies a household mode of transport (pp. 204-8) and a commercial mode of transport (pp. 208-11) and offers a new framework in which to view Roman street networks and transportation.

Hanna Stöger analyzes the relationship between Ostian scholae and the street network. Applying space syntax analysis on both a micro and macro level Stöger examines whether their spatial organization equals their presumed integrative role of scholae in society. Stöger samples 5 of the 60 identified scholae, all of which maximize their street frontage and are permeable buildings with a high potential for promoting contact and communication at interfaces of public space.

Movement and the Metropolis

Claire Holleran repopulates the streets of Rome and looks at the activities that occurred in the streets by focusing on the commercial and social role of streets. Holleran uses archaeological, epigraphic, and literary evidence to re-create the streets of Rome. Her article is a response to 3D digital reconstructions that de-populate the streets creating a sanitized, but misleading, visualization of Roman streets.

Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis examines the different experiences of walking in Flavian Rome based on the archaeological evidence, in particular the Forma Urbis Romae, and textual sources. She juxtaposes the experience of walking for transport with walking for leisure. She focuses on the portico-temples, which she differentiates from porticoes framing urban streets because they are segregated from streets. These spaces provided a pleasant atmosphere for elite members of society to stroll through and admire the vistas provided by the built architectural structure.

David Newsome explores changes in the movement economy of Rome associated with fora. His analysis reveals a trend restricting access to space beginning in the late Republic as evidenced by the imperial fora, which were not, as the Forum Romanum was, thoroughfares but rather destinations in their own right. Newsome reveals how this trend became formalized under Domitian, thereby linking the fora to cultural revolutions in his analysis of the changes.

Francesco Trifiló examines the manipulation of Roman public space in relation to different types of gaming, which is evident in the cultural and spatial context of these games. It is also the only article in the volume that examines evidence outside of Italy. Trifiló compares the physical evidence of the Forum Romanum with the forum of Timgad. Trifiló first constructs an argument contrasting games of chance with games of skill and argues that their location is linked to the social perception of their acceptability within Roman society. Trifiló argues that games of skill are more socially acceptable and associated with elite status and are thus located in spaces that facilitate social encounter. One notable feature of Trifiló's study is a section on identifying the archaeological remains and how the various games were played (pp. 319-325).

Diane Favro investigates how one building project, the Arch of Septimius Severus, impacted urban mobility by applying experimental process analysis. Favro looks at movement to the building site (pp. 343-9) by tracing likely paths as well as painting a multi-sensory image of this movement. She also looks at logistics around the site (pp. 349-358) and uses 3D reconstructions populated with people to dynamically visualize this movement. Favro presents a novel approach examining the practicalities of construction in the Roman forum with vivid descriptions of the process and its impact on the movement economy as well as the political, social, and cultural impact of the building project.

The final article, co-authored by Simon Malmberg and Hans Bjur, examines movement through two Roman gates, the Porta Esquilina and Porta Tiburtina, and the changing nature of these gates from the Augustan period to the late 5th century CE. Malmberg and Bjur contextualize the gates into the framework of urban development and demonstrate how the gates contributed to the process. Using edge phenomena as a theoretical approach to construct their argument they effectively demonstrate how movement through gates at the edges of an urban centre contributes to the movement economy.

The evidence, theories, and methodologies used by the contributors provide a good synthesis demonstrating how further study of movement in the Roman world can aid in explaining cultural, social, political and economic change. One of the strengths of the volume as a whole is how the evidence is used by various authors to support their arguments. There is no consensus on the meaning of specific texts, such as the Tabula Heracleensis, which is used by some to argue for efficiency in the street network, and by others to argue against efficiency. The significance is that the topic deserves further attention, which is what the volume adeptly conveys.


1.  Kaiser, Alan. 2011. Roman Urban Street Networks. Routledge Studies in Archaeology, 2. New York: Routledge.

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