Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Nicolas Monteix, Les lieux de métier: boutiques et ateliers d'Herculanum. Collection du Centre Jean Bérard, 34. Rome: École française de Rome, 2010. Pp. xiv, 478. ISBN 9782728308910. €75.00.

Reviewed by Mantha Zarmakoupi, The Center for Hellenic Studies (

Version at BMCR home site

This important study is a revision of the author's dissertation (Université de Provence, 2006) and examines the provision for manufacturing and commercial activities in Herculaneum. By carefully studying the material remains of Herculaneum as well as drawing comparisons with Pompeii and Ostia, Monteix aims to shed light on the history and function of shops and workshops in Herculaneum and in doing so to clarify their importance in the life of the city. After an introduction to the study of the ancient city, the book is divided in two parts: the first analyzes the types of manufacturing and commercial activities and delineates the spaces that accommodate them (chapters 1-4), and the second examines the history of shops and workshops as buildings, including the ways in which manufacturing and commercial activities were introduced in the fabric of the city (chapters 5-7). The book concludes with a discussion of the socioeconomic make-up of Herculaneum and a catalogue of the shops and buildings in it (Annexe).

The Introduction addresses the ways in which the work of A. Maiuri, Soprintendente and director of the excavations from 1924 to 1961, shaped the evidence of the city's material remains and consequently our understanding of the city. Monteix highlights the ways in which Maiuri employed the archaeological evidence in order to craft his reading and presentation of Herculaneum as a more tranquil and culturally refined city in comparison to Pompeii—a city that did not undergo the socioeconomic transformation that Pompeii did, where the old elites were gradually displaced by the nouveaux riches and their vulgar commercial activities. Monteix shows that this idea was already present in the 18th century discussions of the ancient city and he also addresses the ways in which Maiuri's view of the city was informed by the fascist regime and the then recent publication of the first edition of Rostovtseff's Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire.1 Furthermore, the author scrutinizes the excavation notebooks and archive photos in order to underscore the liberty with which Maiuri restored the ancient structures and reconstructed their interiors.2 By focusing on the case of the Casa a graticcio, the author points to the discrepancy between the archaeological record and the reconstructed city, as well as the presentation of the city in Maiuri's still authoritative publication,3 and emphasizes the importance of the excavation notebooks and archive photos in the study of the city's structures.

The first chapter attempts to demarcate the difference between commercial versus manufacturing facilities and the ways in which we can identify them. Ancient texts do not provide a clear distinction for the spaces accommodating shops and workshops. The term taberna, for example, was used to signify a place where commercial activities were taking place, open onto the street, closed by boards and that could also include living spaces. Monteix discusses the literary texts together with wall painting representations, inscriptions, graffiti, and finds in order to identify the architectural characteristics—such as, the door systems and thresholds, the interior arrangements and furnishing, etc.—that we may use to identify these spaces archaeologically. The author analyzes the possible spaces for commercial and manufacturing activities, but underlines, however, that 19 out of 49 possible shops or workshops do not have a precise identification.

Chapters 2 through 4 address the different types of manufacturing and commercial activities and facilities for them: the preparation and selling of food and wine (chapter two), the bakers and bakeries (chapter three), and the textile industry (chapter four). For all three types of activities, Monteix thoroughly discusses literary references together with visual representations and archaeological evidence and compares the evidence from Pompeii in order to define the series of activities and the architectural characteristics that define the amenities for them.

For the preparation and selling of food and wine (chapter 2), the author first tackles the activities involved in this business (preparing and selling food, storing wine and food, serving food) and analyzes the architectural arrangements related to them. Assessing the evidence from both Pompeii and Herculaneum, Monteix identifies 6 types of spaces for the preparation and selling of food and wine. The major criterion of identification is the presence of a counter, and the types are then divided on the basis of whether a water heater, a food preparation unit as well as dolia are incorporated in the counter, and also whether there are separate storage units and spaces for serving. The author identifies 13 spaces for the preparation and selling of food and wine in Herculaneum.

The discussion on bakeries and the preparation of bread (chapter 3) begins with a detailed examination of visual and literary representations of these activities (e.g., the Tomb of Eurysaces in Rome) as well as of the carbonized breads found in Herculaneum. The author's sharp analysis sheds light on the processes of grinding, kneading dough manually or mechanically, dough mixing and shaping, and baking. Only two spaces for preparing and selling breads have been identified at Herculaneum (both in Insula Orientalis IIa) and the author discusses evidence from both Herculaneum and Pompeii in order to distinguish two types of structures: bakeries (Or. II, 1a) and bakeries plus retail (Or. II, 8).

Chapter 4 presents the textile industry, which is the one of the best-studied activities in the ancient world. Monteix's thorough examination of literary texts, visual representations, and material remains together with his drawings and axonometric reconstructions expand our understanding of this industry. The author points to three activities that can be identified archaeologically: cleaning wool, spinning, and weaving. Washing wool requires a water heater in order to cleanse the wool of its impurities and a surface with a draining provision for laying it to dry. Two spaces for cleaning wool are identified in Herculaneum (Or. II, 18 and VII 12). In order to trace the invisible thread ("le fil invisible") Monteix examines the spindles and spindle whorls as well as the weaving loom weights found in both Herculaneum and Pompeii. The find spots of spindles and spindle whorls indicate that very diverse spaces within houses and shops accommodated the activity of spinning (e.g., room 6 in Casa del tramezzo di legno and shop I, 6, 6). The author identifies only two spaces for weaving loom (shop VII 1a and Casa del telaio) and points that—contrary to Maiuri's interpretation—there is no evidence for a textile industry in the Casa delle stoffa (IV, 19-20), which received its name from the pieces of cloth found on its first floor.4 The dyeing of fabric can be conducted at three different moments of the textile industry (after the cleaning of the fabric, after spinning, or after weaving), and Monteix discusses literary sources and wall paintings together with the evidence of dye workshops in Pompeii in order to explicate the process of fabric dyeing. Addressing Maiuri's identification of two dye workshops in Insula Orientalis IIa (Or. II, 5 and Or. II, 11), the author concludes that it is possible that Or. II, 5 could have accommodated the dyeing of fabric but Or. II, 11 had no relation with the textile industry. The remaining chapter tackles the several phases of fulling and their architectural setting. Monteix reexamines the press in workshop III, 10 in Herculaneum to point that it was an oil press for the production of perfume and not a textile press. Three fulling workshops are identified in Herculaneum: room 9 in Casa della fullonica, rightly identified by Maiuri, and—possibly—shop V, 34, and room 13 in Casa a graticcio.

The second part of the book assesses the construction history of the buildings ("archéologie du bâti") accommodating the manufacturing and commercial activities in Herculaneum, and traces their appearance within the urban fabric in order to address the importance of these activities in the city. In order to define the chronology of the structures, Monteix examines the different types of masonry and attempts to associate the relative chronology that they offer with the fixed chronology that the public buildings provide (chapter 5). By focusing on the northeast façade of Casa del tramezzo di legno the author distinguishes 7 types of masonry and proposes a relative chronology for its construction, which he uses in the following chapters in order to assess the chronological development of the other structures of Herculaneum. Monteix discusses the literary sources for the earthquake of 62 CE as well as a second one in between 62 and 79 CE (circa 70-75 CE), together with inscriptions of public buildings and the buildings themselves. By focusing on the Insula Orientalis IIa the author is able to single the construction techniques used for the repairs between 62 and 79 CE. The discussion of construction techniques conducted in this chapter forms the basis for the analysis of the chronological development of the structures dedicated to commercial and manufacturing activities in the following chapters.

In chapter 6 Monteix focuses on Insula Orientalis IIa not only to address the building's chronological development and the appearance of commercial and manufacturing facilities in it, but also to assess the interpretation of the building as a "palaestra." He agrees with G. Guadagno that at least a part of this building— the lower terrace with the cruciform basin—must be identified as a Temple to Magna Mater,5 and posits that the interpretation of the building as a palaestra should be abandoned. By analyzing the construction history of the building, addressing the opening of doorways, the construction of mezzanines, and division of apartments, Monteix shows that public spaces gradually gave way to commercial and activities. In fact only 8 out of 14 shops were originally planned in this building.

Chapter 7 examines the development of insulae III, IV, V and VI to address the integration of commercial and manufacturing activities into the urban fabric. Based on his earlier discussion of building techniques and the chronological development of the city's structures (chapter 5), the author examines the modifications in the interior of the insulae as well as the individual houses and convincingly analyzes the urban development of Herculaneum and the ways in which the commercial and manufacturing activities gained prominence over time.

The final chapter evaluates the evolution of economic life in the city during the imperial period to point to the evidence for an increasing commercial activity. The diversification and restructuring of the houses in order to accommodate independent apartment units, workshops, and shops suggest that the commercial life of the city increased—and probably the population as well—, and it was not halted by the two earthquakes.

To conclude, this book is a very welcome addition to the increasing bibliography on Herculaneum. Monteix's thorough and insightful analysis does not only address the commercial and manufacturing activities within Herculaneum, but also assesses relative evidence from Pompeii. Most importantly, the book is an invaluable step towards the understanding of the urban development of Herculaneum as it systematically analyzes the building techniques employed, singles out the work conducted after the two earthquakes, assesses the fixed chronologies provided by public construction projects, and proposes a relative chronology of the buildings in order to reconstruct the economic life of the city.


1.   M. Rostovtzeff, The Social and Economic History of the Roman Empire. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926.
2.   Part of this discussion has been published previously in Italian: "Inventio Herculaneis: per una rilettura dei Giornali degli Scavi Ercolano," in A. Coralini (ed.), Vesuviana: Archeologie a confronto: Atti del Convegno Internazionale (Bologna, 14-16 gennaio 2008). Bologna: Ante Quem, 2009, pp. 181-198.
3.   A. Maiuri, Ercolano; i nuovi scavi (1927-1958). 2 vols. Rome: Istituto poligrafico dello Stato, Libreria della Stato, 1958.
4.   Maiuri 1958, 426.
5.   G. Guadagno, "Documenti epigrafici ercolanesi relativi ad un terremoto," in Th. Fröhlich and L. Jacobelli, Archäologie und Seismologie: La regione vesuviana dal 62 al 79 d.C.: Problemi archeologici e sismologici, Convegno di Boscoreale, 26-27 novembre 1993. Munich: Biering und Brinckmann, 1995, pp. 119-128.

No comments:

Post a Comment