Monday, August 4, 2014


Alison E. Cooley, M. G. L. Cooley, Pompeii and Herculaneum: A Sourcebook. Second edition (first published 2004). Routledge sourcebooks for the ancient world. London; New York: Routledge, 2014. Pp. xvi, 334. ISBN 9780415666794. $130.00.

Reviewed by Jacqueline Frost DiBiasie, The University of Texas at Austin (

Version at BMCR home site


Pompeii and Herculaneum: A Sourcebook is the second edition of the popular Pompeii: A Sourcebook, which has proved to be an essential resource for anyone researching or teaching about Pompeii.1 The authors select texts from a variety of sources (graffiti, epitaphs, literary passages, excavation reports) in eight thematic chapters on the life and afterlife of both Pompeii and Herculaneum. This edition differs from the first mainly in its adoption of material from Herculaneum. This is useful as it allows the reader to compare texts from the two sites. It is also necessary due to the increasing importance of Herculaneum as an archaeological site and a source of rich information unavailable from Pompeii. The authors have also updated the first edition with new research and discoveries.

The stated purpose of the book is to "allow the inhabitants of the two towns to speak for themselves" (2) and to make this material available to students, teachers, and visitors to the sites. Given the sourcebook format, the authors focus on presenting texts in translation, although they do provide numerous pictures and drawings of the graffiti and dipinti, archaeological plans, and maps. The focus is clearly on textual sources, though archaeological material to supplement them is included as well. Pictures and plans provide context for inscriptions from temples and tombs and archaeological reports give the reader a better idea of the discovery and preservation of the presented texts. Each chapter begins with a thematic essay on the topic and follows with the texts broken into subgroups. Overall, this valuable resource provides both students and scholars easy access to hundreds of texts, brief contextual discussions, and useful bibliography.

Chapter one concerns pre-Roman Pompeii and Herculaneum, an often forgotten period of the cities' histories. Most of this material consists of literary sources from later authors describing the locations, stories of their founding, and references to their involvement in the Samnite war. This chapter also features several Oscan inscriptions from Pompeii, inscriptions from the nearby Sanctuary of Dionysus, and texts about the Popidii, an influential family throughout the pre-Roman period.

Chapter two focuses on the Social War. The texts in this chapter clarify the role of colonists in Pompeii, especially their involvement in constructing or rebuilding structures like the Temple of Apollo, town walls, baths, and theater. A useful new addition to this chapter is a picture of the town walls still bearing the marks of Sulla's bombardment, the most obvious marker of this period to visitors at the site.

The third chapter examines the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It opens with the accounts by Seneca and Tacitus of the earthquake of AD 62 or 63. Other materials are the earthquake relief panel from the House of Caecilius Iucundus, and (naturally) the accounts of the eruption from Pliny the Younger and Dio Cassius. Also included are fragments from the Silvae of Statius, who was himself a native of nearby Naples. Discussion of the sources lays out current debates in the scholarship concerning the eruption including the controversy over the traditional August 24 date of eruption. Some contextualizing information about the eruption itself could have been useful here to aid the reader in understanding the literary sources. Information like the consequences of the eruption on the excavation and preservation of the two cities is covered in the introduction to the book, but more information should logically have been placed in this chapter.

The fourth chapter is entitled 'leisure' and covers a variety of topics on everyday life. This is one of the largest chapters in the book and the most diverse in theme. The chapter opens with texts concerning the amphitheater and follows with painted notices and graffiti about games and gladiators. Several sources attesting to the riot in the amphitheater at Pompeii in 59 are provided including wax tablets, graffiti, a wall painting, and a selection from Tacitus. The chapter continues with graffiti from the House of the Gladiators in Pompeii and inscriptions from the theaters at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Following is a section entitled 'playing with words' which includes samples of many of the other types of graffiti found at Pompeii and Herculaneum: literary graffiti (both of known authors and local talent), wordplay, 'I was here' graffiti, greetings, insults, toilet humor, sententiae, and sexual graffiti.2 Given the enormous corpus of everyday graffiti from Pompeii and Herculaneum (over 10,000 examples), more of each type are needed in order to provide a representative sample of this type of writing. The authors hint at the importance of the spatial context of graffiti (108), but the presented material, removed from context, fails to indicate such relationships. It would have been helpful, at least in a few cases, to show where the graffiti were found in order to give the reader a better sense of the context for these informal messages. This is especially necessary as several of these graffiti occur in houses, a fact that may be surprising to some readers.

Chapter five concerns religion. Most of the texts in this chapter are excavation reports or dedicatory inscriptions from temples. The authors have also included several statue and tomb inscriptions. Carefully selected plans and photos complement the literary sources and give richer context to it. The chapter continues with monuments related to the public priestesses at Pompeii and with material related to household cult. New to this edition is an expanded section concerning the recently excavated (2003-2007, Porta Nocera Excavations) tomb of P. Vesonius Phileros.

Politics is the subject of chapter 6, a topic woven into nearly all the other themes as well. The majority of the chapter is devoted to election notices (programmata). The findspot map of electoral notices supporting Helvius Sabinus is a useful guide to their context. There is a large new section concerning M. Nonius Balbus, a benefactor of Herculaneum, well known from statues and inscriptions from Herculaneum and elsewhere. The chapter continues with inscriptions from statues in the forum at Pompeii and public tombs in both cities. Attention is given to inscriptions concerning augustales. The chapter finishes with imperial decrees and honors at both cities.

Chapter seven, concerning law and society, is dominated by the wax tablets from the archives of Venidius Ennychus and the House of the Bicentenary in Herculaneum, both of which are new to this edition. The diagram of family relationships in the case of the plaintiff Petronia Iusta is particularly helpful. The following sections provide materials about slaves and freedmen, necessarily meager due to the difficulty in identifying slaves in the archaeological and epigraphic evidence.

The final chapter examines commercial activities through texts like amphora stamps, bar advertisements, and price lists. The authors have compiled very useful tables of the evidence for plants and animals in Pompeii and Herculaneum, 3 occupations mentioned in the written sources in the cities, and the contents of pottery vessels identified by labels. The chapter continues with sources concerning Pompeii's most famous export, garum. New material includes the archive of loan notes of L. Cominius Primus. The chapter finishes with the wax tablets from the archive of the banker Caecilius Iucundus.

Useful appendices include the dates of games at Pompeii and other cities in the Bay of Naples, a table of literature found written on the walls of Pompeii, a guide to monetary values, and a brief timeline of dates relevant to Pompeii and Herculaneum. The 'further reading' section outlines important studies, works, and controversies relating to the chapter themes. It is an important resource for further study in any topic relating to the two cities. The international bibliography has been fully updated to include works published after the first edition. Among the most useful sections of the sourcebook are the indices (of persons, places, and themes), which are a starting point for finding relevant texts in any subject pertaining to Pompeii or Herculaneum.

Cooley and Cooley have made several improvements to the first edition. There are more plates and maps and they are of significantly better quality than the first edition; second, the authors have put the literary passages and archaeological objects into fuller context. In this edition, they incorporate excavation reports within the chapter rather than as a separate chapter. This creates a fuller picture of the remains and archaeological process. The addition of sources from Herculaneum is very welcome; it enriches the themes already established in the first edition and contributes a great deal of new material. Further editions could perhaps highlight significant differences in the sources from the two sites. Overall, this sourcebook is an excellent starting point for research into any topic from two sites and an essential reference for any student of Pompeii and Herculaneum.


1.   Since the first edition was not reviewed in BMCR, I will provide a full survey of the chapters rather than focusing exclusively on material new to the second edition.
2.   The change from 'brothel graffiti' to 'sexual graffiti' is a good one, as some of the examples do not occur in a brothel context.
3.   This table is based on The Natural History of Pompeii by Jashemski and Meyer, Pliny, Apicius, and other sources.

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