Wednesday, September 19, 2018


H. E. M. Cool, The Small Finds and Vessel Glass from Insula VI.1 Pompeii: Excavations 1995-2006. Archaeopress Roman archaeology, 17. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2017. Pp. xii, 314. ISBN 9781784914523. £50.00.

Reviewed by Allison Sterrett-Krause, College of Charleston (

Version at BMCR home site

H. E. M. Cool's report on the small finds and vessel glass from the excavations of Insula VI.1 in Pompeii (the Anglo- American Project in Pompeii) is a valuable resource with broad appeal. It will be of obvious interest to scholars working on small finds and vessel glass. Students of Pompeii's history and Roman urban life more generally will equally find instructive content in this important volume. The book is published in two parts, one print and the other digital. The print book contains analyses, illustrations, and select catalogue entries. Four digital appendices and the complete finds data are hosted on the Archaeological Data Service.1

In chapter one, Cool provides an overview of the site and the modern excavations, as well as an assessment of challenges associated with the finds' study. Insula VI.1, a triangular city block, lies in the northern area of Pompeii, just inside the Porta Ercolano. Properties in the insula encompass the whole suite of Pompeiian life, from atrium houses to bars, workshops, and shrines. Excavations between 1995-2006, run by the Universities of Oxford and Bradford as a summer field school, investigated ten properties within the insula. Clear plans of each property locate excavated trenches, and a phased summary of each property's development traces, in outline, the insula's history.

Cool describes, without rancor, some of the circumstances that complicated post-excavation finds processing. Stratigraphic publications of the AAPP have detailed only a few of the properties excavated, and these sometimes in preliminary fashion.2 While the coins have been studied and published, the vast majority of the pottery has not.3 Non-specialist recording of finds and stratigraphy led to errors, some of which could not be corrected post-facto. These gaps prompted Cool to develop phasing and stratigraphic sequences for each property, in order to properly contextualize the finds. Chapter one, and three associated digital documents,4 therefore provide an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the stratigraphic sequence of Insula VI.1 from the 2nd c. BC to AD 79.

In the report, Cool has adopted a functional classification system, instead of a materials-based one. This results from a single archaeologist studying finds that might easily have been assigned to multiple specialists. Indeed Cool originally signed onto the project only for glass, but eventually took on the much larger role which has resulted in this landmark publication (ix, 17-18). Chapters on individual functional categories of finds include: "Dress Accessories and Jewellery," "Toilet, Pharmaceutical, and Medical Equipment," [divided into two chapters, one for "containers" and one for "utensils"], "Household Equipment" [again divided into two chapters, one on "Vessels" and a second on "Utensils, Furniture and Interior Decoration"], "Craft Equipment," "Items Associated With Recreation," "Articles Associated With Religious Activity," and finally "Other Items And Miscellaneous." Each chapter, aside from ch. 5 on vessel glass, includes objects of multiple materials including bone and ivory, glass, copper, lead, stone, and ceramic. Detailed discussion of typology and comparanda accompany excellent illustrations and catalogue descriptions of selected objects. The other objects in each category are referenced in footnotes by database numbers and details of these can be found in the digital data files. Each chapter (except ch. 10 on the miscellaneous objects) concludes with an "Overview" section that discusses the chronological and geographic distribution of the finds, along with commentary on the social and behavioral implications of these distributions.

Cool's final chapter "Changing Patterns at Pompeii" summarizes four major issues: deposition patterns within the insula; the significance of chronological changes in the assemblages; patterning of activity within public and private spaces; and the position of Cool's report in the scholarly tradition. Contra Dicus,5 Cool demonstrates that even though the finds from Insula VI.1 come largely from secondary deposition contexts—construction leveling fills, mostly—the patterning of finds varies significantly between properties, indicating that infilling activity often made use of earth and rubbish from the immediate area. Thus the finds from the insula can be used cautiously to interpret activity in individual properties. With that established, Cool provides an insula-wide summary of the major trends visible in the assemblage: Pompeii's long participation in Mediterranean trade, the rise of conspicuous consumption ("consumerism") beginning in the Augustan period, and significant changes in the artefactual assemblage shortly before the eruption. Cool also considers behaviors at individual properties within the insula; for example, study of the Casa delle Vestali assemblage highlights its inhabitants' roles as "early adopters" of objects both luxury (opus sectile flooring) and utilitarian (glass storage bottles and jugs). Cool concludes with some thoughts on the report's position and relevance within the archaeological literature. Small finds too often get short shrift in reports from Pompeii and Italy, a deficiency that—she rightly notes—hampers our interpretation of the material past.

Cool's discussions on particular object types, always well-informed by reference to the archaeological literature, are often engaging, particularly for readers whose primary specialty may lie in another of these functional categories. The discussion on Roman buttons and clothes-fasteners was enlightening to this glass specialist—who knew that the Romans used buttons as well as fibulae?—and it is disappointing that the standard format of the book as an archaeological report did not allow for the inclusion of photographs of some of the more important pieces of comparanda, such as the statue of a soldier from Londinium whose cloak fastened with four buttons (pp. 31-32). In a few places the analyses become dense and technical; I was able to follow the analysis of the glass counters (pp. 231-39), but the discussion of loomweights and thread tensioning (pp. 205-14) assumed more specialized knowledge of Roman weaving practices than I—and probably many other archaeologists—possess.6

Cool's expertise is especially apparent in discussions of the household glass vessels (ch. 5), including both cast and blown forms ranging from the 2nd c. BC to the eruption. Of particular help to Cool's analysis is the recent publication by Scatozza Höricht of glass from the early excavations at Pompeii,7 whose data is summarized in Appendix 3 (print and digital). Along with discussions of form and phasing, Cool quantifies each VI.1 vessel type by its findspots, its colors, and/or its chronological phases. These tabular presentations are valuable, since not every fragment is included in the printed catalogue. Nevertheless, readers must use caution with these tables as the units vary between fragment counts, weight in grams, and Cool's "zonal Estimated Vessel Equivalent (EVE)". A too-brief explanation of this last measurement follows the discussion of unguent bottles in ch. 3 (pp. 76-77). The zonal EVE measurement has not been widely adopted by other specialists and so should have been more fully explained, preferably within the main chapter on the glass vessels.8

I found few places to quibble with Cool's assessments of the vessels, or indeed of most of the other finds. One place where her identification may have missed the mark is in her discussion of the "pottery counters," small round sherds, mostly with ground edges. Cool tentatively includes them in the recreation category, even as she expresses doubt about their use as game pieces. Probably her doubt is justified: surely these objects are pessoi used after toileting, and should have been included among the "toilet equipment"!9

Cool's choice to organize her work with functional, rather than materials-based, categories is largely productive. It allows for a fuller range of materials associated with each activity type to be examined, highlighting the mixed nature of Roman assemblages. Occasionally, however, Cool's functional division seems to obscure rather than clarify: for example, separating unguent bottles off from "Household Equipment" into a category with medical supplies may make sense for a society that employed scented oils as pharmaceutical preparations. Contextual study, however, demonstrates that in insula VI.1 most unguent bottles came from the atrium houses, the Shrine, and the Triclinium. Such patterning locates the unguent bottles far more appropriately in the realm of household and religious activities than in medical practice (pp. 76- 79).

This same functional organization that offers fruitful cross-pollination can make the work somewhat cumbersome to consult for materials-specific comparanda. Most specialists will have to turn to multiple chapters to find discussions of the material that typically falls under their purview. And metal specialists will no doubt lament—as does Cool (pp. 16-17)—the inability to include iron objects in this report for practical reasons.

Cool's analyses are insightful and interesting to read, but the book is plagued by minor errors throughout. While the misplaced commas, spliced or fragmented sentences, misspelled author names, and errors of bibliographic formatting do not disturb the sense of the argument, they provide the mistaken impression of a slapdash report. It is a shame that an exemplary publication has been marred by such oversights at the editing stage. Nevertheless, the detailed presentation of the finds, the thoughtful and informative analyses, the open digital publication of the data, and the thorough stratigraphic information contained in this report make Cool's volume an essential addition to the library of Pompeiian scholars and finds specialists alike.


1.   All digital material is available for free download. The data is available in .csv file format, and .pdf files outline the (Access) database structure and recording conventions.
2.   Casa delle Vestali and Vestals Bar: Jones, R. and D. Robinson. 2004. "The Making of an Elite House: The House of the Vestals at Pompeii." JRA 17: 107-130 and idem. 2005. "Water, Wealth, and Social Status at Pompeii: The House of the Vestals in the First Century." AJA 109: 695-710; Casa del Chirurgo: Anderson, M. and D. Robinson. Forthcoming 2018. House of the Surgeon, Pompeii: Excavations in the Casa del Chirurgo (VI.1.9-10.23). Oxford: Oxbow Books; Southern portion of the insula: Jones, R. and D. Robinson. 2005. "The Economic Development of the Commercial Triangle (VI.1.14-18, 20-21)" in Nuove ricerche archeologiche a Pompei ed Ercolano, edited by P.G. Guzzo and M. Guidobaldi, 270-77. Studi della Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei 10. Naples: Electa.
3.   Hobbs, R. 2013. Currency and Exchange in Ancient Pompeii. BICS Supplement 116. London: School of Advanced Study, University of London. The exception for pottery is Vesuvian Sigillata, published in McKenzie-Clark, J. 2012. Vesuvian Sigillata at Pompeii. Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome 20. London, British School at Rome.
4.   Appendix 1: "Account of the excavations of 1770-71 and 1783-89;" Appendix 2: "Contexts with lead slingshots;" Unnumbered document 4: 80 pages of "Notes on the Phasing and Stratigraphy," which by rights should be considered as a detailed, if preliminary, stratigraphic report on the unpublished properties.
5.   Dicus, K. 2014. "Resurrecting Refuse at Pompeii: The Use Value of Urban Refuse and its Implications for Interpreting Archaeological Assemblages," in TRAC 2013: Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference Kings College, London, 2013, edited by H. Platts, J. Pearce, C. Barron, J. Lundock, J. Yoo, 64-78. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
6.   Several analytical articles have appeared in advance of this volume: on glass counters (Cool 2016, in PBSR), loom weights (Baxter and Cool 2008; Baxter, Cool, and Anderson, 2010, both in Archeologia e Calcolatori), and miniature vessels (Cool and Griffiths 2015, in FASTI-Online).
7.   Scatozza Höricht, L. 2012. L'instrumentum vitreum di Pompei. Rome: Aracne.
8.   Cool, H.E.M. and M.J. Baxter. 1996. "Quantifying Glass Assemblages," in Annales of the 13e Congrés de l'Association Internationale pour l'Histoire du Verre Pays Bas 28 août-1 septembre 1995, 93-101. Lochem: AIHV. Individual vessel types are divided into a standard number of zones, with each zone representing a portion of a whole vessel. Each catalogued vessel is given an EVE score depending on how many zones are present. (An obvious problem with this measurement is how to score the EVE on a vessel of unknown type.)
9.   See Charlier, P. et al. 2012. "Toilet Hygiene in the Classical Era." BMJ 12:345, e8287; cf. Papadapoulos, J.K. 2002. "A Contextual Approach to Pessoi (Gaming Pieces, Counters, or Convenient Wipes?)," Hesperia 71, 423-427.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.