Threads in the Urban Fabric: Patterns of Non-Elite Housing at Pompeii

Gorham, Robert, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Dobbins, John, Department of Art, University of Virginia

This study presents the first comprehensive GIS analysis of the full range of non-elite, working class housing in ancient Pompeii at the time of its destruction in 79 CE. Using the presence and absence of particular architectural features to identify discrete units of property, a new survey of the city reveals a wide spectrum of domestic arrangements that resist interpretation by traditional models, those that have focused on atrium house examples. Turning instead to middle- and lower-class housing, this project engages Pompeii on three mutually-informative levels: the city, its neighborhoods, and its discrete residences to paint a fuller picture of the city and its inhabitants.

Toward these goals, a series of spatio-statistical tools in GIS software are employed to interrogate the location, attributes, and diversity of non-elite houses throughout Pompeii’s urban fabric, revealing never-before-seen patterns in the siting and distribution of residential property types. The GIS analyses furthermore identify the locations of neighborhoods of non-elite housing at Pompeii, illuminating elements of the urban armature that either promote or discourage their clustering. Finally, by reconsidering the architecture, decoration, and artifactual remains of working-class houses in Pompeii, this project explores the performance of non-elite identities, offering a new understanding of the built and lived environments of Pompeii’s middle- and lower-class citizens.

A new approach promises to transform the typical narrative by shifting academic discourse towards overlooked, popular issues of Pompeian urbanism and domestic studies. By viewing Pompeii through the lens of the non-elites, the city is shown to have pronounced patterns in its urban topography that reveal, among other trends, a spatial zone in which most middle-class housing appears. The diverse and socially distinct neighborhoods identified through the GIS analyses correspond to theorized locations of ancient Pompeian vici, the voting districts centered around crossroads shrines and built from a working-class core of citizens. Also employing Latin texts from the Republic and Empire concerned with the house as a social index, this study associates a series of banking records with specific properties and endeavors to place residents of varied status back in their homes. These literary details are corroborated by the physical elements of the houses and their positions in the city. What emerges from this multivalent and interdisciplinary examination is a new understanding of the ancient conception of status as it is documented by the archaeological record. In short, this dissertation proposes a reading of non-elite identity at Pompeii that is built from the most populous, yet neglected body of evidence: the homes of the majority residents, the middle- and lower-classes that lived in, worked throughout, and shaped the city, just as they were shaped by it.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Pompeii, Urbanism, Houses, GIS, Archaeology
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