The Construction of Sidewalks as Indicator of Social and Economic Interaction in Ancient Roman Cities

Weiss, Claire, History of Art and Architecture - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Weiss, Claire, Arts & Sciences Graduate-asg, University of Virginia

Sidewalks were central features of ancient Roman urban life and society. Previous scholarship, however, has all but ignored these structures. This study combines an analysis of textual, juridical, and physical evidence for the construction of sidewalks, or their absence, at four ancient Roman cities: Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia, and Minturnae. Using Structure from Motion and GIS to record and analyze the façades of these cities, this study determines that the way these cities provided for pedestrians reflected the prevailing urban social and economic culture, a culture that differed from city to city and transformed over time. At Pompeii and Herculaneum, sidewalk construction, or curbing at least, seems to have been legally required of buildings with street frontages, since sidewalks were constructed against nearly every building façade. In these cities, sidewalks existed, in part, to separate pedestrians from street traffic, keeping them removed from hazards, but they also facilitated social and economic interconnections that were characteristic of the late Republican and early Imperial periods. At Ostia and Minturnae, there were fewer sidewalks and curbs. Instead, corridors and alleys gave pedestrians access routes through and between buildings, away from the view and the social integration of the streets. These high-imperial cities seem to have no longer required sidewalks as a legal condition of construction, their façades instead overwhelmingly dedicated to commercial endeavors. At these cities during the high empire, economic competition was no longer so indelibly tied to social connections, just as domestic and economic properties had been disentangled and resituated into more discretely defined buildings. The four cities examined in this study allow for the suggestion that there was diachronic change in Roman social and economic relationships evident from the differing construction arrangements of the four cities’ frontages. The alteration in access and provisioning for pedestrians is suggestive of a larger shift in social and economic behavior that removed the focus of interaction from the public street to the privacy of indoors.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Roman urbanism, ancient city, sidewalk, Pompeii, Ostia, Herculaneum, Minturnae
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