Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The populations of Pompeian city blocks

Recently I have had to think about the possible population sizes of individual Pompeian city blocks, and insula IX, 3 in particular. While the question of the total population size of Pompeii remains much debated and the estimates vary greatly, I have not come across many (well, none) estimates of populations in individual city blocks, if not including simplistic divisions of the total assumed population by the number of assumed insulae. And the only discussion I can think of on the possible breakdown of the population into different housing units is Wallace-Hadrill´s article Houses and Households: Sampling Pompeii and Herculaneum (In Rawson (ed.) Marriage, Divorce and Children in Ancient Rome 1991). Working down from a total population of 10 000, he divided houses of Pompeii into four quartiles on the basis of a sample study, and proposed a certain number of individuals in each type of houses.

Following his categorisation a total of some 120 individuals in insula IX, 3 can be suggested. However, if we assume that some houses were uninhabited or their population was reduced in AD 79, we must decrease the number. If we assume that the total population of Pompeii was greater than 10 000, or if we assume that upper floors of the insula housed more people, we must increase the total. The number remains very hypothetical.

Nevertheless I would be curious to hear opinions about the overall topic of population estimates, references to other estimates of populations of insulae and in general thinking about the spilt-up of the total population.


Miko Flohr said...

Personally, I think the issue of population estimates is very interesting and can help us answer some significant questions, but I think the starting point would have to be that we can never pin down the exact amount of inhabitants in a house, an insula or the city as a whole and that any positive reconstruction is bound to remain highly hypothetical and thus of little or no analytical value. Much more significant in my opinion is to define the range within which the actual amount of inhabitants must be sought - so that we can discuss the minimum amount of inhabitants and the maximum more or less independently of each other. The value of such figures lies then more in excluding possible demographic scenarios than in reconstructing how it actually was, but I feel we are being much more honest with our uncertainties in this way and make clearer what we do know and what we don't.
I do not know of any other population estimates for insulae (perhaps check Allison 2006 for insula I 10), but I think the idea is interesting; I personally would use a bottom-up approach, and would (for a moment) forget about the total estimated population size of the city (because, in fact, we don't know!) focusing on the actual material remains of the buildings in the insula. I would also prefer room number (and room nature) above house size (which WH uses): for the number of inhabitants, the amount of cubicula is perhaps more telling than the size of the atrium. In the end, such a bottom up approach could provide an important corrective to our estimated total amount of inhabitants for Pompeii. Yet, this is not an easy job.

Laura Nissinen said...

I find this kind of task very interesting yet demanding. Estimating amounts of inhabitants in any ancient area (whether it is the whole Roman Empire or one city block or just one single household) is quite troublesome. However some estimations of the amount of inhabitants have been done at least in one particular Pompeian house. Strocka has tried to calculate the amount of people living in sc. Casa del Labirinto (Casa del Labirinto (VI 11,8–10) / Häuser in Pompeji IV, 87–93, 135–6, 1991) by counting for example the possible places of beds in the rooms identified as cubiculum.
I think this kind of approach can only reveal quite hypothetical estimations. For example, not all the sc. cubicula were used as bedrooms and if they were used as such, places of beds cannot be discerned with certainty. We don’t even know how many people might have slept in these beds / bedrooms. And especially the sleeping areas of servants are difficult to discern in Pompeian context (eg. M. George in Domestic space in the Roman world: Pompeii and beyond). So, not even the amount of cubicula can reveal the size of a household. However it would be very interesting to hear more about this subject and find out about possible means to discover the population sizes!

Heini Ynnilä said...

I largely agree with the points presented above. Sleeping was probably flexible and not limited to any rooms or spaces. Counting possible bedrooms or bed recesses does not help.

I also agree that the total number of rooms and their types should be taken as the starting point when thinking how many people a house might have possibly housed.

Interestingly Wallace-Hadrill´s proposals for household sizes go rather nicely together with Flohr´s (or Miko´s, if you do not mind) suggestions (Nec cuicquam ingenuum habere potest officina? Spatial contexts of urban production at Pompeii, AD 79 in BABESCH 2007):

Units of some 4-5 rooms belong to Wallace-Hadrill´s Type 2. He suggested that they housed some 4-5 persons. Miko proposed that small fulleries which were typically located in these types of units, needed some 2-3 persons to run them. This allows to count a couple of more persons belonging to the household.

Furthermore, Type 4 units in Wallace-Hadrill´s sample are large slave households with some 16 rooms in avarage. He proposed a population of 14 persons in them which fits with the suggestion of Miko that bakeries must have employed at least 10 persons in commercial baking, and allows the inclusion of additional non-working individuals to the household.

Miko Flohr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miko Flohr said...

I would not have wanted to say that the amount of cubicula gives us direct information about the size of the household, I am well aware of the discussion regarding their function, yet I think the aggregate amount of rooms reveals something about the occupation that plot size does not. For example, part of WH's type 4 units consists of the large horticultural plots in the eastern part of the city. These would need to be filtered out and the only way to do so statistically is through room number.
On another note, it is good to see one's articles read, but I am a little bit surprised by how my figures are treated. Please read that part of my text (p. 132) with caution: it is just a very rough estimate serving a rhetorical purpose within the text, by no means a well-argued conclusion about staff size. What I am saying is basically: the size of the workshop also matters for the amount of staff needed to keep it running. Moreover, if you read carefully, you will discover that the figure for small fullonicae is a minimum estimate, whereas the other figure ('up to') is a maximum estimate. Thus, please do NOT use these figures as a starting point for further analysis because they were not produced for that purpose and are not reliable!
I have no firm viewpoint about the household sizes of the workshops I discussed in my BABesch article, simply because I did not discuss the question. We may speculate a small taberna to have anything between two and five inhabitants, though more would be possible as well, depending on the number of rooms on the upper floor. Yet, I personally am unable to find strong arguments fixing minimum and maximum, also because it is still possible that some of the workers in a workshop were hired and lived elsewhere: There is not even a straight correlation between workshop staff and household size.

Heini Ynnilä said...

Plase accept my apologies if I upset you. I fully understand that estimating population was not the focus of your article nor the estimates more than evoking propositions. I only wanted to point out that I found some similarities in your and Wallace-Hadrill's approach - starting from the form of space (room number).

Miko Flohr said...

I am by no means upset, it is just that I wanted to point out what I had done and what others in my opinion can do with these data - perhaps I phrased that in too Dutch a manner. I know there is considerable overlap between WH's approach and mine; what I have done would have been impossible without his work, but I thought that his categorization was too arbitrary and wanted to be a little bit more precise. My approach is a refinement of his I think, but one that was designed for the specific purpose of that paper.

Jo Berry said...

I'm glad to read such a healthy debate of this very complicated issue! I think that you've all made some excellent points, and demonstrated between you how difficult this type of analysis is. We can't calculate numbers of inhabitants purely on house size, or on numbers of cubicula - because as you all rightly point out large houses can have small numbers of rooms, and people may not have slept in cubicula! And what to do with people who work in a house/workshop but sleep elsewhere - where do they get counted? Then upper floors and apartments ... I'm be interested to know if Scott or James have views on this. Personally I think that we have to start from the bottom up (to steal Miko's phrase!) - in order to have even an inkling of an idea of how many people lived in a house or insula we need to know what the insula was being used for. Houses or shops and workshops, or a mixture of all three. For example, the House of the Frutetto (I.9.5) was filled with amphorae. They were all over the place. This house was clearly inhabited, because a full range of domestic artefacts was found here. But living space was seriously compromised. So, my point (finally), is, I think, that an analysis based on architecture alone isn't enough. It doesn't reflect the complexities of the situation and the possible permutations. As Heini points out, some houses may have been abandoned (although personally I like to argue about the extent of this - we can save it for another time!!). And as Miko says, we have to be careful not to assign arbitrary categorisations to houses and insula.

Would it be worth looking to see how population estimates have been worked out at other sites? I suspect that the same problems will be encountered, but it might be an interesting exercise all the same.

Heini - thank you for starting this discussion! It's been a great one!

Miko Flohr said...

Great discussion indeed; just a last short note - I know that Luuk de Ligt (Leiden University) has been or still is working on such issues for other sites in the late republic and tries to reconstruct population size for cities in Northern Italy on the basis of the surface enclosed by the city walls. I don't know what he has published on this issue, but it opens up an interesting perspective. Despite with the obvious troubles with absolute figures in his account as well, it may be a strategy that helps to establish relative population sizes - ceteris paribus, surface covered may be a powerful indicator.

James Andrews said...

I have just seen this old notice about Pompeian city blcoks and population as I was in Italy doing fieldwork when this was originally doing the rounds. In my PhD (on the upper floors of Herculaneum but I also included data from Pompeii) I was able to accurately calculate house sizes by including the upper floors as well. At Herculaneum, the upper floors extended the total living space per insula between about 28 and 40% or so (I can't remember the exact figure off the top of my head). This was markedly different to the picture at pompeii where upper floors in a sample of 4 blocks from regio I varied from between 22-28% or so. Whilst I did not, at the time, look at the question of population, this data surely has a number of implications for any attempt to calculate the population of Pompeii - indeed for the publication I am currently working on, I will definately discuss this at more length. Am happy to discuss further...

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