Sunday, 7 November 2010

What do we know about the Schola Armaturarum?

Predictably there has been a lot of hysteria in the media about yesterday's collapse of the Schola Armaturarum, including calls for the privatisation of the archaeological site of Pompeii, and accusations of official neglect. The following are just a few of the reports that have appeared:

NY Times: Pompeii Collapse Draws Charges of Official Neglect
La Repubblica: An interview with ex-Superintendent of Pompeii, Pier Giovanni Guzzo (audio in Italian, with completely irrelevant video) and before and after photos.
BBC News: House of the Gladiators collapses in Pompeii (with video)
ANSA: Pompei: Bondi, se responsabile lascerei
NY Daily News: Ancient Pompeii gladiators' locker room collapses; Italians angered by neglect of Roman ruins
The Telegraph: Pompeii ruin collapses amid claims site mismanaged

There are many, many others. Apparently some commentators have even been using the collapse to justify private collections (since, it is argued, the Italian authorities can't look after their heritage themselves). And this illustrates nicely how the collapse is being milked for political purposes of all sorts.

But I don't want to get on my soapbox about this (really!), except to say that the job of conservation at Pompeii is an endless battle and that I believe the people who work there do their best with the resources they have.

Instead I want to focus on the Schola Armaturarum and its excavation. Eighteen months ago Francesca Tronchin posted a query about recent research on this building, and the illustration below.
Illustration of the Schola Armaturarum in Spinazzola's 1953 publication of the Via dell' Abbondanza
Rereading this - and reading all the newspaper reports about the collapse - got me thinking about how little I know about this particular structure. And so I want to suggest that we do a bit of collective research and information gathering about it. The authorities may reconstruct the building itself, but the frescoes are gone and the only way to study them now will be from archival sources (although in fact the frescoes were already in a terrible condition). I think it would be helpful to collect references to this material now.

The Schola Armaturarum was mainly excavated in 1915 by Vittorio Spinazzola. Its stunning facade frescos led him to partly excavate the building, as can be seen in the plan below (adapted from Dobbins and Foss, World of Pompeii). But his main focus was on excavating the Via dell' Abbondanza, and it is this that is now causing problems - the unexcavated land behind the northern facades of the streets is collapsing into the street, aided by heavy rainfalls. Other reported collapses at Pompeii in the past two years are from the same general area (House of Julius Polybius, House of the Chaste Lovers, and further along the Via dell'Abbondanza in Region III). This needs to be a major focus of future conservation work, or more collapses are inevitable.
I still haven't been able to answer Francesca's query about recent bibliography, but the following are studies of the building that I do know about:
  • Spinazzola's initial report on the building and its frescoes was published in the NSC (and can thus be read on-line) in 1916: Di due grandi trofei dipinti rimessi a luce nella Via dell' Abbondanza e di una sala decorata di pitture di Vittorie volante, Notizie degli Scavi di Antichita (1916) 429 - 450.  There are some references to the building in the 1915 NSC reports by Matteo della Corte.
  • Spinazzola's definitive publication of his excavations along the Via dell'Abbondanza: Pompeii Alla Luce Degli Scavi Nuovi Di Via Dell' Abbondanza (Anni 1910-1923) Rome, 1953'
  • Matteo della Corte discusses the building in his Iuventus: un nuovo aspetta della vita pubblica di Pompei finora inesplorato (1924).
  • Robert Etienne questioned the identification of the building as a Schola Iuventutis in his Daily Life in Ancient Pompeii (1966) 409 - 411.
  • Luciana Jacobelli gives a description of the building and its frescoes in her Gladiators at Pompeii (2003)
  • There is detailed discussion of the building (with some great photos, which can be viewed on the Google Books scan of the book) in Laurentino Garcia y Garcia's Danni di Guerra a Pompei (Rome, 2006). During WW2 a bomb destroyed the reconstructed roof of the building; it was rebuilt in the 1950s.

According to Jacobelli, the Schola Armaturarum was built after AD 62 on the remains of an earlier building. Della Corte thought it was a kind of school for Pompeii's youth, but Jacobelli claims that 'more recently it has been hypothesised that it was a depository of gladiatorial arms'. She doesn't give details about this recent study - does anyone know what she's referring to? In the back room there was evidence that wooden cabinets had been fixed to the walls. These are thought to have contained weaponry - but in actual fact only a single ivory handle was found by the excavators. The walls behind the cabinets were painted with Winged Victories bearing  weapons and shields - which is why the building is now connected to gladiators. Personally I think the jury is still out on that one, but this was certainly a distinctive and unusual building which must have had a particular function. Does anyone else have any thoughts or theories?

Can anyone add any information to my summary? Or does anyone have any photos of the building before its collapse? Post them to the blog, or send them to me to (I will forward them to and PompeiiinPictures).


Francesca Tronchin said...

Thanks for posting this, Jo. I hope that somehow more conservation comes out of this.

Eric Poehler said...

Looking at the references in L. Garcia y Garcia's Nova Bibliotheca Pompeiana, the following additional citation might be added:

Bragaglia, Anton Giulio (Frosinone 11 febbraio 1890 - Roma 15 agosto 1960).

2018. A Pompei il sole celebra la gloria delle dissepolte armi di Roma. Emporium 42, Bergamo 1915, n. 249, sett., pp. 217-224.(Per le pitture scoperte in IX, xiii, 5 e III, iii, 6, durante i nuovi scavi dello Spinazzola in Via dell'Abbondanza).

Jo mentioned this already, but here is the full reference with additional information about the CIL refs as well:

Della Corte, Matteo (Cava dei Tirreni 13 ottobre 1875 - Pompei 5 febbraio 1962...)

4021. Pompei. Scavi sulla via dell' Abbondanza durante il mese di giugno (1915). NSA 1915, pp. 334-336. (Tratto di strada tra III, iv, SO e II, i, NO; III, iv, angolo SO; II, i, angolo NO; III, ii, 1; III, iii, 6; ì) CIL IV 8836: III, iii,ad O di 6; 2) CIL IV 8844: III, iii, 6; III, iii, 6; Via dell'Abbondanza a S del vicolo tra III, ili e III, iv; III, ii, 1;IX, xi, ad Odii).(Per il rapporto delle pp. 336-341 vedere sotto: Spano, G.).

Wondering out loud on a Sunday night can be a dangerous thing, but I still wondering (and typing) what kind of "Post Mortem" the BP community might be able to produce, rather quickly, on the Schola?


Eric Poehler said...

As I've been looking at the images of the destruction, it seems to me that the eastern wall of the building must have given way first, pulling the roof down and eastward with it. Large sections of brick work of the eastern door frame have fallen to the east, with the bottom sections being pulled up like the base of a tree trunk. They can now be seen lying vertically and diagonally, frozen in the new structural environment of a debris pile.

Jo Berry said...

Thanks guys!
Eric, what sort of Post Mortum are you suggesting?

Rick Jones said...

Jo, thanks for your well balanced comments on this. This clearly has fed into the current political controversies surrounding Pompeii, and stoked up the arguments. I personally share your view that the professionals in the Soprintendenza do their best with the resources they have. The Italian government however are seriously at fault for their failure to appoint a properly qualified and committed successor to Piero Guzzo, and for not providing the investment to support a much bigger and sustained conservation effort. I made these points in an interview on BBC World Service broadcast Sunday night.

Jackie and Bob at pompeiiinpictures said...

To add to Jo and Eric's references:
Titulorum Pictorum Pompeianum by Antonio Varone and Grete Stefani, L'Erma 2009, has old photographs showing the CIL locations, the CIL references and some bibliograsphy on pages 246 to 251.

Massimo Betello said...

A couple of points:
-I have been checking the photos and I agree with Eric: it seems like that the building collapsed Eastward, eventhough the North-western corner (the one with the fresco and in the opposite direction of the collapse) has disintegrated as well. And the only walls still standing seem those which have the unexcavated area behind them. The first (?) fault on the Eastern wall triggered a chain reaction which has effected the entire building. This collapse is clearly worse than that of 79 AD.

- Contrary to what had been suggested, I do not think that the collapse was due to the push of the unexcavated area. In the photos I checked there is no trace of any slide of such matter, and the fault seems to have happened to the opposite side of the unexcavated area.

- As far as I am aware of, the Soprintendenza has not yet released a statement, and the last news on the Sovrintendenza website is, hironically, about the supposed 3 million euros that should be used to restore 7 houses. I feel that the new Sovrintendente should say something, and not leaving the stage to the tainted polics of Bondi and other Italian politicians.

- If the building crumbled down at 6 am, and the custodi discovered it at 7.30 am, it means that, contrary to what I was told, there is NO nigth custodial shift in Pompeii. Is it possible?

Massimo Betello said...

A small correction to what I wrote: I meant that the South-Wester corner, not the North-western, (the one with the fresco and in the opposite direction of the collapse) has disintegrated as well.

Eric Poehler said...

@ Jo,

I guess what I meant by "Post Mortem" was that we as a community might be able to put together from these sources and any others a rough paper. It would be possible to host these references and solicit comments and discussion on each. These threads then might be "woven" into a narrative about the building that is no more. Since the Schola Armaturarum will certainly be the lightening rod for political change, knowing exactly what is at stake could be valuable.

See why its dangerous to wonder aloud / and type?


Jo Berry said...

Massimo, I'm intrigued now. If it wasn't the pressure of the unexcavated fill that caused the collapse, what DID cause it? Do you have any ideas about what weakened the structure? BTW have you seen the photos in yesterday's La Repubblica - these are the most detailed ones I've seen of the collapse.

I am also very surprised that there has been no official statement from the SAP yet ...

Eric, I thought that might be what you were getting at! I'm game, if you are. We'll need some more volunteers, and someone to coordinate the effort (since it was your idea, perhaps you'd be willing to do this??!!).

Jo Berry said...

Posted on behalf of Regina Gee:

'If the theme of Victoriae bearing weapons is the evidence for a storage site for weapons or a site related to gladiators, it’s pretty slight. Both Victory and piles of arms belong to the category of agonistic/military motifs that are part of a larger visual repertoire going back to the Second Style. To give just one example, the fictive doors of the atrium at Villa A at Oplontis have the Victory motif and in the (now missing) frieze of the upper zone of the same room, John Clarke has plausibly reconstructed piles of arms. The theme as an indicator of function won’t wash, but there could be an argument for a sense of “appropriateness” if there was additional evidence. Let me know what you find out and happy hunting!'

Massimo Betello said...

I have read the Statement from the MiBac, where it is said that the collapse was caused by a slide of the fill. I have double checked all the images of the collapse I could find, and still I am not able to see any trace of a landslide.
Besides, the statement seems to contradict itself: if the lower parts of the walls (which on the Western side still have the fill on their external side) did not collapse, where did the landslide happen?
I might be wrong (and probably I am) but if I can put forward my hipothesys, I guess that it was the roof which caved in and triggered a general collapse. In fact, the roof was in reinforced concrete, so the concrete beams and their rebars were fisically joined to the walls. When the roof collapsed, the rebars pulled the walls which fell down.
What remains of the roof seems sitting within the limits of the Schola. If the collapse of the roof had followed the collapse of the wall, then I guess that the roof would have followed the direction of the wall fall.
But again, I am trying to give a sense to the pictures I got from the Internet, so I might be missing a big part of the "picture".

Jo Berry said...

Actually I think you are right, Massimo. Description of the collapse from different sources DO make it seem like the roof came down first. And there doesn't seem to be much sigh of landfill amongst the rubble. So it looks as if the reinforced concrete collapsed - perhaps this explains why there hasn't been (to my knowledge) much damage of the surrounding buildings - which would be more likely if there had been a landslide.

Eric Poehler said...

@ Jo and Massimo,

Since the first mention of the landslide / landslump theory, I have had difficulties with it. Now, looking at the plan of the building and the distance that the unexcavated soil is from the collapse, it seems even less likely. Thus, if a super-saturated section of the earth slumped to the east or west, collapsing the western wall of the Schola, the effects of that collapse might travel south, ripping down more parts of the wall.

The first problem with this idea is that such a ripple effect would have to travel approximately 12 meters through the masonry to reach the roofed area of the Schola and cause it to collapse. Moreover, there is a short jog in the wall, which is made up of Opus Vittatum Mixtum and which is NOT bonded by quoining into the opus incertum wall to the north. These facts alone make it very unlikely that this was the cause of collapse, but the existence of two doorways - one open, one blocked) make it impossible since these would have stopped the ripple effect.

On the west side of the building, behind III.3.5, there is significant fill against the lower portion of the Schola's western wall, but the weight of the masonry above seems sufficient to hold this back. Also, since we are told that the lower portions survived, then this masonry could not have failed and caused the collapse.

I'm still of the opinion that the location of the debris pile is the best clue to how the building fell. Adding Massimo's important point about how the roof was constructed, I also think that the degraded roof very likely gave way when under the added weight of saturation from rain and the weight of water that would have accumulated.

I imagine the following scenario. The roof fails at and begins to fall downward from its weakest point, the center. Because the roof is attached to the side walls, the failure in the center and the tensile strength of the rebar turns that attachment into a hinge, swinging each section of the roof into a diagonal fall. Because the eastern wall collapsed to the east and not inward, to the west, it seems best to assume that at some point in the fall of the roof, its connection to the top of the eastern wall was snapped, causing that section of the roof to land partially on the eastern wall, pushing it over.

The evidence for this scenario will be as follows: at the top of the pile, sloping from west to east will be the masonry of the western wall. This will be lying above the western section of the roof. The reverse will be expected in the east, with the eastern section of the roof lying partially on top of the eastern wall debris, the rest of which is scattered to the east (with one piece even balanced on top of an iron gate).

Looking at the images, I do see a lot of rebar sticking out of the debris on the east.

Another Scenario:

If the roof held intact as it failed, the fall of the eastern wall to the east might be an effect of an "unweighting" of the wall and a kind of rebound. If that is even possible is a question for a structural engineer, but the amount of material that ended up in via dell'Abbondanza, some of it even farther west than III.3.5, may give credence to this idea.


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