Monday, 3 October 2011

Review: Les lieux de metier: boutiques et ateliers d’Herculanum.

Reviewed by Ia McIlwaine:

MONTEIX, Nicolas. Les lieux de metier: boutiques et ateliers d’Herculanum. Rome, École Française de Rome, 2010. (Bibliothèque des Écoles Françaises d’Athènes et de Rome Fasc. 344; Collection du Centre Jean Bérard, 34).

This large format volume, by the author already known for a number of articles on commercial activities and lead working at Pompeii and Herculaneum explores the provision of shops and workshops in Herculaneum, a topic that has previously been neglected in the monograph literature concerning the city. The book is amply provided with plans and illustrations, mostly in black and white. The work is based on the author’s doctoral thesis, and consequently follows the pattern of such works. It begins with a survey of literature on the city, concentrating principally on the work of Maiuri, and draws comparisons and makes contrasts between Herculaneum and Pompeii. The author especially emphasizes the commercial aspects of the two cities.

Monteix draws a distinction between shops whose prime function was to sell goods and workshops where manufacture was undertaken. He shows that this distinction is not always clear either in the literature about the city or from an examination of the excavations. This confusion is not greatly clarified in classical literature. The general format of shops is treated, looking at both Herculaneum and Pompeii and using the evidence of wall paintings as well as furniture, such as counters and shelves to hold amphorae, as in the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, and artefacts as well as furniture assist in the identification of the kind of enterprise. A table of objects found in commercial locations, as interpreted by Maiuri, is provided.

Having discussed the general nature of shops, the work moves on to look at different types of undertaking beginning with food and drink. Here, comparisons with Pompeii become less relevant as there are fewer remains in the city than at Pompeii which is used extensively to illustrate what might have been. Wine shops in particular are emphasised and the two cities are compared with regard to foodstuff commerce.

Bakers and bakeries are next given detailed consideration, again drawing on Pompeii and also Ostia, as well as other ancient documentation such as inscriptions and the decoration of tombs. Attention is paid to methods of kneading and comparisons drawn between Herculaneum, where only one kneading trough has been found, in contrast to Pompeii and Ostia. Different methods employed, either by hand or through the use of mills drawn by a horse or similar animal are discussed. A range of bronze utensils found at Herculaneum in 1936 is illustrated and actual loaves found from both Vesuvian cities are examined. Considerable detail is provided on the bakeries of the two cities.

The textile industry is the next to receive attention. The use of lead weights in weaving is discussed in detail, lead-working being a topic that the author has written on extensively. Methods of dyeing and cleaning fabrics and the tubs associated with these processes are noted, with illustrations both of realia and wall paintings and the process of weaving is similarly treated.

Having discussed the various industries in depth, the author proceeds in the second part of the work to examine shops as buildings. He looks at the building methods used and discusses the different types of masonry evident from the excavated areas, and the effects of the 62AD earthquake on buildings, examining literary sources and inscriptions as well the buildings themselves. Again, comparisons are drawn with Pompeii and this part of the work is devoted to a detailed examination of public buildings and construction methods, taking Insula Orientalis II as an example. Commercial enterprises in the front of houses are next considered. Little is known about the area of the insulae that were first excavated insulae I, II and VII. An in depth examination is undertaken, however, into insulae IV and V with accompanying plans showing the development and changes in these areas from the pre-Augustan age, through the time of Augustus, and then up to the earthquake and the interval between the earthquake and the final eruption. The modification of houses over time and the development of shops by extensions made onto buildings which originated as domestic dwellings solely, is traced and amply illustrated both with photographs and plans, again emphasising the building techniques employed. The work concludes with an evaluation of economic and social life at Herculaneum. A catalogue of shops is provided as an annexe and the book is supplied with a range of indexes providing references to places, both geographical in general and areas of Herculaneum and Pompeii specifically, as well as to ancient and modern sources.

The accompanying bibliography provides both general sources and those specific to Herulaneum and Pompeii and includes several bibliographies. It omits the work of Van der Poel, which although principally concerned with Pompeii covers much relevant to the topics discussed here. It also lacks many recent publications, apart from those of the author himself, which is unfortunate as a number of editions of 18th and 19th century documents have been published in recent years, such as those of Pagano and Paola Poli Capri. Since the author draws extensively on contemporary accounts and excavation reports for information, most of which are in Spanish, Italian translations are useful in providing assistance to those unfamiliar with the former language.

This book is an excellent source for not only the commercial undertaking in the Vesuvian area but for the building techniques employed and the work undertaken between the years of the 62 earthquake and the final destruction of 79. It includes much of interest concerning Pompeii as well as Herculaneum and is a welcome addition to the literature on the latter city which has not been so well served as its more popular neighbour in monograph literature. It provides a fruitful source of general information regarding commerce in imperial Rome as well as an in depth review of the commercial activities of the city. There is much of interest in an accessible form to the general reader as well as to the specialist.

Some points for further discussion:
It seems fashionable these days to treat Maiuri’s work with a degree of caution and comments on his views concerning the interpretation of the objects found in the various shops would be welcome.

Comparisons with cities other than those in the Vesuvian region would be very interesting.

Speculation about what may await discovery in those insulae which have not been thoroughly investigated as well as the vexed question of whether further excavation should be undertaken might be raised.

Les lieux de metier: boutiques et ateliers d’Herculanum is available from, and is listed on (as unavailable). Alternatively, it ought to be available from the bookshops listed here.

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