Concept, Design and Build: Romans beyond Pompeii

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SIMON P. ELLIS. Roman housing (2nd ed.). viii+224 pages, 31 figures, 22 photographs. 2002. London: Duckworth; 0-7156-3196-9 paperback 16.99 [pounds sterling]

SHELLEY HALES. The Roman house and social identity, xvi+294 pages, 108 figures. 2003. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 0-521-81433-2 hardback 55 [pounds sterling] & US$75.

CLAUDIA LIEDTKE. Nebenraumdekorationen des 2. und 3. Jahrhunderts in Italien (Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts Vol. 31). ix+373 pages, 39 figures, 62 b&w photographs, 39 colour photographs. 2003. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter; 3-11-017539-8 hardback 98 [euro].

B. JANSEN, C. SCHREITER & M. ZELLE with M. DASZKIEWICZ, J. RIEDERER, N. RIEDL & G. SCHNEIDER. Die romischen Wandmalereien aus dem Stadtgebiet der Colonia Ulpia Traiana I: die Funde aus den Privatbauten (Xantener Berichte: Grabung, Forschung, Prasentation Vol. 11). v+285 pages, 245 b&w & colour figures, 7 tables. 2001. Mainz: Phillip von Zabern; 3-8053-2873-7 hardback.

THEKLA SCHULZ. Die Prostyloi (Die romischen Tempel im Heraion von Samos [Vol. 1]). xv+224 pages, 78 figures, 4 tables, 168 photographs. 2002. Bonn: German Archaeological Institute; 3-7749-3107-0 hardback.

RABUN TAYLOR. Roman builders: a study in architectural process, xvi+303 pages, 150 figures. 2003. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 0-521-80334-9 hardback 50 [pounds sterling] & US$75, 0-521-00583-3 paperback 18.95 [pounds sterling] & US$25.

We all know that buildings tell stories but few buildings have ever been as extravagantly vocal as the monuments of property-obsessed Rome. Their ruins invite, almost demand, our attention. This insistent appeal provides fertile territory for research. In recent years, the social historians of Roman Pompeii have made the most useful contribution to the reading of this architecture. The best of this scholarship has moved fluently between written and architectural texts, acknowledging the different nature of these sources but finding instructive areas of dialogue and contrast. This is a much harder trick to pull off elsewhere in the Roman world because of greater dissonances in the availability and representativeness of both textual and structural evidence. Pompeii remains an exceptional site, on which much research must rely; but it is precisely because of its exceptional nature that we must also look elsewhere, and do so from a range of different perspectives. Although the books reviewed here do not ignore the social history of Pompeii--far from it--they remind us of the variety of approach that can be taken to the study of Roman architecture. In the process, they ask some interesting questions of the relationship between Rome and the Hellenised world in which it operated.

The books of Hales and Taylor achieve this by drawing on the investigative traditions of art history. They aim to lift veils, to decipher hidden meanings, and to give voice to the architecture itself. Taylor's object is to understand how the greatest monuments of Rome were built, and to detect the engineering tricks employed in their construction. Hales works with different material. Her interests are more conceptual than technical, and she is excited by the fantasy of Roman interior design and its bearing on expressions of social identity. The other books are more overtly archaeological in their approach. Ellis offers a comprehensive review of Roman domestic architecture in a broad survey. The three German language books reviewed here stand at the opposite extreme and present detailed catalogues of archaeological data. Schultz describes architectural elements from a temple complex on Samos in the precise traditions of German scholarship. The other two works describe wall paintings: one, from Italy, and the other from the German frontier. In sum, these are six very different books, dealing with different types of material from different standpoints. Each therefore deserves individual attention. …