Magazine article History Today

Pompeii: The Living City

Magazine article History Today

Pompeii: The Living City

Article excerpt

Pompeii The Living City

Alex Butterworth and Ray Laurence

Weidenfeld & Nicholson 368pp 20 [pounds sterling]

ISBN 0297645609

WE HAVE BEEN brought up with so many histories of Pompeii, and from so many perspectives--the art, the architecture, the inscriptions, the economy, historical development, etc--that it is hard to believe that a fresh and new approach is possible. Yet Butterworth and Laurence have performed the unexpected with this evocative new study.

They delve into the city through its inhabitants, reconstructing their life on the basis of the local written sources, mostly inscriptions and graffiti, and the archaeological evidence of the city. These resources have been embroidered with the rich contextual material provided by the generality of contemporary Roman written sources which have something to say about town life.

So, with the latter, a generic story of a first-century city in Italy has been written, while the very immediate sources from Pompeii itself have been used to give the local colour. That story has been set over a period of about twenty-five years, from the mid-50s AD, through the devastating earthquake of 62, to the destruction by Vesuvius of 79. It is also set against a larger backcloth, the history of the reign of Nero and the imperial family, trying to gauge the impact of events of the wider Roman world on the lives of the citizens of Pompeii.

Awkwardly interleaved, and as a counterpoint to the main text, are short sections of fictional narrative, which attempt to reconstruct the thoughts and actions of different individuals associated with the city and relevant to the content of the chapter in question. …

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