Making sense(s) of Roman neighbourhoods

(Suomenkielinen tutkimussuunnitelma omalla sivullaan)

As the passage from Cicero’s letter … Marcellus candidatus ita stertebat ut ego vicinus audirem…,[1] highlights, the Roman housing in densely packed urban quarters created unsolicited intimacy even in the elite quarters. Wealthy Romans could, however, flee the city to countryside in need ­of repose, a solution which was not readily available for the poorer classes. This three-year post-doctoral study investigates the experiences of coexistence in urban quarters of ancient Roman towns by finding out how the inhabitants sensed their immediate neighborhoods. The research questions of the study are what kind of sounds, smells and sights surrounded urban dwellers, what kind of tasting and touching experiences they encountered, how these sensations were perceived and dealt with and how they influenced the constructions of spaces.[2] The sensations, often considered as solely physiological phenomena, are in fact deeply influenced by culture. One key element of this study is hence to find out what were the Roman cultural concepts associated with sensing.[3]

Past couple of years have witnessed some significant contributions to the research of ancient Roman sensorium, such as the Senses in Antiquity publication series, with articles on senses in Graeco-Roman literature and philosophy, as well as some introductory outlines on sensations in urban space. However, our understanding of senses in Roman townscape is still in very early stages; the current scholarship is rather divided especially on the views of urban smellscape and other irritating sensations. Some scholars tend to see ancient Roman towns as foul-smelling and noisy places where no attempts of sanitation were taken, while other see this kind of thinking rather clichéd.[4] Based on my initial observations on both archaeological and written evidence, I hypothesize that the inhabitants of ancient cities paid close attention to sensory nuisances and attempted to regulate these to the best of their abilities. However, these attempts were not always successful and loud noises, irritating stinks and other adverse sensations were something the inhabitants of ancient towns had to tolerate with. This hypothesis needs now to be tested with a thorough analysis of data.

[1] Cicero, letter 4,3,5 to Atticus (“… the candidate Marcellus snored so loud, I could hear him next door”).

[2]  The study takes a multisensory approach discussing all the traditional, “Aristotelian” five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting (cf. Aristotle, De anima II, 7-11).

[3] For the theoretical background see Classen et al. (1994, 3) according to whom ”smell is not simply a biological and psychological phenomenon [but] cultural, hence a social and historical phenomenon” and Day (2014, 3) who asserts that “the senses …. are as much culturally constituted as physically given”.

[4] See e.g. Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, Roman urban smells: the archaeological evidence and Neville Morley, Urban smells and Roman noses in Bradley 2014

In my dissertation, I investigated the Roman sleeping culture and the use of space after dark by using both literary material and archaeological evidence.[4] In this work there will be a broader goal on investigating the interplay of light and dark in the Roman houses and how the use of space in houses, their neighboring dwellings as well as on the streets was arranged from dusk till dawn. In addition to the investigation of the different lighting solutions, also visibility allowed or restricted by different structures (sight-lines) is studied. The investigation of the dichotomy of public and private has been a key theme in my previous studies and this one is no exception. As I have shown in my dissertation, elite Romans appreciated the possibility to withdraw to their private sleeping areas and personal privacy could be acquired by internal boundaries. However, as we learned from the above-mentioned passage from Cicero, the sounds did not always respect these boundaries. Also, smells—whether those generally considered as good ones, such as the aroma of freshly baked bread from a pistrina nearby or (allegedly) less pleasant from the fullonicae and dye shops or latrines around the corner—might have invaded even the elite dwellings.[5]

The investigation will be carried out on two fronts: by analyzing evidence from Latin literature, as well as archaeological material from three different sites—Ostia, Pompeii and Herculaneum. I am building the work on my previous experience combining it with the new approaches on the studies of past. This investigation draws inspiration especially from the studies of space as well as the sensory studies, the former being firmly established in the field of Campanian archaeology and social history since the ground-breaking works of Pompeianists in the 1980s and 1990s,[6] and the latter a rapidly growing framework for the studies of the past.[7]

Past couple of years have witnessed some significant contributions to the research of ancient Roman sensorium, such as the Senses in Antiquity publication series, with articles mainly on senses in Graeco-Roman literature and philosophy. Some introductory outlines on the impact of sensations on urban space. However, our understanding of senses in Roman townscape is in very early stages; the current scholarship is rather divided especially on the views on urban smellscape and other irritating sensations. Some scholars tend to see ancient Roman towns as foul-smelling and noisy places where no attempts of sanitation were taken, while other see this kind of thinking rather clichéd.[8] Based on preliminary observations on both archaeological and written evidence, I hypothesize that the inhabitants of ancient cities paid close attention to sensory nuisances and attempted to regulate them to the best of their abilities. However, these attempts were not always successful and loud noises, irritating stinks and other adverse sensations were something the inhabitants of ancient towns had to tolerate and adapt to. This hypothesis needs now to be tested by a thorough analysis of data.

Methods and scientific objectives

I am approaching the subject through two rather different types of data: Latin literature and archaeological material from three ancient towns (Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia). Combining different types of material can be challenging, but also very productive, especially when the evidence reveals contradicting facts. I used both literary and archaeological evidence successfully in my PhD dissertation and I am confident that this kind of interdisciplinary approach suits best also this current study, since it allows much deeper exploration of the ancient sensory encounters than using just one type of evidence.

Literary evidence will be studied by using source critical text analysis and archaeological research concentrates on examining the remains of the aforementioned towns, using the methods of buildings archaeology as well as GIS technology for mapping the relevant structures.

The research consists thus of two sections

  1. An analysis of passages in Latin literature with vocabulary associated to seeing, hearing and smelling, appearing in the context of lived environment and coexistence. The texts include a wide range of literature from archaic plays to late-antique legal texts, allowing an in-depth exploration of sensory encounters in urban contexts. Epigraphical material from the case study cities will also be used when relevant.
  2. Case studies of three houses and their relationships to immediate neighbors: other domus and apartments, tabernae and cauponae, workshops, latrines, baths, stables or other animal shelters, religious buildings, streets and other such urban elements. The case study houses in question are House of Marcus Lucretius IX,3,5 in Pompeii, Casa del Tramezzo di legno III, 11 in Herculaneum and Domus delle Muse III,IX,22 in Ostia. Also, a larger city-wide survey of zoning of different urban functions (e.g. general sanitation, waste management and drainage) is taken in these towns to better understand their impact on city planning.

To gather written material, I am using approach called terminological method which has proved to be an effective way of finding the essential evidence. I will start by screening sensory-related vocabulary in Latin dictionary Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL);[9] text passages can then be collected from such databases as Brepols Publishers’ Brepolis Library of Latin Texts (clt.brepolis.net), The Digital Loeb Classical Library (loebclassics.com), The Packard Humanities Institute’s Latin texts (latin.packhum.org/index) and the Latin Library (thelatinlibrary.com), of which the three first ones can be accessed only through a library account and the two latter can be used freely on the Internet. Epigraphical evidence is gathered from Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL), which is also largely available online.[10] For further analysis, also editions with text critical apparatus and high-quality commentaries are needed.

The archaeological material will be collected mainly from excavation reports and research literature.[11] However, understanding and mapping the structures, checking the data and sensing the space as it is today, requires an on-site survey and thus a field work period of six weeks will be arranged to Ostia and Campanian towns. I have acquainted myself with Pompeian studies especially by working in the Finnish Pompeii project (Expeditio Pompeiana Universitatis Helsingiensis, EPUH) and in the project Inscribed Text in Its Spatial Context in Ancient Rome, which studies the epigraphical finds of Pompeii in their archaeological contexts.[12] The material from Herculaneum I know well from my dissertation project and the chosen case study house has been investigated in detail by the Public and Private in the Roman house (PPRH) project, in which I worked as a junior researcher.[13] I have also familiarized myself with the archaeological remains of Ostia especially during my stay in the Finnish institute in Rome as a PhD fellow.

Aims

The aim is to form a holistic understanding of how ancient Romans used and perceived the immediate urban space and environment they lived in, and how the sensory encounters influenced domestic and urban space. To reach this goal, I will create sensory profiles for three private houses in their urban contexts, with an accompanying account on cultural history of Roman senses in context of urban neighborhoods.

The broader objective is the comprehension of Roman society on a more general level; the way a society arranges lived space reveals the underlying values and structures of the society in question. Hence finding out how living in built-up city blocks (insulae) was arranged and how these arrangements were sensed will elucidate the social relationships of ancient society, and distinguishing the sensory experiences well lead to a better understanding of how cultural norms, use of space, environment and physiological necessities influence each other. One key element of this proposed study is to investigate how the sensations were evaluated and how culture influenced these assessments. Distinguishing ancient Roman cultural concepts of sensing will help understand even modern world by questioning the dichotomy of biology vs. culture. The results of my study will then be useful in several contexts.[14]

Selected bibliography

S. Aldrete, “Urban Sensations: Opulence and Ordure”, in Classen et al., vol. 1, 2014, 45-68
P. M. Allison, Pompeian households, an analysis of the material culture, Los Angeles CA 2004, (with a companion website at stoa.org/pompeianhouseholds)
E.M. Betts, (ed.)Senses of the Empire: Multisensory Approaches to Roman Culture, London 2017
H. Boman, “Let there be light. Light in atrium houses in Roman Pompeii and Herculaneum” in
Vesuviana3, 2011, 89-102
M. Bradley (ed.), Smell and the Ancient Senses, London – New York 2015
S. Butler, S. Nooter (eds.) Sound and the Ancient Senses, London 2019
P. Castrén (ed.), Domus Pompeiana: una casa a Pompei, Helsinki 2008
P. Castrén, R. Berg, A. Tammisto and E.-M. Viitanen, “In the Heart of Pompeii – Archaeological Studies in the Casa di Marco Lucrezio (IX, 3, 5.24)” in P. G. Guzzo and M. P. Guidobaldi (eds.) Nuove ricerche archeologiche nell’area vesuviana, scavi 2003-2006: atti del convegno internazionale, Roma, 1-3 febbraio 2007, Roma 2008
R. Cervi, “Evoluzione architettonica delle cosidette Case a Giardino ad Ostia”, in L. Quilici – S. Quilici-Gigli (edd.), Città e monumenti nell’Italia antica, Atlante tematico di topografia antica 7, 1998, 141-156.
J. Clarke, The houses of Roman Italy 100 B.C.-A.D. 250: ritual, space, and decoration, Berkeley 1991
C. Classen, Worlds of sense: exploring the senses in history and across cultures, London 1993
C. Classen, D. Howes and A. Synnott, Aroma: the cultural history of smell, London 1994.
C. Classen  and D. Howes, Ways of sensing: understanding the senses in society, London 2014.
C. Classen, D. Howes, R. Newhauser, H. Roodenburg, J. P. Toner, A. Vila, The Cultural History of the Senses, vol. 1-6, London 2014
CTP  = Corpus Topographicum Pompeianum II-V, Rome – Austin, 1977-1984
J. Day (ed.), Making Senses of the Past: Toward a Sensory Archaeology, Carbondale 2013
J. DeLaine, “High status insula apartments in early imperial Ostia – a reading,” in Meded. 58 (1999)
S. Ellis: The distribution of bars at Pompeii: archaeological, spatial and viewshed analyses in JRA Volume 17 2004, pp. 371-384
S. Ellis: The rise and reorganization of the Pompeian salted fish industry, n The Making of Pompeii: Studies in the history and urban development of an ancient town (Edited by Steven J.R. Ellis, JRA suppl. 85, 2011) 59-88.
H. and L. Eschebach,Pompeji: vom 7. Jahrhundert bis 79 n.Chr., Köln-Weimar-Wien 1995
G. Fiorelli, Descrizione di Pompei, Napoli 1875
M. Flohr, “Working and living under one roof: workshops in Pompeian atrium houses” in Privata Luxuria: Towards an Archaeology of Intimacy. Pompeii and Beyond, ed. A. Anguissola, München 2012, 51-72
M. Flohr, The Textile Economy of Pompeii in Journal of Roman Archaeology v. 26, 2013, 53-78
J. Garnert, Anden i lampan, etnologiska perspektiv på ljus och mörker, Stockholm 1993
A. Gering, ”Die Case a Giardino als unerfüllter Architektentraum. Planung und gewandelte Nutzung einer Luxuswohnanlage im antiken Ostia“ in RM 109 (2002), 109-140
GdSN = Giornale dei Nuovi Scavi di Ercolano, unpublished excavation reports of Herculaneum, (1927—), available as a text file transcript at the Soprintendenza of Herculaneum
A. Goncalves, L., Magalhaes, J., Moura, A., Chalmers, “High Dynamic Range ‐ A Gateway for Predictive Ancient Lighting” in Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage vol. 2/1, 2009, 1‐20
M. Grahame, “Public and private in the Roman house: investigating the social order of the Casa del Fauno” in R. Laurence and A.Wallace-Hadrill (eds.) Domestic space in the Roman world: Pompeii and beyond, Portsmouth 1997, 137-64
P.G. Guzzo and M. P. Guidobaldi (ed.), Nuove ricerche archeologiche a Pompei ed Ercolano, atti del convegno internazionale, Roma, 28–30 novembre 2002, 367–370. Studi della Soprintendenza archeologica di Pompei 10.
S. Hales, The Roman House and Social Identity, Cambridge 2003
G. Hermansen, Ostia: aspects of Roman city life, Edmonton 1981
G. Jansen, “Systems for the Disposal of Waste and Excreta,” 37–49 in Sordes Urbis Remolà, Josep Anton, editor | Dupré Raventós, Xavier, editor Sordes urbis : la eliminación de residuos en la ciudad romana : actas de la Reunión de Roma, 15-16 de noviembre de 1996, 2000
M. Keck et al. Odour impact from farms with animal husbandry and biogas facilities, in Science of the Total Environment 645 (2018) 1432–1443
S. Kent (ed.) Domestic architecture and the use of space: an interdisciplinary cross-cultural study, Cambridge 1990
R. Laurence and A.Wallace-Hadrill (eds.), Domestic space in the Roman world: Pompeii and beyond, Portsmouth 1997
R. Laurence, Roman Pompeii – Space and Society, London – New York 1994
R. Laurence and D. J. Newsome (eds.), Rome, Ostia and Pompeii: movement and space, Oxford 2011
T. Lauritsen, Doors in Domestic Space at Pompeii and Herculaneum: A Preliminary Study Authorin TRAC 2011, 59–75 (Mladenović, D. and Russell, B. (eds.) (2011) TRAC 2010: Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference, Oxford 2010. Oxford: Oxbow Books.)
H. Lefebvre, The production of space, (La production de l’espace) translated by D. Nicholson-Smith, Oxford 1991
B. Lowe: ‘The Dye-shops of Pompeii’ in C. Alfaro Giner, J. Ortiz García and L. Turell (eds) Purpureae Vestes V, Universitat de València, 2016, sivunrot?
A. Maiuri, Ercolano: i nuovi scavi (1927-1958), Roma 1958
W.E: Moeller, The Wool Trade of Ancient Pompeii
M. D. Monaghan: Coats of Many Colours: Dyeing and Dyeworks in Classical and Hellenistic Greece, PhD dissertation 2001
R. Mongelluzzo
L. Nissin, Roman Sleep – Sleeping areas and sleeping arrangements in the Roman house, Helsinki 2016
N. Monteix, Cuisiner pour les autres: les espaces commerciaux de production alimentaire à Pompéi. Gallia – Archéologie de la France antique, CNRS Éditions, 2013, Dossier : Cuisines et boulangeries en Gaule romaine, 70 (1), pp.9-26. ffhalshs-01287403
N. Monteix: Du couteau au boucher : remarques préliminaires sur la préparation et le commerce de la viande à Pompéi in  Food & History, 5, 1, 2007, p. 169-196
J. E. Packer, The insulae of imperial Ostia, Rome 1971
J. Pallasmaa, The eyes of the skin: architecture and the senses, London 1996
F. Pesando and M. P. Guidobaldi, Pompei, Oplontis, Ercolano, Stabiae, Roma 2006
PPM I-X = Pompei. Pitture e mosaici I-X, Roma 1990-1998.
PPP I-III = Bragantini, I. & de Vos, M. & Parise Badoni, F. & Sampaolo, V. (eds.), Pitture e Pavimenti di Pompei.  Repertorio delle fotografie del Gabinetto Fotografico Nazionale, I-III, Roma 1981-1986.
A. Purves and S. Butler, Synaesthesia and the Ancient Senses, Durham 2013
M. Ruggiero, Storia degli scavi di Ercolano ricomposta su’ documenti superstiti, Napoli 1885
S. Stevens,”Reconstructing the Garden Houses at Ostia. Exploring water supply and building height” in BABESCH 80 (2005) p. 113-123
H. Stöger, Rethinking Ostia: A Spatial Inquiry into the Urban Society of Rome’s Imperial Port Town, Leiden 2011
T. Syrjämaa, “Aistittu Rooma. Matkailijan koettu ja kerrottu kaupunki” in Ennen ja nyt 3-4, 2008
K. Trusler & Barry Hobson: Downpipes and upper story latrines in Pompeii
K. Trusler, Where’s the loo? An analysis of the spatial distribution of private latrines in Pompeii, Water Hist (2017) 9:363–387 https://doi.org/10.1007/s12685-016-0183-9
A. Wallace-Hadrill, “The Social Structure of the Roman House” in PBSR 56, 1988, 43-97
A. Wallace-Hadrill, Houses and society in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Princeton 1994
R. Veal, ”From Context to Economy: charcoal and its unique potential in archaeological interpretation: a case study from Pompeii” in I. E. Schrüfer-Kolb (ed.) More than just numbers? The role of science in Roman archaeology, Portsmouth 2012, 19-52
R. J. Veal: Wood and Charcoal for Rome: towards an understanding of ancient regional fuel economics, in The Economic Integration of Italy: Rural Communities in a Globalizing World (eds. T. de Haas and G. Tol), 2017
Wheeler, E. F., and J. L. Zajaczkowski. 2002. Horse stable manure management. Horse Facilities 3. College of Agricultural Sciences. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park PA. 15 pp.M. Flohr, 2003, Fullones and Roman Society. A reconsideration in Journal of Roman Archaeology 16 (2003), pp. 447-450.
A. Wilson & M. Flohr: Economy of ordure in Jansen, G., Koloski-Ostrow, A., Moormann, E. (eds.) Roman Toilets. Their Archaeology and Cultural History. Leuven 2011, 127 – 136.
H. Ynnilä (2012), Pompeii, Insula IX.3: A Case Study of Urban Infrastructure, Vol 1.: Text and figures Vol. 2 Catalogue. PhD Dissertation, University of Oxford, available at
https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:cf13b1d9-adda-4fd9-b0be-8a96ab85d53d

[1] Cicero, letter 4,3,5 to Atticus (“… the candidate Marcellus snored so loud, I could hear him next door”).

[2]  The study focuses on five ”Aristotelian” senses, seeing, hearing, touching and smelling, cf. Aristotle, De anima II, 7-11.

[3] For the theoretical background see Classen et al. (1994, 3) according to whom ”smell is not simply a biological and psychological phenomenon [but] cultural, hence a social and historical phenomenon” and Day (2014, 3) who asserts that “the senses …. are as much culturally constituted as physically given”. Also, Serres 2008.

[4] Nissin 2016.

[5] See Flohr 2012 on discussion whether the smell in fullonicae was as foul as previously thought. See also discussion of senses and social status in Toner 2014, 4-7 and senses in the urban Roman context in Aldrete 2014.

[6] Especially Wallace-Hadrill 1988, Wallace-Hadrill 1994, Clarke 1991, Laurence and Wallace-Hadrill 1997, also Laurence 1994, Grahame 1997, Hales 2003, Allison 2004.  See also Kent 1990 for the theoretical approach on space in archaeological research and Lefebvre 1991 for theoretical pondering of space studies in general.

[7] Especially Purves and Butler 2013, articles in Day 2013, articles in Classen 2014, articles in Bradley 2015. Also articles in Betts 2017 are investigating these issues. Pioneering works on the cultural history of the senses: Classen 1993 and C. Classen, D. Howes and A.Synnott 1994.

[8] See e.g. Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, Roman urban smells: the archaeological evidence and Neville Morley, Urban smells and Roman noses in Bradley 2014

[9] The most recent publication of TLL covers vocabulary starting with letter ‘P’. Rest of the vocabulary needs to be screened thus elsewhere, e.g. in Oxford Latin dictionary or mining the databases mentioned above (especially The Packard Humanities Institute’s Latin texts is handy tool for terminological data mining.)

[10] CIL Open Access in Arachne (https://arachne.uni-koeln.de/drupal/), see also Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss-Slaby http://www.manfredclauss.de/

[11] E.g., such works as CTP II-V, PPM I-X, PPP I-III, Castrén et al. 2008, Castrén 2008, Eschebach 1995 for Pompeii, GdSN, Ruggiero 1885, Maiuri 1958, Pesando and Guidobaldi 2006 for Herculaneum and Scavi di Ostia series, Cervi 1998, DeLaine 1999 for Ostia etc.

[12] For EPUH, see more in blogs.helsinki.fi/pompeii-project and for ITIS in tuhat.halvi.helsinki.fi/portal/en/projects/inscribed-text-in-i(1efacfea-cd53-4804-9064-275ba1b236cb).html.

[13] For PPRH, see more in blogs.helsinki.fi/romanhouse.

[14] In addition to the sensory studies in historical research, see, e.g., ERC Grant Project Sensory Transformations and Transgenerational Environmental Relationships in Europe, 1950–2020 (SENSOTRA) at the University of Eastern Finland.