Cities of Vesuvius - Pompeii and Herculaneum

- Syllabus Content -

Changing methods and contributions of 19th and 20th Century Archaeologists
The Vesuvian sites were under Bourbon control until 1860: see 4 points bottom p.170.

It [Pompeii] is at once the most studied and the least understood of sites. Universally familiar, its excavation and scholarship prove a nightmare of omissions and disasters. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum, 1996 p.65

Focus questions:
  • Explain the contributions made by Fiorelli, Spinazzola and Maiuri to our understanding of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • What are some criticisms that can be made of each of them?


Giuseppe Fiorelli (1860 - 1875)
Unification of Italy brought to an end Bourbon control of the sites. Fiorelli appointed inspector of excavations.

Fiorelli arguably remains the individual who had the greatest impact upon the way in which Pompeii has been both excavated and perceived. (AE Cooley, Pompeii, p96)
  • Introduced numbering system. Divided Pompeii into nine regions. Each building could be identified three numbers: Region / insula / doorway.
  • More systematic approach - excavated along line of roads, connecting the excavated sections and then beginning to move east.
  • Different methodology - slowly uncovering houses from the top down.
  • Realised that cavities were the remains of decayed organic matter. Used plaster to reveal human figures and other organic objects.
  • New system for recording work in progress.
  • Focus on overall history rather than individual objects, buildings and artworks.
  • Established school of archaeology.
  • Opened the site to more visitors.
  • Gave the streets of Pompeii their modern names.

Other developments during his time:
  • Catalogue of all painted panels (W. Helbig 1868)
  • Graffiti and inscriptions recorded as part of Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL) (K. Zangemeister 1871)
  • August Mau’s classification of Pompeian painting styles (1882). He believed paintings should be left in situ to maintain their context within the wall’s full artwork.

Fiorelli’s successors
  • Michele Ruggiero (1875 - 93)
  • Giulio De Petra (1893 - 1901)
  • Ettore Pais (1901 - 05)
  • Antonio Sogliano (1905 - 10)
Proceeded more slowly than Fiorelli - took more care with preservation and restoration. Focussed on northern parts of the city.

Vittorio Spinazzola (1910 - 1923)

  • Realities of town planning rather than extraordinary discoveries.
  • “New Excavations” focussed on Via dell’Abbondanza, linking the Forum with the Amphitheatre. Unearthed numerous shops and workshops and some fine houses.
  • Meticulous excavation method.
  • Reconstructed facades and windows, balconies and roofs of upper floors.
  • Occasionally dug past the façade - e.g., Cryptoporticus and Octavius Quartio.

Criticism: had to support facades to prevent their collapse from the weight of earth behind. The unexcavated material behind facades and buildings on the north side of via dell’Abbondanza is now one of the main reasons given for the collapse of buildings including the recent collapse of the Schola Armaturarum.

The picture shows Spinazzola entertaining friends in the triclinium of the House of the Moralist.
Below is a reconstruction of part of the via dell'Abbondanza from Spinazzola's posthumously published book on his work in Pompeii, Pompeii alla luce degli scavi nuovi di Via dell'Abbondanza (anni 1910-1923)


Amadeo Maiuri (1924 - 1961)
“…towering figure… endlessly energetic, learned, imaginative.” (Wallace-Hadrill)

Most productive period was up to 1939. Pompeii damaged by Allied bombing in 1943. Excavation resumed in 1947. 1951 to 1961: intensive work but hurried and underfunded.
See Fig. 11.4 p.176 for table of Maiuri’s achievements.

  • Followed Fascist line in using magnificent finds to glorify Italy’s past (e.g., House of Menander)
  • Believed that Pompeii and Herculaneum were in a state of decline esp. after the earthquake: the Patrician class was being replaced with crass, vulgar merchant class. Forum was still a shambles at the time of the eruption.
  • His interpretation became the orthodox view and is still influential today.

  • 1951-1961 - rushed excavation with little restoration, conservation or documentation.
  • Published work (House of Menander 1933) was descriptive rather that analytical.
  • His interpretation was not based on statistical evidence - he used many false assumptions.

The Casa del Menandro was excavated between November 1926 and June 1932. The excavation reports of the 1920s and 1930s often recorded the state of the volcanic deposit; whether it had been disturbed or consisted of stratified ash and lapilli; whether finds were related to an upper floor; and at what level above the pavement finds were made. Given that the excavators considered this large and reportedly "noble" house important, they were probably even more careful in excavating and recording here than they were with houses they considered less significant.

Nevertheless, Amedeo Maiuri has published only the finds from this house that he considered spectacular. In addition, the Giornali degli Scavi serve to demonstrate that some objects were inaccurately provenanced in the inventories, and that Maiuri often published these incorrect provenances. They also indicate that many discoveries that were smaller in size, of less artistic merit, or from less interesting rooms were left out of the inventories and therefore by Maiuri. Many of the finds, particularly the skeletons, seem to have been moved to a display area after excavation, adding to the interpretative nature of the published recording. Maiuri also confused some of the room numbering, which sometimes changed as excavation proceeded. This is particularly so for rooms numbered 16 and 21 in the Giornali degli Scavi. Because these room numbers seem to have changed during the excavation, it has been difficult to allocate all finds to specific rooms.

Penelope M. Alison:
Successors of Maiuri:
  • Alfonso de Franciscis (1961 – 1977)
  • Fausto Zevi (1977 – 1981) All new excavations were suspended. Needed to preserve and document what had already been excavated.
  • Giuseppina Cerulli Irelli (1981 – 1984)
  • Baldassare Conticello (1984 – 1995)
  • Pietro Guzzo (1995 – 2009)
  • Mariarosaria Salvatore (Sept. 2009 – April 2010)
  • Giuseppe Proietti (interim Superintendant April 2010 – Sept 2010)
  • Jeanette Papadopulos (Oct 2010 - ?)