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Domus Pompeiana M. Lucretii IX 3, 5.24: The Inscriptions, Works of Art and Finds from the Old and New Excavations Edited by Ria Berg and Ilkka Kuivalainen (Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum 136). Vantaa: Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters 2019. Pp. 323. €30. ISBN 978-951-653-433-9 (cloth).

How can one publish in the most comprehensive manner a Pompeian insula excavated some 150 years ago? This is the question the Expeditio Pompeiana Universitatis Helsingiensis set out to answer when it began its study of Insula IX, 3 of Pompeii in 2002. The mission, first under the guidance of Paavo Castrén and then Antero Tammisto, was to study all the architectural and material remains of the city block through archival research augmented with new excavations and field documentation of the standing structures. The approach developed in three parts, with field campaigns in two stages, between 2002 and 2006 and between 2009 and 2012, and the organization of an exhibit focusing on the House of Marcus Lucretius at the Amos Anderson Museum (Helsinki) in 2008. This book focuses on the evidence recovered for the House of Marcus Lucretius and is the first of a series on the entire insula to follow that will include volumes on the wall paintings, results of the new excavations, finds processing, and digital recording. The volume is primarily directed to an audience of students and specialists with some prior knowledge of Roman material culture.

The focus on the House of Marcus Lucretius is a natural point of departure for the project as it is by far the largest and most lavishly appointed of the insula. Previous excavators nicknamed it the House of the Female Musicians after a fresco recovered in its fauces. They later changed the name after finding another painting displaying both writing instruments and a letter addressed to Marcus Lucretius as decurion and priest of Mars at Pompeii. The house’s layout is the result of the union of two atrium dwellings with a raised garden as its centerpiece, where excavators uncovered statue groups and a marble fountain. The home attracted a great deal of interest upon excavation in 1846–47 due to its rich ornamentation; many of its objects and frescoes were removed, eventually ending up at the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

Castrén opens the volume with a preface detailing the history of the Finnish Institute in Italy. Berg follows with a chapter on the history of the project and its future publication trajectory. As the title suggests, the book then divides further into sections on the inscriptions recovered in the house, the finds of the 1847 excavations, new finds from the most recent excavations, and conclusions. A set of three appendices includes a catalogue of the finds recovered in the single rooms, an overview of the floors and frescoes, and a plan of the house.

The first part of the book constitutes two chapters that examine the inscriptions recovered in the property. Castrén provides a summary of the inscriptions, including ancient and modern graffiti. Particular attention falls on the fresco displaying the letter addressed to Marcus Lucretius, where Castrén accesses his considerable knowledge on Pompeian familial ties to give an overview of the gens Lucretia. Antonio Varone follows with a catalogue of the tituli picti and graffiti known from the house, many of which were recorded at excavation but have since vanished. A highlight comes from eight newly discovered graffiti that the original excavators overlooked.

The second part forms the bulk of the book, examining the finds recovered during the original excavations of the house. Berg opens the section detailing the methods adopted and problems associated with the archival search aimed at recovering as much of the house’s assemblage as possible. This is a most valuable contribution for those thinking about starting similar avenues of research using legacy data from Pompeii, where excavators described finds in various publications and staff catalogued objects on several occasions as they moved from the site to storage and museums. The section offers an important perspective on how objects with such a secure provenience have managed to lose their context since their discovery. Ultimately, the team determined that while a little more than 500 objects were initially recovered from the house, it was possible to locate and study just 67 of these. The remainder are still missing due to past bureaucratic and archival entanglements.

Berg proceeds with an analysis of the distribution pattern of the 500+ objects, with an initial discussion on the difficulties of interpreting and classifying objects according to function. Her study indicates that the two atria, some smaller rooms, and the garden contained the most artifacts, where they were likely stored in cupboards. By comparison, spaces such as the tablinum and the triclinium were relatively empty. Berg discusses what the placement of the artifacts might mean, comparing their arrangement to other known assemblages and concluding that the House of Marcus Lucretius fits into a broader pattern discovered thus far at Pompeii. The volume is therefore the latest in a series of important publications of the last three decades that have sought to reconstruct the assemblages of houses at the time of their discovery.

Berg continues the volume with five catalogues of corresponding find categories that the team was able to recover and examine, each including opening discussions about lost artifacts. She describes the categories as noninterpretative, with a secondary division that addresses the object function in neutral terms such as “containing liquids.” This approach is an attempt to refine Penelope Allison’s pioneering study on 30 Pompeian houses whose classifications rely more on function (Pompeian Households: An Analysis of Material Culture, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California Los Angeles 2004). Part I (objects of art) examines sculpture in marble found in the garden, one of the assemblages for which the house is well known. The study indicates a preponderance of Dionysiac themes present in the overall imagery in the house. Terracotta figurines, some perhaps related to a domestic cult, receive a separate chapter. Part II (vessels) is a catalogue of vessels organized by material, such as bronze, glass, and terracotta. This is a logical approach and an effort to bypass the varied appellations that excavators assigned to objects upon their recovery and subsequent cataloguing. Part III (instruments, tools, utensils) addresses lighting equipment, valuables, adornment, and cosmetic objects, as well as a cache of medical instruments that led initial excavators to hypothesize Lucretius’s profession as a surgeon—a theory about which Berg seems skeptical. Part IV (fixtures) is a catalogue of fixtures of doors and furniture, as well as those of a luxurious chariot. Berg closes the catalogue with Part V, a description of architectural elements.

The volume then switches its focus to the finds recovered during the excavations conducted by the Finnish team. Ville Hakanen presents a catalogue of the wall plaster fragments; Leena Pietilä-Castren lists and describes bits and pieces of ornamental terracotta masks. Berg closes with some concluding remarks on the study and experiences thereof as the volume came together. Appendices 1 and 2 are particularly valuable: a catalogue of finds from the 1847 excavations by room, and an overview of the floors and wall paintings. This last, covering ornamentations, gives a taste of future volumes the project will publish.

Overall, the volume is a welcome and badly needed addition to Pompeian studies as well as to our understanding of Roman domestic spaces. I am left asking for more in terms of data visualization and mapping from the rich evidence that the book provides. But that understandably must be left as future avenues of research. The book offers an important model for dealing with the patchy legacy data—some preserved and some lost—collected during the centuries of excavation conducted at Vesuvian sites. Such studies are important and praiseworthy in their often painstaking attempts to bridge the gap between past and present archaeological practices and expectations. One hopes that the efforts of the Finnish team inspire current and coming generations to continue such work to better understand the use of the Roman built environment of which Pompeii and the Vesuvian sites preserve such a unique and important picture.