Ante Ostium: contextualizing boundaries in the houses of Pompeii and Herculaneum
Lauritsen, Michael Taylor
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Since large-scale excavations began in the mid-19th century, scholarly studies of houses in Pompeii and Herculaneum have emphasized the “social” nature of their design. Most Campanian domūs are viewed as spaces with high levels of transparency and permeability to which non-residents were afforded a certain degree of unregulated access. This theoretical paradigm has developed, however, without consideration for doors, partitions, and other closure systems that controlled visual and physical contact between various parts of the residence. That these structures have largely been ignored by students of Campanian archaeology is surprising, given that boundaries were an incredibly influential element in the ancient cultural landscape, delimiting the social, political, and spatial domains that comprised the Roman world. Indeed, the Latin literary sources reveal that boundaries, both inside the house and out, were often afforded special status—they were attended by their own deities and were regularly the focus of ceremonies and rituals. This thesis addresses this oversight by presenting the results of the Doors of Pompeii and Herculaneum Project, a survey of closure systems and their archaeological vestiges in 31 Campanian dwellings. This evidence is complemented by the findings of comparative surveys conducted in houses elsewhere in the Mediterranean world. Analysis of these data reveals that permeable boundaries, in their manifold forms, played a crucial role in structuring ancient domestic space. By repopulating the houses of Pompeii and Herculaneum with doors, partitions, and other bounding mechanisms, this research challenges the concept of the “social house,” demonstrating that access to and movement within the house was, in fact, heavily regulated by the inhabitants. This represents a fundamental reinterpretation of the relationship between house and society in the Vesuvian cities.