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Ray Laurence and David J. Newsome (eds), Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space.

Ray Laurence and David J. Newsome (eds), Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space, OUP (2011), 444+xx, 75 [pounds sterling].

This volume contains 15 essays about movement in three of the best known Roman cities, together with introduction and 'endpiece'. The subtitle accurately describes the subject matter, which relates to movement and the use of space, especially streets, within cities, rather than to transport as such or to inter-urban movement. It concentrates on movement though (as opposed to movement to and from) and especially the impact of busy places on urban geography.

Among the essays most likely to interest transport historians, van Nes applies the space syntax method to Pompeii, examining aspects such as the relationship between streets and buildings. The degree to which streets are integrated into the overall urban plan can be related to indicators of economic activity such as shop counters and depth of wheel ruts, but with largely unsurprising results. Betts argues that descriptions of ancient (and other) cities concentrate too much on the visual, ignoring sounds, smells and tastes and questions such as how far particular voices or cooking smells would have carried. She proposes a series of 'multisensory maps', varying according to time of day or year.

Hartnett discusses how and why passage on urban streets was obstructed, for example, by tethered animals, shop merchandise, processions and fountains. He concludes that obstacles were ubiquitous and that although the law emphasised the elimination of nuisances, enforcement was a matter for negotiation and there were exceptions for the common good (e.g. fountains, sacred activities) and probably where the obstructor had political influence. Kaiser demonstrates that, far from the flow of vehicles being made easy, residents at Pompeii and elsewhere had the legal right to block their street to cart traffic if they chose. The larger vehicles were the most restricted. Kaiser shows that Julius Caesar's apparent banning of wheeled traffic in Rome during the daytime in fact applied only to the heaviest vehicle (the plaustrum). Oddly, this important reinterpretation is picked up in the introduction and by some of the contributors but not by others.

In a particularly interesting chapter (the only one dealing directly with transport methods), Poehler uses the location of ramps and stables to determine who owned wheeled vehicles and investigates the economics of transport. For example, almost half of all properties with ramps and stables lay within 100 metres of the city gates. Among residential properties only the largest had stables. This leads to a discussion of the household and commercial methods of transport, demonstrating that the former was worthwhile only over fairly short distances.

Stoger, employing space syntax methods, analyses the location of Ostia's scholae (or guilds), concluding that their preferred location was on the main streets, apparently to provide a high public profile and to benefit from the greater movement there. It was not clear to me that space syntax methods contributed much here. Holleran examines activities that took place within the streets of ancient Rome, noting the narrowness of the streets, the rarity of footpaths and the absence of lighting. They were 'crowded, dirty, noisy, and chaotic, with economic and social activities competing for space'. This contributed to Rome being a fragmented city of separate neighbourhoods. MacaulayLewis distinguishes between walking for transport and walking for pleasure in Rome, with particular reference to the monumental porticoes available for the latter.

Newsome distinguishes between the Forum Romanum, which was a short cut characterised by movement through, and the various imperial fora, which were more about movement to. The latter increasingly blocked routes and limited access, reflecting the growth of imperial power. Malmburg considers movement through one of the gates in Rome's Republican Wall and one in its Aurelian Wall, and examines 'edge phenomena'. These included trades involving foul smells or fire, businesses such as inns and storehouses and pilgrimage centres. Markets also tended to retreat from the city centre to the edge of town.

Other essays deal with the meaning of words relating to movement in Varro's De Lingua Latina, movement and space in Rome in Martial's Epigrams, the increasing tendency in the first century AD to have shop thresholds on the right-hand side, the location of carved game boards in the Forum Romanum and what that reveals about movement and visibility and construction traffic generated by the Arch of Septimius Severus.

This volume conveys three dominant impressions: first the crowded and often chaotic nature of the narrow city streets with their competing uses (confirming the evidence from Juvenal's Satires); secondly the importance of pedestrian, mule and packhorse traffic as opposed to vehicular traffic and thirdly the lack of priority given in cities to movement, especially movement by vehicles. Ancient historians have to work hard with their limited evidence, pinning down the precise meanings of words and patiently examining physical evidence such as wheel ruts and ramps. Although the results can seem laboured, it is worth persevering. While this volume does not offer startling conclusions, it does provide thorough examinations of a number of aspects of movement in Roman cities, substantially advancing our knowledge of how those cities worked.

Dorian Gerhold

Independent Scholar
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Author:Gerhold, Dorian
Publication:The Journal of Transport History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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