The Pompeii Forum Project (PFP) is studying the dynamic evolution of the Pompeii Forum and how it functioned as an urban space at each stage of its evolution, combining rigorous archaeological research and analysis with advanced technology to reappraise and challenge the 19th and 20th century interpretations. The PFP seeks to generate and publish annotated 3D models, interpretive essays, and a digital repository of the raw data that present a new, fully nuanced description and analysis of the evolution and urban function of the Forum in Pompeii from its earliest urban intimations in the 2nd century BCE to the destruction of Pompeii in CE 79. This work looks at more than the necessary (but mechanical) chronological sequence of buildings: it encompasses growth that is a product of complex, interrelated factors, such as local needs, influence from Rome, aspirations of and benefactions from local elites, innovation in architectural design, and the desire to rebuild after an earthquake.
Two questions underlie this work: (1) How did the Forum function as an urban space in each of its periods of development? (2) What were the evolutionary stages and actual dates of the phases that led to the fully developed Forum? The first question has never been addressed in any detail, but it deals with the history of urbanism and practical use of the Forum as a well-designed space, illuminating ancient Roman urbanism. The second question arises from PFP’s survey data gathered since 1994, which contradicts currently held interpretations of the site.
The PFP is currently in a publication phase. No extensive fieldwork takes place on site in this phase. Each year the Director and one or two colleagues spend one or two weeks on site to discuss evidence, check data, take additional measurements, and make architectural drawings.
Standard accounts of the architectural history of the Forum claim that its monumentalization occurred in the 2nd century BCE before the Romans conquered the city in 89 BCE. However, the PFP’s stratigraphic excavations showed that this development occurred after the arrival of the Romans. This means that the Basilica is actually a work of Roman architecture. Similarly, developments during the earliest years of the Roman Empire (27 BCE to CE 14) were far more significant than had been thought and the roles of individuals named in inscriptions can be discussed in detail as a result of new analysis.
In the seventeen years between the earthquake of CE 62 and final destruction of the city were a period of recovery and rebuilding. Traditional scholarship argues that just before the eruption, the Forum was still largely in ruins, a “builders’ yard,” and that the Pompeians had concentrated their post-earthquake efforts on restoring their houses while neglecting the urban center. This was held to be emblematic of the social and economic decline of the city. However, evidence derived from the Forum’s buildings reveals that the area was rebuilt according to a master plan whose hallmarks are a monumentalization and unification of the Forum and extensive use of marble veneer.
- John J. Dobbins - University of Virginia
- Larry F. Ball - University of Wisconsin
- James G. Cooper - Pennsylvania State University
- Kirk Martini - University of Virginia
- Ethan Gruber - American Numismatic Society
- Harrison Eiteljorg - Center for the Study of Architecture
- Pennsylvania State University
- University of Virginia
- University of Wisconsin
- National Endowment for the Humanities
- Private donors
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