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  • Necropoli di Porta Nola
  • Pompei
  • Pompei
  • Italy
  • Campania
  • Naples
  • Pompei

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Monuments

Periods

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Chronology

  • 500 BC - 400 AD

Season

    • The research project at the necropolis of Porta Nola aims to throw new light on the historical, urban, and cultural development of Pompeii, with a particular focus on how people lived and were buried. The necropolis offers an extraordinary opportunity to study the rituals of the death and to interpret the gestures and funeral customs of the privileged classes, as well as of the lower classes, including Pretorian soldiers, poor people and slaves who were also buried at the necropolis. The first phase of the project begun with a pilot season in order to draw together all the available existing information (bibliographical, archival), as well as compiling a photogrammetric and laser scan data model of the area, and undertaking a detailed geophysical survey in order to better understand the sub-surface. In particular, the GPR survey recorded a series of small, rounded, aligned anomalies located at approximately 1 metre below the current ground level at the centre of the triangular wedge formed by the walls that closed the anonymous schola tomb. These may cautiously be interpreted as funerary urns. Indeed, their shape, alignment and measurements appear to represent a series of ollae, the vases usually used in the Imperial period for the deposition of funerary ashes. The GPR survey also revealed many interesting anomalies in the area of the Tomb of Obellius Firmus. Subsequenty to this survey, surface clearance (including the removal of vegation) in the area and inside the tomb of Obellius led to a surprising discovery. Whilst the tomb was excavated by De Caro in 1979, the methodological cleaning of the interior of Obellius’ tomb revealed a small mound artificially built up in a corner of the tomb, which included many fragments of burned human bone, perhaps attributable to Obellius himself, as well as decorated bone with traces of burning, which belonged to the funeral bed on which was placed the body on the pyre. This cleaning revealed that the tomb still remains to be fully excavated, with the possibility of discovering more about the funerary practice. Excavation permission will be sort in the future following the pilot season.
    • In 2012, following the pilot field season conducted at the necropolis of Porta Nola in 2010 and a subsequent study season, the research focused upon the investigation of the casts of fugitives discovered in 1975 near the necropolis outside Porta Nola. The study involved the direct examination of the visible bones through the plaster and the use of a laser scanner and x-ray machine to record the external and interior morphology of the casts. A detailed examination of the physical anthropology of the individuals preserved in the casts had not previously been undertaken, yet these casts are the most humane archaeological remains of Pompeii, and in their interior preserve the best anthropologic material to better understand the inhabitants of Pompeii. The anthropological analysis has consisted of the reconstruction of bodies, an estimation of sex and age, a morphological examination to know the biological proximity and pathological identification. The radiological study provided important data concerning the decomposition of the corpse, the estimation of the age and pathologies. Indeed a particular influence of artropatologies as well as traumatic diseases that concern the extremities and the vertebral column were noted. These diseases are particularly interesting for estimating age and the kind of physical activity the individual undertook, which perhaps was related to social status. Severe osteoarthrosis in the articulation of knee is a key indication hard physical activity. The 3D scanning of the bodies permitted an estimation of the real volume of corpse and the recording of all details of the subject from different angles and perspectives. In addition, the virtual representation of the individual allows anthropological measurements to be made of anatomical components, as well as the obtaining of an exact model of the original, which when the cast is broken allows the separated parts to be reconstructed allowing the recreation of the original aspect of the individual.
    • The first season of excavation and conservation at the necropolis of Porta Nola focused on three areas which had been surveyed during an earlier pilot season. The aim was to investigate a cross-section of burial types, from the elite tomb of Obellius Firmus to the poorer burials known to have been placed alongside the city wall. The Tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus: The tomb of Obellius Firmus was first excavated in 1976, during which time one burial was identified together with a marble headstone and a blue glass cinerary urn. The tomb is square in plan, closed on all sides with a lower indent on the top of the rear wall, presumably to allow access by a ladder. The marble inscription on the front pediment records that he was an aedile and duovir under the reign of Nero, and that for his funeral the decurions gave the place of burial and five thousand sesterces. The 2015 excavation season discovered of a further cremation burial inside the tomb. The ceramic vessel was accompanied by grave goods including a coin (dating between AD 66-69), which together provide new information about the continued use of the tomb. The excavation inside the tomb also recovered hundreds of fragments of burnt worked bone, used to decorate the funerary bed. These fragments included representations of wings and forms of vegetation, some of which were covered in gold leaf. An integral aspect of the project is the conservation and restoration of the funerary monuments at the necropolis of Porta Nola. In 2015, conservators from the Department of Conservation at the Museum of Prehistory Valencia, under the direction of Dr Trinidad Pasies, began work on the consolidation of the plaster and decorated stucco of the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The second area of the necropolis investigated by the project in 2015 was the anonymous schola type tomb, opposite the tomb of Aesquilia Polla in front of the Nolan Gate. The monument was first cleared in 1907-1908 and has been traditionally described as belonging to a priestess of Ceres, on the basis of the relief representing a basket with sheaves of wheat. The project began a process of clearing the accumulation of soil that had built up along the Via Nola in order to re-expose the tomb. Excavation inside the monument in front of the benches revealed a thick layer of floor preparation for the pavement which has since disappeared. In contrast to the monumental elite tombs of Obellius Firmus and Aesquilia Polla, the third area of excavation focused upon a series of inscriptions of Greek names carved into the city wall east of the Nolan Gate towards Tower VII. Traditionally, these have been interpreted as grave markers, possibly of poorer members of society as the area immediately outside the city walls was public land belonging to the pomerium, the sacred limit of the city. Excavations in the late 19th century recovered 36 cremation urns, although it is not clear how these may have related to these inscriptions. The 2015 excavations explored a 15 metre stretch alongside the city wall and the initial findings have revealed a different picture, suggesting a more structured burial area and a level of wealth amongst the deceased. Whilst many of the burial urns had been removed, their positions could still be recorded due to the pits that had been dug for their placement. The excavation discovered a far more complex necropolis, with more burials than inscriptions. Whilst some of these inscriptions may have been lost over time, the excavation revealed a built structure with a wall and floor surface that defined a regular funerary area alongside the city wall. The earlier investigations had failed to identity all the cremations as several more were discovered in 2015. Of particular interest was a cremation urn in which had been placed the burnt coin collected from the funerary pyre. Elsewhere, other funerary goods, such as small ceramic _unguentarium_ were also recovered after being missed by the 19th century excavations. All these indicate that the burials along the city wall date to the late Republican – Early Imperial period. Finally a later burial was also discovered which cut through the funerary structure. The grave, covered and lined with fragments of amphora, was of a young infant, aged between 3 and 6 months. A further part of the project is the study of the fifteen casts made of the victims of the AD 79 eruption discovered in the late 19th century and mid-1970s near the tomb of Obellius Firmus. The analytical study of the casts, conducted alongside the work of the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia, has allowed the determination of the age, sex, pathologies and activities of the individuals. Furthermore, the anthropological data, together with photogrammetry, x-ray analysis and 3D reconstruction has allowed the reconstruction of the original positions at the moment of death.
    • The 2016 season at the Necropolis of Porta Nola (Pompeii) continued the research into various aspects of the necropolis, primarily through a series of targeted excavations, but also through material analysis, conservation and the study of cremations, in particular of two Praetorian guards excavated in 1970s. Following the excavations in 2015 of the tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus, an anonymous schola type tomb and the burials alongside the city wall (between Porta Nola and Tower VII), the focus of the 2016 season was a rectangular structure opposite Porta Nola and the area to the north and west of the tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus. The low rectangular structure alongside the schola type tomb of Aesquillia Polla measures 6.4m by 6.39m and was cleared of the AD 79 eruption layers in 1908. The early excavation found no trace of any burials and instead recorded a large dump of mixed material. This led the excavators (led by Giovanni Spano) to conclude that the structure may have been a funerary garden associated to the schola-type tomb of Aesquillia Polla and consequently they laid out a formal garden inside the monument. Subsequently there has been continued debate concerning its function including its interpretation as a small tomb garden, a bustum, burial area or that the structure was simply never used in antiquity. Therefore the aim of the new excavations was to try to clarify the purpose of this structure as it occupies a prominent position opposite Porta Nola. Following the removal of layers dating to the previous exploration of the structure, the excavation revealed several large deposits of construction material, used to artificially raise the ground level beneath the building. Whilst a floor level was identified by the new excavations (at a greater depth than Spano’s excavation) similarly to the earlier work no cremations were recorded within the structure, perhaps suggesting that the construction was chronologically quite late and was not used before the eruption of AD 79. The excavation of an area immediately to the north and west of the tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus followed the 2015 excavation inside the monument. The aim of the new excavations was to try to contextualise the stratigraphy within and below the tomb, as well as understand the role of a tufa wall built 5 m to the north of the tomb. The wall was initially exposed by the excavations of 1908 and was interpreted as demarcating the pomerium of the city. This hypothesis was later challenged following the discovery of a gateway in the wall and a beaten-earth road leading from the basalt road that runs around the city. The structures were interpreted as possibly forming part of the pagus set aside for the tomb of Obellius Firmus, one of the most powerful families in Pompeii at the time of the AD 79 eruption. Following the clearance of a shallow level of topsoil and some lapilli, a series of deposits were recorded which contained the clearance of material from inside an ustrinum, including fragments of a funerary bed, ash and charcoal. Furthermore, immediately to the north of the tomb of Obellius Firmus, at a depth of 0.77m, an ustrinum cut into the ground was discovered. To the west of the tomb a further stretch of a beaten-earth road was exposed which led from the basalt road through the small gateway. The initial study of the stratigraphy of the area appears to indicate that the area underwent a substantial reorganisation after AD 62. The analysis of the cremations within the necropolis of Porta Nola focused upon the burials of two Praetorian guards which had been discovered by the excavations in the 1970s but which were not subject osteological analysis. The first of these was the burial of Lucius Betutius, as revealed by the funerary stela, which recorded his rank as a praetorian soldier of the II cohort for which he served for two years, corresponding to an age of 22. The anthropological analysis of the cremated bones confirmed that he was a robust man, aged about 20 years. The morphology of the pubic symphysis and the femoral head verified the data provided by the inscription. The second cremation corresponded to an individual whose funerary stela records only that he served as praetorian for eleven years. The anthropological study revealed an older individual aged about 30 years. Due to his mature age and the physical activity during his eleven years of service some of his bones showed pathological characteristics, such as the formation of enthesiophytes in the pelvis. This may have been caused by the micro-trauma of repetition action, and it is interesting to note that this is a pathology which often affects archers in modern times. Finally the conservation work continued at the necropolis with the cleaning of the interior of the tomb of Obellius Firmus and the consolidation and conservation of the artefacts recorded by the excavations.
    • The 2017 excavation season at the necropolis of Porta Nola focused on two areas: the burials of Praetorians identified during the 1970’s clearance of the AD 79 eruption layers and the area immediately north of the tomb of Obellius Firmus, between the rear wall of the tomb and a tufa wall, perhaps delimiting the funerary area, 5 m to the north. The 2016 excavation had identified a shallow cut (0.79 x 0.5 x 0.2m) filled with ash, charcoal and small fragments of human bone which lay on the edge of the excavation trench. This area was fully explored in 2017 with the aim of both understanding the nature of the deposit and to better understand the chronology of the stratigraphy in this area, as results from the previous season had indicated an artificial build-up of this area. The shallow cut appears to have been the result of the cleaning of an _ustrinum_, but also within the deposit was recovered a lamp illustrating Ganymede with Zeus disguised as an eagle. The excavation behind the tomb of Obellio Firmo was revealed a further two cremation burials. The first lay 0.5m to the north (beside and underneath a modern metal roof post and concrete base at the north-west corner of the tomb of Obellio Firmo), the cut of which was defined a fill of large pieces of tufa. The coarse ware cremation urn was covered by an upturned vessel as well as a lid with a thick layer of lime or chalk. The second cremation burial was placed directly against the northern foundation of the tomb of Obellio Firmo, suggesting a later date for the burial to that of Obellio Firmo. The anthropological study of the cremations will be underneath during a study season in 2018. The second area investigated lies on the slope opposite the tomb of _Obellius Firmus_ to the south of the road that follows the line of the city wall. During clearance of the area in the mid-1970s a row of marble columellae were identified (and subsequently removed), three of which had the names of Praetorinas ( _Sex.Caesernius Montanus, L. Manilius Saturninus_ and _L. Betutius Niger_ ) and one broken, with only the line ‘Annos XI’. The aim of the 2017 excavation was to relocate the positions of these burial markers and to recover the associated cremations. The tomb of _Betutius Niger_ was the only burial to previously be fully investigated and from which two cremation urns had been recovered, one perhaps belonging to an earlier burial. The new excavations located a further cremation in a burial cut 0.30m to the south of the tomb of _Betutius_. The new burial was in a deep cut filled with ash, burnt human bone, the point of an amphora and a lamp decorated with a dancing satyr (dating approximately to the Tiberian period). The three further tombs to the west of _Betutius_ where the columellae had been removed were also relocated and examination of the cremations will be undertaken during the 2018 study season.

Bibliography

    • L. Alapont, R. Albiach, S. Kay, 2014, Proyecto de investigación en arqueología de la muerte necrópolis y fugitivos de Porta Nola, Pompeya (Italia), in La Revista, 28, 20-22.
    • L. Alapont, R. Albiach, S. Kay, 2015, Investigating the archaeology of death at Pompeii: The necropolis and fugitives of Porta Nola, Epistula X, 10-11.
    • L. Alapont, R. Albiach, S. Kay, 2016, Pompeii: New Excavations at the Necropolis of Porta Nola’, Epistula XII, 8-9.
    • S. Kay, L. Alapont, R. Albiach, L. Ceccarelli, C. Panzieri, 2016 Pompeii: Porta Nola Necropolis Project (Comune di Pompei, Provincia di Napoli, Regione Campania), in Papers of the British School at Rome 84, 325-329.
    • S. Kay, L. Alapont, R. Albiach, 2017, R. Pompeii: Porta Nola Necropolis Project (Comune di Pompei, Provincia di Napoli, Regione Campania), in Papers of the British School at Rome 85, 324-329.
    • Ll Alapont, 2010, El Proyecto de Formación de Arqueología Funerari Romana en Pompeya. La Revista Nº18. Revista del CDL de Valencia y Castellón. Valencia.
    • Ll. Alapont, L. Pedroni, 2011, The project “Via di Nola” in Pompeii: new results. 15th Symposium on Mediterranean Archaeology. Pietro Militello - Hakan Oniz (eds.) Catania University, Sicily.
    • Ll Alapont, L. Pedroni, 2014, Morire a Pompei: la tomba di Obellio Firmo e i fuggitivi di Porta Nola. XVIII CIAC: Centro y periferia en el Mundo Clásico / Centre and periphery in the ancient world S. 10. Las necrópolis y los monumentos funerarios en Grecia y Roma Necropolises and funerary monuments in Greece and Rome. Mérida.
    • Ll. Alapont, 2014, The Tomb of Obellius Firmus and the Necropolis of Porta Nola at Pompeii. An Archaeology of Gesture: Performing Rituals, Sharing Emotions. RAC/TRAC, The 11th Roman Archaeology Conference The 24th Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference. University of Reading