The city walls of Pompeii : perceptions and expressions of a monumental boundary




Van der Graaff, Ivo

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Fortifications often represent the largest and most extensive remains present on archaeological sites. Their massive scale is the primary reason for their survival and reflects the considerable resources that communities invested in their construction. Yet, until recently, they have largely remained underrepresented as monuments in studies on the ancient city. Beyond their defensive function city walls constituted an essential psychological boundary protecting communities from unpredictable elements including war, brigandage, and more elusive natural forces. These factors have led scholars to identify fortifications as playing a distinct role in the definition of a civic identity. Nevertheless, beyond the recognition of some general trends, a definitive diachronic study of their performance within a single urban matrix is still lacking. This dissertation examines the city walls of Pompeii as an active monument rather than a static defensive enclosure. The city preserves one of the most intact set of defenses surviving since antiquity which, in various shapes and forms, served as one its defining elements for over 600 years. Pompeii’s fortifications, through construction techniques, materials, and embellishments, engaged in an explicit architectural dialogue with the city, its urban development, and material culture. Their basic framework changed in response to military developments, but their appearance is also the result of specific political and ideological choices. As a result, the city walls carried aesthetic and ideological associations reflecting the social and political organization of the community. This study is the first of its kind. It provides a diachronic examination of the Pompeian fortifications by assessing their role in the social and architectural definition of the city. The walls were subject to appropriation and change in unison with the ambitions of the citizens of Pompeii. From their original construction through subsequent modifications, the fortifications expressed multivalent political, religious, and social meanings, particular to specific time periods in Pompeii. This analysis reveals a monument in continuous flux that changed its ideological meaning and relationship to civic identity, in response to the major historical and social developments affecting the city.



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