1. Introduction

More than two centuries of continued excavations at Pompeii have produced mountains of research on the full range of Roman urban space: from the art and archaeology of impressive temples, fora, theatres and gymnasia, to the streets, brothels, shops, workshops, and houses humble and haughty. Multiple and complex sets of data survive in published and unpublished records, in print, digital and online formats, and include all manner of text, pictures and maps in articles, books, theses, and catalogues. Successive generations of archaeologists have mined and cultivated these data for varying purposes and with mixed success. In this article I demonstrate some of the hazards in utilising, without scrutinising, data born from the combination of multiple studies. To do so, I take as a case study the interpretation of certain building types at Pompeii, in particular the retail outlets, to show how the labels and typologies attached to them have misdirected their study. All too frequently these generated labels and types at Pompeii have been considered primary data. To compound the problem further, these 'data' have subsequently been used to map the occurrences of such establishments throughout Pompeii, using GIS (albeit in its most basic form). This review serves equally, therefore, as a caveat for the misuse of interpretation as primary data, and demonstrates some of the misleading conclusions that can be drawn from the perpetuation of that misinformation. This article also offers an alternate approach to the surviving remains of Pompeii's retail outlets, one that emphasises a return to the use of the primary archaeological data - the actual 'legacy data'. It also incorporates a more judicious use of the available research - from the earliest hand-written records of the excavations, to the most recently generated AutoCAD map of the city. The aim is to (re)identify Pompeii's retail outlets, and to sort them into their various structural and functional types, to illustrate how a revised assessment of the archaeological remains, as well as of previous research and legacy data, can contribute toward a more complete understanding of the Pompeian retail industry.

Throughout this article I refer to a number of establishments at Pompeii by their conventional label that is drawn from their address within the city (for example, VI.1.17 or I.2.18-19 or V.1.1/32). The labelling system follows the traditional model first established in the 1850s by Giuseppe Fiorelli. The first upper case Roman numeral refers to one of the nine regions of the city; the second Arabic number refers to the insula (the city block); and the third Arabic number/sequence of numbers refers to the door/s onto the street. These door numbers are arranged either clockwise or anti-clockwise along the insula. The third number is sometimes replaced with a letter if the property has not been completely excavated (for example V.2.b).

Basic archaeological and bibliographic information on (most of) these properties can be found in Eschebach and Müller-Trollius (1993), and Ellis (2005). While plans are included for several of the (good examples of) properties discussed in this article, plans for the others can also be found in Ellis (2005), or digitally on the CD included with Dobbins and Foss 2007.


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Last updated: Mon Jun 30 2008