Research on the forum of Pompeii

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Valentin Kockel
Assessment of Structural Remains: Dipl. Ing. Rainer Zahn; Dr.–Ing. Klaus Müller
Funding for this project has generously been provided by the University of Augsburg (2003), the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the 'Committee for the Study of the Ancient City' of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences (since 2004) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (2009 onwards).


Project aims

In any Roman city, the forum served as showcase reflecting its perceived identity: it contained the focal point of religious life in the form of the most important temple, local dignitaries displayed their liberalitas by means of public gifts and benefactions – often in the form of public buildings – and were honoured in their turn, often through the dedication of statues. This applies to Pompeii as much as any other city – its forum, too, directly reflects the change in urban character from the late republic to the early Empire through the frequent self-portrayal of local elites that gradually gives way to an ever-increasing number of shrines and buildings related to the Imperial Cult. Recent research regarding the structures around the forum, as well as the pavement of the forum itself, however, showed that there is a substantial amount of information regarding this development that has not been utilised to date. While there are several indicators implying both continuity and changes in the course of modifications in the organisation of this public space, as well as damage and repairs following the earthquake of AD 62, neither these – nor others regarding the actual state of the forum at its time of destruction – have been evaluated to date. Since its conception in 2002, the project initially focussed on a stone-by-stone documentation of the square in order to provide a basis for the formulation of further research questions. In addition to this first stage, the project has since been extended to include a study of honorific arches in and around the forum, as well as excavations in the southern colonnade and the so-called civic buildings to the south of the forum. As such, this research will provide a significantly more differentiated understanding of the complicated developments that led to the formation of the forum of Pompeii as we know it today.


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Past Research

The earliest plans of the Forum were produced during the initial excavations that ended c. 1820. They clearly indicate various colonnades, the travertine pavement of the excavated area and several bases for different types of statue that were visible at the time. As so often in Pompeii, it is August Mau who provided one of the most detailed analyses of the situation as found today. He pointed out that there is a clear change in the composition and distribution of statues across the forum, a change he saw as the result of a redesign of the public space in order to emphasize the role and presence of the ruling Julio-Claudian dynasty. S. Cozzi's work on the canalisation beneath the forum, as well as the work of A. Sogliano and A.W. van Buren, and not least of all the excavations of A. Maiuri during the 1930s added further data to that gained from the standing remains alone. All of this research, finally, formed the basis for the analyses by P. Zanker and, following in his footsteps, J. Bergemann, which dominate current understanding of the history and development of this public space. The cartographic basis for these studies, however, remained relatively unchanged with only minor modifications to specific details. In recent years, J.J. Dobbins and his team conducted a large-scale research programme that focussed on the Forum; the results of this work, presented in several publications over the years, have been summarised in his recent monograph entitled 'The World of Pompeii'.

August Mau, Die Statuen des Forums von Pompeji, Römische Mitteilungen 11, 1896, 150 - 156.
Salvatore Cozzi, La fognatura di Pompei, NSc 1900, 587-599.
Antonio Sogliano, Il Foro di Pompei, Memorie della Reale Accademia dei Lincei Ser, VI, 1, 1925.
Amedeo Maiuri, Saggi nel area del Foro, Notizie degli Scavi 1942, 371-404.
Paul Zanker, Pompeji. Stadtbild und Wohngeschmack (Mainz 1995) passim.
J. Bergemann, Römische Reiterstatuen (Mainz 1990) 16ff. 91ff.
J. J. Dobbins, The Forum and its Dependencies, in: J. J. Dobbins - P. Foss (Hrsg.), The world of Pompeii (London 2007) 150-183.



The Forum-Pavement and Colonnades (since 2003)

Fig. 4

Participants: Prof. Dr. Valentin Kockel (Director); Dipl.Ing. Rainer Zahn (Assessment of structural remains); Stefanie Bauer; Matthias Niederzoll; Emmanuel Gießen; Denis Stante.

This part of the project was funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation and the 'Committee for the Study of the Ancient City' of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.

Following initial observations regarding changes to the open area of the forum in 2002, a cooperation with the GBVD Müllheim ( led to a full photogrammetric documentation of the entire forum pavement at a scale of 1:50. Evaluation of this data showed traces of several monuments that had been moved or removed at different points in time (such as before or after the earthquake of AD 62, or following the destruction of AD 79). These included further equestrian statues, clear indicators of the location of a nother big monumente (equestrian?) in front of the Capitol as well as traces of three fountains. Numerous traces of repairs to the pavement itself have been placed in connection with damage from the earthquake. Study of the colonnades in particular led to several observations that refined our view of their character and statuary. Outside the basilica, for example, we identified several traces of statue-bases. Similar, indicators of previously unknown bases were also identified outside the so-called comitium. In both the latter part of the forum and the southern colonnade we found evidence for temporary barriers. This is a vivid reminder that such colonnades could be subdivided on important occasions such as elections or trials, in order to limit access to certain areas or channel crowds. Such temporary barriers can also be identified on the famous depictions of the forum from the praedia of Iulia Felix.


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Valentin Kockel, Altes und Neues vom Forum und vom Gebäude der Eumachia in Pompeji, in: P. Zanker - R. Neudecker (eds.), Lebenswelten. Bilder und Räume in der römischen Stadt der Kaiserzeit, Symposium Rom 2002, Palilia 16 (2005) 51-72.

Work on the southern colonnade of the forum in October 2004 led to the discovery of the original rear wall of this colonnade. This wall had originally been observed at its link with the vestibule (so-called chalcidicum) of the basilica by K.F. Ohr and H. Lauter. Our observations, however, clearly showed the continuation of its course and led to further theories regarding the original design of the southern part of the forum and its transition into the "civic buildings" located in this area.


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Work from 2006 – 2009

In view of the above results, this research project was extended in order to include more detailed work on the honorific arches in the forum and its environs, as well as small-scale excavations in the southern part of the forum. The latter were designed to provide a fuller understanding of the history and development of the pre-Roman and Roman city in this area.


Honorific Arches in Pompeii

In 2006, a team under the direction of Prof. Ringle from Karlsruhe completed the photogrammetric documentation of all preserved honorific arches. From February 2007 onwards, the architectural historian Dr.-Ing. Klaus Müller secured a grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation that enabled him to evaluate, verify and extend the data from these studies. The precise mapping of fixing holes that originally held marble facings, for example, facilitates the first accurate reconstruction of the original appearance of these arches. The data gathered from the arches situated to the East of the Capitol (Fig. 12) is of particular interest in this respect, as its asymmetrical plan results from its position on top of the wall that originally surrounded the forum. The evaluation of data shows not only that this arch must have been constructed after the AD 62 earthquake, but also that it subsequently underwent one or several changes to its design. This revises the current understanding of both the date and identification of the arch entirely. Dr. Müller's research was completed during the Spring campaign 2009.


abb12_s abb13_s
Fig. 12 Fig. 13



Excavations in the southern part of the forum

This part of the project is funded by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and, since 2009, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Participants: Prof. Dr. Valentin Kockel (Director); Dr. Manuel Flecker (Field-Director); Dr. Christoph Rummel; Dr.-Ing. Klaus Müller; Stefanie Bauer; Michael Becht; Marcel Danner; Daniela Deplano; Anna Finkbeiner; Veronika Füssl; Judith Grinbold; Alexander Koch; Anna Marx; Matthias Nieberle; Dirk Kirstein; Sarah Schneider; Daniela Sigl; Denis Stante.

During excavation campaigns in February/March 2007-2009, we were able to open several trenches in the southern and south-eastern colonnades of the forum. While the excavated areas had frequently been disturbed through earlier, undocumented trenches (e.g. by A. Maiuri) or several phases of modern electrical cables, our excavations nonetheless produced several new insights with regard to the planning, development and overall spatial conception of the southern part of the forum. There can be no doubt, for example, that the façade of the basilica (the so-called chalcidicum), as well as the old southern delineating wall of the forum itself, were both constructed towards the end of the 2nd century BC (see Fig. 13, showing the foundation of the earlier wall). Further south ran an earlier cobbled street, following the extension of the vico di Championnet. The area of the later 'Civic Buildings', also described as curiae, was taken up by private houses. Towards the end of the 1st century BC the southern wall of the forum was dismantled and replaced by brick columns, thereby creating the double colonnade that is still visible today. The cobbled road and the earlier domus appear to have been abandoned at the same point in time. The area they occupied was now used to construct the predecessor structures of the still standing 'civic buildings'. This meant that the public space of the forum was extended significantly towards the south. We were able to identify traces of several structural changes and repairs that appear to date to the period after the AD 62 earthquake. At the time of the city's destruction in AD 79, a deep ditch ran along the tufa colonnade. This was not covered, as we discovered it filled with lapilli from the volcanic eruption. It appears probable that this ditch was excavated to hold a new water conduit or similar. The area outside the so-called comitium, on the other hand, followed a very different line of development. As outside the Eumachia Building further north, a series of tabernae lay in front of this structure. These were abandoned when the first colonnade was built in this area.

The finds from our excavations will, for the first time, produce secure stratigraphic dates for the different phases of development outlined above. As excavations are ongoing, this will enable us to produce the first overview of the spatial development of the southern part of the forum that is based on concrete archaeological data. This, in turn, will form an ideal basis for a correlation of an architectural and a functional history of this part of the forum of Pompeii.

A further excavation season is currently planned for 2010. This will primarily investigate the 'civic buildings' in the southern part of the forum.


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Fig. 16


Valentin Kockel – Manuel Flecker, Forschungen im Südteil des Forums von Pompeji. Ein Vorbericht über die Arbeitskampagnen 2007 und 2008. Römische Mitteilungen 114, 2008 (forthcoming).