Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
Where humans gather, so does garbage. This truism applied to the ancient world as it does to the modern, but the waste management systems of Roman cities remain under-explored. Work on the topic has tended to fall into one of two camps, with the first emphasizing the unsanitary picture presented by Roman literary sources and the second stressing the legal mechanisms that moved waste out of the city center and into the suburbs. Clearly, archaeology has much to add to the debate. This paper presents evidence from recent excavations at Pompeii, including those I have conducted myself as part of the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia (directed by Steven Ellis of the University of Cincinnati). I argue that, regardless of any legal interventions, garbage was an unavoidable part of Pompeian life. It covered streets, clogged drains, piled in gardens, and filled shallow pits inside inhabited rooms. Outside the city, it formed large mounds alongside the fortification walls. These suburban garbage mounds, however, do not seem to have functioned like modern landfills, corralling waste in areas far removed from normal life. Instead, they developed in the busiest areas of the suburb, which could serve as staging grounds for processes of recycling and reuse. Indeed, the recent excavations show the extent of such reuse to be far greater than has been imagined in the past. Studying waste, therefore, reflects not only on Pompeii’s sanitation, but also illuminates essential patterns of its economic and social life.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:
Jansen, G., A.O. Koloski-Ostrow, and E.M. Moorman, eds. 2011. Roman Toilets. Leuven: Peeters.
Liebeschuetz, W. 2000. “Rubbish Disposal in Greek and Roman Cities.” In Sordes Urbis: La Eliminación de residuos en la ciudad romana., edited by X. Dupré i Raventós and J.A. Remolà Vallverdú, 51-61. Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider.
Scobie, A. 1986. “Slums, Sanitation, and Mortality in the Roman World.” Klio 68: 399-433.