National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Allison L.C. Emmerson

Affiliation: Tulane University

Allison L.C. Emmerson is Associate Professor in Classical Studies at Tulane University, and holds her degrees from the University of Cincinnati (Ph.D. and M.A.) and Denison University. A Roman archaeologist and director of the Pompeii I.14 excavation, she studies cities, and is especially drawn to “marginal” areas and activities like waste management and the treatment of the dead. Her first book, Life and Death in the Roman Suburb (OUP 2020) received the AIA’s James R. Wiseman Book Award, and her ongoing work involves publishing the results of excavations at Pompeii and Isthmia, Greece. She is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome (FAAR ’19) and of the American Council of Learned Societies (F’18).


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.

The Roman city was a bounded space, surrounded by barriers both physical and conceptual. Fortification walls, natural features, the edges of orthogonal grids, and religious borders like the pomerium all worked together to distinguish the urban from the non-urban, to define the city versus everything beyond it. The dead made up one of the primary groups regulated by such boundaries. From the codification of Rome’s earliest law code, the Twelve Tables, in the fifth c. BCE, the dead were banned from the city proper and their tombs restricted to the zone outside it. Nevertheless, from the first century BCE Roman cities across the Italian peninsula began to develop suburbs, densely urbanized neighborhoods located beyond their traditional urban boundaries. Here, houses and shops, workshops and sanctuaries, rubbish dumps and major public buildings jostled cheek-to-jowl with the tombs of the dead, which grew increasingly monumental in the same period. This lecture examines the suburbs of Roman Italy as a historical phenomenon, calling on recent archaeological evidence to reconstruct these neighborhoods, which effectively urbanized the dead and tied them into patterns of daily life. Considering the factors that led to the development of suburbs, I argue that tombs were key; these were not simply passive memorials, but active spaces that both facilitated and furthered the social and economic life of the city.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Patterson, J.R. 2000. “On the Margins of the City of Rome.” In Death and Disease in the Ancient City, edited by V.M. Hope and E. Marshall, 85-103. London: Routledge.

Purcell, N. 1987. “Tomb and Suburb.” In Römische Gräberstraßen: Selbstdarstellung—Status—Standard, edited by H. von Hesberg and P. Zanker, 25-41. Munich: Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Witcher, R. E. 2013. “(Sub)urban Surroundings.” In The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Rome, edited by P. Erdkamp, 205-226. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The Tropaeum Traiani — a monumental Roman trophy dedicated by Trajan on the edge of the empire in modern Adamclisi, Romania — can be numbered among the most controversial monuments of the Roman world. Since its first systematic publication in the 19th c., debates have raged especially fiercely over the meaning of its military reliefs, which were carved in a representational and schematic style more typical of Late Antique than High Imperial art. This lecture introduces the enigmatic monument and the many debates it has inspired. Contextualizing the trophy with its closest relative, the Column of Trajan in Rome, as well as with earlier and later Roman victory monuments, I argue that its style is not an outlier for the period; rather, it is the first in a larger series of military-themed works to utilize a schematic style. The style would grow in popularity through the wars of the second and third centuries to become standard in Late Roman and Byzantine Art. I also propose novel directions for considering the trophy’s location and intended audience, examining its scenes not as warnings to an unruly population, as has been the traditional interpretation, but as messages of hope for Trajan’s new provinces.

Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Cooley, A. 2012. “Commemorating the War Dead of the Roman World.” In Cultures of Commemoration: War Memorials, Ancient and Modern, edited by P. Low, G. Oliver, and P.J. Rhodes, 61-86. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ferris, I. 2003. “The Hanged Men Dance: Barbarians in Trajanic Art. In Roman Imperialism and Provincial Art, edited by S. Scott and J. Webster, 53-68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Poulter, A. G. 1986. “The Lower Moesian Limes and the Dacian Wars of Trajan.” Studien zu den Militärgrenzen Roms 3: 519-528.


See Allison L.C. Emmerson's work in the American Journal of Archaeology.

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