National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Eric E. Poehler

Affiliation: University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Eric Poehler is Associate Professor of Classics with the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Director of Blended Learning & Digital Humanities Programs for Five Colleges, Inc.  He holds his degrees from the University of Virginia (Ph.D.) and Bemidji State University, and his fields of study are Greek and Roman archaeology, Roman urbanism and architectural history, infrastructure, archaeological theory and method, and the use of technology in archaeological research.  He is the Principal Investigator for the Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Project, and Co-director of the Pompeii Quadriporticus Project.  Professor Poehler’s current publication projects include The Traffic System of Pompeii (forthcoming, with S. Ellis, Oxford University Press), and The Quadriporticus at Pompeii (with S. Ellis, A. Emmerson, and T. Gregory, in preparation).


At Pompeii, like many Roman cities, there is a broad thoroughfare that cuts a wide and direct course across the space of the city. The via Stabiana, or via Pumpaiiana as its Oscan name might have been, runs diagonally across the middle of a southward sloping plateau jutting out from the base of Mt. Vesuvius, connecting the Porta Vesuvio to the Porta Stabia. More than dividing Pompeii roughly in two, via Stabiana cuts through the entire history of the ancient city and served witness to its development from the archaic era until its violent destruction in 79 CE. This paper takes this long-lived route as a means to delve into the evolving landscape of an ancient urban street, beginning with via Stabiana’s role within the development of Pompeii’s street network, as different grid systems grew up around and eventually incorporated it. The focus next narrows to the variety of surfaces that covered the street – the pavements made of beaten ash, lava stone, and even post-earthquake(s) debris – as well as the architectures that surrounded it, such as the curbstones that separated vehicles and pedestrians and the steeping-stones that permitted both pass unimpeded through intersections. What we know of the volume of traffic and even the particular directions these vehicles and pedestrians took are then examined, setting up a discussion of the need for street repair and the surprising manner in which the Pompeians accomplished this just before the city’s internment: by pouring molten iron and iron slag into holes in the pavements and onto its deepest ruts.

The Digital Humanities, both as a field of inquiry and as a set of practices, are changing the way we research, make arguments, and publish in the 21st century. We feel this change around us as much as we know it, with the pace of technological change materialized in the continually updating devices in our pockets. Technology is having an equally profound – though not always beneficial – impact on how Classical archaeologists do their work. This talk will explore, explain, and demystify three forms of digital archaeological practice focused on the ancient city of Pompeii that I direct or co-direct. The first is a field research project, the Pompeii Quadriporticus Project (PQP), which employed a battery of digital technologies to test the limits of non-invasive research techniques in the 21st century. Relying on the iPad as our primary research tool, the PQP analyzed more than 400 walls to build up a picture of the changes in form and in function of one of Pompeii’s largest and earliest excavated monumental buildings. If the PQP is a detailed examination of an important architectural complex, the second project, the Pompeii Bibliography and Mapping Project (PBMP), is a public research platform for the ancient city’s entire landscape. The PBMP is based on the novel combination of two primary datasets: 1.) a detailed geographical information systems map of the city, including thousands of individual features and 2.) an extensive bibliography comprising more than 18,000 references about the Pompeii and its environs. Together, the map offers a unique means to search the bibliography, by clicking on the map rather than searching by keyword.

Finally, a third project returns us to the resolution of individual wall and the paintings that attach to it, yet also remains at the scale of the entire city. The Pompeii Linked Open (PLOD) Data project is an attempt to catalog, deeply describe, and specifically locate all of the approximately 8000 wall paintings at Pompeii known from the eleven volumes of Pompei: Pitture e Mosaici. More than a catalog, however, PLOD will make it possible to search not only for a painting style, mythological figures, or decorative motifs but also to search for them by house, room (and room type), and even by the specific wall upon which they were painted. Individually, these projects display the wide range of technology now being applied to the study of an ancient city already exposed for more than 250 years. Together, these technical endeavors reveal how the exceptional detail preserved at Pompeii and the truly urban scale of its disinterment can be meaningfully combined to reveal, like never before possible, the reality of daily life in the Roman world.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:


See Eric E. Poehler's work in the American Journal of Archaeology.

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