Dr. Damian Robinson

70 robinsonDr. Robinson is a classical archaeologist with research interests both on land and underwater.  His doctoral research examined the social and economic topography of ancient Pompeii.  He co-directed a fourteen year-long archaeological project and field school in Pompeii which, starting in 1994, excavated beneath the AD 79 ground level of Regio VI, Insula 1 in order to investigate and study the process of urbanization in that area.  He is now assisting in the publication of this research.  In 2004 he was appointed to a Junior Lectureship in Classical Archaeology and elected to a William Golding Fellowship at Brasenose College at the University of Oxford.  In 2006 he became the Director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology with research and teaching interests in ancient maritime societies.  He now works in Egypt on the submerged Iron Age/Hellenistic port of Thonis-Heracleion where he is excavating a ship dating to the 5th Century BC.

The Elite House and Commercial Life along the Via dell’Abbondanza (page 3 of 3)


The Via dell’Abbondanza is studded with the doorways into some of Pompeii’s largest and most architecturally and decoratively lavish properties. The House of the Wild Boar, which has been used in this brief sketch is simply one of the first that we come to as we travel eastwards along the road away from the forum.  Another prominent example close to the Sarno Gate, shown here, is the House of D. Octavius Quartio (II, ii, 2) and its associated commercial spaces.  730 II-2-2 with shops dFor most of these properties the exact social status of their inhabitants is unknown, but it is extremely likely that the urban elite v. freedman dichotomy presented here is a greatly simplified picture of a complicated reality. In their book ‘Pompeii the living city’ Butterworth and Laurence paint an evocative picture of the final years of urban life in which power was held by a spectrum of rich people.[1] There were members of what we might think of as a traditional curial aristocracy, through the new men, descendants of freedmen made good, to the rich freedmen themselves. Such a picture is entirely in keeping with epigraphical studies of social mobility in the Vesuvian cities, which dramatically demonstrate the fluidity of the social order.[2] What is suggested however by looking at rich houses together with their associated economic properties is simply that the search for economic capital was something that would have been familiar to all sectors of the what was probably a very varied ‘urban elite’. This group of householders appear to conform to a core set of money making ideals that is neatly described in the manuals of the Roman agronomists and as such we must conclude that although Cicero may have decried petty urban trade as sordid, this did not mean that he avoided doing it and neither did the Pompeian urban elite who lived along the Via dell’Abbondanza or elsewhere in the city.


[1]   Butterworth and Laurence 2005

[2]   Mouritsen 2001



Andreau, J. (1999) Banking and Business in the Roman World. Cambridge.

Butterworth, A. and Laurence, R. (2005) Pompeii: The living city. London.

Cotton, M. A. and Métraux, G. P. R. (1985) The San Rocco Villa at Francolise. Rome.

Garnsey, P. (1998) Cities, Peasants and Food in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge.

Griffin, M. T. and Atkins, E. M. (1991) Cicero On Duties. Cambridge.

Maiuri, A. (1958) Ercolano. I novi scavi. 2 vols. Rome.

Maiuri, A. (1960) Pompeii. Novara.

Mouritsen, H. (2001) ‘Roman freedmen and the urban economy: Pompeii in the first century AD’ in F. Senatore (ed.) Pompei tra Sorrento e Sarno – Atti del terzo e quarto ciclo di conferenze di geologica, storia e archeologia. Pompei, gennaio 1999 – maggio 2000. Roma, 1-27.

Parkins, H. (1995) Aspects of the Economic Organisation of the Roman Household during the Late Republic and Early Principate. PhD. thesis. University of Leicester.

Purcell, N. (1995) ‘The Roman villa and the landscape of production’ in T. J. Cornell and K. Lomas (eds.) Urban Society in Roman Italy. London, 151-179.

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