Understanding, designing and creating maps: a workshop on new software in archaeology

Earlier this year, Research Fellow Maria del Carmen Moreno, who joins us at the BSR this year from the University of Southampton to carry out research on the port system of imperial Rome, generously offered to share her expertise on new software being used in archaeology. Here she reflects on the workshop which she organised and conducted, and on the role this software has to play in this field of study.

My name is Maria del Carmen Moreno, and I am a postdoctoral researcher working at the British School at Rome. I am a specialist in Roman Archaeology and Landscape Archaeology, and as such, I am very familiar with the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I believe the introduction of this tool in Archaeology has generated a bit of a “revolution” that is just starting to be acknowledged and incorporated into the discipline of Roman Archaeology, since it allows the user to manage and analyse vast amounts of data based on their distribution over the landscape. But every journey begins with a single step, and regarding GIS, that step consists of understanding what GIS is and its possibilities, and (then) getting hands-on with a computer to create a first map.

After several conversations with some residents at the British School at Rome, it became clear that tools of this kind generate interest and curiosity amongst scholars and artists alike, and so I thought of ways to showcase not only the possibilities of GIS, but also to demonstrate that, despite its complexity, GIS shouldn’t be considered a scary piece of software only understood by some, but as a very useful tool accessible to any person with an interest in this topic. I therefore decided to organise a workshop, entitled “Introduction to Geographic Information Systems in Humanities” at the British School at Rome for those interested in the topic.

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The day came, and an audience of residents (both scholars and artists) and some colleagues from other institutions and international academies in Rome were introduced to many different topics. To name just a few, we explored the definition of GIS and advantages of its use not only in Humanities but in many other disciplines and areas of research, and the diverse ways into which the curved surface of the Earth has been organised and represented through coordinate systems, as well as the numerous possibilities of commercial and open-source software available nowadays. Lively exchanges of opinions developed throughout the morning and early afternoon, especially when we discussed the process of map design and the consequences of choosing one geographic projection over another (which may introduce diverse degrees of distortion on the length and area of regions, countries, and continents alike, as some assistants discovered then).

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The site of Portus. Photo by Maria del Carmen Moreno.

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The site of Isola Sacra. Photo by Maria del Carmen Moreno.

We also went into the computing side of GIS, where we could think of ways in which real phenomena are represented and stored as geographic digital data, thus establishing the differences between vector and raster formats and the possibilities they offer for GIS users. Most importantly, I introduced some ideas about metadata and strategies for digital archiving, a fundamental concern when dealing with digital data in order to allow its description and reuse by researchers in the future. Finally, a tutorial on the creation of maps in ArcGIS (developed specifically for this workshop) was distributed amongst the assistants, in order to enable them to create their own maps. And thus, the session finished.

As a little reflection, I believe it was a very interesting workshop where the diversity of approaches and perceptions of the geographic space held and discussed by the assistants become the very central point of the session, allowing all of us to think and reflect on space, territories and landscapes in more diverse and creative ways.

As a final note, I would like to thank the assistance and the collaboration of the British School at Rome in the organisation and celebration of this workshop. Without them, this initiative wouldn’t have been possible.


Maria del Carmen Moreno (Research Fellow, BSR)

Lucus Feroniae: a new survey of the archaic sanctuary and Roman colony

Lucus Feroniae with Alice James - Sophie Hay

This spring has seen the completion of a large scale geophysical survey of the site of Lucus Feroniae, 30km to the north of Rome. Working together with the Sopintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per l’area metropolitana di Roma, la provincia di Viterbo e l’Etruria meridionale (with special thanks to Dott.ssa Alfonsina Russo and Dott. Gianfranco Gazzetti) the BSR and University of Southampton have investigated the important sanctuary and town with both magnetometry and Ground-Penetrating Radar.

Lucus Feroniae - Sophie Hay

Following its discovery in the early 1950s, subsequent excavations focused around the central area of the forum, temple and amphitheatre, together with the excavation in 1961 of the close by Villa dei Volusii Saturnini. Whilst the routes of the major thoroughfares, the Via Tiberina and Via Capenate, have been traced, the full extent of the city has never been fully mapped.

Lucus Feroniae

The survey, the preliminary results of which were presented at the UCL and Soprintendenza workshop held at the BSR last November , will be presented at a conference in May hosted by the Museum of Nepi (Director Dott. Stefano Francocci). Building upon the newly published volume Lucus Feroniae: il santuario, la città, il territorio the results of the survey reveal that this was a small town, perhaps serving as an administrative centre, but which was focused around the sanctuary. The results of the survey, which complement the findings of the earlier Roman Towns Project, will shortly be published in PBSR.

Stephen Kay (Archaeology Officer)

Photos by Sophie Hay (Geophysics Officer)

The British School beyond Rome: finding Trajan in Benevento

amy-russellAmy Russell is Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at Durham, and is spending the autumn of 2016 as a Research Fellow of the British School at Rome as part of her AHRC-funded project Senatorial Monuments: a new approach to the social dynamics of ideology formation in the Roman empire. Here Amy tells us about ‘seeing [her] own sites through new eyes’ during a three-day research trip to Benevento with fellow BSR residents.

‘One of my favourite parts of spending time at the BSR, whether as a Research Fellow, award-holder or regular visitor, has always been the chance to immerse myself in other visitors’ research and practice. The interdisciplinary interaction we have every day over tea or dinner constantly opens my mind to new possibilities and new research directions. Often, one colleague’s site or gallery visit ends up becoming a group trip, and we get the chance to see something we never would have known to look for. And seeing my own sites through new eyes is even better!

A group of award-holders and I took this philosophy to the extreme this past week, as they agreed to come with me on a three-day research trip to Benevento. The core of the trip was the Arch of Trajan, which features in my current project on monuments built by the imperial Senate, but we added on visits to museums and churches in Naples, other sites in Benevento, and the Reggia di Caserta.

 

Our trip started and ended with Hercules: the two statues of the weary hero from the Baths of Caracalla, originally displayed next to each other, both entered the Farnese and then the Bourbon collections but were then separated, with the more famous of the two ending up in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale at Naples and the other at the foot of the great staircase at Caserta. A Monday conversation with Jana Schuster [Giles Worsley Rome Fellow] about how it might feel to come across the Naples example while walking naked through the baths was complemented by a debate on Wednesday about which one is better, and what the visual impact of seeing them both together might have been.

 

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Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Arthur Westwell.

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Detail of Arch of Trajan, Benevento. Photo by Amy Russell.

In Benevento, all eyes were on the arch, a monument to Trajan’s reconstruction of the Via Appia. It was the road that gave Benevento its importance in the imperial period, as it brought countless travellers through on the way from Rome to Brundisium and the east. I counted senators until the light went and climbed up on bollards in undignified fashion (Arthur Westwell [Pilkington Rome Awardee], always dignified, helped) to check whether they were wearing appropriately senatorial shoes; Maria del Carmen Moreno Escobar, our Portus Project representative, was excited to find a representation of Trajan founding Portus – note the anchor.

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Photo by Jana Schuster

This is not me climbing the arch, but a slightly more dignified scramble to give a sense of the lengths ancient historians will go to to investigate spolia… It wasn’t all ancient in Benevento. The town was a Lombard capital from the sixth to the eleventh centuries, enjoying (some of the time) a remarkably peaceful existence which has resulted in some fantastic surviving early mediaeval architecture.

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Photo by Jana Schuster

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Photo by Serena Alessi

Arthur and I might have exhausted the patience of less doughty companions with our transports of joy over the eccentric eighth-century Santa Sofia. Jana Schuster’s eye for building phases helped us reconstruct the fate of some of the vaulting, but the plan, which is part-radial, part-axial, and part star-shaped, gave us plenty to work with on imaginative reconstructions of Lombard liturgy and movement through the building. Meanwhile, modernist Stefano Bragato [Rome Awardee] was quietly gathering information, and impressed us later by calmly laying out the phasing of a late mediaeval wall we passed on the way to dinner.

 

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Photo by Amy Russell

He and Serena Alessi [Rome Fellow] found something closer by a few centuries to their own research when we visited another of Benevento’s hidden secrets, a 1992 sculpture garden by the Italian artist Mimmo Paladino. As if he knew that our little interdisciplinary group was coming, Paladino based his garden on the mediaeval monastic concept of the hortus conclusus, a hidden sanctuary for thought and reflection.

 

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Photo by Arthur Westwell

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Photo by Serena Alessi

There was plenty more crammed into the three days, from the mixture of Egyptian and Roman faux-Egyptian sculpture from Domitian’s temple to Isis at Benevento to the glorious English Garden at Caserta, where guests get a peek at the bathing Aphrodite (just after being warned by a gory fountain sculpture of Diana and Actaeon that spying on goddesses rarely ends well). The trip left us tired but intellectually refreshed: I could say the same of the whole of my time here at the BSR’.

 

 

A week in the life of a BSR award-holder

Living in such a culturally and historically rich city as Rome means that a wealth of opportunities are on offer, and our award-holders and residents have been making the most of this! Numerous excursions, gallery tours and conferences are attended each week, and here we take a look at the ‘extra-curricular’ activities of a typical week at the BSR.

All of our residents were invited to the opening of the Japanese House exhibition at the MAXXI last Tuesday, which runs until late February 2017, after which it will move to the Barbican Centre and then on to the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. The exhibition featured a series of photographs and models exploring the development of postwar domestic architecture in Japan.

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Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Opening of the ‘Japanese House’ exhibition. Photo credit: Jana Schuster

Back at the BSR: as part of the research for her AHRC Leadership Fellowship, Amy Russell, 2009-10 Ralegh Radford Rome Scholar and current BSR Research Fellow, gave a fantastic lecture on the imperial senate and the way in which it interacted with both the emperor and the city. Joining us from slightly further afield, yesterday evening’s guest speaker William Gudenrath (Corning Museum of Glass, New York) gave a talk on the history of glasswork and the glassblower from early Roman antiquity through to its ‘golden age’ in the Renaissance.

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Amy Russell on ‘The imperial senate and the city of Rome’. Photo credit: Arthur Westwell

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William Gudenrath discusses different glassblowing techniques. Photo credit: Stephen Kay

These lectures will soon be available to watch again on YouTube, and you can always find out more about our upcoming events on our website.

As always, both lectures were followed by a lively question-and-answer session, with the discussions continuing in the atrium for a rinfresco and cena speciale.

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Discussion and rinfresco following a talk. Photo credit: Antonio Palmieri

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BSR tiramisù ready for a cena speciale!

The great wealth of history and art in Rome means that our residents have the chance to demonstrate their expertise on a huge range of topics. Last Thursday, our current Henry Moore Foundation–BSR Fellow in Sculpture, Simon Barker, led a trip to Tarquinia to see the stunning Etruscan tombs. Simon enlightened the group with his extensive knowledge of the Etruscan period, and the artists gave their perspectives on the styles and techniques of the artefacts and tomb paintings.

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Detail of one of the painted Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

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Wandering through the National Archaeological Museum of Tarquinia. Photo by Ellie Johnson.

Friday saw our award-holders take on stone carving for the first time. Led by sculptor Peter Barstow Rockwell, each person was given a slab of stone to work on and instructed on how to work the material. Everyone returned exhausted from the effort of the carving, but had a fantastic time in the process!

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

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Photo credit: Jana Schuster

On Sunday 13 November 2016, Jacopo Benci (Senior Research Fellow in Modern Studies and Contemporary Visual Culture) organised and participated in an informal roundtable on women and artistic practice at  Centro Studi DARPS (Donne Arte Pensiero Società), where the five women artists currently in residence at the BSR (Kelly Best, Maria de Lima, Maria Farrar, Catherine Parsonage and Vivien Zhang) discussed with Marica Croce Caldarulo (director of DARPS), Serena Alessi (literary critic and women’s studies scholar; BSR Rome Fellow, Oct 2016-June 2017), Lucrezia Cippitelli (art critic; lecturer in Aesthetics, Florence Academy of Fine Arts; lecturer in Art Theories, University of Addis Ababa); Costanza Mazzonis (contemporary art consultant, Sotheby’s Italy), and Marina Micangeli Sanfelice (entrepreneur).

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Enjoying some burrata at the DARPS event

One of the many perks of being a BSR resident is the access to sites that are usually closed to the public. Today marked a particularly special trip: Cary Fellow Robert Coates-Stephens led a visit to the Casa Bellezza, a series of fantastically preserved frescoed rooms from the late Republican era which sit underneath a 1930s structure which was the home of conductor Vincenzo Bellezza.

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Photo credit: Vivien Zhang

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Photo credit: Maria Farrar

Just another week at the BSR!

Ellie Johnson (Administrative Assistant (Communications and Events))

40 years on from the excavations at San Giovanni di Ruoti

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‘Alastair Small (Rome Scholar 1965-7) began work near the small village of San Giovanni di Ruoti in Basilicata (ancient Lucania) in the 1970s with Robert Buck, and with the encouragement of Dinu Adamesteanu, the great superintendent of the region. The local historian Gerardo Salinardi had drawn attention to the potential of the site, then accessible only by mule. The excavation from 1977 to 1984 revealed a stunning villa site, occupying a beautiful position looking down the Valley of the Fiumara di Avigliano, towards the ever receding hills.

The site produced splendid late Roman mosaic floors (now in the museum at Muro Lucano), and had its own bath building. It was on two floors, with a large absidal building, and perhaps the most significant aspect is its continuity. There appears to have been an early phase which began around the time of Augustus and continued just into the third century, but when the villa sparks back into life in around 300 it continues into the mid-seventh century.

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Site tour with Alastair and Carola Small.

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Life was not entirely ordered – the disused areas show extraordinary amounts of rubbish and animal remains – but at the same time, San Giovanni di Ruoti remained connected, especially to Adriatic trade.

 

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Alastair speaking at the presentation of the new volume La villa romana e tardoantica di San Giovanni di Ruoti (Basilicata). Una sintesi.

Alastair returned earlier this month to San Giovanni for the presentation of a synthesis of the excavation, produced with Francesco Tarlano.  The volume, La villa romana e tardoantica di San Giovanni di Ruoti (Basilicata). Una sintesi (published superbly by Pisani Teodosio Edizioni) is a sharp, clear and well-illustrated account of this important villa site, summarising work published in the more imposing Phoenix supplements which experts will know (two more volumes are due).

I was privileged to be part of the event, and it was yet another illustration of the passion Italians have for their heritage. Alastair and Carola Small, indefatigable as ever, were at the heart of everything – a tour round the site with an eager audience, talks in the evening in a packed hall; and many memories.  This was a dig which had engaged a community, and archive photos of the 1970s team were eagerly scrutinized for friends and relatives. Some of the Canadian team came too – husband and wife Eric Haldenby and Rosemary Aicher, who met at Ruoti, and Joann Freed who worked on the pottery.  Luisa Troiano, who had moved to America in the 1960s, and whose generosity made the whole project possible, gave a gracious speech and was cheered to the rafters. Everything was managed impeccably by Felice Faraone, whose idea it had all been.

The following day, Alastair, Carola and I travelled to Muro Lucano to see the mosaics and the other treasures of this super museum, directed by Salvatore Pagliuca, who has created a little gem, with a stunning sixth-century grave from Baragiano to gladden my heart.

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Salvatore Pagliuca with a group at the Muro Museum.

I stayed in the aptly named and very lovely Dimora di Bacco, where Luigi Nardiello and Giuseppina Matturro were bringing in the vintage from their vineyard. Much in Basilicata has not changed, and perhaps in particular its capacity to run at a different pace from the rest of Italy, just as in antiquity its cultural activity outlasted northern neighbours.  Recently, it has been in the news for its acceptance of large numbers of migrants (in late Antiquity it was the Lombards of course).  It scores extraordinarily highly in tourist satisfaction, but is far less visited than other parts of Italy; and San Giovanni di Ruoti is in need of attention – it must either be restored properly or backfilled. Basilicata goes its own way, but investment is needed.

This story can be multiplied almost endlessly – a small town, well excavated by a super team, with huge local enthusiasm, and revealing unknown treasures.  It is what makes Italian archaeology so very remarkable – it is not just a scientific process, it is also a way in which discovering the past makes new memories, creates new communities, and refocuses older ones. This story stands for the many times I have encountered the impact of archaeology in Italy, and in this instance, much is owed to the BSR’s great friend Alastair Small, for whom the affection in this local community was palpable. Bravo Alastair!’

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Christopher Smith (BSR Director)

Digging Pompeii: the 2016 summer excavations

This summer saw the second season of work by the BSR, the Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Doctores y Licenciados en Letras y Ciencias de Valencia y Castellòn. Departamento de Arqueologia and the Museo de Prehistoria e Historia de La Diputación De Valencia at the site of the necropolis of Porta Nola outside the north-eastern gate of Pompeii. Following the success last year of the discovery of a further burial inside the tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus and the excavation of cremations alongside the city wall, the 2016 season concentrated on two further areas within the necropolis.

The 2016 International Field School saw the participation of 22 students from ten different countries who over the course of five weeks were trained in excavation techniques, ceramic identification and osteology, with a focus on studying cremation burials. Alongside the team, conservators continued work begun last year on the structure of the tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus as well as conserving the objects being recovered from the site.

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Study of the cremations of two Praetorian guards. Photo by Charles Avery.

This summer’s excavation focused on the area immediately behind the tomb of Marcus Obellius Firmus in order to understand its relationship with the smaller gateway into the necropolis and understand whether it formed part of the funerary precinct or delimited the pomerium of the city. The excavation discovered a number of deposits alongside the gate resulting from the cleaning of ustrinum (the place of a funerary pyre), as well as a beaten earth road that led through the gate to the circuit road of the city. As ever with excavations, on the final day an ustrinum was discovered at the very limit of the trench, complete with burnt human bone, ash and large pieces of carbon. This will be investigated in the final season of excavation next year.

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Excavation of a vase behind the Tomb of Obellius Firmus. Photo by Stephen Kay.

Elsewhere on the site the excavation of a rectangular structure was completed, built just behind the funerary monument of Aesquillia Polla. Variously described by earlier research as a funerary precinct, garden or ustrinum, the 2016 excavation sought to understand the role of this structure, built in a prominent position opposite the Nolan Gate. Once the excavation had removed layers dating to activity of the early twentieth century, which included the burial of a dog and the loss of several terracotta smoking pipes, the work revealed large deposits of construction material used to raise the level beneath the building. However the 2016 excavation did not record any cremations, supporting the theory of a late construction that was not used before the eruption of AD 79.

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A coin of Divo Augusto issued under Tiberius (15 – 16 AD). Photo by Stephen Kay.

The Porta Nola Necropolis Project is extremely grateful for the support shown by the Soprintendenza Pompeii, in particular the Soprintendente Professor Massimo Osanna and the funzionario for the area Dott.ssa Annalisa Capurso. Permission and assistance was also kindly given by Dott.ssa Laura D’Esposito and Dott.ssa Marialaura Ladanza for the osteological study of two Praetorian burials, excavated in the mid 1970s by the Soprintendenza. In the field, the team was kindly supported by the Soprintendenza excavation assistant Sig. Vincenzo Sabini. The project is directed by Llorenç Alapont, Rosa Albiach and Stephen Kay with the support of a team of specialists: Trinidad Pasies (Conservator), Letizia Ceccarelli (Finds Officer), Ilaria Frumenti (Surveyor), Fabio Mestici (Numismatist) and Pasquale Longobardi (Health and Safety Officer). The 2016 excavations were supervised by Pedro Corredor, Tomas Jirak, Monika Koroniova, Adrià Pitarch and Sheyla Sancho. Finally, a huge thank you to all the students who participated in the excavation this year for their tremendous hard work.

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Members of the 2016 excavation team. Photo by Llorenç Alapont.

Stephen Kay (Archaeology Officer)

 

 

Glass encounters from Pompeii

In a blog originally published on the Cambridge Journals Blog Hilary Cool reflects on how she tackled the topic of her forthcoming article in Papers of the British School at Rome which is due to be published later this year.

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Counters form Gloucester, Pompeii and set into the wall of the Nymphaeum in the Casa di Augusto, Rome (Image by Hilary Cool and Mike Baxter).

‘It is always unwise to agree to do something without thinking through the consequences. My involvement with the small finds and glass vessels from the excavation of Insula VI.1 in Pompeii came from a casual encounter with the excavation team in 1999. My husband and I were having a day out to the city as part of a holiday in Naples. I returned in 2001 to produce a short report on the glass that I had been shown, calculating that it would take me a fortnight. Fifteen years later, I am just completing the rather large book on the 5000 or so identifiable objects the excavations eventually produced.

This work has had to be fitted into such free time as my work within the commercial sector of British archaeology allows. In the day-job, the research I conduct is planned and justified meticulously in advance. It is the way you get the client to fund it! The same cannot be said for my Pompeii work which, in the absence of any funding body, is free to wander into all sorts of areas. One of these is the question of what the 500 or more glass counters found were used for, and this is the subject of my forthcoming article in the Papers of the British School in Rome.

The Romans did have board games which used counters. One – ludus latrunculorum – was a game akin to chess or draughts where the aim was to win pieces from your opponent. The other game – ludus xii scripta – was played with dice and was akin to backgammon, where you aimed to play your counters off the board before your opponent did. In my home environment of Roman-Britain, most plano-convex discs of glass can be casually assigned to the recreation category. Counters like this, made of black and white glass, are a regular feature of first to second century AD assemblages and, from time to time, conveniently appear in graves with dice. They even, in one very rare occurrence, are laid out on a board ready for play.

So, when I started to encounter glass counters at Pompeii, I thought I had evidence of the sort of games that can be seen depicted in the paintings on the walls of bars in the city. In one there is an enchanting sequence where the evening of a pair of drinkers can be seen. They argue over many things, including who has won a game of xii scripta, before being banned by the barmaid for bad behaviour.

Increasingly though, the counters I was cataloguing at Pompeii didn’t seem to match what was appropriate for a gaming piece. You need to have easily differentiated sets for each player. This is what is seen in known sets from graves where normally there is a simple division between black and white counters such as ones from Gloucester which I illustrate above. The literary sources back this up. They too talk of black and white counters. My Pompeii counters, however, were all sorts of colours and different sizes. Some were a single colour, some combined different colours, and the range of shades encountered taxed even me, as a skilled glass specialist, to differentiate. These were not the sort of things that the drinkers in the bar pictures could have used with any ease, especially after several glasses of wine.

The paper describes how I disentangled which plano-convex glass discs were indeed used for gaming, and which must have been used for something else. What that something else might have been is intriguing. I suspect it is an aspect of interior decoration. There is some evidence of glass ‘counters’ in ceiling and wall decoration in Rome, but very possibly they could have decorated wooden furniture and fittings as well. Glass survives. Wood doesn’t.

The Pompeii work in its wider aspects has often challenged my preconceptions of what ‘Roman’ material culture actually is. Within Roman Britain we see a lot of changes in the mid first century AD after the conquest which we ascribe to ‘becoming Roman’. My contemporary patterns at Pompeii are different. Acquiring a working knowledge of how those Pompeian patterns relate to the rest of contemporary Italy has been an interesting challenge. My sort of work requires a considerable amount of interrogation of published sources which are frequently obscure. The discovery of the British School at Rome Library has been a godsend, and since 2012 I have been steadily mining it when I can find time to visit. I’m still not sure if I now know what ‘Roman’ material culture is, but exploring that further is another project.’

Written by Hilary Cool