Touring the Temple of Isis

The Temple of Isis in Pompeii has always been an intriguing structure for those who work in the ancient city. Not only is it a clear representation of the influx (and acceptance) of foreign gods in Rome, it also has had a distinct place in the conversation regarding euergetism, the political advancement of the sons of freedmen, and the rebuilding of the city after the earthquake in AD 62. The temple, seemingly demolished in its entirety in the earthquake, was rebuilt quickly due to the generosity of a six year old boy named Numerius Popidius Celsinus. It was among the first structures to be excavated in Pompeii, discovered in 1764.

I was recently in Pompeii doing a bit of work on graffiti, and much to my surprise, found a few in the Temple of Isis that I had somehow never noticed before. This, much like last week’s post, isn’t ancient graffiti, but instead is something more akin to early modern graffiti. The small building just to the south of the cella identified as a purgatorium (you can see the plan of the temple complex here) is still fairly well covered with the original ancient stucco work.

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The plaster has been used to record names of tourists and visitors, going back to the time the building was first excavated.

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The earliest I found was the above, J. Broom, who carved his name in 1789. The majority seem to date to the last few decades of the 1700s and the 1800s. The latest specific date I saw was 1900. Whilst the majority of the names were Anglophone (hardly a surprise considering the popularity of the Grand Tour amongst the British at that time), I was pleased to see at least one Italian had also left his mark. A man named Giuseppe (I can’t quite make out the surname), was there in 1790.

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I’ve already written about the seemingly inherent human desire to leave behind a mark (here and here), but there were a couple of other things that struck me about these particular graffiti. One is the handwriting. It is very obvious that most of these texts were written in a different era simply by the penmanship. This is particularly stunning in view of carving a name in stucco – few blocky large letters – but almost exclusively the fine cursive fonts of another century. It has the appearance of names having been signed with pen and ink rather than carved with a sharp object into a hard surface. Also, the specificity. A few people didn’t just record their names and the year, but also the month, and even the day.

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These visitors to the temple in May of 1797 (specifically on the 24th for the one on the left), used the column as their writing surface, thus limiting themselves considerably on space.

I admittedly rather like this little collection of names and dates in the Temple of Isis, despite the fact that usually I am disgusted by the addition of graffiti by modern tourists to sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum. Normally, I consider this defacement, and the destruction of irreplaceable ancient surfaces. This strikes me as particularly egregious when someone has written across a wall painting (what kind of tourist even brings a marker into the site?). Yet these texts, despite being defacement of an ancient monument, also tell a story about the site, about the history of the excavations and access, and about how Pompeii became a recognizable place in the world’s collective cultural mind. So whilst I am somewhat conflicted about their existence, finding them, searching for different years, looking at handwriting styles and names, was a few minutes of absolute joy, and a reminder of why I love doing what I do.

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Scribblers and Scholars

Last weekend I finally got around to doing one of those Oxford things that one living here should do: despite my slight tendency to vertigo I climbed the very narrow, steep and winding stairs to the top of the tower of University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Although it is believed that there has been a church in this location since Anglo-Saxon times, the current building is an assemblage of components built between the thirteenth and eighteenth century. The oldest part of the structure is the Tower, dated to 1280. Tourists (okay, and residents) climb the tower for the stunning views over the skyline of Oxford. Narrow walkways are on all four sides of the Tower, linked by small arched passageways. Within two of these corner passages, I discovered a wealth of inscribed names, initials, and dates. DSCF7643

The earliest date I found inscribed is in the above photo, 1612, carved deeply beneath a less visible 1791. An individual with the initials AR, in the upper right corner, carved his (I’m assuming) initials in 1676. The overlap of names and the wearing over time has rendered most of the scratchings fairly illegible. Whilst I have seen other churches (Gloucester Cathedral comes to mind) with graffiti inscribed by builders and craftsmen, the dates and use of the building suggest to me that the majority of these names belong to students or visitors to the university. The Tower, a few floors below this vantage point, contains the Old Library. Built in 1320, it was the first central university office and library (i.e. not college affiliated), and was used for meetings and research prior to the construction of the Bodlian Library and Divinity School, built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the latest dated inscriptions I found were from 1811, when Messrs. Stone and Godfrey carved their names, well past the time when the Tower rooms would have still been used as originally intended.

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One other aspect I found quite interesting is the obvious time and care that was taken in carving these names. Many have the letters blackened, a practice similar to using red paint as was common in Roman monumental inscriptions. In addition, a close look at the lettering indicates that on many occasions there were attempts made at style – adding serifs to the letters, creating the appearance of distinct fonts and handwritings. Compare, for example, the photo below, where both the ‘R’ and initial ‘W’ of the surname have distinct serifs, difference in thickness of the lines of the lettering, and show a replication of a monumental style of inscription. This is at odds with the penciled text beneath, clearly by a more modern hand, which lacks the same level of artistry all together.

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I have written before about that overwhelming desire people have to record their name, or leave a mark. It would appear that on some level, the students of Oxford in centuries past were no different. What is remarkable, at least to me, is that such effort went into carving the letters and attempting to make them visible and lasting. This suggests a desire for permanence that isn’t all that surprising – it is exactly the thing that has led people to write on walls – whether in Pompeii two thousand years ago, in a church tower in Oxford four hundred years ago, or on an underpass over the motorway today.

The Legacy of Venus

A number of months ago I had the chance to go to the V & A for the exhibit ‘Botticelli Reimagined.’ Whilst the exhibit as a whole was about more of the artist’s works than just Venus, both she and the similarly inspired by antiquity painting of Primavera were certainly a focal point of at least half of the collection on display. The artwork ran the gamut from Botticelli’s own paintings to modern works, fashion, dance, and performance art.

Untitled_Panorama5© Victoria & Albert Museum, London

What struck me about this collection of artwork is the enduring legacy of the image of Venus. It occurred to me that whilst I have previously written about Venus in her guise as a goddess of love in the graffiti of Pompeii, and her special role as the patron deity of Pompeii known as Venus Pompeiana, I have paid much attention to the image of Venus that was so prevalent both in antiquity and in the modern world.

The number of images (whether painting, mosaic, or statue) are far too numerous for me to catalogue here. What I am intrigued by, however, is the most recognisable form of Venus, in which she is depicted with emerging from the sea, usually from a shell, at the moment of birth. This is the image that Botticelli used in his painting, and is one that can be traced back to the walls of Pompeii.

wall-painting-in-the-house-of-venus-in-the-shell-in-pompeii-italy

In the peristyle of the eponymously named House of Venus in the Shell (II.iii.3), this is the precursor to the famous  painting of the Italian renaissance. But it isn’t the only such image that survives antiquity. A second century AD mosaic from Zeugma in Turkey depicts Venus (here as the Greek Aphrodite) in her shell, surrounded by ikhthyokentauroi (consider them the fish version of centaurs) identified as Aphros (Sea Foam) and Bythos (Sea Depths), obvious references to her birth story.

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A late third century AD wall painting from Rome, found in the lower levels of the Case Romane del Celio, also depicts Venus in her shell, surrounded by erotes in small boats.

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Of course Venus was not just depicted in painting, or by Romans, as is evidenced by this third century BC terracotta statue from Greece.

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This image of Venus has endured for thousands of years, and Botticelli was not the only painter of the modern era that choose Venus as his subject. He will probably remain, however, the most famous. I have a number of theories as to why this version of Venus is so popular – her fantastical birth, the ability to depict her nudity as she wouldn’t be fully clothed in the sea – but one of the modern interpretations I saw at the V & A may hold the key to understanding this legacy of Venus.

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David LaChapelle ‘Rebirth of Venus’ (2011)

Here, the shell has moved to the forefront, and is used to shield the viewer from the genitalia of Venus. Concha, the Latin for shellfish or mollusc, has been used as a slang or derogatory term for a woman’s vagina in numerous languages and cultures. I cannot help but wonder, if in this context, the shell depicted in the many images of Venus’s birth across the millennia hasn’t been a nod to her sexuality, her guise as the goddess of (physical) love, and in fact has little to so with her birth story per se. Perhaps this is why this version of Venus has so long been the obsession of artists.

 

Duos Annos

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It is now two years since I began my Leverhulme Trust funded project looking at social networks in Pompeii. Over the past year, my research has taken me off into a slightly different direction, particularly looking at some very specific aspects of political life in the ancient city, for which the way names are used is a fundamental component. Looking back at what I wrote to commemorate the first anniversary, I am pleasantly surprised by the increase in traffic, comments, and followers for this blog. To date, the site has been visited more than 18,000 times (more than twice the number of the first year), which is, frankly, astounding. I am sure this is in no small part due to the support of Blogging Pompeii and Napoli Unplugged, amongst others, who have frequently shared my posts, for which I am most grateful. I hope that the many people who come here continue to find my work interesting, as I certainly enjoy writing these posts.

And as such, as before, the five most popular posts published in the last year:

5. Losing my Religion (249)

4. Fools & Fakes (275)

3. Samnites in Pompeii (290)

2. Alma Tadema’s Imagined Connections (425)

1. Pompeii & Rome (441)

Losing My Religion

I recently completed an article I was invited to write for a special issue of Leidschrift that focuses entirely on Pompeii and Herculaneum. My contribution looks specifically at the connections that exist between politics and religion. In doing so however, I noticed something that rather surprised me: it is difficult to reconcile the architectural and epigraphic evidence in regards to religious activity. There is a disconnect between which gods had temples dedicated in their honour, and which had active worshipers according to written records.

This map, with temple precincts shaded grey, locates the majority of temples and religious sanctuaries, with the exception of the Temple of Venus just outside the city walls, in Regio VII and Regio VIII, in and around the Forum and the Triangular Forum.

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From W. van Andringa (2012) ‘Statues in the Temples of Pompeii: Combinations of Gods, Local Definitions of Cults, and the Memory of the City’

The temples include the aforementioned complex dedicated to Venus, as well the Capitolium dedicated to the Triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, Apollo, Isis, Aesculapius, Fortuna Augusta, Minerva/Hercules, Divus Augustus, and other small shrines and altars. The official offices of priests and priestesses (sacerdos, flamen, and pontifex) that survive in the epigraphic record are limited to only three divinities: Venus, Ceres, and the Imperial Cult. Numerous men are named as sacerdos Augusti or flamin Augusti in the texts. I have previously discussed the priestesses, primarily from the Augustan and Tiberian period, who served Ceres and Venus. The precinct of Venus is well documented, but the texts that survive naming her priestesses are either funerary in nature, or in the case of Eumachia and Mammia, survive in dedicatory inscriptions on public edifices in the Forum. Despite epigraphic evidence for Ceres, there is no known temple, at least not within the city walls. A complex containing three small temples from the suburban area of Pompeii, may contain a Temple of Ceres, but identification is based solely on the discovery of two female statues, one of which is thought to represent Ceres.

On the contrary, the Temple of Isis, which has long been considered one of the most important religious centres in Pompeii, not least because of its speedy re-building after the earthquake in AD 62, has no identifiable priest.

CIL X 846 = ILS 6367
N(umerius) Popidius N(umeri) f(ilius) Celsinus / aedem Isidis terrae motu conlapsam / a fundamento p(ecunia) s(ua) restituit hunc decuriones ob liberalitatem / cum esset annorum sex{s} ordini suo gratis adlegerunt.
‘Numerius Popidius Celsinus, son of Numerius, rebuilt the Temple of Isis from the foundations at his own expense which had collapsed from an earthquake. Because of his generosity, despite his age of six years, the decurions nominated him to the ordo without charge.’

This is one of the only surviving inscriptions found in Pompeii that actually names a temple as such. However, there is no evidence of a priest of Isis. The few other inscriptions from the temple precinct are dedicatory and say little, if anything, about Isis. For example, the plinth on which stood a statue of Isis, was inscribed with the following:

CIL X 849
L(ucius) Caecilius Phoebus posvit / l(oco) d(ato) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum).
‘Lucius Caecilius Phoebus placed (this statue). Place given by decree of the decurions.’

LRT_13700156000Whilst there might not be any evidence for those charged with the office of worshiping Isis, there are some dipinti that indicate that the goddess did have adherents.

CIL IV 787 = ILS 6420b
Cn(aeum) Helvium / Sabinum aed(ilem) Isiaci / universi rog(ant).
‘All the worshipers of Isis call for the election of Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus, aedile.’

CIL IV 3141
Isi[acis – – – ]is ubique.
‘The worshipers of Isis are everywhere.’

CIL IV 1011 = ILS 6419f
Cuspium Pansam aed(ilem) / Popidius Natalis cliens cum Isiacis rog(at).
‘Popidius Natalis, his client, with the worshipers of Isis, call for the election of Cuspius Pansa, aedile.’

That this last dipinto is commissioned by a member of the Popidii may give some indication that this family was heavily dedicated to Isis, but still fails to provide evidence for a priest. On some level, this may not be surprising. Priests of foreign – especially eastern or oriental – religions tended to live separately, often marked by distinctive clothing, shaved heads, and were not unusually foreigners themselves. Evilness aside, the characterisation of the Egyptian Arbaces in Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii wasn’t entirely unfounded. This may go some way to explaining the lack of priests in the epigraphic record.

However, that is not the case for many of the Roman gods that also have temples in the city, many of which were more prominent in terms of location and within the Pantheon of Roman religion.  Apollo, Minerva, and Aesculapius all have temples but no named priesthoods. Jupiter, independently and as part of the Capitoline triad, has two named priests, albeit one is sligtly problematic. An inscription, dated to AD 37, has Greek on one side that names Gaius Iulius Hephaistion, a priest of the community of Frigi, who made  a dedication to Jupiter Frigio. The other side contains a fragmentary Latin text:

CIL X 796
I(ovi) [O(ptimo)] M(aximo) / pro salute [C(ai) Ca]esaris Augusti / Germani[ci I]mp(eratoris) pontif(icis) max(imi) / tribunic(ia) p[ote]stat(e) consulis / [- – -]octus p(ecunia) s(ua).
‘To Jupiter Best and Greatest. For the well-being of [Gaius] Caesar Augustus Germanicus, hailed as victorious general, chief priest, holder of tribunician power, consul, [. . .]octus at his own expense.’

Because the text specifically names the priest as belonging to another town, it is a bit tenuous to claim this represents a religious office in Pompeii. Likewise, one text, also dated to the Julio-Claudian period, that survives naming a priest of both Jupiter and Mars belongs to a man who had a rather illustrious career elsewhere:

CIL X 797 = ILS 5004
Sp(urius) Turranius L(uci) f(ilius) Sp(uri) n(epos) L(uci) pron(epos) Fab(ia) / Proculus Gellianus praef(ectus) fabr(um) II pra<i>f(ectus) curatorum alvei / Tiberis pra<i>f(ectus) pro pr(aetore) i(ure) d(icundo) in urbe Lavinio / pater patratus populi Laurentis foederis / ex libris Sib<u>llinis percutiendi cum p(opulo) R(omano) / sacrorum principiorum p(opuli) R(omani) Quirit(ium) nominis/que Latini qua<i> apud Laurentis coluntur flam(en) / Dialis flam(en) Martial(is) salius pra<i>sul augur pont(ifex) / pra<i>f(ectus) cohort(is) Ga<i>tul(orum) tr(ibunus) mil(itum) leg(ionis) X / loc(us) d(atus) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum).
Spurius Turranius Proculus Gellianus, son of Lucius, grandson of Spurius, great-grandson of Lucius, of the Fabian tribe; staff officer twice; prefect of the curators of the Tiber channel; prefect with the powers of a praetor in charge of jurisdiction in the city of Lavinium; father of the deputation of the Laurentine people in charge of concluding the treaty with the Roman people in accordance with the Sibylline books, which relates to the rites concerned with the origins of the Roman people, the Quirites, and of the people of the Latin name, which are observed among the Laurentines; priest of Jupiter; priest of Mars; leading member of the Salii priesthood; augur and pontiff; prefect of the Gaetulian cohort; military tribune of the tenth legion (dedicated this) place by  decree of the decurions.’

One further example exists naming a flamen of Mars, but like Ceres, there is no known Temple.

CIL IV 879 = ILS 6364
M(arco) Lucretio flam(ini) Martis decuri//oni / Pompei[s].
‘To Marcus Lucretius, flamen of Mars, decurion of Pompeii.’

As the only two texts that name Mars consist of a man who had a long career elsewhere and a graffito, the worship of the war god in Pompeii remains somewhat speculative.

Overall, the evidence for religious activity in Pompeii is simultaneously abundant and scarce. There are ample architectural remains by means of temples, the city’s walls are covered with images of gods and goddesses in a mythological context, but the epigraphic record does not reflect the kind of religious activity one would expect. What strikes me as a potential solution to this paradox is evidence I have thus far overlooked, but is perhaps far more prevalent than the large public temples or official offices of priesthoods. The most visible form of religious activity is on a much smaller, localised scale – that of the household, street and neighbourhood shrines dedicated to the lares and genius of individual families and vici. It is here that the daily worship of Pompeians can be seen, but that is a post for another day.

Ianuarius the First

Today marks the first day not only of the new year, but also of a new month. January, thought to be named for the Roman god Ianus (or more commonly in English, Janus), was the god of transitions, beginnings and endings, and thus was worshiped at the start or end of new years, new months, wars, harvests, marriages, and other times when a change occurred. He was depicted with two faces, one facing towards the past, and one the future.

janus_viennaRepublican coin depicting Ianus, c. 225-212 BC
(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien)

Although there is some confusion about how exactly he was worshiped and how this evolved over time, Ianus was an important deity in the Roman pantheon. Whilst he had his own temple in Rome (the doors of which were closed during times of peace and open during war), there is little evidence for his worship in Pompeii. However, the name itself, Ianuarius (and of course, the feminine version Ianuaria), is found in abundance in both lapidary and non-lapidary inscriptions.  As per usual, many of the graffiti contain nothing more than a single name, so it is impossible to glean much information about either the status of the individual or the family he or she belongs to. But a number of the more formal texts, a few examples of which are contained herein, are more telling.

CIL X 1063 = ILS 5724
Thermae / M(arci) Crassi Frugi / aqua marina et baln(ea) / aqua dulci Ianuarius l(ibertus).
Baths of Marcus Crassus Frugus with seawater and baths with freshwater. Ianuarius, freedman.

These private baths have never been positively identified archaeologically, but the information in the re-used inscription found elsewhere in the city does indicate the baths were managed by the owner’s freedman, and due to the use of seawater, has been posited to be close to the coastline.

CIL X 1027  = ILS 6379
N(umerio) Istacidio Heleno / pag(ano) pag(i) Aug(usti) / N(umerio) Istacidio Ianuario / Mesoniae Satullae. In agro / pedes XV in fronte <p>edes XV.
To Numerius Istacidius Helenus, member of the pagus Augustus, to Numerius Istacidius Ianuarius, to Mesonia Satulla. Depth fifteen feet, fifteen feet in front.

This funerary epitaph, located on a relatively modest tomb outside of the Porta di Ercolano (21S), is believed to have belonged to a group of freedmen of the Istacidii family, who had their own, considerably more elaborate, tomb closer to the city gate (4AS). Although none of the individuals named here, including our eponymous Ianuarius, provide filiation, the membership in the pagus Augustus is one that is exclusively found for other former slaves in Pompeii.

Near another tomb (39AN), on the opposite side of the road, a columella was discovered which bore the following inscription:

CIL X 1022
Lucceia Ianuaria.
Lucceia Ianuaria.

 This tomb is typically identified as belonging to a man named Lucius Ceius Labeoni. If we follow Roman naming conventions for women, the name should be a feminised version of Ceius. What we have instead, in addition to the name Ianuaria, seems a conjunction of the names Lucius and Ceius. This in itself is rather odd, and combined with Ianuaria, may suggest she too is a freedwoman.

In the necropolis at the Porta di Nocera, a very young slave boy is found, both in the titular epitaph of the tomb of Lucius Barbidius Communis (15ES) and on a columella within:

D’Ambrosio and De Caro 1983: 15ES
L(ucius) Barbidius L(uci) l(iberti) / Communis mag(ister) / Pag(i) Aug(usti) Fel(icis) Suburb(ani), sibi et / Pithiae P(ubli) l(ibertae) Rufillae uxori, / Vitali et Ianuario l(iberis).
Lucius Barbidius Communis, freedman of Lucius, magistrate of the pagus Augustus Felix Suburbanus, [made this] for himself and Pithia Rufilla, freedwoman of Publius, his wife, [as well as] Vitalius and Ianuarius, children.

 D’Ambrosio and De Caro 1983: 15ES, n. 11
Ianuarius / v(ixit) a(nnis) II.
Ianuarius lived two years.

There is some disagreement amongst scholars as to whether or not the ‘l’ in the last line of the initial text should be expand as I have it here as liberis or liberti, meaning freedman. However, as both these are in fact children (Vitalius died at the age of three), and have only a single name, it is perfectly clear that they were still in fact slaves at the time of their deaths. There is one further columella of a slave, found some distance from the city, in the Fondo Santilli area.

NSA 1916: 303
Ianuarius / vix(it) an(nos) XXXV.
Ianuarius lived thirty five years.

 Again, we have a single name, indicating the enslaved status of the deceased. There is one final example, from a columella found in the same burial area, which seemingly negates the idea that this is a name used by those of servile origins.

ILS 7663 = AE 1894: 147
Laturnia / Ianuaria Calcaria / vix(it) ann(os) XXXXV.
Laturnia Ianuaria Calcaria lived forty five years.

Whilst it is not unheard of for a woman to have three names, it is a bit unusual in the time from which these burials seem to date and in Pompeii as a whole. One clue may come in the description of the lettering on this columella, which is described as ‘careless’. As there is no evidence for Ianuarius as a gens, it would appear that this text either contains a mistake, or this woman, likely a freedwoman, was given two names when she was a slave.

What I find interesting is that, save the one somewhat suspect example, those who have this name are either slaves or of servile origin, and whilst it certainly is not unusual to find a specific name that is associated with a particular group, I am curious as to what it was exactly about the god Ianus that was attractive as a slave name. It has been claimed that the name Ianuarius was simply given to children born in the first month of the year (in which case, with a birthday in the next few weeks, I am much relieved my parents didn’t adopt that convention), but it would seem odd that only slaves are born that month. What I am wondering, though it is unlikely to be provable, is if some slaves were born with their fate already decided. Was a name derived from the god of transitions and new beginnings assigned to those who their owner one day intended to free?

This may assume far more forethought regarding manumission and slavery than the Romans should be credited with, but it is an idea I find quite attractive at the start of a new year, facing my own transitions, and setting off on a different path. It is sentimental, I admit, but somehow reassuring to think that as you moved through life, you knew, simply from having the name Ianuarius, that someday, you would be given the chance to start anew.

Anniculus

I never would have realised this myself, but WordPress just kindly wished me (or rather, this blog) a happy anniversary. I find it difficult to believe that an entire year has passed since I began looking in earnest at the networks of Pompeii as visible through the epigraphic record, and find it even more surprising that I have found evidence of so many types of networks, not just in the ancient city, but in Latin literature as well (watch this space for more on that).

I have been amazed that the blog as a whole has had such a  following – this makes the thirtieth posting, and the pages have been viewed nearly six thousand times. So, in looking back at the last year of my research project and this blog, I thought I would review the top five posts, in terms of popularity. (Note: I have excluded hits for pages such as the archives, about section, and the posts containing videos from the research seminar series held at the University of Leeds earlier this year, all of which had many hundreds of views.  If you missed them, you can find them all here: The Present and Future of Vesuvian Research).

5. Vergil Abuse (96 views)

4. This time, it’s personal (106 views)

3. The Herculanenses (133 views)

2. Venus Pompeiana (149 views)

1. Pompeii and Circumstance (351 views)