The Curia of Pompeii


On the south side of the forum of Pompeii, opposite the temple of Iupiter, we see three rectangular absidal halls that form a connection between the basilica and the Via dell Scuole. In literature these constructions are called the "administratve buildings of Pompeii". There is still a lot of discussion about their original function due to the fact that in excavating these structures all the objects that could throw any light on threir function have been removed. Archaeologists tend to determine these function from a typological study of the building rather than from a contextual study based on the inventory of objects found in a room or - as in this case - building. In consequence we must try to identify these buildings on typological grounds.

The middle one is the most easy to interpret. It is preceded by a platform that served as tribunal for the magistrate who wanted to speak to the people. This is proven by the interruption of the collonade in front of this building, to receive a crowd attending the speach of the magistrate. The hall itself is rectangular with a rectangular niche in the centre of the end wall. Here we see a platform more than 1,90 metre high the purpose of which is not clear. Along the side walls there is a brick-faced wall 1,60 metre high, with rectangular projections at regular intervals. This proves that this building is the tabularium or city archive of Pompeii. The arrangement with the protruding pilasters served as a base for large wooden cabinets where the acta and tax records of the municipality could have been filed.

The building on the west side can be interpreted as the curia. Its location close to the basilica is in favour of this identification. It is a rectangular hall with an apse in the end wall. In this apse a base of 1,38 metre high was built, presumably for a statue. In front of this at floor level lies a moulded marble slab which can be seen as the place for the chairman of the assembly. On either side are three rectangular niches, into which are built projecting masonry bases, 1,20 metre high. There is only a grey-and-white marble pavement in the middle zone which proves that it was the intention to build a continuous dais along the side walls as seating place for the magisrates of the city.
This building was clearly under construction at the time of the eruption of 79 A.D. The brick construction was ready to a certain height but the decoration had not yey begun. Among the architectural elements found in the excavation there were blocks of white marble worked as cornices, a piece of moulding, a column base, a section of a column shaft and an engaged corinthian capital. Since there is found only one specimen of each it is impossible to say how this hall was intended to look like.

The function of the third (eastern) hall is not clear. Some scholars identify this building as the curia since it was the only of the three that was in use at the time of the eruption.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

F.Coarelli, Guida archeologica di Pompei, 1976
L.Richardson Jr., Pompeii, An Architectural History, Baltimore-London, 1988
P.Gros, L'architecture romaine, 1. Les monuments publics, Paris, 1996

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