Tulane University's Pompeii I.14 Project seeks not simply to illuminate an overlooked corner of the ancient city, but to build an understanding of how ancient cities functioned both within and beyond their walls. Located on the southeastern side of Pompeii just inside the gate known as the Porta Nocera, Region I Insula (city block) 14 has the potential to answer a series of questions related to the earliest history of the city, its development through time, its economy and infrastructure, and its relationship with neighboring cities as well as peripheral settlements within the territory of Pompeii. To pursue these questions, the excavation will focus especially on the southern part of the insula and the building at Entrances 1/11–14 (full address: I.14.1/11–14). This building was not fully cleared of volcanic material until the 1990s and has received little attention in the past 30 years. At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, it consisted of a complex arrangement of shops, dining rooms, decorated as well as plain interior rooms, and an ample garden that remains entirely unexplored.
Regarding the earliest development of Pompeii, the zone of the (later) Porta Nocera likely was the primary entrance to the settlement from the south during its initial phases. The hills to the south of the gate create a natural route through swamps and towards the Sarno River, and (limited) prior work in the area has revealed material dating back to the Bronze Age. We expect our excavation, located only 100 meters from the wall, to reveal new insight into the earliest centuries of life at Pompeii. Despite a growth in stratigraphic excavation at the site since the 1990s, the prehistoric development of the city remains obscured, attested by rare and scattered evidence. By targeting these earliest phases, we hope to add further clarity to the story of the city's establishment.
Moving forward in time, past work on the southeastern side of the city has suggested that Regions I and II were established during the third or second centuries BCE as a series of rowhouses that gradually changed form over the centuries of Pompeii's life. Our project will explore this theory by integrating excavation data with a full architectural survey of the standing walls of block I.14. Reconstructing the area's architectural history will allow us to understand when the buildings were constructed and how they changed through time. We also will examine the forces that influenced their development up to the eruption, for example, the introduction of the Roman colony at Pompeii, the construction of the city’s largest public entertainment buildings—the amphitheater and the Grand Palaestra—less than 50 m. to the east, and the urban boom of the early Imperial period.
The building at I.14.1/11–14 often is considered to have been a house in 79 CE, but its architecture more strongly indicates commercial activities, with shops, a large garden, and both interior and exterior dining rooms. Any residential function probably was secondary to the intensive economic exploitation of the space. While such structures might seem to indicate "lower class" activity, these were more likely part of the investment portfolios of the social and economic elite. Considering the building within its topographic context, our excavation will proceed with an eye towards the interrelationships of social classes at Pompeii, and how they might have changed through time. We aim also to better understand the urban infrastructure that surrounded such spaces. We are especially interested in systems of waste management and recycling, but study as well the organization of market gardens, the engineering of drainage and water storage systems, and even the management of human waste through toilets and cesspits.
Finally, we seek to look beyond this single urban block to consider the insights it provides on the city as a whole, and indeed, beyond it. With its dense arrangement of interior and exterior dining rooms, the building at I.14.1/11–14 is strikingly similar to commerical dining establishments— i.e., restaurants—found outside the wall at the site known as Murecine, located ca. 1 km south of the ancient city. The presence of restaurants both on the southern side of the city and in the southern suburbs suggests a connection to traffic in this area, also the most likely location for Pompeii's celebrated port, which served its entire region. With the examples outside the wall now covered by modern structures and so unavailable for study, a careful examination of the chronology and development of the building at I.14.1/11–14 can clarify connections between such buildings and offer new understandings of how Pompeii operated together with its suburbs and port to create an essential node within a broad urban network.