Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Article: Painted Politics: Ambiguity as Social Strategy in First Century BC Pompeii

Painted Politics: Ambiguity as Social Strategy in First Century BC Pompeii. In Troubled Times: The Archaeology of Crisis and Recovery (Archaeopress: BAR International Series, 2012)
This paper discusses two forms of self-presentation visible in the remains of Pompeii: monumental tombs and Second Style wall painting. In both cases, scholars have attempted to use material remains to distinguish the actions of two social groups that co-existed in mid-first-century BCE Pompeii: native Pompeians and Roman colonists. Rome defeated Pompeii during the Social War (91-88 BC) and subsequently (c. 80 BC) made Pompeii a Roman colony. These events constituted a crisis for the local inhabitants, requiring a period of adjustment and adaptation, as they found ways to live alongside and share authority in their hometown with those who had, until recently, been their enemies in war. I argue that the response to this crisis is reflected in the new strategies of domestic decoration and burial practice that arose contemporaneously. Rather than emphasizing cultural differences, these displays seem to be designed to allow for multiple interpretations and group affiliations. Because the cultural origins of the people who commissioned wall paintings and tombs were left ambiguous in that period, it is unlikely that we can use this material to distinguish between the two groups archaeologically.