A Changing Defense

Pompeii City Walls

Roman Impetus for the Evolution of Pompeian Fortification   

Walls and fortifications express the pressures at work on an area, and Pompeii is no exception. Defenses are indicators of external and internal influence, and at Pompeii there was no more influential force than Rome. In the city's history prior to the Social War, the expansion of the fortifications reflected Roman presence acting on Pompeii first as an ally, then as a threat. Both of these means of external influence resulted in the strengthening of Pompeii's fortifications, despite being opposite types of pressure. Once the Romans colonized the city in 80 BCE, the pressures became internal and the fortifications were weakened, literally and metaphorically Pompeii was established as a walled town long before the Roman influence expanded to the area; pottery analysis indicates the first walls around the city were builtin the first half of the sixth century (all dates B.C.E.unless otherwise noted).

The firstwall ran along the "tactical ridge", the lava terrace surrounding the plateau on which the city stands. Subsequent walls would more or less trace this same path, especially in the northwest and southeast corners of the city; remains of the original wall have been found at Porta Nocera, Porta Vesuvio, Porta Ercolano, and beneath the Tower of Mercury.

As these remains are always associated with later defensive construction, the path of Pompeii's walls displays an exceptional degree of continuity over time. This should notbe particularly surprising, as the lava escarpment surrounding the plateau provides an excellent natural defense, and an obvious border on which to set a fortification. Though the first wall was established around the same time as the town itself, and theoretically enclosed the full 160-acre area that would be walled for the rest of the city's life, the total area was certainly not entirely urban.

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Author: Benjamin Jones

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Keywords: Fortifications,Roman,City Walls,Pompeii,Italy


Benjamin Jones

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