Mary Beard

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Mary Beard

The At­las of An­cient Rome: Bi­og­ra­phy and Por­traits of the City edited by An­drea Caran­dini with Paolo Carafa, trans­lated from the Ital­ian by An­drew Camp­bell Halavais. Prince­ton Univer­sity Press, two vol­umes, 1,103 pp., $199.50

The an­cient Ro­man Fo­rum is one of the most frus­trat­ing tourist sites in the world. This is the spot where some of the most fa­mous events in Western his­tory took place and some of the most con­se­quen­tial de­ci­sions were made. It is where the Ro­man Se­nate de­bated how to re­spond to the threat of Han­ni­bal, where Mar­cus

Tul­lius Cicero de­nounced would-be tyrants and rad­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies, where Julius Caesar’s body was cre­mated af­ter his as­sas­si­na­tion in 44 BC, and where Mark Antony de­liv­ered the orig­i­nal ver­sion of “Friends, Ro­mans, coun­try­men.” Yet what you now see has al­most noth­ing to do with any of that. The im­pos­ing “se­nate house,” pre­served to more or less its full height thanks to its con­ver­sion into a church in the sev­enth cen­tury AD, has no con­nec­tion with the place in which Cicero held forth in the first cen­tury BC; it was com­pletely re­built al­most five hun­dred years later. The el­e­gant cir­cu­lar tem­ple of the god­dess Vesta (where the Vestal Vir­gins kept the sa­cred flame of the city per­ma­nently alight) owes more to Mus­solini’s “re­stor­ers” in the 1930s than to any an­cient Ro­man builders or ar­chi­tects. The ground sur­face is largely a con­fus­ing mass of rub­ble and ma­sonry, in­ter­spersed with equally con­fus­ing holes left by ar­chae­ol­o­gists digging down in search of the struc­tures, shrines, and buri­als that formed the first lay­ers of hu­man oc­cu­pa­tion in the city of Rome, as far back as the eighth cen­tury BC. Even the trained eye finds it hard to work out how any of this fits to­gether, or what the place would have looked like at any par­tic­u­lar pe­riod of an­tiq­uity. Most vis­i­tors walk through the Fo­rum baf­fled. Cicero would not have rec­og­nized it. What is left of the im­pe­rial palace on the Pala­tine Hill, which rises above the Fo­rum, is hardly less frus­trat­ing for the mod­ern visi­tor—and end­lessly de­bated among spe­cial­ists. For cen­turies af­ter the end of the Re­pub­lic, this vast com­plex of build­ings was the hub of Rome’s em­pire, the main res­i­dence of its em­peror, and lux­u­ri­ously equipped to match. Con­tem­po­rary po­ets—whose tal­ent for ex­ag­ger­a­tion prob­a­bly did not ex­tend to out­right in­ven­tion—de­scribed the pre­cious col­ored mar­bles im­ported from all over the Mediter­ranean lin­ing its walls, the hun­dreds of col­umns (enough to sup­port the whole world if At­las should de­cide to take a break), and the enor­mous height of the build­ing, which dwarfed even the pyra­mids of Egypt.

Not now. All that dec­o­ra­tion has long since been looted, leav­ing for the most part rough brick walls more rem­i­nis­cent of a fac­tory or ware­house than of a palace. But even more to the point than the pre­dictable loss of splen­dor is the fact that, for most of us, the site has be­come very hard to de­code. The em­per­ors’ own en­thu­si­asm for do­mes­tic im­prove­ments is largely to blame, as each suc­ces­sive mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram cov­ered over, adapted, or de­stroyed what had been there be­fore. The re­sult is that it is of­ten im­pos­si­ble to work out, among the maze of walls, ex­actly what part or pe­riod of the palace we are look­ing at, still less what went on there. That is true even in the bet­ter­p­re­served sec­tions. One of the high­lights of the Pala­tine, and a pleas­ant re­lief from all the bare brick, is a small series of at­trac­tively painted, but not ag­gres­sively lux­u­ri­ous, rooms that are said to be­long to the “House of Au­gus­tus,” the first em­peror. They al­most cer­tainly were part of that orig­i­nal “palace” (the style of the paint­ing more or less guar­an­tees the date). But how th­ese rooms fit­ted into the over­all scheme of the em­peror’s ac­com­mo­da­tion is far from clear. Did they ac­tu­ally form the main nu­cleus of his liv­ing space and pub­lic re­cep­tion ar­eas, the heart of the Au­gus­tan regime? If so, that would match the claims of his bi­og­ra­pher Sue­to­nius that Au­gus­tus lived rel­a­tively mod­estly by the stan­dards of later em­per­ors. (And there have even been some op­ti­mistic at­tempts to iden­tify a small cham­ber partly sur­viv­ing on a floor above them with the em­peror’s pri­vate study-cum-hide­away that Sue­to­nius also men­tions.)

Or were th­ese rooms only one rather or­di­nary, even lowly, part of Au­gus­tus’s very much larger and more lav­ish palace, most of it later de­stroyed, its pre­cise di­men­sions un­known? That is the more com­mon re­cent view, de­spite the an­cient as­ser­tions of Au­gus­tan mod­esty. It is rather like the prob­lem of the em­peror Nero’s “Golden House,” some of which is still pre­served un­der­ground, be­hind the mod­ern Colos­seum metro sta­tion. There is a nag­ging sus­pi­cion that many of its vast eerie cor­ri­dors and del­i­cate paint­ings, which have en­thused vis­i­tors ever since the pain­ter Raphael ex­plored them in the six­teenth cen­tury, had lit­tle to do di­rectly with Nero at all, but were ac­tu­ally part of the ser­vice quar­ters.

Some of th­ese ques­tions of “Ro­man to­pog­ra­phy”—as the sub­spe­cial­ism of clas­si­cal ar­chae­ol­ogy de­voted to the lay­out of the city is now known— can seem nar­rowly ar­cane. The ex­act route of a deeply buried an­cient street or the name of some mi­nor tem­ple may not mat­ter very much; and pin­point­ing Au­gus­tus’s pri­vate hide­away, though in­trigu­ing, is in the end no more than a cu­rios­ity. But other puz­zles and prob­lems not only de­feat tourists try­ing to make sense of th­ese sites with their guide­books (whose usual mode sim­ply adds to the con­fu­sion by pre­tend­ing that there are no prob­lems at all); they also raise some im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal is­sues. The size and style of Au­gus­tus’s “house” on the Pala­tine make a huge dif­fer­ence to how we un­der­stand the char­ac­ter of the first em­peror’s rule and his re­la­tion­ship with the tra­di­tional Ro­man aris­toc­racy whose power he had ef­fec­tively dis­placed. Did he live in con­di­tions that were more or less on a par with any other mem­ber of the Ro­man elite? Had he al­ready spon­sored a palace on a scale that far out­bid the rest of his one­time peers? Or—as the fash­ion­able view was among ar­chae­ol­o­gists thirty years ago (though al­most cer­tainly wrong)—did he live in quar­ters that were rel­a­tively mod­est in them­selves but clev­erly in­te­grated into the next-door Tem­ple of Apollo, with the ob­vi­ous im­pli­ca­tions that, what­ever his dis­dain for lux­ury, he re­ally be­longed very close to the realm of the gods? Equally, the ar­range­ment of the Fo­rum (how many peo­ple could come to­gether there, for ex­am­ple, or what pre­cisely the phys­i­cal re­la­tion­ship was be­tween the meet­ing places of the Se­nate and the as­sem­blies of or­di­nary cit­i­zens) has enor­mous bear­ing on how we un­der­stand the work­ing of Ro­man democ­racy dur­ing the Re­pub­lic.

It is partly with those big is­sues in mind, and partly from an­ti­quar­ian zeal, that ar­chae­ol­o­gists have tried for cen­turies to solve th­ese puz­zles and im­pose some order on the ap­par­ent chaos of the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains, by con­struct­ing at­lases and mod­els of the an­cient city. The de­tailed three­d­i­men­sional re­con­struc­tion in plas­ter cre­ated by Italo Gis­mondi for Mus­solini’s ex­hi­bi­tion in 1937 to cel­e­brate the two thou­sandth an­niver­sary of the birth of Au­gus­tus is still the most fa­mous such model, and con­tin­ues to be re­pro­duced on any num­ber of posters, post­cards, and fridge mag­nets, de­spite its proud Fas­cist ori­gins. (It is now housed at the Museo della Civiltà Ro­mana at EUR, though cur­rently not on dis­play while the mu­seum is closed for ren­o­va­tion.) Al­ter­na­tively, in a very dif­fer­ent for­mat, they have com­piled huge “topo­graph­i­cal dic­tio­nar­ies” that dis­cuss one by one, in alphabetical order, all the build­ings in an­cient Rome, whether they are known from phys­i­cal re­mains, lit­er­ary ref­er­ences, or both. The most com­pre­hen­sive is the mul­ti­lin­gual Lex­i­con To­po­graph­icum Ur­bis Ro­mae (Topo­graph­i­cal Dic­tionary of the City of Rome), edited by Eva Mar­gareta Steinby, which ap­peared in six vol­umes be­tween 1993 and 2000 (with five vol­umes fol­low­ing on the Subur­bium, “the Sub­urbs”). Leav­ing aside the well­known pub­lic mon­u­ments, al­most two hun­dred pages of this work, and not far short of a thousand in­di­vid­ual en­tries, are de­voted to pri­vate houses (from the “Do­mus: Mar­cus Acenna Ce­sil­lanus” to the “Do­mus: Vo­lu­sius Saturn­i­nus,” both known only from their own­ers’ names stamped onto lead pipes). That alone gives an idea of the scale of the prob­lems—or the rich­ness of the data, de­pend­ing on how you choose to look at it.


At­las of An­cient Rome, edited by An­drea Caran­dini, is the lat­est hefty ad­di­tion to th­ese topo­graph­i­cal ref­er­ence books. Now al­most eighty years old, born into the lib­eral elite (his grand­fa­ther was di­rec­tor and part owner of Cor­riere della Sera be­fore be­ing forced out by the Fas­cists; his fa­ther was am­bas­sador to Lon­don af­ter World War II and pres­i­dent of Al­i­talia) and a left­wing rad­i­cal (one­time mem­ber of the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Party), Caran­dini is one of the most dis­tin­guished and charis­matic Ital­ian ar­chae­ol­o­gists of his gen­er­a­tion, per­haps ever.

In many ways, he has been a tremen­dous force for good in ar­chae­ol­ogy and her­itage. His ex­ca­va­tions in the late 1970s of the Ro­man agri­cul­tural, slave-

op­er­ated es­tate at Set­te­finestre north of Rome have re­mained a clas­sic in the field—partly be­cause they were con­cerned more with the in­fra­struc­ture of Ro­man agri­cul­ture and so­cial re­la­tions than with the un­earthing of great works of Ro­man art—and recently he has been an in­flu­en­tial pres­i­dent of the Fondo Am­bi­ente Ital­iano (the Trust for the Ital­ian En­vi­ron­ment, more or less the equiv­a­lent of the Bri­tish Na­tional Trust), which is con­cerned with the pro­tec­tion of Italy’s nat­u­ral and artis­tic her­itage. Caran­dini’s At­las comes in two exquisitely pro­duced vol­umes, packed in a presentation box, with a ribbon thought­fully pro­vided to help the reader re­move them; like its orig­i­nal Ital­ian ver­sion, it is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily plea­sur­able book to hold and han­dle. The first vol­ume con­sists, af­ter Caran­dini’s in­tro­duc­tion, of a series of es­says by dif­fer­ent authors, many of them his col­leagues and for­mer stu­dents. Th­ese cover some gen­eral is­sues of Ro­man to­pog­ra­phy (bound­aries, roads, aque­ducts, and so on), and go on to cover, in in­di­vid­ual chap­ters, the his­tory and lay­out of each area of the city, start­ing with the Fo­rum and end­ing with what we now know as Traste­vere, on the west bank of the Tiber. The il­lus­tra­tions are many and of­ten mag­nif­i­cent, though in a few the color is mis­lead­ingly gar­ish. They in­clude de­tailed plans and pho­to­graphs of the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains, of ex­ca­va­tions in progress, and of some key ob­jects and works of art found in them—as well as a range of care­ful dig­i­tal re­con­struc­tions of in­di­vid­ual mon­u­ments and of wider ar­eas of the city (as al­ways there is a slightly san­i­tized, com­puter-game feel to some of th­ese and to the toga-clad peo­ple in­tro­duced to give scale, but that no doubt comes with the genre).

The sec­ond vol­ume con­tains over four hun­dred pages of maps, ad­di­tional re­con­struc­tions, and di­a­grams of all sorts: from il­lus­tra­tions of the ar­chi­tec­tural or­ders, or of mon­u­ments de­picted on Ro­man coins, to plans of dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the city at dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods. At first sight, it ap­pears to be the re­li­able an­swer to any­one’s con­fu­sion about the Fo­rum or Pala­tine, or in­deed about any part of the an­cient city of Rome. But it is not.

That is partly the fault of the trans­la­tion from Ital­ian into English, which lies some­where on the spec­trum be­tween awk­ward and in­com­pe­tent, and which can hardly have been at­ten­tively edited. Per­haps many read­ers will con­cen­trate on the plans and il­lus­tra­tions, which are such an im­por­tant part of the book. So much the better: be­cause as soon as they turn to the es­says, they will be as ir­ri­tated, baf­fled, and some­times se­ri­ously mis­led as those try­ing to make sense of the Fo­rum on the ground. “Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal car­tog­ra­phy, of the dig­i­tal va­ri­ety in par­tic­u­lar, is no longer seen as an ap­pen­dix to the topo­graph­i­cal lex­i­con, used merely as a link be­tween the philo­log­i­cal-arche­o­log­i­cal data and the ter­ri­tory” and “a re­formed cul­tural mind­set is a pre­con­di­tion for car­ry­ing out an arche­o­log­i­cal en­deavor” are typ­i­cally awk­ward ver­sions of Caran­dini’s flow­ery, though con­sis­tently lu­cid, prose. But there is also a series of strange coinages such as “planime­try” for the Ital­ian planime­tria, mean­ing “ground plan” (“the planime­try was re­built based on the do­mus next to it” is the trans­la­tor’s sorry sub­sti­tute for what should be “the ground plan has been re­con­structed on the ba­sis of the house next door”); not to men­tion un­help­ful “trans­la­tions” of tech­ni­cal terms (the strange “haus­pice/s” is used for the “aus­pices” or aus­pi­cia, the sys­tem of signs by which Ro­mans as­cer­tained the will of the gods) and fre­quent slips in Latin (ur­bis for urbs is only one ex­am­ple of con­fu­sion be­tween gen­i­tive and nom­i­na­tive). Care­less ty­pos are sus­pi­ciously com­mon in the names of Euro­pean schol­ars: “Mar Augé” for “Marc Augé,” “Hes­bery” for “Hes­berg”; even the orig­i­nal pub­lisher of the At­las ap­pears as “Elec­tra,” not “Electa.”

Worse still, there are many oc­ca­sions on which mis­trans­la­tions or sloppy edit­ing has pro­duced howlers that would shock the Ital­ian writ­ers. The large in­scribed map of the city of Rome, the so-called “Marble Plan” of which hun­dreds of pieces still sur­vive, at the pre­cise scale of 1:240, is mis­dated by half a mil­len­nium. It was erected in the third cen­tury AD, not BC (and most of the pub­lic “does not know” of it; they do not will­fully “ig­nore” it as the trans­la­tion puts it, miss­ing the sense of the Ital­ian ig­nora). The very idea of such a map, as well as the tech­ni­cal knowhow to con­struct it, would have been un­think­able at any such early date. At one par­tic­u­larly low point, the trans­la­tor con­cocts a statue base on the Pala­tine that “re­pro­duced the bas­re­lief of the so-called Sor­rento Base, a work by Greek artists, Skopas among them, orig­i­nally made in the fourth cen­tury BC.” Al­most ev­ery­thing about this sim­ple sen­tence is gar­bled. The orig­i­nal author was, in fact, clearly re­fer­ring to a fa­mous piece of re­lief sculp­ture known (from where it was found) as the “Sor­rento Base,” which dates to the first cen­tury AD, not the fourth cen­tury BC. It is fa­mous be­cause it ap­pears to re­pro­duce in its de­sign the cult stat­ues, now lost, of Apollo, Di­ana, and La­tona that stood in Au­gus­tus’s new Tem­ple of Apollo on the Pala­tine and had been brought, so it is of­ten be­lieved, to Rome from Greece; it is th­ese lost stat­ues that were pos­si­bly the work of the fourth-cen­tury-BC sculp­tor Skopas. Reader, be­ware.

The trans­la­tion is not the only weak­ness of the At­las. There were even big­ger prob­lems, of au­di­ence and ap­proach, al­ready in the orig­i­nal Ital­ian ver­sion. First of all, it is not clear at whom the book is aimed. Its lav­ish pro­duc­tion sug­gests that it was de­signed as much for the cof­fee ta­ble as for the li­brary shelves, as much for the in­ter­ested amateur as for the spe­cial­ist (and Caran­dini, in a new pref­ace, refers to “the en­thu­si­as­tic re­cep­tion it re­ceived from the pub­lic” in Italy). But in truth, it makes hard read­ing for any­one who is not al­ready rea­son­ably fa­mil­iar with Ro­man to­pog­ra­phy. Even the or­ga­niz­ing prin­ci­ples will be un­clear to most peo­ple. Each of the main chap­ters or es­says fo­cuses on one of the four­teen num­bered “regions” into which the em­peror Au­gus­tus di­vided the city, for pre­sum­ably ad­min­is­tra­tive pur­poses (the area of the Fo­rum be­ing num­ber VIII, the Pala­tine num­ber X); and spe­cific mon­u­ments are given an in­di­vid­ual iden­ti­fy­ing num­ber, or “in­di­vid­u­ated,” within each re­gion (the Au­gus­tan Tem­ple of Apollo, for ex­am­ple, be­ing X. 13). But the na­ture of th­ese regions is only very briefly ex­plained, and it is men­tioned merely in pass­ing that we do not know their pre­cise bound­aries.

Nor is there any proper dis­cus­sion of the so-called “Re­gionary Cat­a­logues,” even though they are re­ferred to fre­quently (and if you have never heard of them, rather mys­ti­cally) through­out the At­las. Th­ese are two lists or gaze­teers, com­piled in the fourth cen­tury AD, of build­ings and other land­marks in Rome, or­dered by the same Au­gus­tan regions. They are both an ex­traor­di­nar­ily valu­able re­source for any study of the city and also in many re­spects very puz­zling. What, for ex­am­ple, were they for? And how ac­cu­rate is the in­for­ma­tion—in­clud­ing some rudi­men­tary statis­tics—they con­tain (“130 houses, 18 ware­houses, 85 bath build­ings” in re­gion VIII)? The At­las ap­pears to as­sume a read­er­ship that does not need to be in­tro­duced to the Re­gionar­ies, their back­ground and dilem­mas. Per­haps that is true of the pub­lic in Italy (though I doubt it); it is cer­tainly not true in the An­glo­phone world.

It also as­sumes a read­er­ship that prefers dry de­tail to any broader over­view. It is true, there are the gen­eral es­says at the be­gin­ning on “the city as a whole,” and Caran­dini’s spir­ited new pref­ace in­cludes fight­ing talk on a va­ri­ety of top­ics: on “re­sus­ci­tat[ing] Rome as the an­cient city was con­ceived,” on the way in the mod­ern world “work­ing-class peo­ple” have been “pushed . . . out of the his­toric city cen­ters,” and on the im­por­tance of ar­chae­ol­ogy as a ma­jor tool for un­der­stand­ing the past, equal to lit­er­ary sources (“his­tory is a lady and arche­ol­ogy is merely her ser­vant” is how he rather quaintly char­ac­ter­izes the ap­proach he is try­ing to un­seat). How­ever, the main chap­ters on each of the four­teen regions do not do much to set the gen­eral scene. In­stead they rather un­com­pro­mis­ingly plod through the ur­ban de­vel­op­ment of the area, pe­riod by pe­riod, mon­u­ment by mon­u­ment. If you know what in­for­ma­tion you are look­ing for, you will prob­a­bly find it in the At­las. But there is very lit­tle ef­fort to ex­plain why there are dis­agree­ments and un­cer­tain­ties in mak­ing sense of the lay­out of the city. Nor is there much at­tempt to rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent views and dif­fer­ent re­con­struc­tions. We some­times learn that an old the­ory of dat­ing or iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is now deemed in­cor­rect, but rarely why it is wrong. In fact, the rather scant at­ten­tion given to al­ter­na­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tions or po­ten­tial dis­agree­ments is bound to make the At­las less use­ful even to spe­cial­ists than it ap­pears. There is, to use a gram­mat­i­cal anal­ogy, far too much of the “past def­i­nite” here.

That is es­pe­cially the case with the lengthy sec­tions on the ear­li­est his­tory of the city, in which Caran­dini’s own vi­sion of the sub­ject is en­shrined with very lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of just how con­tro­ver­sial it is. I heard him recently talk very pow­er­fully at the Amer­i­can Academy in Rome on how ar­chae­ol­ogy should, and can, en­gage the pub­lic, and how im­por­tant it is in that project for ar­chae­ol­o­gists to be able to tell sto­ries about the dis­tant past. For Caran­dini nar­ra­tive is a fun­da­men­tal part of pop­u­lar, and in­deed aca­demic, ar­chae­ol­ogy.

But some­times his sto­ries be­come part of the prob­lem. Over the last few decades he has been mostly con­cerned with ques­tions of how the city of Rome be­gan, and he has led ma­jor ex­ca­va­tions around the Fo­rum and the Pala­tine aimed at re­veal­ing the found­ing phases. His con­clu­sion (as well as his premise, I sus­pect) is that the le­gends of early Rome, as told by his­to­ri­ans such as Livy, were more or less ac­cu­rate and can be au­then­ti­cated by ar­chae­ol­ogy. In fact, in a series of well-pub­li­cized dis­cov­er­ies, Caran­dini boldly claims to have found such em­blem­atic struc­tures as the first de­fenses of the city built by Ro­mu­lus him­self, some­time very close to the tra­di­tional found­ing date of 753 BC; and he even thinks he has pinned down the very house oc­cu­pied by Tar­quinius Priscus, or Tar­quin, the leg­endary fifth king of Rome.

Tar­quin is sup­posed to have lived around the turn of the sev­enth and sixth cen­turies BC and is cred­ited with all kinds of ur­ban im­prove­ments to the proto-city, from build­ing the “Great Drain” or Cloaca Max­ima to start­ing the Tem­ple of Jupiter Op­ti­mus Max­imus on the Capi­to­line Hill. The house Caran­dini iden­ti­fies with this leg­endary fig­ure was un­cov­ered in ex­ca­va­tions near the Arch of Ti­tus at one end of the Fo­rum, though the re­mains are very scant (this is the house whose “planime­try was re­built based on the do­mus next to it”). Caran­dini has re­con­structed it with a cen­tral hall or atrium, and rooms open­ing off—com­plete with the up­stairs win­dow through which, ac­cord­ing to Livy, Tar­quin’s widow an­nounced the suc­ces­sion of her fa­vored heir, Servius Tul­lius.

Th­ese dis­cov­er­ies have di­vided clas­si­cists and ar­chae­ol­o­gists. There are

some who view them as a bril­liant, dar­ing, and largely suc­cess­ful at­tempt to tie up the lit­er­ary tra­di­tion with the phys­i­cal re­mains, and as a tri­umphant de­mo­li­tion of all those with an “un­jus­ti­fi­ably hy­per­crit­i­cal at­ti­tude” who re­gard the myths of early Rome as just that, myths. Many oth­ers—and I am one of them—see in­stead a dan­ger­ous lit­eral-mind­ed­ness in Caran­dini’s dis­cov­er­ies and re­con­struc­tions, some­what akin to re­ported find­ings of King Arthur’s Round Ta­ble. The myths of Rome’s ear­li­est phases (and there were many con­tra­dic­tory ones) are ex­tremely im­por­tant in our un­der­stand­ing of the Ro­mans’ view of them­selves, but Caran­dini pro­vides no plau­si­ble ac­count of how writ­ers of the first cen­tury BC could ac­cess any re­li­able in­for­ma­tion about Rome of the eighth and sev­enth cen­turies BC, when there were no lit­er­ary records of any sort (he re­lies en­tirely on the idea of “oral tra­di­tion”).

Be­sides, the closer you look at the par­tic­u­lar claims about the in­di­vid­ual sites, the flim­sier they ap­pear. The sup­posed “House of Tar­quinius Priscus,” for ex­am­ple, hardly sur­vives the scru­tiny of T.P. Wise­man, who points out that there is very lit­tle re­main­ing of this “house” at all (at most a few feet of pos­si­ble wall), at the same time ar­gu­ing con­vinc­ingly, to me at least, that Caran­dini’s method of align­ing the lit­er­ary sources with the (largely nonex­is­tent) re­mains is more wish­ful think­ing than bril­liant and dar­ing.

Of course, the authors of the At­las have ev­ery right to fol­low Caran­dini’s re­con­struc­tions if they choose, or to opt for what­ever ver­sion of an­cient Rome they want. But they have, I think, some obli­ga­tion to ac­knowl­edge the dis­agree­ments and other views, which they very rarely do; there is, for ex­am­ple, no men­tion of Wise­man’s cri­tique of the “House of Tar­quinius Priscus,” al­though it ap­peared sev­eral years be­fore the orig­i­nal Ital­ian edi­tion. It may well be that ev­ery ref­er­ence book is driven by an ide­ol­ogy that it tries, usu­ally un­suc­cess­fully, to con­ceal (see the ex­am­ples of word us­age cited in the Ox­ford English Dic­tionary, or the Latin quo­ta­tions used to il­lus­trate gram­mat­i­cal rules in Kennedy’s Latin Primer); it is in fact al­most the def­i­ni­tion of a ref­er­ence book that it is one that tries to con­ceal its ide­ol­ogy. But the At­las is a par­tic­u­larly fla­grant ex­am­ple of a par­ti­san ac­count mas­querad­ing as a work of ref­er­ence, and given author­ity and cre­dence by that. Again, reader be­ware.

The Ro­man Fo­rum in 2008, look­ing east to­ward the Arch of Ti­tus, with the re­mains of the Tem­ple of Saturn (right), the Tem­ple of Cas­tor and Pol­lux (cen­ter, with three col­umns), and the Tem­ple of Ves­pasian (fore­ground); the Pala­tine Hill rises to the right

Henry Parke: A Stu­dent on a Lad­der Mea­sur­ing a Corinthian Cap­i­tal at the Tem­ple of Jupiter Sta­tor, Rome, 1819

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