The best books about Pompeii and what we know about this Roman city

Virginia Campbell Author Of The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society
By Virginia Campbell

Who am I?

I first visited Pompeii on a school trip when I was 17. I have a clear memory of standing in the Forum and thinking it was the most amazing place I had ever been. Decades later, that feeling remains, and the sites destroyed by Vesuvius have become the focus of my research on ancient Rome. I have excavated in Pompeii, conducted epigraphic fieldwork in Herculaneum, and taught students at multiple universities around the UK about the cities, the people who lived there, and their destruction. I am fundamentally interested in the people, how they lived their lives, and have published widely on tombs, epigraphy, and politics in Pompeii.

I wrote...

The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

By Virginia Campbell,

Book cover of The Tombs of Pompeii: Organization, Space, and Society

What is my book about?

This book offers a comprehensive overview of the tombs of Pompeii and its immediate environs, examining the funerary culture of the population, delving into the importance of social class and self-representation, and developing a broad understanding of Pompeii’s funerary epigraphy and business. Author Virginia L. Campbell demonstrates that the funerary practices of Pompeii are, in some ways, unique to the population, moving away from the traditional approach to burial based on generalizations and studies of typology.

Including an extensive catalogue of tomb data and images never before assembled or published, this collective approach reveals new insights into ancient commemoration. The Tombs of Pompeii is the first English-language book on Pompeian funerary rituals. It’s also the first in any language to provide a complete survey of the tombs of Pompeii and the first to situate Pompeian differences within a wider Roman burial context.

The books I picked & why

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The Complete Pompeii

By Joanne Berry,

Book cover of The Complete Pompeii

Why this book?

Probably the best and most approachable overview of the history and archaeology of Pompeii, good for the armchair enthusiast and student alike. It is clear, concise, and well-illustrated, and unlike many such books that appeal to a more general audience, it is authored by an expert who has been working on site and teaching about Pompeii for most of her career.

Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii

By Kristina Milnor,

Book cover of Graffiti and the Literary Landscape in Roman Pompeii

Why this book?

Imagine re-creating the works of Shakespeare or Milton from the graffiti on the walls of Victorian England – impossible you’d say. But it is possible to find lines of the most famous poets of the Roman world scratched into the walls of Pompeii, and Milnor provides a systematic overview of how and why this literary re-production occurred, what it indicates about literacy and learning, and how differently the ancients viewed writing in public spaces.

The Brothel of Pompeii: Sex, Class, and Gender at the Margins of Roman Society

By Sarah Levin-Richardson,

Book cover of The Brothel of Pompeii: Sex, Class, and Gender at the Margins of Roman Society

Why this book?

Women in the ancient world is a topic that is typically met with some level of preconception and misinterpretation due to modern judgements creeping in, even more so when discussing sex workers or enslaved women. Levin-Richardson strips all that away, re-investigating the material from what is arguably the most famous brothel in the world by examining the evidence for what it is rather than where it was found. This shouldn’t be an innovative approach, but it is, and one Pompeian (and women’s) studies needs.

Resurrecting Pompeii

By Estelle Lazer,

Book cover of Resurrecting Pompeii

Why this book?

More often than not, people forget that the Vesuvian sites are, as gruesome as it sounds, large mass burials – not just of the cities themselves, but of people. The human remains of Pompeii (and by extension, Herculaneum) have been ignored or treated like some kind of circus attraction for centuries. What Lazar does is open your eyes to just how much information there is to be found from the casts and skeletons, and the potential to learn so much more about people and life in the first century. Her work is groundbreaking.

Discovering the Gardens of Pompeii: Memoirs of a Garden Archaeologist

By Wilhelmina Feemster Jashemski,

Book cover of Discovering the Gardens of Pompeii: Memoirs of a Garden Archaeologist

Why this book?

It’s difficult to imagine any discussion of Pompeii (or Roman gardens) without mentioning Jashemski. She quite literally wrote the book(s) on gardens, and her archaeological approach to plant remains revolutionised how botanical evidence is collected. This book, published after her death, is a memoir more than anything, detailing her work, her travels, and her vast experience of working in Pompeii. It is, in many ways, a love letter to the place that somewhat unexpectedly became the focus her life.

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