What do we know about the Schola Armaturarum?

Predictably there has been a lot of hysteria in the media about yesterday’s collapse of the Schola Armaturarum, including calls for the privatisation of the archaeological site of Pompeii, and accusations of official neglect. The following are just a few of the reports that have appeared:

NY Times: Pompeii Collapse Draws Charges of Official Neglect
La Repubblica: An interview with ex-Superintendent of Pompeii, Pier Giovanni Guzzo (audio in Italian, with completely irrelevant video) and before and after photos.
BBC News: House of the Gladiators collapses in Pompeii (with video)
ANSA: Pompei: Bondi, se responsabile lascerei
NY Daily News: Ancient Pompeii gladiators’ locker room collapses; Italians angered by neglect of Roman ruins
The Telegraph: Pompeii ruin collapses amid claims site mismanaged

There are many, many others. Apparently some commentators have even been using the collapse to justify private collections (since, it is argued, the Italian authorities can’t look after their heritage themselves). And this illustrates nicely how the collapse is being milked for political purposes of all sorts.

But I don’t want to get on my soapbox about this (really!), except to say that the job of conservation at Pompeii is an endless battle and that I believe the people who work there do their best with the resources they have.

Instead I want to focus on the Schola Armaturarum and its excavation. Eighteen months ago Francesca Tronchin posted a query about recent research on this building, and the illustration below.

Illustration of the Schola Armaturarum in Spinazzola’s 1953 publication of the Via dell’ Abbondanza

Rereading this – and reading all the newspaper reports about the collapse – got me thinking about how little I know about this particular structure. And so I want to suggest that we do a bit of collective research and information gathering about it. The authorities may reconstruct the building itself, but the frescoes are gone and the only way to study them now will be from archival sources (although in fact the frescoes were already in a terrible condition). I think it would be helpful to collect references to this material now.

The Schola Armaturarum was mainly excavated in 1915 by Vittorio Spinazzola. Its stunning facade frescos led him to partly excavate the building, as can be seen in the plan below (adapted from Dobbins and Foss, World of Pompeii). But his main focus was on excavating the Via dell’ Abbondanza, and it is this that is now causing problems – the unexcavated land behind the northern facades of the streets is collapsing into the street, aided by heavy rainfalls. Other reported collapses at Pompeii in the past two years are from the same general area (House of Julius PolybiusHouse of the Chaste Lovers, and further along the Via dell’Abbondanza in Region III). This needs to be a major focus of future conservation work, or more collapses are inevitable.

I still haven’t been able to answer Francesca’s query about recent bibliography, but the following are studies of the building that I do know about:
  • Spinazzola’s initial report on the building and its frescoes was published in the NSC (and can thus be read on-line) in 1916: Di due grandi trofei dipinti rimessi a luce nella Via dell’ Abbondanza e di una sala decorata di pitture di Vittorie volante, Notizie degli Scavi di Antichita (1916) 429 – 450.  There are some references to the building in the 1915 NSC reports by Matteo della Corte.
  • Spinazzola’s definitive publication of his excavations along the Via dell’Abbondanza: Pompeii Alla Luce Degli Scavi Nuovi Di Via Dell’ Abbondanza (Anni 1910-1923) Rome, 1953′
  • Matteo della Corte discusses the building in his Iuventus: un nuovo aspetta della vita pubblica di Pompei finora inesplorato (1924).
  • Robert Etienne questioned the identification of the building as a Schola Iuventutis in his Daily Life in Ancient Pompeii (1966) 409 – 411.
  • Luciana Jacobelli gives a description of the building and its frescoes in her Gladiators at Pompeii (2003)
  • There is detailed discussion of the building (with some great photos, which can be viewed on the Google Books scan of the book) in Laurentino Garcia y Garcia’s Danni di Guerra a Pompei (Rome, 2006). During WW2 a bomb destroyed the reconstructed roof of the building; it was rebuilt in the 1950s.
According to Jacobelli, the Schola Armaturarum was built after AD 62 on the remains of an earlier building. Della Corte thought it was a kind of school for Pompeii’s youth, but Jacobelli claims that ‘more recently it has been hypothesised that it was a depository of gladiatorial arms’. She doesn’t give details about this recent study – does anyone know what she’s referring to? In the back room there was evidence that wooden cabinets had been fixed to the walls. These are thought to have contained weaponry – but in actual fact only a single ivory handle was found by the excavators. The walls behind the cabinets were painted with Winged Victories bearing  weapons and shields – which is why the building is now connected to gladiators. Personally I think the jury is still out on that one, but this was certainly a distinctive and unusual building which must have had a particular function. Does anyone else have any thoughts or theories?
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Heavy rains have provoked landslide at the ancient Italian site of Pompeii, partially collapsing a retaining wall and sending rubble into a garden at the house of Severus. Italian officials on Wednesday said the affected area falls within the “Great Pompeii” joint EU-Italian restoration project and had been already closed to the public. Pompeii, the ancient Roman city encased in volcanic ash near Mount Vesuvius, south of Naples, has suffered numerous collapses of walls and buildings in recent years, often due to rain. The problems have attracted widespread attention to Italy’s difficulties in maintaining its cultural treasures. Pompeii officials said firefighters were assessing the ancient site to determine areas at particular risk for collapse in a bid to shore them up.

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Garden of Severus

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Garden of Severus

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Garden of Severus

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Garden of Severus

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Garden of Severus

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Garden of Severus

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Garden of Severus

This image of Regio III, Insula 3 created by Jennifer and Arthur Stephens as part of the Via dell'Abbondanza Project (www.pompeiiperspectives.org), shows the Schola Armaturarum (doorway 6, on the right) as it appeared in 2009.  The photomosaic was made by combining multiple digital images and a total station survey of the facade of the city block.  The completed photomosaics are at a scale of 1:25 @ 300 ppi.  The project is documenting all 32 insulae along the 900 meter-long street for the archives in Pompeii and future publication.

This image of Regio III, Insula 3 created by Jennifer and Arthur Stephens as part of the Via dell’Abbondanza Project (www.pompeiiperspectives.org), shows the Schola Armaturarum (doorway 6, on the right) as it appeared in 2009. The photomosaic was made by combining multiple digital images and a total station survey of the facade of the city block. The completed photomosaics are at a scale of 1:25 @ 300 ppi. The project is documenting all 32 insulae along the 900 meter-long street for the archives in Pompeii and future publication.

Postcard produced by R&C (which I think is the Richter and Conti studio out of Naples) number 1004 15, Titled “POMPEI – Nuovi scavi. Schola Juventutis” (reverse in English, French and German) dimensions 137mm x 88mm. Postcard has been used but post stamp is illegible, author of message however dates the card as 19th September 1933.

Postcard produced by R&C (which I think is the Richter and Conti studio out of Naples) number 1004 15, Titled “POMPEI – Nuovi scavi. Schola Juventutis” (reverse in English, French and German) dimensions 137mm x 88mm. Postcard has been used but post stamp is illegible, author of message however dates the card as 19th September 1933.

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