There's been no end of books about Pompeii in recent years, many of them large and lavishly illustrated, not to mention all those novels, movies, mini-series and TV documentaries. Herculaneum on the other hand has languished like a wallflower in the shadow of her more glamorous sister, indeed for many years the general reader with a serious interest in this ancient city has had to make do with the concise and very monochrome work by Joseph Jay Deiss which was first published over 40 years ago. Now, at last, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill gives us the book we've all been waiting for - a handsome, lavishly illustrated tome with an accessible yet scholarly text that in my opinion is worth every penny of Amazon's discounted price.
Herculaneum lies buried at a deeper level than Pompeii and moreover the ruins are surmounted by the modern town of Ercolano. As a result only about a quarter of the city has been disinterred, compared to about three quarters of Pompeii, and important buildings such as the theatre are still buried under the modern town. But the exposed ruins are relatively better preserved than at Pompeii and indeed walking the streets of Herculaneum and peering into the houses you get the impression that the inhabitants have only just left and may return at any moment. Somehow you feel closer to the Roman world that perished between the 24th and 25th August AD79.
Or did Herculaneum perish then? The generally accepted date for the eruption is derived from Pliny's letter to Tacitus but there are corruptions in the manuscript tradition and Joanne Berry in her excellent book The Complete Pompeii adduces considerable evidence that suggests a late autumn date. Professor Wallace-Hadrill likewise throws doubt on the accepted dating although a recent article in the Times reported that analysis of the type of fish used in some garum, Pompeii's famous fish sauce, re-inforced the case for an August eruption. An interesting conundrum. One myth that Wallace-Hadrill does explode is the idea that until the 18th century the cities and their locations were unknown and that they had simply vanished from memory, but Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis are clearly shown on the 4th century Peutinger map and there is clear evidence of explorations from the Roman through the mediaeval period especially at the more accessible Pompeii where the forum was stripped of its marbles. Certainly the savvy locals never forgot what lay below them. But only in the 18th century did the political climate, combined with the antiquarian spirit of the age, favour a concerted effort to excavate the sites.
Another myth that has been exploded in recent years is that the lucky inhabitants of Herculaneum did a runner as soon as Vesuvius erupted, for only relatively few skeletons were discovered there compared to a couple of thousand at Pompeii. Then about thirty years ago came the gruesome discovery of hundreds of skeletons packed into the boathouses that once lined the beach (as you enter the city over the bridge the boathouses can be seen under the city walls in the excavation trench below.) Perhaps many of the inhabitants had already been ferried away and the others were waiting for the boats to return, but Pliny observing the eruption on the other side of the bay, noted that the sea had receded, beaching huge numbers of marine creatures. As professor Wallace-Hadrill points out, the unfolding sequence of the eruption has become much clearer in recent years and we now know what happened to the terrified souls sheltering in the boathouses. Part of the volcanic cloud towering above Vesuvius collapsed and a pyroclastic surge, a scorching avalanche of ash and gasses, overwhelmed Herculaneum and instantly vaporised them. Pyroclastic surges on the other flank of Vesuvius zapped any stragglers remaining in Pompeii. As the eruption finally started to lose impetus the effects of gravity produced a final devastating surge, the fringes of which reached Misenum on the other side of the Bay of Naples, causing the terrified Pliny and his mother to flee. (Geological evidence suggests that some eruptions prior to AD79 were even more devastating. The last eruption of Vesuvius in 1944 was a relatively tame affair in which no one died - let's hope the next one is likewise.)
Professor Wallace-Hadrill is an archaeologist and historian who will already be well-known to those with an interest in the Roman world from his frequent appearances in TV documentaries and he is head of a major conservation project that has tackled many of the ills that formerly afflicted the exposed ruins (and which still, alas, seem to afflict Pompeii.) He is therefore the ideal guide to take us through Herculaneum past, present and future and to give us an insider's perspective on the challenges that face the archaeologist in unearthing and preserving important ancient sites such as the buried cities of Vesuvius (all archaeologists are acutely aware that unearthing buried sites is often more ruinous to the ruins than leaving them buried.) His book contains splendid colour illustrations of the art and architecture of Herculanuem and some excellent maps. Altogether a deluxe production, the kind of book that provides an aesthetic pleasure that Kindle can never duplicate; and, as mentioned above, the discounted Amazon price makes it quite affordable. If I may express one slight disappointment it's that the author devotes relatively little space to the famous Villa of the Papyri, which is located just outside the city and has itself recently undergone significant study and conservation work, and to the Villa's library and amazing collection of bronze statues. However, if you're feeling in the mood to treat yourself, you can remedy this by acquiring another splendid book, The Villa Dei Papiri, by Carol C. Mattusch, published by the Getty Museum.
Herculaneum: Past and Present has been released earlier than the announced publication date of May 2011 so if you're interested you don't need to hesitate. I would just mention that I had to request a replacement due to bumping and splitting of the boards in transit and even the replacement had a slight bump. I've placed many book orders with Amazon and never encountered problems before, but with very heavy tomes like this one it's always worth removing the dustjacket to inspect the covers.
on 26 April 2011
I know Herculaneum quite well having visited the site several times, and I prefer it in many ways to Pompeii - although the two sites are complementary. The trouble is that since JJ Deiss wrote his book (which I love) decades ago, there has been nothing knew that discusses the more recent discoveries and repair to damage of the site.
Andrew Wallace-Hadrill's book is not only a joy to hold and to look at, but is full of fascinating and up-to-date information. It is a lavish volume, fullof wonderful photos and panoramas that will be a valuable reference source for years.
Last time I visited the site the deterioration was such that I came away more than a little dispirited. This book demonstrates that a huge amount of work has gone on to arrest that decay and to restore buildings to a wonderful state - the great marble hall of the House of the Telephus Relief, for instance, has been roofed. It was not accessible on any of my visits (going back to the 80s) and now looks as though it might be. But more - that wing of the house is now seen as a "tower" and there is evidence of a blocked up level beneath the eruption level surface, that provides evidence about the retreat and advance of the sea (a reflection of bradyseism) in Roman times. Fascinating stuff!
A leading family in Herculaneum before the eruption was that of the Balbi. Marcus Nonius Balbus was the town's patron and several statues of him were put up. A mounted version and a togate standing sculpture have long been in Naples Museum. I have long yearned to see the head from the statue erected near his tomb (adjacent to the Suburban Baths" which he may have had built) which was found a few years ago. There is an excellent picture here, along with another of a nude "heroic" statue of which I was previously unaware. So the book more than meets my desire for information and illustrations on recvent discoveries.
We are given fresh analyses of the development of the sea front, and its interasction with a sea level that changed in cyclical patterns. There is material on the excavations at the famous Villa of the Papyrii, its possible ownership (by Caesar's father-in-law); and a new interpretation of the so-called hall of the Augustales (now potentially the towns curia or council chamber).
Wallace-Hadrill has some interesting comments on the work of Maiuri(the great populariser of the buried towns from the 20s to the 60s) and his creation of "myths" about the town that are now being dispelled.
If you have never been to Herculaneum but like Roman history, this book will take you there and provide a feast of material for the imagination. If you like archaeology this book provides past and present comment on that subject with many excellent examples and illustrations.
If you have visited the ruins, this book will probably inspire you to go again - its has me! - to follow up the new ideas and new suggestions offered by the author and simply to renew acquaintance with an old friend.
To conclude, a sumptuous book, well worth its price that will be an adornment for your shelves for years to come.
I am told there is a companion volume on Pompeii which I am now searching for.
on 19 July 2011
Apart from largely out dated guidebooks there is little literature on the amazing site of Herculaneum. Until recently the site was in a terrible state, a condition that would probably have led to its closure to the public. Fortunately, thanks to Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Dr David Packard and the Italian State and Local Authorities, a programme of repair, restoration and consolidation has been implemented. Wallace-Hadrill's book, Herculaneum, not only explains how the site came to such a sad pass and how the newly-introduced programme is intended to reverse the decline, but also recounts the history of the town - its destruction, discovery and excavation - describes the public and private buildings, introduces the rich and poor inhabitants, compares the town with Pompeii, and casts an eye on the future. In the words of the author: "For our own generation, it is enough to appreciate the extraordinary value of the treasure that has already been dug up, to look after it as it merits, and to pass it on to future generations." The book is lavishly illustrated with both new and old photographs, including several that fold out to 4xpage size, and contains many useful plans and drawings. It is well written in a style that will satisfy the interested amateur as well as the academic. Given that the only other serious books on Herculaneum were written many years ago - at the beginning of the Twentieth Century by the Cambridge professor, Sir Charles Waldstein, and in 1985 by the American, Joseph Jay Deiss, one-time Vice Director of the American Academy in Rome - Wallace-Hadrill's "Herculaneum" is, without doubt, the most important account of this fascinating town ever written. It is well worth the cover price.
on 25 February 2016
I decided to visit Herculaneum later this year after watching a programme on the BBC presented by the author of this book, Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. The book itself is as interesting and informative as the TV programme.
The book is packed with outstanding high quality colour photographs and a wealth of information. Its size and weight would make it unsuitable for taking around the site, but as the author states: "This is no guidebook, though I hope that visitors to the site will find it useful before and after a visit." At the back there is a large folded map which I managed to easily detach from the book and shall take it to Herculaneum together with a small book specifically intended as a guide book.
Because of the large format of the book, the photographs would be spectacular on a single page, but many are spread over two pages and there are also a number of panoramic views which unfold and cover four pages.
I shall refer to this book frequently both before and after my trip. It is excellent value
on 10 March 2014
You want to read all about it, everything you wanted to know and mre is contained in this beautifully readable book. Large enough (and rather heavy) the format is right for the multitude of wonderful pictures which transport the reader to the town and help them enjoy learning about how life was for the people who lived there so long ago until the final destruction of the town.
Written by an academic who knows his subject inside out and has the ability to convey in such an easy manner without having to resort to words and descriptions that might be 'above' the reader. I really enjoyed reading every word and picture and was truly sorry when I reached the end, I felt there is so much more to be told but the book is large enough as it is - perhaps a second volume ?
If you want to find out all about Herculaneum this is THE BOOK, ther are a great many books on this subjrct but I venture to say, having read quite a few, they are not a patch on this one, try it, you will not be disappointed.
on 30 October 2015
I have recently returned from Naples having paid a visit to Herculaneum ( Ercolano). The book shop at the site was closed and looked to have been so for some time.I therefore decided to wait and purchase a book on the subject when I returned home rather than from a Naples bookshop. I am so glad I did because this book is an absolute treasure. The photographs, sometimes on double fold outs, are stunning, the diagrams informative and the prose readable and yet manifestly erudite and engaging.
on 28 May 2013
This is a wonderful book beautifully illustrated and full of fascinating details about the lost and now found city of Herculaneum.
A great read and a wealth of hitherto unknown information amde even more interesting in light of the current exhibition at the British Museum. Highly reccomended
on 24 July 2014
This book is indispensable for anyone planning to visit Herculaneum, or simply is interested in Roman history. It's a comprehensive account of what is known and what is not known about the site. It tells you about the history of the Roman town, the eruption in 79 AD, its fate since, with the discoveries and mistakes of archaeologists, princes and others. It explains individual buildings and their contents. And it's all written in clear prose, as free of jargon as it can be. I ripped out the plan at the back to take it on our visit: very useful though a desceration!
on 4 January 2014
I bought this as a Christmas present for a friend who had honeymooned in Italy after seeing a celebrity recommendation in a newspaper. She and her husband haven't stopped talking about it since. The book is filled with great photos to give you even more detail than you can see in a single visit to the place itself and then the text fills you in on the stories and facts. I'd highly recommend it for anyone who has visited the place and is inspired to want to see more.
on 6 February 2016
Anyone interested in the other Pompeii i.e Herculean if you get one book on this fasternating Roman town then Andrew Wallace Hadrill book Herculean past and future is the book to buy. It full of colourful pictures and fasternating information covering everything from archaeological excavations done on the site past and presents. Loads of insightful information on Herculean buildings and of coursse the people as well. Its also a great academic source on Herculean its easy to read and even though I haven't been to Herculean I felt transported there by simply reading this massive book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in knowing more about the other pompeii