Number of Pompeiian dead

From: Barbara F. McManus (
Date: Thu Jan 23 1997 - 22:02:55 EST

Dexter Hoyos wrote:
> ... in Pompeii Revisited: the Life and Death of a Roman Town (ed. Jean-Paul
> Descoeudres & Derek Harrison: Sydney 1994), 37, the figure is given as 28,000
> dead. But this must be a mixup with the estimated total population. The
> numerus acceptus I always thought to have been around 2000, but this goes back
> to before all those bodies were found by the sea wall.

A detailed discussion of the difficulty of determining the population
density of Pompeii is provided by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill in _Houses and
Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum_ (Princeton 1994) pp. 91-117. He
concludes that inadequate reporting of archaeological finds and change
over time make it well nigh impossible to come up with any reliable
estimate of the total population; he focuses instead on a very
interesting discussion of the size and composition of individual
households. With reference to the number of dead, Wallace-Hadrill
dismisses the figure of 2000 as "either itself an extrapolation from the
number excavated in one sample area, or a bold guess at the numbers
currently stored in the repositories, lying as they do in jumbled heaps,
dismembered, uncatalogued, and uncounted" (95). Estelle Lazer
(mentioned below by Hoyos) has engaged in a more systematic study of
these disarticulated bones; she states that "it would be extremely
difficult to establish the exact number of individuals that the stored
bones represent, though the figure would probably not exceed five
hundred" (Descoeudres 1994, 144). The group of skeletons found by the
sea wall in the early 1980s were from Herculaneum, not Pompeii.
Barbara McManus

  Descoeudres' book,
> though (which was produced to accompany a major exhibition here, mounted
> through the aid of the Italian Government), reminds me that one of its
> specialist contributors was Dr Estelle Lazer, of Sydney University's classical
> archaeology department, who knows more than most about the human evidence from
> Pompeii. Although she lacks an Email address she can readily be contacted by
> fax on +612 9351 4889.
> With regards ... Dexter Hoyos
> --------------------------------------

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:03 EDT