The map of ancient Campania in the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, arguably the most impressive cartographic initiative of our day, shows nothing but topographical demarcations for the northern slope of Vesuvius. This section of the map is void of human traces, except for the main branch of the Augustan aqueduct that ran from the Apennines (Serino springs) to Misenum. Even the best atlas of the ancient world, however, does not illustrate fully how a region actually was, but rather depicts the perception and reconstructive interpretation of scholars, drawing upon the literary and archaeological evidence. Consequently the lack of features on a map reflects solely the absence of information, with could be explained by several theories. The very scarce and scattered information available for the North Slope of Vesuvius has led scholars to assume that during Roman times it was almost deserted or at least less important than the famous territories of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Neapolitan coast.
Indeed, there is abundant literary documentation for the coast. The Bay of Naples is described as a “blessed, wonderful basin” (Cicero), “dotted all around with cities, buildings, and plantations” (Strabo). The Latin authors, namely the Roman senatorial class who spent much of their leisure time in the area, connected Neapolis and the coast with the Greek way of life, the concept of otium and, consequently, life in the maritime villas. This explains the striking abundance of passages about the bay and the relative scarcity of texts that refer to the hinterland, although these few mention estates of Augustus, Vergil, Varro, and Cicero in the countryside.
Until recently, the archaeological record has matched the literary evidence. Since 1738 – the first year of excavation at Herculaneum – the Vesuvian coastal sites have thrilled scholars and the European elite. The excavations were initially encouraged by royal demand for precious objects and frescoes, then by the desire to unveil the secrets of daily life hidden in the houses, and today by the many questions posed by archaeologists from around the world. Indeed, Pompeii and Herculaneum offer the unique opportunity to excavate fully preserved cities frozen in a snapshot right at the moment of the AD 79 eruption and naturally drew treasure hunters and scholars. Yet the constant concentration of resources and interest on the southern side of the volcano has prevented any research on the opposite side. One may therefore legitimately hypothesize that the lack of information for the northern slope of the volcano is only the result of social, cultural, and political choices and thus purely fictional. The systematic collection of the scattered accidental discoveries throughout the past two centuries as well as the results of the first and still ongoing excavations on the northern side confirm this theory.
The two sides of the volcano shared similar geographic features, but they experienced different destinies. The area north of the volcano suffered less acutely from the effects of the AD 79 eruption, and the cities of Neapolis and Nola – to which this territory belonged – did not receive any of the air-fall deposits that buried Pompeii. Life went on for these cities and, as is reasonable, their territories recovered more fully and more quickly than those on the southern side. The volcano has always destroyed selectively and in AD 472 its fury exploded towards the north-eastern quadrant afflicting the territories of Neapolis and Nola as Pompeii and Herculaneum had suffered three centuries before. Thus, archaeological evidence that has lain neglected on the North Slope can tell the story of Roman Campania through the long period of cultural development between the two eruptions. The span of time when Vesuvius lay dormant witnessed the expansion of the Roman Empire, the growth of Christianity, and the first barbaric invasions, symptoms of the imminent fall of the Western Roman Empire (traditionally dated to AD 476).
The Apolline Project
In 2002, the first long-term excavation project of a Roman site began on the northern slope of Vesuvius, the so-called Villa of Augustus in Somma Vesuviana. The Università degli Studi Suor Orsola Benincasa di Napoli initiated the project while the University of Tokyo has led the excavation. The great discoveries made at that site – statues, frescoes, and unique architectural forms – revealed the area’s potential, but also indicated the need for wider research on the district as a whole in order to contextualize the splendid finds.
Two years later, in 2004, Suor Orsola Benincasa University teamed with Brigham Young University in Provo (UT) to create the Apolline Project. The project’s main aim was to use one of the modern towns on the North Slope of the volcano as a case study for the whole area. The town of Pollena Trocchia was chosen because it lies on the furthest western zone of the former crater of the Somma-Vesuvius volcanic complex, in the junction of the coast and hinterland. The project proceeded through the following stages:
1. Instruction. Two special classes were taught at BYU to select and train students for the project. The subsequent summer, professors from many universities offered classes and teaching in the field. Professors were challenged to provide a theoretical framework for the research on the northern slope of Vesuvius using a threefold approach: summarising the old and new research trends on the brighter half of the volcano in order to contextualize the north slope; collecting the scarce and scattered evidence for the subject area; and finally creating new interpretative models. Both students and professors came from a broad range of disciplines. Thus the Apolline Project benefited from the diversity that stimulated a multi- and inter-disciplinary approach to research.
2. Archaeological map of Pollena Trocchia. The map has been created by overlaying the information collected from a wide range of sources: various published reports and previously unknown archival records, on-field rediscovery of known sites, partial field survey, and new discoveries. In some cases, the information collected has been processed and used to offer new dating of known sites. This closer look at the archaeological evidence was also used to assess the feasibility of a complete investigation of one of the sites through archaeological excavation.
3. Excavation at Masseria De Carolis. The third and still ongoing phase of the project consists of the complete excavation of one archaeological site. So far, the exploration has yielded information of considerable quality. The Apolline Project’s interdisciplinary collaboration (across such fields as archaeozoology, palaeobotany, and volcanology) has offered and continues to offer scholars of many different specialities a productive partnership. Hypotheses formed throughout the previous steps of the research and at the “Villa of Augustus” are constantly tested on site at Masseria De Carolis. Moreover, the site provides new evidence for the study of Late Antiquity in Campania, a historical discipline that has come into its own particularly in recent years. Thus, the Apolline Project is pushing the chronological boundaries of historical Vesuvian studies beyond traditional Pompeian research.
By shifting focus from coastal Campania to sites inland, North-slope studies can illuminate remnants of socio-political infrastructure sharply different from the aristocratic seaside villas of the Republic or early Empire. That field of inquiry is by no means moribund, as the essays in this collection’s first part show by building upon nearly three centuries of persistent inquiry into a vibrant field. Indeed, the Apolline Project seeks to incorporate traditional Pompeian studies with the exploration of new territory on the North Slope to achieve a complete understanding of ancient Campania.