The Social and Economic Impact of Artificial Light at Pompeii

The Social and Economic Impact of Artificial Light at Pompeii

By David Gareth Griffiths

PhD Dissertation, University of Leicester, 2016

Abstract: The evidence presented in this thesis is used to test the hypothesis that a reliable and affordable supply of light fuel and lighting equipment was a major constituent in Roman urban living. Archaeological evidence and ancient literary sources are utilised in order to explore the social and economic activities which consumed artificial light, and evaluate how these nocturnal acts influenced and modified human interactions with each other, and with the physical environment. The consumption of artificial light from c. 300 BCE to 79 CE is investigated, and its influence on the socio‐cultural aspects of human activity and the role it played in the daily lives of the inhabitants of ancient Pompeii are evaluated.

The burial of Pompeii in 79 CE by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius resulted in a unique assemblage of lighting equipment, abandoned in many structures as the inhabitants fled. Through the analysis of the Pompeii 79 CE material, I have modelled light fuel consumption for the entire city, and the results demonstrate that large quantities of olive oil were consumed in the provision of artificial light. A clear chronological increase in the development and growth for the use of artificial light at Pompeii is demonstrated.

Read more about Pompeii in Ancient History magazine

In this thesis I demonstrate that the night was not a time of inactivity at Pompeii, but thrived with human action, facilitated by artificial light. Well‐lit households offered an environment of warmth, security, comfort, and pleasure, and the consumption of artificial light may have been seen as a visual expression of wealth and status. The commercial landscape of the city thrived after the sun had set, and increasing the hours for trade and exchange, through artificial light, resulted in a nocturnal economy which contributed to the wealth and prosperity of this ancient city.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Leicester

Pompeii, Porta Ercolano seen from the Via dei Sepolcri. Illustration by William Gell (1777–1836).

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