Understanding Traffic in Pompeii

There is a misconception that cities in ancient societies were incomparable to the cities of today. However, cities of the past had many of the same problems that modern cities face today,  including: poverty, pollution, and even traffic. Archaeologist Eric Poehler, an assistant professor of Classics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, wrote The Traffic Systems of Pompeii, which analyzes the wear and tear of the streets of Pompeii to determine the infrastructure.

Traffic in Pompeii


Pompeii left an immense archaeological record that has proven to be instrumental in understanding ancient roman cities.  Professor Poehler focused his research specifically on the the streets and road systems. In an interview with Archaeology magazine,  Poehler explained how he was able to study the traffic in Pompeii. “The most obvious features in Pompeii are wheel ruts left in the paving stones. You can easily imagine the thousands of vehicles that made them. The ruts tell us there was heavy traffic” (Conversation: Rush Hour in Pompeii in Archaeology 2008). However, Sarah Bond, an Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Iowa, brings to light why studying the infrastructure and traffic systems of Pompeii is important.“The historic growth of a city’s road system is itself a reflection of the ideas, ideals, laws and people that pulsed within a community and the economy that underpinned it”( Pompeii Had Some Intense Rush Hour Traffic Too in Forbes 2017).

For instance, traffic systems  had to be put in place because in an city if there was no regulation, then there was chaos. Professor Poehler illustrated how the Roman government enforced the traffic system in Pompeii.  “They didn’t have stop signs or one-way signs. So while it’s clear traffic flow was designed by the city administration, it was actually run by the people who were involved in it–the drivers. It was their cooperation that actually kept the system going”(Conversation: Rush Hour in Pompeii in Archaeology 2008).  Two thousand years ago, governments were faced with the challenge of implementing rules that the citizens would obey.

Archaeologists can use traffic as a medium for comparing cities ancient and modern.  It is easy to  forget that transportation has always been a problem of society. In cities, old and new, thousands of people were/are asking how do I get from point A to point B the quickest?  Answering this question has been proven to be crucial in  determining the best layout of the city. By learning about how ancient cities, such as Pompeii, dealt with their own traffic problems, city planners of today can use this information to improve the urban landscape.  

The street layout of Pompeii


Additional Readings on Roman Traffic:




Bond, Sarah. “Pompeii Had Some Intense Rush Hour Traffic Too.” Forbes, 16 Oct. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/drsarahbond/2017/10/16/pompeii-had-some-intense-rush-hour-traffic-too/#7edd23127b5b.

“Conversation: Rush Hour in Pompeii.” Archaeology, vol. 61, no. 6, Nov.-Dec. 2008, archive.archaeology.org/0811/etc/conversation.html.

Picture Sources:

“Principle Streets on Pompeii.” Destruction and Re-discovery, sites.google.com/site/ad79eruption/pompeii/principal-streets. Map.

Traffic in Pompeii. University of Pennsylvania Museum, www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/the-embattled-driver-in-ancient-rome/.

One thought on “Understanding Traffic in Pompeii

  1. Can we tell how many cart/chariot accidents occurred in the archaeological record at Pompeii? Did everyone in Pompeii have chariot? Could the traffic indicated int eh archaeological record tell us about the socioeconomics of Pompeii?

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