Laurence, Ray 1963-

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Laurence, Ray 1963-


Born 1963.


Office—The Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, Watson Bldg. 115, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, England. E-mail—[email protected].


Archaeologist, historian, writer, and educator. University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England, research fellow and senior lecturer.


New Generation Prize, 2006, for Pompeii: The Living City,



Roman Pompeii: Space and Society, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor, with Andrew Wallace-Hadrill) Domestic Space in the Roman World: Pompeii and Beyond, Volume 22, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series (Portsmouth, England) 1997.

(Editor, with Joanne Berry) Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire, Routledge (London, England), 1998.

The Roads of Roman Italy: Mobility and Cultural Change, Routledge (London, England), 1999.

(Editor, with Colin Adams) Travel and Geography in the Roman Empire, Routledge (London, England), 2001.

(With Mary Harlow) Growing Up and Growing Old in Ancient Rome: A Life Course Approach, Routledge (London, England), 2002.

(With Alex Butterworth) Pompeii: The Living City, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 2005, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Uses and Abuses of Antiquity, edited by M. Biddiss and M. Wyke, Peter Lang (London, England), 1999; Archaeology and Ancient History, edited by E. Sauer, Routledge (London, England), 2004; Travel, Communication, and Geography in Late Antiquity, edited by L. Ellis and F.L. Kidner, Ashgate (Aldershot, England), 2004; and Health in Antiquity, edited by H. King, Routledge (London, England), 2005.

Contributor to scholarly journals, including Archaeological Dialogues, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Papers of the British School at Rome, and World Archaeology.


Archaeologist and historian Ray Laurence's writings and editorial projects focus on various topics related to Roman life. Laurence's first book, Roman Pompeii: Space and Society, published in 1994, explores the use of urban space in the ancient city of Pompeii in the Roman Empire. In the book, Laurence explains the relationship between the archaeology of the city and the people who lived in it from 80 B.C. until 79 A.D. By focusing on both culture and geography, Laurence attempts to improve the general understanding of the much-debated Roman world. "The most valuable aspect of Roman Pompeii is its innovative use of rigorous, often quantitative, methods from urban geography and architectural studies to map the spatial organization of Pompeii," noted critic Jeremy Tanner in Antiquity. However, Tanner also felt that "the scope of the problems Laurence seeks to address is too great for the small compass of the book."

In 1997 Laurence coedited Domestic Space in the Roman World: Pompeii and Beyond along with Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. The volume contains selected papers concerned with the use of domestic space in ancient Rome. The collection is divided into two parts: "Space and Society" and "Pompeii: A Case Study." Reviewer Penelope M. Allison, writing in Antiquity, felt that the book contained some "unsubstantiated arguments," but also acknowledged that it "is significant in its sampling of some of the types of evidence and some of the issues which concern scholars currently investigating issues related to Roman domestic space, as well as in its exploration of possible cross-disciplinary approaches."

Coauthors Laurence and Alex Butterworth published Pompeii: The Living City in 2005. The book details the lives of people in Pompeii during the twenty-five years leading up to the eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The catastrophic eruption destroyed the city, and its ruins remained buried and undiscovered for many years. The authors interweave historical facts and fictionalized narratives in an attempt to reconstruct the thoughts and actions of various individuals living in the city. Reviews of the book were mostly positive. A Contemporary Review critic called it "a colourful account of life in the doomed city," while Spectator reviewer Jane Gardam dubbed the book "a very detailed narrative." Additionally, Michael Fulford, writing in History Today, felt that "there is a fantastic wealth of information in this book ;h3 but there are also frustrating omissions." London Times contributor Mary Beard felt similarly, remarking that the book is "the most ambitious re-creation yet of life in the city," but also pointing out that "if any reader is lulled by this into thinking that there is much real history in this book, they should beware." Jane Stevenson, writing in the Observer, disagreed, concluding: "It is the great achievement of this book that we feel we know these people, and their tragedy moves us. The life and death of Pompeii is evoked with verve and authority."

Laurence told CA: "I became interested in writing in my twenties. At the time, I realised there was a possibility of presenting a historical topic in a completely different way to how it had been seen previously. Also, I had something to prove—that a dyslexic child could write books as an adult. The result was a string of academic books and an academic career. In some ways, I actually prefer the spoken word of the lecture hall or discussion seminar to the written format.

"Now, I tend to write something every day or at least re-edit what was on the page from the previous day. This might occur anywhere: at home, on a train, or in a library surrounded by books—that need to be dragged from shelves periodically through the day. Twelve years or more on from my first book, I am surprised that writing has become easier in some ways, but starting the next book continues to be a daunting moment. Of the books I've published, being an academic, I like the one that didn't really sell the most: The Roads of Roman Italy: Mobility and Cultural Change. It creates a neat view of Roman history not found elsewhere. But, the prize-winning books on Pompeii in their very different ways bring that world heritage site to life—so I guess they must be the ones I should like the most.

"In my more idealistic moments, I sometimes hope that the books I have produced just might change the entrenched, old fashioned and even elitist attitudes that continue to be trotted out with reference to the Roman Empire. More importantly, the books might appeal to the next generation of historians and might even inspire someone to turn to the fascinating world of the Romans, rather than bean-counting."



Antiquity, March, 1995, Jeremy Tanner, review of Roman Pompeii: Space and Society, p. 217; September, 1999, Penelope M. Allison, review of Domestic Space in the Roman World: Pompeii and Beyond, p. 711.

Contemporary Review, November, 2005, review of Pompeii: The Living City, p. 316.

History Today, March, 2006, Michael Fulford, review of Pompeii, p. 63.

Observer, June 26, 2005, Jane Stevenson, "Up Pompeii," review of Pompeii.

Spectator, September 3, 2005, Jane Gardam, "Under the Volcano Again," review of Pompeii, p. 36.

Times (London, England), June 5, 2005, Mary Beard, review of Pompeii.


University of Birmingham, The Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity Web site, http://www.arch-ant. (June 21, 2006), author profile.

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