Strategies of Security: An Examination of Roman Locks from Regio I, Insula 11 in Pompeii (15 min)


Susanna Faas-Bush, University of California, Berkeley; and Francesca LaPasta, University of California, Berkeley


In this paper, we investigate the locks and related material from the assemblages of seven properties in Regio I, Insula 11 of Pompeii toward a more nuanced understanding of security and storage in Roman households. This investigation includes both studies of individual artifacts and a statistical analysis of the material across the insula. This research was conducted as part of the 2018, 2019, 2022, and 2023 seasons of the Pompeii Artifact Life History Project.

Our close examination of lock components provides insight into the working of Roman lock mechanisms, and the use by archaeologists of various elements (keyway location and dimension, lock plate orientation and side panels, hinges, preserved sections of wood, etc.) to identify types of furniture. This includes analysis of both slide locks and rotary locks, as well as the identification of an as-yet undiscussed hidden manner of integrating locks into Roman cupboards.

We also systematically survey more than 70 lock plates, deadbolts, strike plates, hasps, and keys from properties 1.2, 3, 4, 5.8, 6.7, 16, and 17 in Regio I, Insula 11. Through consultation of archival sources, we analyze the frequencies of particular types within the residences, recontextualize the locks with associated remnants of furniture and the objects once possibly stored inside, and compare the strategies of security employed by the residents.

We argue that the varying numbers of locks between domestic properties may be an indication of commercial activity taking place within homes, and investigate more generally how locks can help us understand the usage of space. This study sheds light on the workings and contexts of Roman locks and the daily practices of Pompeian households, with broader implications for studies of storage and access in the Roman world.