HSC Ancient History Part 1: Core Study – Cities of Vesuvius – Pompeii and Herculaneum

Return to HSC Resources

Geographical context


a. The physical environment: the geographical setting, natural features and resources of Pompeii and Herculaneum

Pompeii and Herculaneum Ancient History core study

  • Situated in the Gulf of Naples in the Campania region and located between the ports of Misenum and Stabiae


  • Built on a Volcanic plateau covering 66 ha à fertile soil
  • The plateau is located between the Sarno River in the south and the fertile slopes of Vesuvius in the North.
  • Pompeii was strategically important because it lay on the only route linking north and South and connected the seaside area with the fertile inland.


  • Was a seaside town located north of Vesuvius.


Bacchus Mt Vesuvius HSC Ancient History

Fresco from a household shrine in the House of the Centenary entitled “Bacchus and Mt Vesuvius”

  • Vesuvius à symbolises fertility (fertile land) and wine (as evidenced by the grapes) as Bacchus is the god of fertility and wine.
  • Snake is a further symbol of fertility as we can view it as a phallic symbol
  • The olive leaves symbolise agriculture
  • The bird symbolises nature
  • Thus, the fresco reveals information about the geographical resources of Pompeii and Herculaneum as well as giving a brief insight into some religious views.

Pliny the Elder, Natural History

  • “A region blessed by fortune”
  • “warm springs”
  • “shellfish”
  • “Gods of wine and grain”
  • “fine harvest”
  • “nowhere do olives produce more oil”

Martial, Epigrams

  • “shaded with green vines”
  • “famed grapes filled the dripping vats”
  • “[Herculaneum] was made glorious by the name of Hercules”


Resource Evidence
Olive Oil Pliny the Elder “nowhere do olives produce more oil”“a region blessed by fortune”Olive presses were abundant/commonplace: found in houses, villas and in fields.
Perfume Basic ingredient was olive oil- olive flowers.Florus “spring comes with its flowers twice a year”
Wine Used for trade, celebration: known for its potency.Pliny the Elder “Pompeian wines are rather dangerous”“cause a headache”
Fishing Garum was Pompeii’s signature strongly flavoured fish sauce. It was traded.Pliny the Elder “famed beyond any other for their shellfish and fine fish”
Wool and Textiles Booming industry- regional centre for crop marking and dyeing. A building provided by the priestess of Eumachia was the HQ of “Collegium of Fullones” and there was many “fullonicae” scattered around the town.Seneca mentions that a flock of 600 sheep were killed by the earthquake of 62 AD.
Fruit and Vegetables Fruit and veg were central to the economy. Soil was suited to cabbage and onion.Archaeological evidence of market gardens has been found north of the ampitheatre.

b. Plans and streetscapes of Pompeii and Herculaneum

HSC Ancient HIstory - Herculaneum plans

HSC Ancient HIstory - Pompeii Plans

  • The town of Pompeii covered an area of 66 ha surrounded by defensive walls.
  • It is irregularly shaped and built on terrain that slopes from 10 meters up to 40 meters above sea level.
  • Over time, four main areas were developed that were heavily influenced by the Greek principles of urban planning:
    • The forum
    • The insulae or blocks fronting the Via Stabiana
    • Region VI
    • The eastern area
  • The earlier areas were those developed around the Forum and Via Stabiana insulae
  • The grid pattern, developed in other Roman towns, was not precisely applied to Pompeii.
  • The Greek influence can be seen in the regular layout of the streets and roads and divided the towns into insulae
  • The blocks varied in size from 850 – 5500 m2
  • Some contained only one house while others contained a dozen or more.
  • Herculaneum followed the classical layout of Greek towns with narrow straight streets that divide the town into insulae.


  • Walls
    • The fortifications of  Pompeii are its walls that surround and enclose the city with a perimeter of 3.2 kms. The walls have been restored a nd reconstructed on numerous occasions due to the effect of military battles that effected the city. Seven gates open in the walls and many speculate the existence of an eighth “Porta Capua”.
    • Herculaneum had a sea wall, with large vaulted chambers for boats.
    • The oldest circle of wall dates back to the 6th Century BC and was made from blacks of lava and a malleable volcanic stone. By the first half of the 5th century BC a new town had replaced the old one. The new fortification (possibly due to Greek influence) was constructed by a double parallel ring of walls.
    • Around the end of the 4th century BC,. The old fortifications were partially replaced by a new one built on approximately the same line as the previous one and made of square blocks of sarno limestone. The  main reason for the restructuring of the fortifications was the need to prepare the city against the incursions of the Carthaginans led by Hannibal (218-201 BC) The single ring of walls was replaced by a double ring  with a new wall in tuff from  Norcea, built on the embankment, while the external ring was increased in height. Between the two rings of wall, a communication patrol trench was created, accessible by means of special ‘sloping steps’ , still partially visible in the section of fortifications near the Porta Ercolano Gate.
    • The last intervention on the walls was undertaken around the period of the Social Wars (late 2nd
    • regular intervals, and covered in fake marble blocks of plaster as in the early style. The quadrangular towers had two access points: one from the base on the inside of the ring of walls and one from above the patrol trench.
  • Gates
    • City gates were positioned at the end of the main thoroughfares
    • The most impressive examples of Gates at Pompeii are the Marine Gate and the Herculaneum Gate
  • Streets
    • Streets in Pompeii are extremely varied, some built with solid Roman engineering and underlain with water conduits; some dirt paths; some wide enough for two carts to pass; some alleys barely wide enough for pedestrian traffic.
    • There are many different names for the dissimilar types of streets in both Herculaneum and Pompeii. The main highway that leads from Pompeii’s main gate is call the Via dell’Abbandanza.
    • The Via dell’Abbandanza is one of the main Decumani running the length of the town, east to west.
    • The Cardines run north to south, both meet at right angles.
  • Roads
    • The Pompeian road network is- in itself- a reflection of the nascent origins and development of the city.
    • Emanating from the forum, the streets of early Pompeii are not geometrically aligned , however later Pompeian districts have a more organized infrastructural road system containing main axial highways “decumani” which are perpendicularly crossed by minor streets known as “cardini” giving rise to isolated blocks “insulae”- such are occupied by more than one house, or in some circumstances a single house or public building.
    • Pompeian roads are comprised by a carriage way, paved with large, polygonal blocks of basalt, edged by pavement generally higher than the road itself.
    • The roads were reinforced by kerbs made of lava, limestone or tuff – some of which preserve the marks of Oscan stonecutters.
    • Another observation that can be made from Pompeian roads is the logically placed holes on the edge of pavements, thought to hold posts which support street stalls or sunblinds, and in some instances are hypothesized to transport animals.
    • In order to facilitate pedestrian crossing and to protect their feet from rainwater and sewage which flow through the carriageway, there are ovoid shaped stepping stones placed between two pavements which were made from the same materials as the road surface, and were generally needed in areas close to entrances of buildings.
  • Traffic Situation
    • There are deep grooved marks in the streets of Pompeii due to the heavy volume of traffic that use the streets, both pedestrians and wheeled carts.
    • Herculaneum- the traffic is essentially non-existent.
  • Drainage
    • With the exception of the forum- Pompeii has no drainage network, causing the dirty runoff and sewage to run into the streets.
    • However, the streets are built on an incline and the water flows out of the city towards open outlets at the foot of the city walls.
    • There are large slabs of larva on the streets allowing pedestrians to cross the road in a civilized manner and not step in sewage or run off from rain.
    • Herculaneum has a more advanced and adequate sewage system.
  • Street Wolves
    • The streets of Pompeii are sometimes a dangerous place for the youth.
    • Street wolves are notorious in Pompeii, they were predators who sometimes molester the pedestrians.
    • The youth to wear a purple stripe on their robes to identify those too young for incarceration.
  • Lighting at Night
    • The Pompeians used lamps of terracotta, bronze, iron, glass or even gold for lighting the most common type being a container of oil which was lit with fire, with a neck from which the wick emerged for the light, a hike for the fuel and a handle for holding the lamp.
    • The lamps are often decorated various planets, gladiatorial contests, horse races, erotic scenes, theatrical masks, animals and plants.
    • Candle sticks are also a popular form of lighting often bronze with a long neck.
    • Because of the cost of bronze the candle sticks were are an important element of the home, used on mental pieces and in the dining room.
    • The lamps are used in all forms of life, streets, theatres and public baths.
  • Fountains
    • The public water fountains- nymphea- flow day and night for the consumption of the public, however some do have taps to regulate the flow.
    • Public water fountains are conveniently located at many street corners – meeting the needs of the population.
    • The fountains have been strategically placed about 70 meters apart so that the citizens can always count on a supply of water near their homes.
    • There are roughly 40 fountains in Pompeii and they vary little in form. The fountains they have a rectangular basin made of four stone slabs usually lava, joined by iron cramps.
    • Water is transported by a lead pipe and gushes out of a decorative spout.
    • The town’s water supply is brought from the springs of the Acquaro River by the Serinum aqueduct and the water is then distributed from the castellum aquae (water tower) situated at the highest point in the town near the Vesuvian Gate.
    • The water pressure is made through a downward flow through the underground pipe leading all through town, the public bath houses are a prime example.
    • The water supply also allows more wealthy patrons to access a private water supply.

2. The nature of sources and evidence

a. The range of available sources

Literary Sources:

  • Pliny the Younger:
    • Two letters , written 25 yrs after the eruption, to Historian Tacitus, describing the events that took place, his Uncle’s death, and his personal reaction to the eruption.
    • Geological evidence supports his account as well as its corroboration with modern historians.
    • However accounts are limited to Misenum and Stabiae rather than Pompeii and Herculaneum
    • He himself acknowledges his limitations as he states “for it is one thing to write a letter, another to write history.”
  • Vitruvius
    • 1st Century Architect, Manual on Architecture “Of Architecture”
    • Limitations: 27 AD, his depiction of Greek and Roman houses did not always correspond to archeological evidence
    • Bias towards some paintings as he didn’t like the contemporary styles
    • Writes mostly about houses: “the houses of bankers and farmers of the revenue should be more spacious and imposing and safe from burglars”
    • “Advocates and professors of rhetoric should be housed with distinction, and in sufficient space to accommodate their audiences”
  • Pliny the Elder
    • 37 books in his “Natural History”
    • He is deemed reliable as he is the only ancient writer to cite his sources
    • Limitations: his work is known to be contradictory, uncritical and uneven.
    • Writes descriptions of the Campania region: “A region bessed by fortune” “warm springs” “shellfish” “Gods of wine and grain” “fine harvest” “nowhere do olives produce more oil”
  • Cassius Dio
    • Writes in his “History of Rome”
    • Details of the eruption: “all the while an inconceivable quantity of ash was being blown out; it covered both sea and land and filled all the air” “people fled, some from their houses into the streets, others from outside indoors”
  • Martial
    • A poet, writes in his “Epigram”
    • Details the effects of the eruption: “It all lies buried by flames and mournful ash”
  • Strabo
    • Writes about Geographical issues in his “Geography”
    • “This area appears to have been on fire”
  • Seneca
    • Writes in his “Naturales Questiones”
    • Describes the Earthquake in 62 AD “That devastated Campania” and “a flock of 600 sheep perished”

Plant, Animal and Human Remains

  • Mostly archaeological evidence
  • Herculaneum was skeletons (preserved under 20 meters of ash)
  • At Pompeii, plaster casts were found from hollows left by organic material which rotted.
  • Carbonisation is the process of organic material transforming into carbon (coal)
  • Archaological based evidence means a greater reliability- less bias
  • Limitations lie within the excavation process which entails both the disruption of evidence and the loss of evidence; thus not providing a full picture.


  • Human Remains
    • House of Meander
      • 3 Children, hoe and pick found on one side
      • 10, mainly adult, bodies intertwined on the other side
      • Demonstrates the force of the pyroclastic surge.
      • Bronze lantern indicates the material available
    • Ring Lady
      • Found on the beach in Herculaneum àpossible attempted escapee from the eruption
      • 46 years old
      • Gave birth to approximately 2-3 children
      • Questioning over the rings and jewelry that it possibly had not originated from there
      • Useful to understand how victims died from asphyxiation as extrapolated from the cowering body position
      • Also useful to understand that most people ran to the beach
    • Soldier
      • 36 year old male found in Herculaneum
      • 175cm à very tall for the time
      • Stab wound in thigh àdemonstrates occupation as a soldier
      • Every bone broken except for inner ear à demonstrates strength of pyroclastic surges
    • Animal Remains
      • Dog
        • Found in Pompeii
        • Body position that is convulsing shows the strength of the pyroclastic flow
        • Demonstrates security in Pompeii à people had dogs as guards à corroborated by a mosaic on the floor of the House of the Tragic Poet with the inscription “cave canem” or “ beware of the dog”
      • Fish
        • Found in Herculaneum latrine pit
        • Show the prevalence of seafood and the fishing industry
      • Mule
        • Found in a Pompeian bakery
        • Suggests their use for labour in daily tasks such as winding a mill
        • Thus allows one to extrapolate the contextual technology (or lack thereof)
      • Horse
        • Found in the Villa of Papyri in Herculaneum
        • Horses used as domestic animals for people of high status
      • Plant Remains
        • Identified plants from plaster casts of roots
        • Carbonised materials of 26 plants
        •  Grapes
          • 2400 vine root holes found
          • Presence of grapes is corroborated by ancient writings and multiple frescoes
        •  Olives
          • Carbonised whole fruit found within walls à importance within daily life
          • Presence of olive presses- method of extracting the oil
        •  Gardens
          • Different types of plants indicate social status
          • Able to recreate gardens and vegetables used in everyday life

Epigraphic Sources

  • Incidental writings including:
    • Graffiti
      • An art form or a way of communication, as opposed to the contemporary view that it is defacement
      • It was engraved using “stylus, iron nail, wooden splinter or tooth pick” M. Grant
      • “Cheers! We drink like wineskins”
      • “Sauvis demands full wine jars please, his thirst is enormous”
      • Useful in showing Historians the opinions and thoughts of people of all classes as well as detailing information about the mundane
      • It is highly reliable as it is spontaneously written by citizens and not intended for historiographical purposes.
    • Shopping lists
      • Written on the walls of households, mainly in the culina
      • Useful for showing everyday life as well as the resources/food available and consumed by families
    • Political Campaigning
      • Written on the walls and gates of Pompeii in support of citizens who were either running in the election or the current politicians
      • Shows local aristocracy of the city, democracy, need for power
    • Gladiatorial programs or edicta munerum
      • Talk of favourite gladiators and comments on important battles
      • Gladiatorial programs could also be found throughout the streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum
      • Reveal the entertainment and leisure activities of the city
      • One example, contains a victory carved on a city wall
      • This suggests that the culture was not only interested in the sport of the game but actively invested themselves into the promotion and support of the game
      • It is useful to reveal daily activities of Pompeians; specifically to a historian studying cultural values and anthropology
    • Tombstone Inscriptions
      • People who could not afford cremation would be buried with a tombstone displaying their funerary inscriptions
      • Useful for showing religious customs and burial practices.
    • Advertisements
      • Inscribed on the city walls throughout Pompeii and Herculaneum; essentially anyone could select a random location and illustrate their ad for the community to see, however it was unlikely that advertising would be found on the facades of private housing
      • An example includes “In the property of Julia Felix, daughter of Spurius, elegant thermal baths for refined people, shop with lodgings above and apartments on the first floor to let for five years”
    • Inscriptions
      • Writing on the city walls was a prominent form of written communication
      • Wallace-Hadrill “The vibrating humanity of the city still echoes with a thousand voices in every corner that is disinterred”

Decorative Arts: Mosaics and Frescoes

  • Frescoes, as derived from the great Hellenistic pictorial schools, are paintings on either wet or dry fresh lime plaster so that the pigments are absorbed into the layers of the plaster. Usually frescos appeared on internal or external walls and incorporated pictures and designs. Due to their detail, mystery and beauty they have become prominent sources from Pompeii and Herculaneum and are categorised according to the four Pompeian styles (A system coined by August Mau in 1882)
  1. Structural
  2. Architectural
  3. Fantastic
  4. Ornamental
  • Mosaics, are pictures or decorations made of different coloured pieces of stone, glass or other material, inlaid to form a simply or elaborate design. Usually mosaics appeared on the floor either inside or outside. Due to their intricate design and beauty they have become famous sources from Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • Cicero “Generally speaking, one tries to imitate the ways of the illustrious people”
  • Wallace Hadrill “the decoration allowed the visitor a social orientation. It helped steer them within the house guiding them round the internal hierarchies of social space”
  • Lessing “veritable outdoor art galleries”
  • Mosaic on the entrance of the House of the Tragic Poet with the inscription “cave canem” or “beware of the dog”. The mosaic depicts an interpretation of Cerberus, the fierce 3 headed dog that guards the gates of Hell in Greek mythology. Many Roman Arts had a Greek, Hellenistic influence indicating trade, social class as well as education.
  • Fresco Praedia of Julia Felix, is one of a unique set that depicts the busy daily life of Pompeii, including market stalls, an open air school, conversation, and a beggar receiving alms from a lady with her maid. Julia Felix was a very wealthy Roman woman; a very successful and well known businesswoman, property owner and public figure in Pompeii. One of the reasons she may have had artworks of the middle class life in her extravagant villa is due to her familial connections to Imperial freedmen, or her frequent dealings with middle class citizens.
  • Mosaic, found in the triclinium in the House of the Faun, depicts the Greek God Dionysus (Roman counterpart Bacchus) as a child, riding a tiger. This enforces the Hellenistic influence on Roman religion and artwork. The masks depicted in the border around echo from Greek theatre, and the tiled waves are of a very Greek structure, and imply the importance of the sea to the Pompeians; combined with a depiction of the god of fertility, serve to purport how big and valuable the fishing industry was to them. This mosaic, along with the many other Dionysian depictions found in the House of the Faun, also serve to suggest the owner being a strong adherent to the Dionysus/Bacchus cult.
  • Fresco found in the Villa of the Mysteries, depicts the reading of the rituals of the bridal mysteries, to gain entry into the cult. The Villa of the Mysteries is named after the frescoes found in the Triclinium of the house; of which the subjects are hotly debated; one interpretation h suggests that the room was the headquarters for a secret Dionysian cult, for women, that required specific rites and rituals in order to gain entry. Another interpretation is that of Paul Veyne, who believes it to depict the bridal rites for young Pompeian women. Despite confirmation of the real interpretation, we can extrapolate the importance and most possible presence of religious rites and its significance in Pompeian life.


  • Ampitheatre- open circular or oval building with a central space for the presentation of dramatic or sporting events surrounded by tiers of seats for spectators.
    • An inscription reveals that it was built by two local officials Quinctius Valgus and Marcius Porcius at a private expense
    • The ampitheatre was used for gladiatorial games
    • Tacitus “The people of Pompeii, where the show was held, came off best” as they enjoyed witnessing such games
    • A riot occurred in 59AD, destroying much evidence, as spectators from Pompeii and the nearby town of Nuceria fought with each other, with the result that the Emperor Nero banned games at Pompeii for 10 years
    • Tacitus “The senate debarred Pompeii from holding any similar gathering for ten years”
    • “The amphitheater was located in the eastern part of town, positioned against the embankment that filled this corner of the city wall, the towers of which can be seen in the background. A section of the awnings (velarium) that protected against the sun also is visible, the masts of which were fitted through stone corbels attached to the rear wall of the summa cavea” Ada Gabucci
  • Palaestra- wrestling school or gymnasium
    • Palaestra is highly valued by the Romans as it is a significant part of the Greek athletic tradition.
    • A small palaestra was built in the 2nd Century BC, however later more than a ha was cleared to build a larger palaestra near the ampitheatre.
    • According to Zanker it was “140 by 130 meters in area, 100 Iconic- Corinthian columns in a three sided portico, shaded by a row of trees and used to practice athletics and excersise”
    • It also contained a “large swimming pool that must have certainly been welcome in the summer” (Zanker)
    • Graffiti also evidences the variety of games that existed there
    • Palaestra also served a political purpose as according to Cassius Dio the collegia juvenum were paid for by state to teach youth military discipline and loyalty to emperor in the Palaestra
  • Temples- a building devoted to the worship of deities
    • Temple of Isis
      • Part of the notorious cult of Isis
      • Egyptian influence
      • The building consists of a large rectangular space marked off by walls, within which is the cella of the god raised up on a pedestal and standing in a splendid niche. Of interest and great elegance is the small temple – with its plaster decorations – situated in the peristyle and used for the preservation of the Nile water considered to be holy by the members of the cult of the Egyptian goddess Isis. Adjacent to the temple there is also a space to accommodate the priests’ houses and for the meeting of the faithful.
    • Temple of Jupiter or Capitolium
      • Centre of Religious life in Pompeii and dates back to the 2nd Century BC
      • Situated on the northern side of the Forum, it is dedicated to the highest divinity of ancient times – actually it was built in honour of the Jupter, Juno and Minerva triad – and towers above a wide staircase with two large arches either side which have remained virtually intact. In a spectacular manner it closed off the fourth side of the square where there was no colonnade
    • Temple of Apollo
      • Integral part of the Forum even though it predates it
      • It goes back to the Samnite period of the 6th Century
      • The building shows architectural features of both italic and Greek derivation and has a rectangular plan with the perimeter being surrounded by an astonishing 48 columns. The inner cella, raised on a podium, was reached by means of a long flight of steps. Opposite these was the sacrificial altar. The central part, which contains the altar to the god, is also surrounded by columns. It is adorned with two statues depicting “Apollo shooting arrows” and “Diana” (the originals are housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples). On one of the columns which mark off the cella of the god there was a sundial

b. The limitations, reliability and evaluation of sources

No content – all skills section.

c. The evidence provided by the sources from Pompeii and Herculaneum

i. The Eruption

62 AD earthquake: killed 600 Sheep, only warning sign

79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius

Pliny the Younger’s Account of the Eruption and the Death of his Uncle
  • At the time of the eruption, Pliny the Elder was with Pliny the Younger were at Misenum, however, Pliny the Elder commanded a fleet that sailed to Stabiae to assist with the damage
  • Pliny the Younger recounts the early stage of the eruption, later known as the ‘Plinean stage’
  • Pliny the Younger in his letters to Tacitus writes that the only warning signs were tremors in the days prior to the eruption, however this was seen “less alarming because frequent in Campania” (Pliny the Younger)
  • The first sign was “a cloud of unusual size and form” Pliny the Younger
  • Limitations of Pliny the Younger’s account include the fact that he wrote 25 years after the eruption in the form of two letters to his friend Tacitus. Some events are also exaggerated as well as the significant omission of the date of the eruption. However, Pliny the Younger acknowledges these limitations as he states “it is one thing to write a letter, another to write history” recognising that his work is “not worthy of serious history”. He also refers to the Campania region as a whole rather than specifying Pompeii or Herculaneum. Despite these limitations, Pliny the Younger was an eyewitness of the events and thus he can still be deemed a reliable source as his account provides a personal account which can be corroborated with Volcanologists.
  • Pliny the Younger compared the cloud to an “umbrella pine” that reached great heights and spread into “various branches”
  • Upon his route, Pliny the Elder’s boat was stuck at the Stabiae shore due to what Seutonius described as “adverse winds” which caused him to be “overcome by the force of dust and ashes” (Ibid), The reliability of Seutonius is however limited, as he was a gossip columnist who even speculated that Pliny the Elder was “killed by a slave”
  • Pliny the Younger recounts the death of his uncle at Stabiae, commemorating and idolising his Uncle, stating that he was “pretending to be cheerful” in order to maintain composure among his troops.
  • Pliny the Younger describes the eruption as a “terrifying black cloud, split by twisted blasts of fire shooting in different directions, gaped to reveal long fiery shapes, similar to flashes of lightening, only bigger”
The Events of the Eruption
  • The eruption of 79 AD has been analysed and chronologically categorised through stratigraphic analysis of the layers or strata of volcanic ash.
  • Pyroclastic surge: evidenced by thin black layers; a low density turbulent cloud of hot ash and rock that billows over terrain, barely touching the ground. A pyroclastic surge travels at incredibly high speeds of up to 300 km/h. The eruption at Vesuvius was unique as there was six layers in the strata indicating there were six pyroclastic surges.
  • Pyroclastic flow: a much denser, hotter, dry avalanche of ground hugging molten rock, pumice and gasses. It moves a lot slower than a surge- only up to 50 km/h
  • Sequence of events:
    1. Day one (midday): An initial explosion thrusts a “terrifying black cloud” that resembled an “umbrella pine” that reached 20 kilometers into the air and spread out into “various branches” (Pliny the Younger). Pumice is formed from hot magma that has cooled so quickly that it is still full of volcanic gasses and is like a hard foamy sponge.
    2. Day one (midday) – day two (4-6am): Pumice fallout all over Pompeii begins, ranging from pebble size called lapilli (about 1cm) to rock size (up to 20cm), according to [1] Cassius Dio “enourmous stones were thrown up to reach the height of the mountain-tops themselves”. The buildup causes roofs to collapse under the weight. Travel around Pompeii becomes difficult. Pumice fallout at Herculaneum is less.
    3. (Day two (4-6 am): The collapse of the column of hot gas and pumice in the quasi initial explosion, caused a series of pyroclastic surges and flows of ash and hot gases, which race to the south and west at an estimated speed of up to 100 kilometers an hour. The first surge covers Herculaneum in 3 m of hot ash while, in accordance with Cassius Dio, “all the while an inconceivable quantity of ash was being blown out; it covered both sea and land and filled all the air”
    4. Day two (5-7 am): A second surge deposits another 1.5 m of ash on Herculaneum
    5. Day 2 (around 6:30 am): a third surge in the direction of Pompeii stops at the Herculaneum gate.
    6. Day 2 (7:30-8 am): Three more successive surges, reaching temperatures between 100º and 400º bury Pompeii to a depth of up to 4 m, as corroborated by Eusebius in his Chronicle stating that the surges “consumed the surrounding countryside”. The final surge reaches Misenum.
  • NOTE: 2 stages: The first or the Plinean Stage,  that lasted eighteen to twenty hours and produced a rain of pumice southward of the cone that built up to depths of 4m at Pompeii, followed by a pyroclastic flow  in the second, Peléan phase that reached as far as Misenum but was concentrated to the west and northwest.
  • Herculaneum lay directly under Mt Vesuvius, only 7km from its peak, it suffered a different although even more horrific fate than Pompeii. The people of Herculaneum would certainly have been terrified by the initial explosion, shock waves and earth tremours in the Plinean stage of the eruption, as according to Cassius Dio “people fled, some from their houses into the streets, others from outside indoors”. In an article published in 2002 Sigurdsson and Casey elaborate on the stratigraphic evidence, asserting that as Herculaneum was upwind of the fallout, the pumice fall in the first few hours was moderately light. However, in the next and more destructive phase of the eruption, the Pelean phase, Herculaneum bore the full brunt of the succession of pyroclastic surges. The first, reaching temperatures of over 400º, would have killed the inhabitants, and subsequent surges and flows destroyed buildings and carbonised organic matter. In this final phase, the city was buried up to a depth of 20m compared with the 4m at Pompeii.
  • Differences in the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum:
Pompeii Herculaneum
  • Further away from the peak
  • More pumice fallout but less surges
  • Buried under 4m of ash
  • Closer to the peak (only 7km away) – suffered more damage
  • Less pumice fallout but more surges, and before Pompeii received surges.
  • Buried under 20m of ash
  • Roman response: Modern Historian Diess, recounts in his work “Herculaneum, Italy’s Buried Treasure” that “news of the eruption was flashed to Rome by signal towers” where it was dealt with in the “most efficient Roman manner” and “the popular emperor Titus dispensed emergency aid with his own funds in addition to the funds of the state” corroborated by Seutonius who stated that Titus “displayed not merely the concern of an emperor but also the deep love of a father”. Moreover, Diess states that the senate decreed that “the assets of extinct families should be divided among all survivors yet no aid could compensate for such a loss” again congruent with Cassius Dio who stated Titus “restored all damage from his resources”.
  • How people died:
Pompeii Herculaneum
The initial reaction of the people to the eruption determined their fate. Those who immediately fled the city may have survived provided they reached a safe distance. Whereas those who chose to stay inside their homes or other buildings sealed their fate: Cassius Dio: “people fled, some from their houses into the streets, others from outside indoors” At least 600 people died when the roofs collapsed under the weight of the pumice and rock which rained down during the eruption. Those who abandoned the buildings and climbed out onto the roofs died of asphyxiation due to being caught in the pyroclastic surges that overcame the city. Archaeological evidence that corroborates death from the force of a pyroclastic surge coupled with asphyxiation includes that of a dog found in the private house of the Tragic Poet, as its convulsing position indicates such death. Scientific tests confirm that the ash people inhaled was spongy, porous and deadly, as evidenced by the lungs of the Ring lady, who died due to asphyxiation mid escape on the beaches at Herculaneum.  As people breathed in, the very fine ash formed a sticky paste that clogged their lungs and made breathing impossible. The anguish of the victims as they struggled to breathe can be seen in the facial expressions and body language of the casts. A collective observation that can be made from the fact that all bodies were found with their mouths open suggests they suffocated by breathing in the dust or ash. They are all buried near the top of the layers of pumice and they all died much the same. Haraldur Sigurdsson believed that the most deadly surge “the fourth one” occurred at approximately 7:30 am on 25th August 79 AD, killing all who remained in the city. He describes the lethal surge as a searing, burning wind which filled the lungs instantly choking and killing all in its path. Pliny describes similar features, He tells of the flames and the smell of sulphur and how the fumes made it difficult to breathe. His uncle seemed to have died in similar circumstances when the surge hit Stabiae.All wood in Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption. Unlike those at Pompeii who died of asphyxiation, Herculaneans died of thermal shock, as supported by archaeological evidence of brain matter found in the skulls of skeletons at the boathouse. Until recently, it had been assumed that the people sheltering on the beach at Herculaneum died from, suffocation caused by the volcanic ash. Italian scholars Mario Pagano, Guiseppe Malastrolorenzo, and Pierpaulo Patrone who are working on the bodies at Herculaneum now believe these people were killed by thermal shock. When they examined the skulls they found them blackened with a reddish discolouration on the inside and outside. They tested some of the reddish substance and found that it was brain matter on the skulls. This indicated that under intense heat conditions the brains of the people boiled and their skulls exploded. They had been exposed to temperatures over 400º and thus would have died instantly from thermal shock. They died as so:

  1. Herculaneum was hit by a pyroclastic flow travelling at 300 km/h
  2. The high temperatures caused brains to boil and skulls to explode
  3. Bodies vapourised and the soft tissue disappeared, replaced by ash and they immediately became skeletons.
  4. Lack of oxygen caused items to be carbonised and thus preserved.

ii. The economy



Trade, Industry or Occupation Historical Terms Description Evidence
Bakers/Bakery Offellae = pizzas.Bakeries with baking ovens for bread productsPristina = bakeries
  • Bread a basic staple food of Romans
  • Baking ovens only rarely found in houses. Almost all people went to a bakery for their bread.
  • Bakers were highly respected and could become wealthy.
  • Made and sold bread on bakery premises and sold either on premises or from stalls.

HSC Ancient HIstory - Bakery

  • Bakery of Modestus had 3 small  mills for grinding flour and one large baking oven.·         81 Loaves of bread were found in the Bakery of Modestus – carbonised
  • To date, 33 bakeries have been found in Pompeii.
  • Small mills were turned by donkeys. Two donkey skeletons were found still harnessed to mills in Herculaneum.
  • Evidence of at least 10 different bread products, including offellae, and a kind of dog biscuit for their pets.
  • Standard loaves were flat, about 5 cms thick.
  • Bakers shop in Herculaneum. A seal in shop reads ‘Sextus Patulcus felix’, possibly the baker himself. 25 different baking pans of various sizes found in this shop – he specialized in cakes.



Cloth Making Industry – Fullonica Fullonicae- Laundries
  • Workers trod the cloth in a mixture of fuller’s earth, potash, carbonate of soda and urine. Fullers rinsed, dried and brushed the cloth. It was then bleached with sulfar and died
  • Wool was also used in the processing of felt à slippers, hats, blankets, coats
  • The Guild of Fullers à powerful organisation à headquarters are interpreted controversially to be in the Eumachia Building

HSC Ancient History - Fulleries

  • The large number of fulleries and dye-shops far exceeded local demand and could be interpreted as evidence of an important export trade à physical remains easily identified due to fixed facilities à vats, tanks for washing, cauldrons for heating water
  • 4 Fulleries are large – Fullery of Stephanus is one
  • Fullery of Stephanus – typical fullery – clothes press, a large balcony, one large basin for washing, 5 small foot-basins and three large interconnecting basins for rinsing.
  • Stephanus hung the wet clothes over cans on the upper floor and in the courtyard whilst Lucius Veranius Hypsaeus dried the fabric on brick pillars between the Corinthian columns of a large atrium.
  • A clothes press was discovered in a shop attached to the House of the Wooden Partition in Herculaenum.
  • Statue of Eumachia – patron of cloth makers and dyers – found in the building
Garum Garum = Fish sauce (aka Liquaemen, allec, muria)Salsamentarii= sourcemakers
  • Made from different types of fish that were left to ferment for approx. 1-3 months
  • Used to flavour meat, vegetables, fish, fruit and medicine.
  • Most fish fermenting facilities were found outside the town – some form of Garum processing did take place in town in a house in Region I

HSC Ancient History - Wine Garum

  • Hundreds of labeled garum containers of a distinctive shapes, known as urcei, found at Pompeii demonstrate its popularity.
  • Pliny the Elder “ no other liquid excep unguents has come to be more highly valued”
  • Garume was a potent mix, made from “the guts of fish and other parts that would otherwise refuse” Ponsich and Tarradell
  • Aulus Umbricius Scaurus – owned at least 6 workshops producing garum  – 30% of Garum containers in Campania carry his name or that of his extended family. E.g. epigraphic evidence states “The best liquamen of A. Umbricius Scaurus”
  • Mosaic of a garum urceus, from the House of Umbricius Scaurus, the inscription reads ‘flower or liquamen’– stopper is when it is used for trade, the stopper preserves it
  • Vineyards are found in town and in the country
  • Mostly grapes were pressed with a wine press but some were pressed by foot.
  • Generally wine appears to have been brought in from the countryside when needed·         Wine Villas in the country had rooms for pressing the grapes (tocularia), for fermentation (cella vinariae) and storage.
  • Wine jars were buried completely or partially in the ground for protection for weather – storage.
  • Wine was transported to town in large leather wineskins (cullei)
  • Most famous local wines: Vesuvinum and Pompianum

HSC Ancient History - wine

  • 2014 vine-root cavities of a large commercial vineyard near the Pompeian Ampitheatre à on site was a room set up for wine pressing and a shed with embedded dolia which could each fill 40 amphorae.
  • Smaller vineyards adjoining the Inn of Euxinus and the Inn of the Gladiators have been found; grapes were pressed on the premises.
  • Villas of Boscoreale- Villa of Pisanella and Villa Regina – Pisanella had an internal courtyard of 120 dolia that could hold up to 50,000 litres| Regina had 18 dolia holding 10,000 litres.
  • Large variety- Herculaneum: epigraphic evidence of a sign on a wine bar inviting patrons to ‘Come to the Sign of the Bowls’ advertised half a dozen types of wine and their vintages.
  • Large variety – Pompeii: Tavern advertisement “drink here for just one as; for two you can drink better, and for four have some really good Falernian wine”
  • Martial stated in his Epigram: “famed grapes filled the dripping vats”
  • Pliny the Elder discusses the potency of Pompeian wines stating that “Pompeian wines are rather dangerous”  and can “cause a headache”


  • Strabo describes Pompeii as a “fortified trading post”
  • Imports
    • More imports than exportsà indicates that Pompeian society was wealthy in that they had the luxury to try exotic things at their own expense. Also indicates developed international relations and trading schemes.
    • Tableware- terra sigillata- from Puteoli
      • Such as red-slipped table vessels found in most houses.
    • Terra sigillata from northern Italy, Southern Gaul and Cyprus
      • One specific example is a chest found in 1881containing 90 carefully packed and unused south gaulish bowls and 37 earthenware lamps. An extrapolation that can be made from the discovery of these items is that they are representative of a recently received consignment to a Pompeian wholesaler of such wares.
    • Wine from Kos, Crete, Rhodes, Turkey, Sicily, Palestine and central Ital.y
    • Olive oil from Libya and Spain
    • Garum from Spain
  • Exports
    • Garum
      • A mosaic from the House of Umbricius Scaurus depicts a bottle of garum with the inscription ‘flower of liquament’ and a stopper on the lid. The presence of a stopper indicates that garum was intended for trade.
      • Pliny the Elder “ no other liquid excep unguents has come to be more highly valued”
  • Wine
  • Amphorae from Pompeii has been found as far afield as Middlesex in the UK
  • Bronzes and metal work
    • From literary sources, we know Campania (more pointedly the town of Capua) was famous for its bronze vessels, thus it is possible that such metal work was also exported from Pompeii.
    • While a marble relief was found depicting metal workers, its findspot was not recorded, only one metal working premises can be securely identified outside the Vesuvian Gate due to the presence of hammers and anvils

The fact that the metal workshop was found outside the gates brings historians to the collective extrapolations regarding the concept of avoiding taxes, positioning workshops close to resources, as well as having a highly developed scheme of specialized labour.


Industry was central to the economies of Pompeii and Herculaneum- agriculture, wine, garum and olive oil production being the most prominent industires.

Bakery and Bakers/ Pistrina
  • Bread a basic staple food of Romans
  • Baking ovens only rarely found in houses. Almost all people went to a bakery for their bread.
  • Bakers were highly respected and could become wealthy.
  • Made and sold bread on bakery premises and sold either on premises or from stalls.
  • Bakery of Modestus has 3 small mills for grinding flour and one large baking oven.
  • 81 Loaves of bread were found in the Bakery of Modestus. (carbonised)
  • To date, 33 bakeries have been found in Pompeii.
  • Small mills were turned by donkeys. Two donkey skeletons were found still harnessed to mills in Herculaneum.
  • Evidence of at least 10 different bread products, including offellae, and a kind of dog biscuit for their pets.
  • Standard loaves were flat, about 5 cms thick.
  • Bakers shop in Herculaneum. A seal in shop reads ‘Sextus Patulcus felix’, possibly the baker himself. Specialised in cakes for “twenty-five bronze baking pans of various sizes, from about four inches to a foot and a half” (Deiss
Wine Industry
  • Principal sources of income for Vesuvians; generally, the profitable cultivation of both vineyards and olive groves could only be undertaken by the wealthy, because of the cost of the long wait between planting anf the first harvest, and the cost of olive and wine presses. Many of the landowners who had estates in the countryside lived in the city, visiting their villa irregularly and leaving it to be run by trusted dependents e.g. the rich Pompeian banker Lucius Caecilius Jucundus is believed to have owned the Villa of Pisanella.
  • Excavation by Jashemski revealed 2014 vine-root cavities from a large commercial vineyard near the Pompeian amphitheatre; on the site was a torcularium, and a shed with embedded dolia which could each fill 40 amphorae.
  • Smalled vineyards adjoining the Inn of Euxinus and Inn of the Gladiators have been found, with torculas; in other places, grapes were pressed by foot
  • Generally, wine doesn’t seem to have been stored in large quantities in taverns or bars, but brought in from the countryside when needed.
  • Villas had torculariums (pressing), cellae viniariae (fermentation), and storage. The torcula “consisted of a solid wooden crossbar fixed at one end and pushed downwards by means of a winch with an arm lever.”
  • Pliny the Elder said “districts with a mild climate store their wine in jars and bury them completely or partially in the ground thus protecting them from the weather…spaces must be left between jars to prevent anything likely to affect the wine from passing from one to the other, as the wine very soon becomes tainted.”. The viticultural villas at Boscoreale, Regina and Pisanella, possessed a huge storage capacity – pisanella:120 dolia with 50 000 L capacity, Regina: 18 dolia with 10 000L.
  • A wide variety of wines were produced in the Vesuvian area:
    • a sign on a Herculaneum wine bar inviting patrons to “Come to the Sign of the Bowls” advertised half a dozen types of wine and their vintages.
    • Another tavern in Pompeii advertisement confirms that there was a wide range of wines sold in Pompeii: “…drink here for just one as; for two you can drink better, and for four have some really good Falernian wine.”
    • From Pliny’s Natural History and evidence from labelled wine jars, it seems the two most famous local wines were Vesuvinum and Pompeianum. Of the latter, Pliny said “Wines from Pompeii are at their best within ten years and gain nothing from greater maturity”, but he maintained that they were “injurious because of the hangover they cause, which persists until noon the following day.”
    • Judging from a scrawl on the wall of a Pompeian bar, the quality of wine varied considerably: “Inn – keeper of the devil, die drowned in your own piss-wine. You sell the inferior stuff but you keep for yourself, you swine, the good bottles.”
Oil Industry
  • The same estates that produced wine produced olives and oil
    • The Villa of Pisanella held enough storage for 5910 L of olive oil
  • According to Pliny, more skill was “needed to produce olive oil than wine, because the same tree produces different kinds of oil…the green olive, which has not yet begun to ripen, gives the first oil and this has an outstanding taste…the riper the berry the more greasy and less pleasant is the flavour of the oil”.
  • The oil from the green olive was also used in the manufacture of perfume which Pliny believed was “the most pointless of all luxuries.”
  • Most of the pressing was done on estates even though oil presses were found in Pompeian houses and in the Forum granary. Because “The cause of oil is warmth” (Pliny), presses and store rooms had to be warmed by large fires.
  • Cato, in his Agriculture, recorded that Pompeian presses made from lava stone were the best.
  • These trapeta were for the first pressing, to separate the flesh from the pip so as to avoid the oil gaining a bitter taste. The second pressing was done with the grape press torcula. “The first oil from the press is the richest, and the quality diminishes with each successive pressing … age imparts an unpleasant taste to oil and after a year it is old.” (Pliny)
  • Within Pompeii, officinae oleariae retailed oil and it is believed that there may have been an olive market near or in the Forum olitorium.
  • Oil was not only used as the basic ingredient in perfume, but also for cooking, particularly in the thermopolia which provided a service to those who had limited cooking facilities in their homes, and for lighting. Oil was used in the thermae and palaestra for rubbing into bodies. Pliny disapproved of this practice which he blamed on the Greeks ‘the Greeks, progenitors of all vices, have diverted the use of olive oil to serve the ends of luxury by making it available in gymnasia.’
  • Pompeii was renowned for its garum, a fish sauce which was one of the main condiments used for flavouring roman cuisine. According to Pliny, “no other liquid except unguents has come to be more highly valued.”

They were various flavours depending on the type and quality of the fish used and it’s method of preparation. Apparently the valuable red mullet made the best garum, followed by tuna,  mackerel and sardines,  while anchovies were used four less refined sauces. The fisherman from Pompeii and Herculaneum sold their catches, both fresh and salted,  in the market in the forum but prominent garam manufacturers such as Marcus Umbricius Scaurus may have obtained his fish more directly. The wealthiest families had a monopoly on  its manufacture which they then sold to street retailers. Garum was a potent mix, made from ‘the guts of fish and other parts that would otherwise be considered refuse’, probably gills, intestines and blood, and the smell must have pervaded Pompeii.  Although it was popular with most some like seneca, hated the foul smell.

  • The following gives a more detailed description of its manufacture:

“The entrails of sprats or sardines, the parts that could not be used for sailting were mixed with finely chopped portions of fish and with roe and eggs and then pounded crushed and stirred. The mixture was left in the sun or a warm room and beaten into a homogenous pulp until it fewrmented. When this Liquamen, as it was called, had been much reduced over a period of six weeks by evaporation. It was placed in a basket with perforated bottom through which the residue filtered slowly into a receptacle. The end product decanted into jars was the famous garum; the dregs levft over were also regarded as edible and known as Allec” (M. Ponsich & M. Tarradell)

  • A product indispensable to the production of garum was salt. The Pompeians skilfully exploited a depression near the coastal road to Herculaneum to make a salt plant. Saltwater, washed up by the high tides, entered a channel into large shallow basins where it evaporated in the sun. As its concentration increased, it was allowed to overflow into progressively concentrated pools. Eventually, the pure crystallised salt was collected with spades from the final basin.
Cloth Manufacture and Treatment
  • Wool was the basis of one of the most important industries in Pompeii, the washing and dyeing of wool and the manufacture of cloth. Associated with this laundering, bleaching and re-colouring of clothes. Both these activities were carried out in workshops and fullonicae or laundries.
    • The raw wool was first sent to an officina lanifricariaae where is was degreased by boiling in leaden boiler.
    • Once carded it was taken to the spinners and weavers, in private homes or in officnae
    • The cloth was next sent to officinae tinctoriae for dyeing, often in bright colours such as purple or saffron.
    • The finished product was distributed to cloth merchants.
  • Laundries or fullonicae were scattered all over Pompeii – 18, of which four, like the Fullery of Staphanus, were large. Some occupied the rooms of private houses (possibly rented) and were identified by a number of interconnected basins or tanks with built-in steps for washing and rinsigi. Workers trod the cloth in a mixture of fuller’s earthpotash, carbonate of sode and urine (because of its ammonia content). Although camel urine was the most prized, laundries usually hadd to make do with human urine and male passers-by were urged to supply their urine by filling the jugs hanging outside. There were special areas set aside for urine collection.
  • The fullers then rinsed, dried and brushed the cloth. Lucius Veranius Hypsaeus dried his fabric on brick pillars between the Corinthian columns of large atrium, while another fuller, Stephanus, hung the wet clothes over canes on the upper floor and in the courtyard. Once dried, the cloth was bleached with sulphur and then dyed. Igh, and over half a metre tle under two metrres high, and over half a metre wide, was discovered in a shop attached to the House of the Wooden Partition in Herculaneum, and a painted sign over `the Pompeian workshop of M. Vecilius Verecundus, an eminent mill owner and cloth merchant, showed the various processes involved in cloth manufacture.
  • Wool was used also in the processing of felt to make slippers, hats, blankets and cloaks. It was impregnated with heated vinegar, creating a matted effect, and then pushed and pressed until it reached the right consistency.
  • The Guild of Fullers was a powerful organisation within the city. Its headquarters, as well as a possible wool market, were located in the Eumachia building on the eastern side of the Forum. This magnificent building, with the dimensions and layout of a temple, was paid for by the priestess/business woman Eumachia, who has married a wealthy owner of pastures and flocks of sheep and became the patron of the cloth – makers and dyers. She dedicated it in her own name that of her son, Numistaeius Fronto, to the imperial family. Within the building was a statue of herself.
Bakeries (Pistrina)
  • The thirty or so bakeries that have been identified in Pompeii saved householders from buying the grain , milling it into flour and baking their own bread, which was a basic foodstuff. Because of the poor quality of the flour, the bread was very hard, and due to the lack of yeast, deteriorated quickly. Bakeries did their own refining of the grazing in lava stone mills, usually three or four, set in a paved courtyard with a table for kneading the dough, and a brick oven. A mill was composed of three parts: a fixed conical block called a meta, a mosnry base with a lamina for collecting glour, and a hollow cylinder, catillus, into which was inserted a pole, turned by mules or donkeys. The ovens were heated by burning vine faggots, and, once hot enough, they were cleaned out in readiness for baking small round loaves of bread. These, marked off in eight sections for easy breaking, were dispatched to the various small shops and stalls in surrounding streets. A few bakeries had an adjoining area for selling their own bread, but most did not.

4 copper assus = 1 bronze sestertius

4 bronze sestertii = 1 silver denarius

25 denarii = 1 gold aureus

Roman prices tended to fluctuate according to local conditions, thus historians are unable to determine exact values and make concretised observations

  • For example, epigraphic evidence engraved on uneven columns in the atrium walls of a house states that “7 days before the Ides” bread was worth 8 copper asses or 2 sestertii wheras “3 days before the ides” the price of bread went down to only 2 copper asses

Copper asses were the most common form of currency as people did not trust their slaves with the likes of denarii let alone the precious gold aureus.

A collection of 1600 coins was found in the dolium of counter in the Inn of Lucius Vetutius Placidus, indicating that Pompeians had an ancient form of cash registers!

Commercial Life
  • Pompeian society placed a significant emphasis on commercial life and commercial success
  • The forum as well as the via del’ abbadanza (the main thoroughfare of Pompeii) was crowded with shops
    • Identified shops include a mason’s shop, extrapolated from a fresco depicting masonry tools as well as the owner’s name- Diogenes. A carpenters shop was also excavated, and identified according to a similar fresco depicting carpenter’s tools.
    • Seen in the frieze in the Praedia of Julia Felix where scenes reveal the busy markets in the forum.
  • The emphasis on commercial life is evidenced by the fact some shops advertised their commercial interests as well as the strong desire for profit
    • The mosaic on the entrance near the porta antica of the House of Umbricius Scaurus showed a amphorae or vessel of garum à pictures were the universal language as not all were literateà people sent their slaves out to do the shopping
    • Epigraphic evidence proclaimed “profit is joy” found inscribed on the mosaic entrance way of two wealthy men, Siricus and Numerianus.as well as another “welcome gain” inscribed around the impluvium of the house of a carpenterà Pompeian society was concerned with wealth and almost was capitalist!
  • Images of Mercury, the god of commerce, were also displayed in numerous places to fain blessings: on a sign outside a shop; on a sale counter; as part of a set of scales; or on the wall of a workshop.
  • Over 600 privately owned shops, workshops and inns have been excavated.
  • Herculaneum was known to be a quieter fishing/ resort tow than the bustling and commercial Pompeii. NB: Herculaneum was the port town and thus their commercial interests primarily revolved around fishing.
  • Markets, or macellum, were another prominent aspect of the economy.
  • Seen in the frieze in the Praedia of Julia Felix where scenes reveal the busy markets in the forum- more specifically the meat and fish market. The existence of these is verified by fish bones found scattered in the forum.
  • Temporary markets were also common, these too are represented in the Frieze from the Praedia of Julia Felix which portrays scenes of a mules and carts carrying merchandise; a man displaying shoes; cloth merchants showing their wares to two women; a man selling bread and a fruit and vegetable stall, indicating stalls were set up for vendors to sell goods such as shoes, cloth, metal vessels, fruit and vegetables. As well as stalls situated in the surrounds of the ampitheatre, established to sell refreshments to patrons.
  • Markets were set up on specific days, as reinforced by epigraphic evidence on the façade of the Shop of the Potter Zosimus that Pompeian market day was “Saturn’s day”

iii. Social structure

  • The social and political elite


  • Full legal rights
  • Could hold political office
  • Wealthy landowners and businessmen
  • Controlled public finances, spaces and religion
  • Privileged seats in the ampitheatre and theatre
  • Received honorary statues and tombs.


  • Could not hold public office.
  • Were under legal control of fathers or husbands.
  • Could own property
  • Conducted businesses
  • Constructed buildings and tombs
  • Held priesthoods
  • Supported electoral candidates
  • Received honorary statues and tombs
Freedmen (Liberti)
  • Men and women freed from slavery
  • Often worked for former masters
  • Many became wealthy and influential


  • Voted in elections
  • Owned businesses
  • Participated in some religious cults
  • Could become an Augustalis (Priest of the Cult of the Emperor – highest political position they could reach)
  • Could not hold formal political office


  • Could not hold formal political office
  • Some worked for former Masters.
  • 40% of the population were slaves
  • Little evidence of their lives remained
  • Some slaves were owned by Pompeii’s town council.
  • Few tombstones attributed to slaves
  • Domestic work common
  • Few houses had separate slave quarters
  • There is a wide range of slaves, from German’s who were commonly sent to the salt mines, to educated Italian’s who had simply fallen into debt.
  • Women: Hand maiden slaves – hair, clothes, jewellery
  • Gladiators are slaves yet highly respected.

The typical role of women in Roman society was to perform tasks such as running the household, bringing up the children and controlling finances; Rome is a military empire, and the men had to be out training all day as soldiers, working as a politician for the empire, or be an external merchant; thus, Pompeian women had much more freedom than their Roman counterparts. The evidence of wall paintings (Julia Felix’s frieze) inscriptions and frescoes show Pompeian women actively engaged in public life and moving freely about the city.

Women in Public Life
  • Inscriptions about rich women Marcia and Rufina Metilia inform us of the ability of women to own property in their own right and to manage their affairs without supervision by a male relative.
  • A prominent Pompeian woman was Poppaea Sabina. Her family owned the House of Menander and the House of the Gilded Cupids. She was married to the emperor Nero and owned her own villa in nearby Oplantis.
  • Another important businesswoman was Eumachia. Her family owned brickmaking works and vineyards, as suggested by amphorae discovered all over the Mediterranean. She constructed a large building in the Forum that bears her name: the Eumachia building. A Latin inscription from the 1st Century AD reads:
    “Eumachia, the public priestess (of Venus), daughter of Lucius, had the vestibule, the covered gallery, and the porticoes made with her own money and dedicated in her own name and in the name of her son Marcus Numistrius Fronto, in honour of the goddess Concord and Augustan Piety.”

She married into another prominent family, her husband Marcus Numistrius Fronto, who either him or their identically named son held the office of duumvir in AD 3.

  • Wooden and wax tablets detailing the financial transactions of the banker Caecilius Jucundus provide further information about women conducting business. There are at least fourteen women mentioned in these documents. One, Umbricia Januaria, was possibly a freed slave as suggested by her name. She operated a business for her former master:

“Umbricia Januaria hereby attests that she received from L. Caecilius Juncundus 11, 039 sestertii, less a percentage [1-2 per cent] as his commission, for the auction of good on her behalf.”

  • Although women could not vote, they made public declarations supporting particular candidates for election. From the electoral campaign programmata from Pompeii, it seems it was quite acceptable and legitimate for women to do this. For example, Taedia Secunda canvassed votes for her grandson; Asellina scrawled electoral comments on the walls of her tavern.
  • Women at Pompeii may have attended the contiones before candidates were chosen. The election programmata show that women did have a part in the public life even if they did not vote:

“The programmata may be regarded as a collective activity in which women took part no only as members or clients of the family but also as members of the community and the electoral district.” (Sauvnen)

Women and work
  • From graffiti and inscriptions, we can gain otherwise limited knowledge into the lives of less wealthy women.
  • Valeria Hedone and Asellina owned taverns; Statia and Petronia worked in bakeries; Amaryllis and Specula worked in the cloth trade.
  • Other women worked as vegetable sellers, weavers, doctors and money lenders. “Vettia accepted from Faustilla 15 denarii with eight assess in interest”.
  • There were also the lower class poor women and slaves who worked as household servants, cooks, cleaners, wet nurses and prostitutes.
  • Funerary monuments testify to the fact that some Pompeuan women were important enough to have been honoured by a funeral at public expense. One such woman was the priestess Mamia. Another woman. Veia Barchilla, erected and paid for a large tomb to commemorate the life of her husband.
Patron Client Relationship

One feature of life that was common to all levels of society in Pompeii and Herculaneum was the relationship of client and patron. Elite freeborn families acted as patrons to those in the lower class. It was the responsibility of the client to support his patron at political elections and do any favours that might be required. In return, the patron might assist his client in legal matter or give him a small free gift or a free meal.

One example of the patron-client relationship at Pompeii was that between Eumachia and the guild of fullers. The statue of Eumachia was erected in her honour by the fullers guild. The inscription reads “The Fullers [dedicated this statue] to Eumachia, daughter of Lucius, public priestess.”

Extract from “Pompeii and Herculaneum: Interpreting the Evidence” by Brian Brennan and Estelle Lazer:
Political life at Pompeii and Herculaneum was dominated by the patronage of poorer citizens and of particular social and business groups by members of a powerful, wealthy and influential elite. In a way similar to Rome itself, where the great senatorial families had an impressive tradition of office-holding and public service, powerful local Pompeians offered both protection and assistance to individuals. They assisted those who sought advancement in political office or desired to make connections and alliances that would help them in business or in social life. In return, the patrons expected support in elections and public recognition of their exalted status. The patron, patronus, could expect support from his clients, clients. Every patronus sought to outdo his rivals in the size and extent of his supporters, clientela. The number of clients who came to your house in the morning, or who accompanied you to the forum, or who cheered you in the theatre, indicated your importance. Patronage might also be extended to separate groups within the community or to the whole populace, whose support was won by offering benefits, beneficia. Benefits could include the provision of food, gladiatorial entertainments, public works or projects such as theatres, temples or public baths.

iv. Local political life

Local Government

HSC Ancient History local government

Duumviri: ‘the two men’. They operated as co-mayors of Pompeii and could only serve one year. Elections took place each year in the spring. They were also in charge of justice.

Aediles: Two citizens were elected to this position each year. They were described as ‘ two men, for taking care of streets, buildings, temples and public buildings’.

Political Structure:
  • At its foundation in c. 80BC, the Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum was given a lex (or charter), that set out the political and administrative structure still in use at the time of the eruption in 79AD.
  • There were 3 political institutions at Pompeii:
    • The comitium or ‘people’s assembly: Made up of all adult, male citizens of the town, including freedmen. It functioned to elect magistrates and to vote honours.
    • The ordo decurionum: The legislative body of Pompeii, able to make decisions on any matter that concerned the colony as a whole. Its members were called ‘decurions’. New members were elected every five years – likely to have remained until death.
    • The magistracy: Two duumvirs and two aediles (junior magistrates), who were responsible for the judicial system, administration, public works, and buildings, municipal cults and games-giving. The magistrates presided over proceedings in the ordo and elections in the comitium. Every 5 years the duumvirs held a census to revise the list of ordo members and were given the title quinquennial duumvirs. A candidate for magistracy must be male, free-born, over 25, have a fortune above a certain level and have an unblemished reputation. To become duumvir a candidate first had to be elected aedile.
  • Other honours: The most prestigious honour to be bestowed on a citizen was that of ‘patron’ of the town. A patron was formally selected by the town council to represent and protect the interests of the community at Rome. E.G. Marcus Holconius Rufus and Marcellus. Another rare, purely honorific title was that of ‘military tribune’; this was awarded to a citizen of popular demand, presumably in return for services to the community. E.G. Marcus Tullius and Marcus Holconius Rufus.
  • Herculaneum: Political set up similar to Pompeii, however it did not suffer the imposition of a colony after the Social War of 91-87BC. Surviving inscriptions demonstrate that Herculaneum was run by two annually elected duumvirs. Aediles, also attested, would have supervised the markets, roads and public buildings. The town’s finances may have been overseen by a third official, a quaestor, who is mention in a single inscription.
  • Programmata
    • Programmata are unique to Pompeii
    • They are painted posters, usually red or black on a white background.
    • They support particular candidates for political office.
    • It is thought that the candidates often commissioned them themselves.
    • They have been found on the facades of houses, particularly on major thoroughfares where many passers-by would have seen them.
    • 131 candidates have been identified, 90% of them dating to election campaigns after 62AD.
    • “I ask you to elect Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus and Marcus Samellius Modestus aediles, men worth of public office”
    • “All the fruit-sellers with Helvius Vestalis call for Marcus Holconius Priscus as duumvir for lawsuits”
    • The 79AD election campaign of Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus is particularly well documented. Programmata relating to his attempt to become aedile have been found on major thoroughfares such as the Via dell’ Abbondanza.
  • Monumental Inscriptions:
    • On stone and bronze – found at both Pompeii and Herculaneum.
    • Marble à more common
    • Bronze à more important – more valuable
    • Unlike programmata, monumental inscriptions were usually permanent.
    • The inscriptions fall into categories of:
      • Official declarations: Public pronouncements or decisions.
      • Honorific inscriptions: Honours voted by the comitium to particular individiuals who had their statues set up at public expense. In the Forum, 41 bases for standing statues along the poritcoed sides and 16 equestion bases can still be seen. Aulus Umbricius Scaurus was honoured with an equestrian statue.
      • Dedications: Found on public buildings and record who or what the building is dedicate to and who paid for it.

v. Everyday life

Leisure activities
Gladiatorial Games:
  • Gladiators were usually slaves or convicted criminals.
  • They trained at the Palaestra and in the Gladiators’ Barracks.
  • Helmets, greaves and weapons were found in the gladiators’ barracks, due to poor recording much evidence was lost, 15 complete helmets, 6 single greaves, 5 pairs of greaves, 3 shoulder guards and a small round shield remain–> lavish embossments imply they were used for ceremonial parades rather than actual fights.

Types of Gladiators:

  • Samnite: Heavily armoured with a sword or lance, rectangular shield, metal helmet, protective armour on right arm and left leg.
  • Thracian: Not as heavily armoured – short curved sword, small round shield, arm guard on his right arm, leg guards and highly decorated helmet.
  • Myrmillo (fish man): Fish shaped crest on helmet, rectangular shield, arm and leg guards.
  • Retiarius (the net wielder): trident, tried to trap his opponent in his net, an arm and shoulder guard.
  • Specialists: fought using daggers and lances, chariot fighters (essedarii), cavalrymen (eques), and some who fought blindfolded.
  • Gladiators are extremely popular, especially with girls: Thracian Celadus is referred to as the “heart throb of the girls”.
  • Wealthy members of society paid for gladiatorial games, many of which are recorded in epigraphic evidence Marcus Tullius paid for a wild beast hunt and 20 pairs of gladiators.
Cock Fighting:
  • People gambled on the outcome of cockfights.
  • Mosaic showing a cockfight, on the table in the image is a purse full of money which will go to the owner of the winning cockerel.
Food and dining

Appear to have a varied diet

  • Seeds and pips from foods such as dates, figs and olives have been preserved in the volcanic ash.
  • Carbonised eggs, figs, loaves of bread and nuts including walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds have also been found.
  • Animal bones from sheep, pigs and cattle attest to the consumption of meat.
  • Evidence for the presence of seafood in the population’s diet comes from fish bones and the shells of scallops, cockles, sea urchins and cuttlefish

A team from Oxford university has been investigating remains from latrine pits and sewers at Pompeii. As latrines were usually in the kitchen they were used to dispose of both human excrement and food scraps. So far, mineralised seeds, small bones and marine shell fragments have been found.

Further work is being carried out as part of the Herculaneum Conservation Project which should provide more dietary sources.

Professor Wilhelmina Jashekski, an archarologist specialising in the gardens of Pompeii, discovered that many houses had spaces for the cultivation of figs, olives, cherries and other fruits and vegetables. Evidence for viticulture (grape growing) within Pompeii and hence for the drinking of wine came from her discovery of a vineyard within the walls.

Artworks including frescoes and mosaics that feature foods such as fruit, fish, poultry, and game also provide information about diet at Pompeii and Herculaneum.

  • Made of a fermented mixture of small fish such as sprats and anchovies combined with the entrails of a larger fish such as mackerel.
  • Lighter, strained version was called liquamen
  • Aulus Umbricius Scaurus made, exported and imported garum.
  • Small terracotta jars that once held garum have been found in Pompeii and Herculaneum; they have painted labels with info like contents, manufacturer, shipper and the recipient
  • Excavators have uncovered stalls selling take away foods doused in this fish sauce
Dining Out in Pompeii
  • Wall paintings suggest banqueting is popular; depicting people eating and drinking, helped by slaves to remove outer clothing and vomiting
  • An outdoor triclinium was found in the House of the Moralist at Pompeii, with three stone couches that were painted red and a marble topped table. A bronze brazier and various serving and eating vessels were found nearby.
  • “There was an absence of formal dishware sets but an abundance of small grilling vessels (like barbeques) found in the residences studied, indicating that people were eating-and-running on the go” (Penelope Allison)
  • Most evidence for clothing in Pompeii and Herculaneum come from artistic representations – this is pragmatic as statues and frescoes may not depict what was actually worn.
  • Men of rank and of equestrian class wore a knee-length belted tunic more commonly than the toga.
  • The width of the purple stripes on the front and back indicate the rank of the wearer.
  • Pompeians dressed as the Romans dressed. Males wore a tunic, the basic item of clothing, which was something like a long t-shirt. It was worn under a toga.
  • Status was distinguished by stripes and colours.
    • The tunica laticlavis or the senatorial tunic had broad stripes that extended from the shoulder to the hem.
    • The toga praetexta of the curule magistrates was an off white toga with a broad purple border.
    • Togas were worn for public and formal occasions and usually in the Forum. The toga was the national dress of Rome.
    • The toga was a large oval-shaped piece of cloth, usually wool, worn as the ‘standard’ Roman garment.
  • Women did not wear togas, only when to signify disgrace.
  • Stola: A long, sleeveless tunic, usually suspended at the shoulders from short straps, worn on top of another tunic. Worn by women of rank and as a symbol of marriage – enabled a woman to publicly proclaim her modesty and respect for tradition.
  • Palla: Cloak worn over a woman’s head when outdoors.
  • Vittae: Woollen headbands
  • A bronze statue in the villa of Papyri at Herculaneum shows a woman wearing a tunic fastened in the style of a Greek peplos.
  • Painting in the lararium of the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, depicts both the tunica laticlavia and the toga praetexta worn by magistrates.
  • Statue of Marcus Holconius Rufus depicted in military dress uniform and cuirass (breastplate armour) to depict his role as the Military Tribune –> it is likely he never wore this.
  • Social occasion -“opportunity to satisfy not only the well-being of the body, but also of the spirit” Cantarella and Jacobelli.
  • 4 Thermae discovered in Pompeii: The Stabian baths, the Forum baths, the Central baths (still under construction) and the Sarno baths.
  • 2 thermae discovered in Herculaneum: The Suburban and Forum baths.

Divided into male and female sections or they were divided by time allocations

  • Decoration – often with a marine theme
  • Visitors would also practice physical exercise and play sport, indulge in a range of therapies such as a massage, stroll in the gardens, listen to music and poetry recitals and read in the library, conduct business and receive invitations.
  • Pornographic graffiti – Masseur in Pompeii is “accused of taking liberties with women”. Graffito describes Apelles the waiter dining “most pleasantly with Dexter the slave of Caesar” and then both screwing “at the same time”.
  • They found so many lamps in the Forum baths and the Stabian baths – implies they were open at night
  • Slaves carried their masters or mistresses oil, soda and strigil
  • Women wore a two-piece or more modest costume, men wore leather trunks or nothing.
 The Stabian Baths:
  • Oldest and largest in Pompeii – date from as early as the 4th century BC.
  • Earliest known hypocaust, installed in the 1st century BC.
  • Iulius and Annius refurbished the baths and added a laconium and a destrictarium.
  • In the Augustan period a new was added, the palaestra extended and a swimming pool added.
  • Elaborate stucco decoration and fourth style wall paintings, mosaic floors.
Suburban baths in Herculaneum:
  • An inscription in the entrance courtyard states that they were financed by Marcus Nonius Balbus
  • “architecturally notably vistibule” – Diess
  • Waiting room = “one of the great finds of archaeology” -Deiss. It featured walls of varied – coloured marbles, framed white stucco panels containing bas-reliefs of naked warriors in various poses, winged cupids and a red spiral stucco frieze running around the room. A floor of black marble squares divided by narrow bands of white marble. Magnificent wooden panelled doors. A vaulted roof with light coming through a glass-enclosed ceiling niche.

Thermae: Municipal or privately owned bath complexes.

Apodyterium: Changing room with benches and shelves or niches for clothes.

Laconium: A small round room useed as a sweat bath, usually with dry heat. The room was heated either by a fireplace, hot stones or a brazier placed at the centre of the room.

Tepidarium: A vaulted chamber designed to acclimatize visitors passing from the apodyterium to the caldarium, with benches where people could sit to get used to the heat and/or wash themselves.

Calidarium: The principal bath chamber for a hot-water or steam bath, containing a communal, rectangular pool and a basin.

Frigidarium: A vaulted chamber for cold baths, containing one or more cold-water pools. Normally visited after the heated rooms.

Hypocaust: Heating system,  provided by a charcoal-burning furnace located at the back of the caldarium, hot air circulated through the interstices and under the marble floor which was raised about 70-90cm to brick pillars and through air ducts built behind the walls. Ceilings had grooves in the plaster which collected and channelled the condensation down the walls.

Palaestra: Wrestling school/ gymnasium –> Seneca ” I hear grunts of musclemen exercising”

Natatio: Open air swimming pool

Praefurnium: Heating room

Destrictarium: Scraping-room, where oil and sweat were removed from the body with strigils.

Water supply and sanitation
Water Supply
  • Early inhabitants relied on water from the Sarno river “for the purposes of life, for pleasure, and for our daily use” (Vitruvius), deep wells and rain collecting cisterns for their water.
  • NB: while they appear to be level, supply aqueducts decline 1-3m/km

HSC Ancient History - water supply

  • At the time of Augustus, the imperial aqueduct at Misenum had a branch built to supply Pompeii (Sernium aqueduct)
  • Water from this channel flowed into a main tank or water tower (castellum aquae) near the vesuvian gate.
  • From the castellum, it was siphoned off into 3 main pipes that fed different areas of the city. Vitruvius discusses this process in his “On Architecture” stating that “in the reservoir are three pipes of equal sizes, and so connected that when the water overflows at the extremities, it is discharged into the middle one”
  • The sloping terrain aided the water pressure that dispersed the water into various tanks all over Pompeii.
  • Fourteen of these secondary tanks have been uncovered.
  • Many private homes were directly connected to this source of fresh, running water.
  • One of the three pipes supplied the forty two public fountains (nymphaea) found all over Pompeii.
  • We have evidence of three fountains at Herculaneum.
  • They were usually located at crossroads- obviously the supply of water was more important than traffic movement, because, in some places, the fountains obstructed the roadway.
  • It is likely that most people in Pompeii lived within easy walking distance of a fountain.
  • These public fountains provided a continuous supply of fresh water as there was an overflow system.
  • The excess water ran down the streets and helped wash away the rubbish.
  • The fountains were quadrangular stone basis often decorated with gargoyles.
  • Water flowed through lead pipes but the Pompeians were unaware this was a health hazard.
  • Another feature was the installation of castellum plumbeum, a lead pillar that acted as a pressure tap and ensured equal water pressure throughout the town.
  • Smaller houses still made use of cisterns
  • At least 91 but probably more were connected by pipes to the main water supply
  • In these houses, ornamental fountains, pools and other features became common
  • Some houses even had private baths in the Augustinian period, such as the House of the Meander, the house of Paquius Proculus and the house of the Vestals.
  • Pompeii was noisy, dirty, smelly and generally unhygienic with rubbish in the streets.
  • The disposal of waste matter and rubbish constitutes a major problem for all societies whether ancient or modern.
  • Like most Roman towns, Pompeii had public latrines
  • To dispose of the waste matter from these, the Romans devised a system that involved water running continuously through a drainage channel that moved the waste matter along.
  • A large public latrine with seating for twenty has been found in the north-west corner of the Forum at Pompeii
  • There was a small anteroom and then the main toilet area containing seats.
  • Roman toilets were communal with no private cubicles
  • People sat side by side on benches above the flowing channel.
  • There was no toilet paper, only a sponge and a stick
  • Public latrines were also located at the baths and the palaestra
  • Some private homes in Pompeii and Herculaneum, such as the House of the Painted Capitals, had latrines.
  • These were often located near the kitchen area and were flushed by hand or connected to the house’s water supply from the aqueduct.
  • The waste matter drained away to cesspits beneath the roadway or to the sewage system
  • Private toilets were usually only for one or two people, however some houses in Herculaneum catered for up to six users.
  • Pompeians took pleasure out of toilet humour as epigraphic evidence of graffiti describes the latrines as “Martha’s banqueting room”

vi. Public buildings


Purpose or function of the Basilica

  • It is a place for legal proceedings and business transactions
  • Besides use for law the building would probably been used for other large gatherings such as auctions
  • Exchange where businessmen or speculators met clients and signed contracts

What does the basilica reveal about Pompeian life?

  • It reveals that law and justice was carried out in everyday life and they had magistrates and a proper, lawful area to carry these duties out

Description and dimensions

  • Standard plan of basilicas:
    • Long rectangular central hall, flanked on either side by a colonnaded aisle and an apse at one end.
  • Pompeii Basilica:
    • Covers an area of almost 5000 sq. m
    • Central hall was two stories with light filtering through the upper gallery
    • Hellenistic-style building
    • Five large doors (fitted with wooden shutters) that open onto a portico with four Ionic columns on the south-west corner of the forum and its interior space was designed to impress the visitor with the majesty of law
      • Focus of interior= raised tribunal where the chief magistrates, the duumviri sat as judges
    • Herculaneum Basilica
      • Many buildings still buried under debris and one building stripped of its decorations in the 18th century could have been the basilica although it may in fact be a shrine to the imperial cult
      • We know the towns basilica building was rebuilt at the expense of the Proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus, after the earthquake of AD62 and his statue connects him to this so-called ‘basilica’ building
      • Basilica itself 37m by 60m and centered stood a statue of the Emperor Vespanian
        • This was flanked by niches which contained paintings depicting scenes from the life of Herakles or Hercules- the mythical founder of the town
      • Interior space housed many bronze and marble statues of emperors and a series of full length portrait statues of the Balbus family—serving a reminder to visitors of the Balbus family’s benefactions to their town

Location and location significance

  • Pompeii basilica—located at the southwest end of the Forum

Importance or significance as an Archaeological object

  • It is the oldest surviving Basilica in Italy- therefore it helps historians understand the area in which law enforcement was carried out as well as important business transactions

Key fact to remember:

The two duoviri (magistrates) made judgments about

  • Unworthy Decurion’s
  • Electoral candidates without the required qualifications
  • Inappropriate behavior during elections
  • Misuse of public funds
  • Robberies
  • Murder

They were responsible for sentencing but could only give death penalty to foreigners and slaves


  • Small covered theatre seating up to 1,300 people
  • Possibly used for musical recitals and displays of oratory. Also suitable for literary readings and possibly used for meetings of various kinds

Purpose or Function of the Roman Temples

  • Regarded as the homes for gods and goddesses
  • Place were correct rituals were carried out by the priests to honour the gods

What does the roman temples reveal about Pompeian life

  • Their dedication and belief in different gods and goddesses—religion

Description and dimensions

  • Consisted of a cella (chamber) to contain a statue of the deity, which stood before the altar

Location and location significance

  • Most temples were mainly located in or around the forum

Importance or significance as an Archaeological object

  • Understanding of the worship for gods and goddesses- although their was little focus on personal religious devotion rather on the loyalty to Rome

Key fact to remember

  • Most temples at Pompeii came from the Roman period of occupation and were dedicated to public cults, enabling the people to demonstrate their loyalty to Rome.
  • The temples were not places where regular services were held for large numbers of people
  • little focus on personal religious devotion

Evidence (modern, ancient, written, epigraphical)

  • 10 temples excavated in Pompeii, none in Herculaneum

Temple of Isis

“Numerius Popidius Celsinus, son of Numerius, rebuilt at his own expense from it’s foundations the Temple of Isis, which had collapsed in an earthquake; because of his generosity, although he was only 6 years old, the town councilors nominated him into their number free of charge.”

  • Temple to the Egyptian Goddess Isis, built in the Theatre District around end of 2nd century, reflecting the trading links between Pomp and Alexandria. Unearthed in 1760, the unusual discovery of an Egyptian temple in Italy, as well as the vividness of the remains there sparked much excitement.
    • Carbonised remains in pits and on the altar
    • A dead body – presumed to be the priest
    • Statuettes and well – preserved paintings
    • A small structure (purgatorium) with steps leading down to a well was believed to have provided purifying water for ceremonies.
  • Much of the sanctuary’s decoration was calculated to emphasize the foreignness of the goddess.
    • A tablet inscribed with genuine hieroglyphs was discovered in fron of the the temple itself
    • Paintings depicting Egyptian gods: Anubis, Bes, Osiris, Harpocrates and Isis; and Egyptian landscapes peopled with strange creatures such as crocodiles, ibis and pygmies.
  • Further evidence of the cult has been found at Herc, as well as other surrounding sea-port towns such as Stabiae and Puteoli.
  • The popularity of the cult is reflected in the discovery of statuettes of Isis and several cult-rattles, sistra, found in private houses. Furthermore, some twenty lararia were decorated with images of Isis, and several individuals donated statuettes within the sanctuary enclosure:
    • A marble statuette, executed in archaizing style, depicts the goddess holding a sistrum in her right hand and the key of the Nile in her left. Traces of gilding can still be seen on the marble. Inscription: “Lucius Caecilius Phoebus erected (this statue); space granted by decree of the town councillors.”
    • An inscribed pilaster, which once supported a (now lost) statuette. Inscription: “T Augustan Isis. Manilia Chrysa [fulfilled] her vow [willingly to the deserving deity.]”
    • Statuette of Bacchus, as a version of the Egyptian god Osiris, depicts him with a panther and is displayed in a small niche in the rear wall of the temples, with ears in stucco on either side, symbolic of his responsiveness to prayer. Inscription on plinth:
      Numerius Popidius Ampliatus, father, at his own expense.” (father of the child who nominally rebuilt the temple)
    • Actor Norbanus was honoured with a portrait bust in the sanctuary, perhaps in connection with his appearances in the adjacent theatre.
  • The notion that the cult’s popularity was the result of some kind of religious crisis, with the ride of a belief based cult requiring initiation at the expense of ‘traditional’ religious cults, is no longer tenable, although the cult was regarded with suspiscion at Rome until the 1st century AD. The reference to “worshippers of Isis” in electoral notices , however, certainly implies that at least some of her adherents had a sense of group identity not found with other cults. Both of these notices date from Pompeii’s last decade.
    • Road outside the temple: “All the worshipppers of Isis call for Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus as aedile.”
    • 50 metres from temple, Stabian Street: “Popidius Natalis, his client, with the worshippers of Isis, call for Cuspius Pansa as aedile.”

Temple of Jupiter

  • Marble plaque
    • One side, 3 BC in Greek: “Gaius Iulius Hephastion, son of Hephastion, priest of the community of Frigi, dedicated to Jupiter Frigio in the 27th year of Caesar, in the month of Pharmouthi, on the Emperor’s day.
  • Buildings associated with administration, religion and commerce were clustered around or near the Forum which was the chief meeting and trading place in the town.
  • In Pompeii, the Forum was located were the main roads from Naples, Nola and Stabiae met
  • “a confused jumble of shops, workshops, crafts, residential and horticultural plots and houses across the whole city, with no real attempt at commercial segregation or concentration beyond the tendency of shops to line the main roads and horticulture to cluster on the margins” A. Wallace- Hadrill
  • “because our ancestors handed down to us the custom of holding gladiatorial combats there; the columns must therefore be more widely spaced to allow a good view…the width will be two-thirds of the length, the shape thus being rectangular, a more convenient proportion for shows” Vitruvius
  • “under the poticoes, the money-changers’ stalls, and above, galleries…. [the dimensions had to] be proportionate to the size of the population, otherwise there will be a shortage of space, or the forum, too scantily filled, will look empty. The columns of the upper storey will be one-third less in height than those below, which being more heavily laden must be stronger” Vitruvius
  • Rectangular paved area 40m wide and 150m long.
    • Features about 40 statues of leading citizens and the imperial family
    • At time of eruption was undergoing a comprehensive, vigorous and ambitious post-earthquake restoration
  • Closed to wheeled traffic
    • Access barred by large rectangular blocks fitted solidly in the ground
    • Also evidence that the area could be closed off by grilled gates during certain events
    • Deep wheel ruts on surrounding roads, attest to the amount of traffic focused on the Forum
  • Network of drains in the forum- drainage water flowed down the streets to an outlet outside the walls
  • Any day of the week the forum was busy—market day, however would have been filled with the lively bustle of shopkeepers and stall- holders, merchants, money-changers, customers, teachers and students and those attending the law courts of holding political office
    • Frieze in the House of Julia Felix- depicts aspects of life in the Forum
  • Forum buildings were roofed in red terracotta tiles
  • Pompeian people covered the Forum walls, particularly the Basilica with painted notices “in vivid colors and large letter, the better to draw attention” M. Brion
  • Two theatres in Pompeii- essentially Greek in design
  • Seating capacity in Pompeii largest theatre was 5000 Popular entertainment included comedies, tragedies and farces
  • Horse shoe shaped auditorium- divided into three horizontal areas
    • Section nearest to the stage (ima cavea) reserved for authorities and important visitors
    • Highest section (summa cavea) appears to have been occupied by women
    • Other members of the public were seated in the media cavea
  • Proscenium- back drop for the performance was ornamented with columns and statues and connected by three doors to an are behind, possibly by actors’ change rooms
  • Adjacent to the theatres was a spacious foyer (quadriporticus) where spectators could stroll between performances
  • Herculaneum- theatre of Herculaneum could hold about 2500 people
    • Proscenium decorated with red and yellow porphyry columns and cornices of green serpentine with niches for statuary


  • Often organized for religious festivities to celebrate the dedication of a monument or achievement
  • Entry was free to all but admission could be gained to the theatre only by having a small pieve of hone or ivory as a token which indicated where the holder was to sit “in the form of gish, birds, skulls or theatre masks” G. Capasso. Those with the image of the bird indicated the highest seats against the wall
  • All classes attended the theatre although there is some doubt about slaves
  • Theatres were noisy- audiences were farces, excitable and sometimes impatient
  • Actors had a low social status but were popular
    • Lucius Domitius Paris, a favourite of the threatre-loving emperor Nero was was called “Paris, the sweet darling” Grant
  • Generally no female actors
    • Women however, did seem to take part in mimes and pantomimes and there is a graffito of an actress called Histrionica Rotica (erotica) perhaps a name inficative of what she did on stage
  • Seems performances were infrequence and “tended to be put on for private groups” J.R. Green
  • Wigs and masks were worn which amplified the voice
  • Trapdoors, methods of making thunder, lightning, rain and smoke which signaled the appearance of divine apparitions
  • Most popular amoung the people were the Oscan farces (Atellanae)—type of theatre
    • Crude dialogue
  • Pantomime- short amusing plots, ludicrous actions and obscene gestures
    • Did not wear masks
    • Performed bare foot
    • Women sometimes did some form of a striptease in response to the audience
    • Actors accompanied by musicians
    • Based loosely on mythological themes

Archaeological evidence

  • Theatre complex at Pompeii and the magnificent theatre at Herculaneum, the number of theatrical motifs used in the decoration of well-to-do houses and the graffitii written by fans about local and visiting actors
  • Pompeii- Palaestra in Pompeii was opposite the amphitheatre and was a 107 by 141 metre rectangle, surrounded by a portico on three sides, shade trees and enclosed by a wall. In the centre was a large swimming pool
  • Herculaneum- occupied a whole block with a street frontage of approximately 110m and depth of 70m with a swimming pool in the shape of a cross about 50m in length with its cross arm about 30m. Surrounded by trees (the roots have been found) and the field itself outside the pool was large enough for practicing all the traditional sports of athletics, wrestling, javelin and discus throwing. Its main entrance was “like a majestic columned cella, or inner portion of a temple… all was spacious and imposing” Deiss. Deiss also suggests that in this room sacrafices were made before a competition and that there probably stood a magnificent statue of Hercules, patron of the town.
  • In order to promote physical excellence, virtue and loyalthy to the state, Augustus formed associations of young people (collegia) who competed in athletic competitions or Youth games before their elders. Local unit in Poempii was known as Iuventus Pompeiana and is believed to have comprised young men and women from the age of 11 to 17
  • This carefully inscribed travertine plaque was found in the Samnite Palaestra and probably commemorates it’s construction:

“Vibius Atranus, son of Vibius, granted money in his will to the people of Pompeii; with this money, the Pompeian quaestor, Vibius Vinicius, son of Maras, by decree of the assembly, issued a contract for this to be built, and he himself approved it.”



  • Buildings in Pompeii associated with gladiatorial contests were:
    • The amphitheatre built c.70 BC at the expense of the duoviri quinquennali, C. Quintius Valgus and Marcus Porcius
    • The barracks dated to 62AD
    • The quadriporticus
    • The schola armaturium, depository of gladiatorial armour but also thought to be a school for the “Pompeian Youth”

The great amphitheatre

  • Could hold 20 000 people- suggest people from towns and countryside around Pompeii regularly attended performances
  • Built in the south-east of the city—to avoid congestion because south-east was not so densely populated
    • Access to higher levels (summa cavea) via two double and two single stairways. This was were women were seated
    • Middle sections (media cavea)- reached by a covered gallery leading from the western side
    • Ima cavea- reserved for city authorities and distinguished guests were divided from the rest of the cavea by a barrier 80cm high and the stone tiers in this area were larder and shallower to allow for the potable seats (bisella) of the elite who were protected from the activities in the area by a parapet 2.18m high.
  • Access to arena was via 2 paced vaulted tunnels
  • Velarium were provided and part of the system by which the awning was anchored can still be seen at the top of the back wall

Types of gladiators

  • There were different types of gladiators, some of whom included:
    • the Samnite who was heavily armed with a sword or lance and a rectangular shield-he wore a metal helmet and protective armour on his right arm and left leg
    • the Thracian was not as heavily armed-he carried a short curved sword and a small round shield and wore an arm guard on his right arm, leg guards and a highly decorated helmet
    • the myrmillo (fish man) had a fish-shaped crest on his helmet, hence the name-he carried a rectangular shield and wore arm and leg guards
    • the retiarius (the net wielder) used a trident (a three-pronged spear) and tried to trap his opponent in his net-he wore an arm and shoulder guard.
    • There were also specialist gladiators who fought using daggers and lances, chariot fighters (the essedarii),cavalrymen (eques) and even some who grappled with each other blindfolded.

Staging a spectacle

  • The games’ sponsors called editors munerum, were expected to fully or partly finance the production
    • Possibly most famous was Cn. Alleius Nigidius Maius, described as ‘prince of the games’
  • Lanista- an entrepreneur who sold or rented his gladiators for the munus
    • Going price for a gladiator depended on his success in the arena
    • Sometimes a lanista not only ran his own ludus (school) but was able to successfully negotiate for the performance of well-known gladiators from one of the imperial schools in Rome such as the Iuliani or Neroniani.
    • Agents job was not easy as he had to be able to provide large numbers of gladiators, constantly recruit and train new members to replace those who died or retired, and deal with city authorities
  • Advertising in form of edicta munerum was painted on walls and distributed by pamphlets sold on street. Programs included
    • Name of magistrate and his official position
    • Reason for the spectacle
    • Number of gladiators
    • Other events such as beast hunts
    • Date (usually held over one day)
    • Provision of a velarium and sparsiones
    • “Twenty pairs of gladiators of Decimus Lurcretius Satrius Valens… ten pairs of gladiators… will fight at Pompeii from April 8-14. Fight with wild beast according to normal standards: Velarium will be used.”
  • Because spectacles lasted from dawn till dusk, the aediles gave permission for itinerant pedlars to set up food and drink stalls beneath the portico
  • No remains of toilets—spectators probably used the latrines in the nearby Palaestra
  • Spectacle began with a procession (pompa featuring musicians and all participants in ornate garments
  • Morning session was often devoted to venationes (animal hunts)
    • Venatores and bestiarii would fight against wild exotic animals or animal would be pitted against animal
      • Probably served to increase the bloodlust of the spectators
  • Gladiators were subjected to a weapons check
    • Tiro or T in the graffiti—gladiator was freeborn or involved in his first fight
    • Missum or M in the graffiti—editor or emperor to grant mercy, usually took notice of wishes of spectators
    • Vicit or V in graffiti—victorious gladiators, they received a palm as a sign of victory and money, the amount decided on before the contest
  • Gladiators were prisoners of war, slaves, freedmen, criminals condemned to death and occasionally ingenui, fallen on hard times
    • Majority were slaves
    • References to free men in the inscriptions “six free men to twenty slaves appeared on one occasion in the area”
  • “the same year witnessed gladiatorial displays on no less magnificent scale than before, but exceeding all precedent in the number of distinguished women and senators disgracing themselves in the area” Tacitus
    • These instances should not be considered the norm- women fighting
  • “But then he was a gladiator! It is this that transforms these fellows into hyacinths!” Juvenal
    • Discussing how they were adored by women- enough for them to leave their husbands and children
  • Many gladiators finished their career and went on to become instructors or even lanista

Archaeological evidence

  • A major archaeological find was the gladiatorial equipment such as helmets, greaves and weapons found in 1766-67 in the gladiators’ barracks.
  • What remains are fifteen complete helmets, six single greaves, five pairs of greaves, three shoulder guards and a small round shield. Many of these items are lavishly embossed and it is thought that they were used in the ceremonial parades rather than as fighting equipment.
  • Gladiators depicted on a tomb in Pompeii—enabling historians to understand the different armour and outfits worn by gladiators
  • The gladiatorial troupe of Aulus Suettius Certus will fight at Pompeii on 31 May. There will be a hunt and awnings. Good luck to all Neronian games (CILV IV.1190)
  • This beast-fighting will be on 28 August and Felix will fight the bears (ILS 5147)

vii. Private buildings


Generic Pompeii house

Wallace Hadrill describes the Pompeian houses as “an interlocking jigsaw of large, medium and small houses”Houses- Generic

Cicero asserted the importance of houses stating that “the most sacred, the most hallowed place on earth is the home”

Key Latin/English name Description Evidence
A Atrium- formal entrance hall The atrium- in early styles of housing- was a spacious rectangular hall off the vestibulum and was the heart of domestic activity with a focus on a hearth. These early atria did not have an opening in the roof, however with the development of the impluvate atrium, sunlight shone through the square aperture that pierced the ceiling and the shallow pool below collected water from the roof gutters. Eventually, the atrium became a space that was ceremonial and sacred. The famililal shrine- lararium- dedicated to the household dieties- lares familiar- was usually found in the atrium. Although it could be found elsewhere in the house. Frieze in the Atrium of the Praedia of Julia Felix: One is 70cm high and 31m long circulating the entire atriumIt depicts commercial activities in the forum such as: Shop keepers selling their wares such as vegetables, cloth, bronze pans and shoes; Male figures reading the latest news from a panel; A woman accompanying a servant girl giving arms to an old man leaning on a stick; A teacher whipping a student in front of his classmates. The frieze is useful for historians studying daily Pompeian life as well as allowing one to extrapolate the importance of the forum as the epicentre of daily Pompeian life.Greek Frescoes in the Atrium of the House of the Tragic Poet: On the south wall of the atrium were two images—one of Zeus and Hera on Mount Ida and another of Aphrodite (now almost entirely destroyed). The image of Zeus and Hera celebrates a woman’s loss of virginity—a transition from youth to womanhood—as Hera’s veil is clearly removed from her head, symbolically exposing her face. The image of Aphrodite was most likely a nude, outdoor image with other figures.The west wall of the atrium shows images of Amphitrite and Poseidon and of Achilles and Agamemnon. The first image, sometimes informally called the abduction of Amphitrite, shows Eros and Poseidon fighting, with multiple nymphs surrounding and nude. The second, known as the Wrath of Achilles, depicts the storyline of the Iliad, with Achilles angered from losing Briseis. 
Al Ala- wings opening from atrium
C Cubiculum- small room/bedroom Smaller rooms or cubicula may have had various uses, however they are thought to have been for sleeping; According to M. Grant “the position of beds was often indicated by a special configuration of the floor mosaic by a lower vaulted ceiling forming a sort of a niche”
Cu Culina- kitchen The culina or kitchen was usually small, dark, and poorly ventilated, relegated to an obscure corner of the house. Wealthy matronae did not prepare meals; that was the job of their numerous household slaves, so it did not matter if the room was hot and smoky. Baking was done in ovens, whose tops were utilized to keep dishes warm. Embers from the oven could be placed below metal braziers for a form of “stove-top” cooking; some braziers were more elaborately decorated
E Exedra- garden room The exedra was a large, elegant room usually located off the peristyle garden. It was used for formal entertainments and lavish dinner parties. The wall paintings in this type of room often continue the garden theme An elaborate mosaic floor found in the House of the Centenary whose centrepiece depicts Selene, goddess of the moon, falling in love with the sleeping Endymion, a handsome young shepherd.
P Peristylium- collonaded garden Most houses contained a peristyle or colonnaded portico or large closed area overlooking a garden (viridarium). Peristyles began to be adopted in houses in the 2nd Century BC with the Roman adoption of Greek influence in terms of the Hellenistic styled colonnades and porticos. Through a religious lens, the garden was the earthly form of a promised afterlife to those who were initiates of Bacchus- God of nature, wine, and fertility- M. Grant: “Greek horticultural experts began arriving in Italy to create pleasure gardens”Often a profusion of structures were found scattered around the garden as well as Dionysaic masks and reliefs on the peristyle walls.
T Taberna- shop See exterior
Ta Tablinium- office/study At the end of the atrium, on the same axis as the vestibule, was the tablinium or main reception room where the owner- dominus- conducted business and held family documents. It also house the solium or high backed chair for the pater familias.
Tri Triclinium- dining room A separate dining room or triclinium (meaning three couches) was present after the Roman adoption of the Greek practice of reclining dining. It was usually located off the atrium and looking over the peristyle. Some houses, had separate summer and winter triclinium. Vitruvius: “the Greeks were more refined, and possessed greater wealth, they provided a separate table with triclinia and bed-chambers for their guests”
V Vestibulum- entrance hall After entering the narrow corridor off the street- or fauces- the visitor would enter the vestibulum or entrance hall. Often, entrance corridors were ornately painted for this is where the dominus’ clients waited to discuss political matters. Vitruvius: “buildings having magnificent interiors” should also have “elegant entrance courts to correspond”Mosaic floors of some vesibula featured a snarling dog with the words “cave canem” such as that of the House of The Tragic Poet.
N/A Exterior Houses opened directly onto the raised pavements of busy streets, however because they were built to face inward, their facades were relatively plain and austere. There were little to no windows and entrance was located between shop/workshops. The exterior gave no indication of rich decoration or elegance beyond.
N/A Service Areas Service areas for tasks such as cooking, washing and the sleeping quarters of slaves were often marginalized and located down long, dark narrow corridors. In some houses, such as the house of the Veti, the service area, entered from the side of the atrium, had its own courtyard leading to the culina, lavatories, an assortment of store rooms and small sleeping rooms. In more modest houses, where space did not allow for marginalization of these quarters, the decoration, or lack thereof, served the same purposes. According to Capasso, the urban domus was “a curious mix of gracious and ungracious living”
N/A Water Supply After the construction of the Augustan aqueduct and its Pompeian branch, both Pompeii and Herculaneum were supplied with water from the springs of Aquaro 26km away. Previously, households had relied on underground cisterns and cylindrical or marble walls adjacent to the impluvium. By 1st Century A, most houses were believed to have had some water connection in Pompeii. The aqueduct reached the city at its highest point near the Vesuvian gate where a huge cistern, the castellum aquae redistributed the water through 3 large lead mains which ran under the footpaths. Branching off the main lines, smaller pipes fed the water into other distribution structures in the shape of pillars usually built near crossroads. The water was forced up into lead tanks within these water towers reducing the water pressure in the pipelines. An elaborate system of variously shaped pipes- fistulae- supplied the service areas, gardens and fountains of private homes as well as public baths, latrines, and forty or more public fountains – nymphea- located in the streets, usually no more than 70-80 meters apart. The water flowed day and night through decorative spouts providing for those who could not afford to have water connected to their homes.
N/A Cooling and Heating Many poorer families, in their cramped accommodation, probably suffered from the stifling summer heat, but wealthier families designed their homes, especially those overlooking the sea, with terraces to catch the summer sea breezes, and with roofed loggias and covered porticos for shade. There were airy rooms adjacent to the gardens with their trees, fountains, fishponds, and grottoes, vaulted underground rooms and marble and travertine floors. The strong, cold north-easterly winds and rains of winter required more careful planning for those lucky enough to face the sea. For example, in finer houses there were opaque windows of crystallised gypsum or sulphate of lime and crude glass in the form of thin plate, 4-6 mm thick, inserted in a bronze or wooden frame inserted in a bronze or wooden frame which turned on a pivot. Wooden partitions and shutters which folded or slid into the walls, curtains or nets were also used to protect and warm the house. Winter dining rooms were often painted with a black background which would have absorbed any heat in the house. The charcoal burning braziers probably filled the house with smoke in the winter months.
N/A Lighting Artificial lighting, even in the grandest houses, was always inadequate, especially when shuttered against the rain and winds. In the public area of the house, natural light entered via the compluvium, windows, and peristyle or courtyard, but service areas were stuffy and darker. There was a variety of artificial lighting, ranging from oil lamps, lanterns and candles. The most common form was the terracotta, bronze or even glass lamp filled with oil, with a wick and handle. Some had two or more necks for greater light and many were decorated with images of gods, gladiatorial contests and erotic subjects. The wealthy were always searching for unique and elaborate forms. Lanterns with semitransparent sides of horn or bladder and candles made of tallow fat rolled around a twisted wick were widely used. Important and valuable elements in domestic furnishing were the lamp supports, sometimes in the form of bronze statues known as torchers, and bronze candelabra some with four wicks for use at banquets.Smoke and the smell of oil must have permeated the house at all times, and the evidence – references to eye troubles – suggests that many people may have suffered eye strain due to the poor light. In the House of the Wooden Partition in Herculaneum, bronze lamp supports took the form of a ships figure head.M. Grant asserts that “a lamp consisting of a single candle gives only one hundredth as much light as a 60 watt bulb”
N/A Security Issues Although the houses looked inwards and had few or only high and narrow windows on the street side, the fact that the main entrance opened directly onto the busy streets appears to have made house owners security conscious. Not only did the main doors have a bronze lock (claustrum) with an L-shaped inner side of the door fitted into holes in the door jambs with a possible diagonal bar fitted into a cavity in the floor added for protection. Occasionally, it appears, an iron grating was fixed across the compluvium to prevent thieves gaining access via the roof. Guard dogs were common place as evidenced by Mosaic in the vestibulum of the House of the Tragic Poet with the inscription “cave canem” or “beware of the dog”. The mosaic depicts an interpretation of Cerberus, the fierce 3 headed dog that guards the gates of Hell in Greek mythology. Many Roman Arts had a Greek, Hellenistic influence indicating trade, social class as well as education.
House of the Faun
  • The House of the Faun was a 2nd Century AD Roman house which is said to reflect the luxurious aristocracy of this Roman period more than any other house
  • At an area of approximately 3,000 square meters, it is the largest Pompeian private house
  • Decorations- elaborate floor mosaics and magnificent wall paintings.
  • Mosaics made from tiny, cut and coloured stones called tesserae.
  • One mosaic depicts a Nile River landscape. (Egyptian Influence?)
  • Famous battle between Alexander the Great and Darius (Persian King) during the conquest of Asia –
    • This mosaic covered the floor of an exedra that opened onto the peristyle of the house
    • Alexander is seen to the left and Darius stands on a chariot to the right, both are surrounded by their warring men.
    • The mosaic measures slightly less than 20 m2
    • It is thought that the mosaic is a copy of a painting featuring the same battle, as Pliny the Elder mentions a famous painting of the battle between Alexander and Darius
    • Possible extrapolations from the mosaic include the fact that society was militaristic as well as that the owner of the house was a decedent of Alexander
  • The mosaic of Bacchus riding a lion was found in one of the triclinia of the house.
    • Bacchus is portrayed as a winged child drinking from a large cup
    • This mosaic can be corroborated with a frescoe in the House of The Centenary: Bacchus and Mt Vesuvius which also portrays Bacchus is the god of fertility and wine.
  • Grand entrance hall. Pavement was written in traditional Latin greeting HAVE, which welcomed guests to the house.
  • Shops at the front and two atria.
  • Named after the small bronze statue of the dancing faun found in the impluvium of the larger atrium.
    • Fauns are spirits of untamed woodland, which literate and Hellenized Romans often connected to Pan and Greek satyrs, or wild followers of the Greek god of wine and agriculture, Dionysus and his Roman counterpart Bacchus. It is purely decorative sculpture of a high order: “the pose is light and graceful,” Sir Kenneth Clark observed
  • Two gardens, one average size and the other half the area of the house.
  • Large peristyle had a spacious kitchen with high ceilings. Windows released cooking smoke and odours.
  • Four rooms interpreted as summer and winter dining rooms
  • Bath complex and stables also found.
House of the Tragic Poet
  • The House of the Tragic Poet is a typical 2nd century BC Roman house in Pompeii, Italy famous for its elaborate mosaic floors and frescoes depicting scenes from Greek mythology, hence it is often also referred to as The Homeric Houseor The Iliadic House
  • Vestibulum
    • The vestubula floor near the porta antica – front door – contains a mosaic of a black dog spotted with white, represented on the pavement in mosaic, collared and chained, and in the attitude of barking. The collar is of red leather.
    • Below the animal is inscribed, in very legible characters, “cave canem” or “beaware of the dog”, a sentence, probably, not uncommonly placed at the entrance of Roman houses, as we can extrapolate from a Latin passage from Petronius Arbiter that guard dogs were common place.
    • The mosaic also depicts an interpretation of Cerberus, the fierce 3 headed dog that guards the gates of Hell in Greek mythology à Greek, Hellenistic influence indicating trade, social class as well as education.
    • The mosaic is timeless, as according to Beard, it “does still stand as a warning notice at the entrance to many a modern house”
  • Greek Frescoes in the Atrium
    • The atrium was the focal point of art in the House of the Tragic Poet, containing large scale mythological frescoes; each approximately four feet square, making figures slightly smaller than life-size.
    • On the south wall of the atrium were two images—one ofZeus and Hera on Mount Ida and another of Aphrodite (now almost entirely destroyed). The image of Zeus and Hera celebrates a woman’s loss of virginity—a transition from youth to womanhood—as Hera’s veil is clearly removed from her head, symbolically exposing her face. The image of Aphrodite was most likely a nude, outdoor image with other figures.
    • The west wall of the atrium shows images ofAmphitrite and Poseidon and of Achilles and  The first image, sometimes informally called the abduction of Amphitrite, shows Eros and Poseidon fighting, with multiple nymphs surrounding and nude. The second, known as the Wrath of Achilles, depicts the storyline of the Iliad, with Achilles angered from losing Briseis.
    • From corroboration of the frescoes in the atrium of the House of the Tragic Poet, one can extrapolate the collective observation that international discourse between Greece and Rome was common through trade, and Roman society had a taste for the exotic as they often ‘borrowed’ aspects of Greek society such as religion. Pompeian society did hold an utmost admiration for the Greeks, as according to Vitruvius, “the Greeks were more refined, and possessed greater wealth” Cicero elaborates upon this with his anthropological observation that “Generally speaking, one tries to imitate the ways of the illustrious people”
  •  Tablinium
    • The tablinium floor, was decorated with an elaborate mosaic image. Here, actors gather backstage preparing for a performance, as one character dresses and another plays a flute. Other characters surround a box of masks to be used during the performance. Because this mosaic is the centerpiece of the room and therefore seemingly important, modern archaeologists came up with the name “House of the Tragic Poet” to describe the entire villa. Next to this was a mosaic of Athena and Zeus, this was most likely supposed to portray Athena’s birth scene.
  • Peristyle
    • To the left of the peristylewas a fresco known as the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, in which Iphigenia is taken by Ulysses and Achilles to be sacrificed just before Artemis delivers a deer to be sacrificed in her place.
  • Observations/ Extrapolations
    • Little is known about the owners of the House of the Tragic Poet, however one assertion- founded on the extensive evidence of Greek influence- was that they were indeed foreigners from Greece
Praedia of Julia Felix
  • NB: a praedia is a block of land.
  • The Praedia of Julia Felix was a private house divided into insulae containing a bath system that was rented to the public
  • Epigraphic evidence of an inscription states: “To let, for the term of five years, from the thirteenth day of next August to the thirteenth day of the sixth August thereafter, the Venus bath, fitted up for the best people, shops, rooms over shops, and second-storey apartments in the property owned by Julia Felix, daughter of Spurius”
  • From this one can extrapolate that Julia Felix was a business woman, landlady, letter of the three baths, and a woman of high status; enabling an historian to make the collective observation that women were able to hold high standing roles within Roman society such as owning and managing property, such assertion is reinforced by the fact that the largest estate in Pompeii was in fact owned by a woman.
  • The Praedia was one of the largest in Pompeii, with orchards and gardens occupying most of the space; the house takes up 1/3 of the estate.
  • It is situated on the Via dell’Abbadanza and appears to have been reconstructed after the earthquake of 62 ADà the imperative for reconstruction after the earthquake is a possible reason for Julia Felix to have to let out the baths (make sufficient funds for repairs)
  • Wallace Hadrill asserts that without the epigraphic evidence, one would not suspect that the elegantly decorated garden and nymphaeum attached to the baths were fore commercial use.
  • The private bathing facility was elaborate and intended for the “best people” (epigraphic inscription)
  • Venus bath: Venus is a roman God, however her private lararium indicated veneration of the Egyptian god Isis. She does not publish her affiliation with the notorious “cult of Isis” because, contextually, it was not socially acceptable.
  • Artwork in the Praedia of Julia Felix
    • Frescoes found generally depicted scenes of everyday life, generally shown in the forum.
    • Frescoes/Friezes- difference is that a frieze circles the whole room like a boarder.
    • Freizes found in the house depict aspects of the mundane.
    • One is 70cm high and 31m long circulating the entire atrium
      • It depicts commercial activities in the forum such as:
      • Shop keepers selling their wares such as vegetables, cloth, bronze pans and shoes
      • Male figures reading the latest news from a panel
      • A woman accompanying a servant girl giving arms to an old man leaning on a stick
      • A teacher whipping a student in front of his classmates
      • The frieze is useful for historians studying daily Pompeian life as well as allowing one to extrapolate the importance of the forum as the epicentre of daily Pompeian life.
    • It contained a large grotto style triclinium completed with a private nymphaea
    • The Praedia is peppered with Egyptian influence:
      • Walls of the grotto decorated with Nile scenes
      • Peristyle which some scholars perceive to represent a branch of the Nile delta.
      • Garden – viridarium – contained a small lararium or shrine to Isis
    • Her house is useful to show
      • Social structure
      • Role of women
      • Everyday life
      • Leisure activities
      • Egyptian influence
      • The economy, commercial activity
  • Overview
    • The remains of about 100 villas have been excavated, some only a few hundred meters apart, scattered across the Sarno plain.
    • Villas varied in scale, architectural features and luxury and unlike urban domus, they did not look inward but were designed to take the view of the sea or the rolling countryside
    • They were built outside the walls of the city
  • Villas built purely for leisure- otium
    • Often built on different kevels with terraces and belvederes, a subterranean portico – cryptoporticus – expansive gardens, groves, grottoes, large water displays, thermal baths and large swimming pools
  • Villa of the Papyri: Herculaneum
    • On the coastal outskirts of Herculaneum was the epitome of a villa built for leisure.
    • Believed to have belonged to the Pisones, a notable Roman aristocratic family, who loved to surround themselves with the most refined friends, philosophers and men of letters.
    • Capasso stated that the villa “remains one of the greatest testaments to the cultural level reached by the romans during the Hellenistic age”
    • This maritime villa was sheltered from the north winds by the woods of Vesuvius and cooled by the sea breezes in the heat of summer.
    • According to Amadeo Maiuri it had “commanded all the freedom and breadth of a vista that its fortunate position could offer”
    • Its dimensions were 245 by 137m
    • A colonnade of 36 columns circled the peristyle
    • Extensive gardens – filled with statues and fountains – the water of which supplied by a system of hydraulic pipes
    • A terrace overlooking the sea ran the entire length of the villa and circular belvedere, giving a 360º view and paved with a fine mosaic
    • A total of 87 marble and bronze sculptures from the Greek archaic period
    • Some originals and other superb copies were found in the garden and various rooms of the villa
    • The sculptures included:
      • Gods
      • Nymphs
      • Famous operators and philosophers
      • Athletes
      • Forrest animals
    • It also contained the largest papyrus library (from where it got its name) containing 1800 rolls, almost entirely the writings of Epicurean philosophers and more specifically, the work of Philodemus of Gadara.
    • Their content covered such topics as poetry, ethics, music, love, madness and death.
  • Other villas: suburban villas
    • The two Pompeian suburban villas:
  1. The Villa of Mysteries
  2. The Villa of Diomedes
  • Were built on several levels providing the ideals of indoor/outdoor living.
  • The villa of Diomedes had a series of terraces on several levels overlooking “the largest garden in the whole Pompeian region” (M. Grant)
  • Both villas had their own bath suits with a succession of frigidarium, tepidarium and cadarium
  • Main commercial thoroughfare in Pompeii was the road that ran from the Forum past the ampitheatre to the Sarnian gate: This was the Via dell’ Abbadanza
  • Remains of shops can be recognized by the wide openings – designed to entice potential customers – where a wooden shutter slid back during the day
  • Many had a mezzanine – accessed by internal stairs – this was the living quarters of the shopkeeper.
  • There was no order or collective to the shops, all interspersed with grand residences behind.
  • Architectural evidence of a joint in the wall where a beam would have been attached for a sign that would have featured a picture of the product
    • A collective observation that can be extrapolated from this is that:
    • Literacy was not universal à people sent their slaves out to buy food à also multiple foreigners, as Pompeii was a port town.
    • Alas, there is no evidence of this painting and such is mere deduction.
  • Food outlets
    • About 200 public eating and drinking places have been identified in Pompeii
    • Some were merely fast food snack bars, and are recognized by marble covered counters or thermapolia in which large dolia, holding hot food and drinks, were encased.
    • In most places, food was taken away or eaten standing up à crude terracotta bowls; roughly made; not fired well; very brittle; only purpose is to be temporary vessels for food. Reused if intact, but lots of broken bowls found.
    • One of the largest food outlets found in Herculaneum, opposite the palaestra had two spacious entrances. Its counter was “faced with irregular pieces of polychrome marble and eight large jugs (inserted into the counter itself)… other jugs and amphorae may have been used for other types of oil or for sauce. A stove behind the counter was in use: varied dishes were kept simmering in terracotta casseroles over the charcoal fire” (Diess)
  • Wine bars and taverns- cauponae/ popina/ hospitum / stabulum
    • A popina sold food and drink, these were the ones which were generally associated with drunken violence. The term thermopolia is often associated with this type of inn/bar
    • Caupona did not sell hot food- therefore no dolia
    • Cauponae were scattered throughout both towns but in Pompeii they were more densely clustered near the entrance gates and around the ampitheatre.
    • Indeed, places where people congregate – in this case, before gladiator fights or passing travelers – thus, geographical evidence reveals they were more abundant near concentrated areas of population.
    • Moreover, the hot weather in summer called for the need for refreshment
    • And indeed, Pompeians were heavy drinkers
    • Hospitum was a guest house- drinks and accommodation – “we pissed in the bed” indicates it enabled accommodation
    • Stabulum was an inn or tavern which housed people as well as their animals.
    • Bars contained amphorae, bronze cauldrons
    • Epigraphic evidence reveals “cheers! We drink like wineskins” and “Sauvis demands full wine jars please, his thirst is enormous” “you sell water and you drink the pure wine yourself” corroborative epigraphic evidence reveals two people fighting over a drink.
    • Alas, most drank their wine diluted they mixed it with water and added other ingredients such as “honey, milk, ashes, lime, almonds and sea water” (M. Grant)
    • They also sweetened sour wine with “a sweet tasting lead acetate syrup made by boiling the dregs of wine in lead lined copper pans for several days” (M. Grant)
    • Another Pompeian favourite was hot wine in winter.
    • One of the better known establishments was a caupona owned by a woman named Asellina situated on the Via dell’Abbodanza who employed foreign waitresses called Smyrna, Maria and Argle as indicated by electoral posters giving their names (some believed they were prostitutes) Sums showing customer debts were scrawled on the inside wall of her inn while political slogans, painted on the outside walls revealed her interest in the forthcoming elections.
    • Electoral posters can be corroborated by others found in the city.
    • An inscription found at the entrance of a bar states “Hedone says: drinks cost an as here, but you get a better drink if you spend two. If you hand over four asses, you can drink Falernian (Imported wine)
    • Villa Regina was found with 18 dolia with a capacity of 10,00 litres.
  • Food
    • Evidence of drink in Pompeii and Herculaneum is found both within and outside the walls of the cities. Archaeological evidence enables us to identify the foods that were available to the population. It appears that they had a varied diet.
    • Seeds and pops from foods such as dates, figs, and olives have been preserved in the volcanic ash
    • Carbonised eggs, figs, loaves of bread and nuts including walnuts hazelnuts and almonds have also been found.
    • Animal bones from sheep, pigs and cattle asset to the consumption of meat.
    • Evidence for the presence of seafood in the populations diet comes from fish bones and the shells of scallops, cockles sea urchins and cuttlefish.
    • A team from Oxford University has been investigating remains from latrine pits and sewers at Pompeii.
    • As latrines were usually in the kitchen they were used to dispose of both human excretement and food scraps.
    • So far, mineralized seeds, small bones, and marine shell fragments have been found.
    • Further work at Herculaneum is being carried out as part of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, which should provide more dietary evidence.
    • Professor Wilhelmina Jashemski, an archaeologist specializing in the gardens and horti of Pompeii, discovered that many houses had spaces for the cultivation of figs, olives, cherries and other fruit and veg.
    • Evidence for viticulture within Poompeii, and hence for the drinking of wine, came from her discovery of a vineyard within the walls.
    • Artworks including frescoes and mosaics that feature foods such as fruit, fish, poultry and game also provide information about diet at Pompeii and Herculaneum. However these sources are limited through people’s desire to portray a glamourized and exotic representation of food, such as Greek portrayals indicating influence.

viii. Influence of Greek and Egyptian Cultures

  • Statues – many were copies of Greek originals (statues of Doryphoros, a cpy of the statue Polyclete)
  • Mosaics (the Alexander Mosaic in The House of the Faun depicting Alexander the Great and a Persian King Darius at the Battle of Issus, a copy of a Hellenistic painting by Philoxenos of Eretria)
  • Many murals depict characters and scenes from Greek myths.
  • Theatre – features of the large theatre reflect Hellenistic design
    • The horse shoed shaped terraces
    • The colonnaded quadriporticus
    • Doric columns
  • Palaestrae – large open colonnaded spaces reflect Greek design
  • Many buildings feature Greek architectural elements:
    • Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns
    • Peristyle (e.g. the House of the Faun)
    • Colonnade
  • Herculaneum probably named for Greek hero Herakles, Roman Hercules.
  • Images of Hercules found in Pompeii ( statuette in temple of Isis) and Herculaneum  (in a public fountain, house and wineshop)
  • Demeter, Apollo – evidence of worship of Greek Gods
  • Sanctuary to Dionysus found near amphitheatre; Villa of the Mysteries secret Dionysian cult
  • Nile scenes in mosaics (threshold mosaic from the House of the Faun depicting crocodiles, hippopotamus and ibis)
  • Wall paintings with Egyptian motifs (The temple of Isis has Egyptians – style landscapes and scenes from Egyptian mythology)
  • Garden Art – the water feature in the Praedia of Julia Felix represents a Delta branch in the Nile, as does her grotto style dining room
  • The cult of Isis – temple
  • Egyptian gods are dedicated in shrines (the household shrine to Isis from the House of the Golden Cupids features Anubis, Harpocrates, Isis and Sarapis)
  • Cults of Isis and Sarapis popular because they offered ability of an afterlife.

ix. Religion


(NB: Primarily refer to public buildings)

Temples at Herculaneum are yet to be excavated, whereas there are a number of temples and sanctuaries in Pompeii. They were regarded as the homes for gods and goddesses and consisted of a cella to contain the statue of the deity which stood before an altar. Most temples at Pompeii came from the Roman period of occupation and were dedicated to public cults, enabling the people to demonstrate their loyalty to Rome. There was little focus on personal religious devotion.

Household Gods
  • The domestic hearth or fireplace was the centre of the household and it was here that the paterfamilias celebrated the religious practices connected with the family and the household.
  • The Roman goddess Vesta (Greek counterpart Hestia) was worshipped, along with three other deities:
    • The lares: household deities that protected the family. They were headed by the family sporit, lar familiaris. They had their own shrine in a cupboard. Any food dropped at a meal was offered to the Archaeological report shows evidence of lares offerings:

“Small pits containing high concentrations of cremated bones and carbonised plant remains were found in the gardens of … and also the two peristyle gardens of …(House of Amarantus). The bones include parts of piglets and the heads and feet of cocks. The carbonised remains include stone – pine cones, figs, dates, grapes and hazel nuts. Other items include a piece of poppy seed bread or pastry. These remains have been interpreted as offerings to the Lares. Several classical authors refer to such offerigns and they are depicted on wall paintings at lararia in Pompeii but these are the first occasions such remains have been found in the ground. ”

  • The genius: the god of the male line of descent. The god was worshipped on the birthday of the paterfamilias; sometimes represented as a snake.
  • The penates: the gods of the larder or food store. Their statuettes were placed on the table at meal times.
  • Every home also had its own shrine or lararium usually located in the atrium where the whole family carried out their daily worship. Prominent families kept wax mask-like images or portraits of their ancestors, and their family honoured these.
Foreign Cults
  • Excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum have revealed a society that was tolerant of worship of foreign gods and the practices of imported cults. These tended to have a more personal focus with the promise of an afterlife.
  • The cult of Isis was very popular in Pompeii. Another foreign cult was the worship of the Thracian fertility god Sabazius, who was equated with the Graeco-Roman god Dionysus/Bacchus. In 1954 a shrine to this god was unearthed. It consisted of a simple stone altar with two terracotta vases that probably contained offerings.
  • Pompeian society was tolerant of the worship of foreign gods and the practices of imported cults.
  • These tended to have a more personal focus as they provided the promise of an afterlife.
  • See the Temple of Isis.
  • Another foreign cult was the worship of the Thracian fertility god Sabazius, who equated with the Graeco-Roman god Dionysus/ Bacchus. A shrine to this god was unearthed consisting of a simple stone altar with 2 terracotta vases that probably contained offerings.
  • Another discovery attesting to the diversity of foreign religious practices, was found by Maiuri in 1938 at the house of the Four Styles. Here he unearthed an ivory statuette of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, goddess of beauty, fertility and wealth. Her worship could have come to Pompeii through trade links.
  • Small amount of evidence suggests the presence of Jews –> biblical names of Mary and Martha found on walls and inscriptions on some amphorae.
  • Our main sources of information about death and burial are the tombs and their inscriptions in the necropolis (Latin translation: city of death) or cemeteries located outside the city gates. No excavated tombs at Herculaneum.
  • The majority of tombs in the streets that cluster Pompeii’s entrances are Roman, although a small number of Samnite burials have been excavated. Most of the funerary monuments are found on Sepulchre Street leading from the Herculaneum Gate and the Nucerian Way and near other gateways.
  • The tombs are of various types, indicating that the rich and poor were interred close together. The rich had imposing sepulchral monuments demonstrating their important place in the public life of Pompeii. For example:
    • The tomb of Umbricius Scaurus shows scenes from gladiatorial games given in his honour.
    • The tomb of Faustus and his wife Nevoleia Tyche was decorated with a scene of a funeral ceremony and a ship lowering its sails.
  • These tombs were decorated in a variety of Graeco – Hellenistic and Roman – Italic styles.
  • Inscriptions on the monuments give us the name and rank of the person and provide us with vital info about their lives, public works and activities. It should be remembered though, that the inscriptions are evidence of how tomb owners wanted to be remembered, not necessarily of what they were really like.
  • Another problem with evidence from the tombs is that very few children or slaves were represented, while there is much representation of freedmen and women.
  • Selection of tomb inscriptions:
    • To Septumia, daughter of Lucius. Granted by decree of the town councillors a burial place and 2000 sesterces for the funeral. Antistia Prima, daughter of Publius, her daughter, built (this monument.)
    • To Marcus Obellius Firmus, son of Marcus, aedile, duumvir with judicial power. The town councillors decreed him a burial place and 5 000 sesterces for his funeral; the inhabitants of the country district decreed him 30 pounds of frankincense, and a shield, and their attendants 1000 sesterces for perfumes and a shield.
    • To Gnaius Alleius Eros, freedman of Maius, appointed as Augustalia, free of charge, to whom Augustales and inhabitants of the country district decreed 1000 sesterces for his funeral rites. Lived 22 years.
    • Helle, slave girl, lived 4 years.
    • Lucius Manlius Saturnius, son of Quartus, of the Romilian tribe, Ateste of his hometown, bodyguard, performed military service for 5 years, lived for 24 years. His brother set this up.
    • Audia, daughter of Numerius, aged 112.

3. Investigating, reconstructing and preserving the past

a. Changing methods and contributions of nineteenth and twentieth century archaeologists to our understanding of Pompeii and Herculaneum

i. First half

Giuseppe Fiorelli (1860 – 1875)
  • The Grandfather of modern archaeology; put a stop to previous destructive methods.

In 1860, with the unification of Italy (the Kingdom of Naples was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy) and the demise of the Bourbon dynasty, a new era in Pompeian excavation began. Giuseppe Fiorelli was appointed as inspector of the excavations and three years later was given direction of the Naples museum as well as the superintendency of Pompeii.

“It is hard to exaggerate his impact on the history of Pompeii. Whether he was primarily a political pragmatist, administrator or arch innovator, Fiorelli arguably remains the individual who had the greatest impact upon the way in which Pompeii has been both excavated and perceived.” (Cooley)

To some extent, his innovations were the result of a gradual process which had begun ten years before. Fiorelli wanted to:

  • Introduce a more cohesive and systematic approach to excavation as a whole
  • Ensure more effective controls on publication of the results of excavation
  • Open the site up to more vistors
  • Incorporate the site into the teaching program at naples university
  • Set up an aquarium on the sit to house those more ordinary objects wanted at the Naples museum

Fiorelli’s Acheivements

  1. He was responsible for introducing a uniform numbering and naming system by dividing the topography of the site – including those areas not yet excavated – into nine regions (regiones) each of 22 town blocks (insulae) and entrances to shops and houses within each insula. He allocated a number to each, instead of the arbitrary naming of the that had been the practice. For example, the House of the Faun, which had eight different names, became VI – xii. 2, 5, 7. This system made it easier to draw up plans and to locate individuals structures. Although lay visitors to the site today still refer to houses by a name, as does this text, Fiorelli’s system, with some modifications, is still used by those working on the site and in their publications.
  2. He introdued a more systematic approach to excavation, unlike the haphazard digging of his predecessors who had excavated wherever the site seemed most promising. He organised a workforce of 500 people and, following the line of the roads, connected different roads parts of the site. According to August Mau, ” he first set about clearing the undisturbed places between the excavated portions; and hen in this way the west part of the city had been laid bare, he commenced to work systematically from the excavated part to the east.”
  3. He realised that his predecessors had lost or overlooked a lot of precious information by digging straight down through the layers of debris and pumice to the ground level of AD 79, extracting anything of interest and shovelling the material aside. Artefacts had been documented with no understanding of their context, and information about collapsed upper storeys was lost. He imposed a system of slowly uncovering the houses rom the top down, collecting data to help restore the ancient buildings and their interiors and gain a better understanding of the process of burial. (Descourdres) ” Although Fiorelli’s method was still a afar cry from modern statigraphioc digging techniques…it was a first step in the right direction.” Wherwever possible, he left paintings in situ, although the best continued to be cut from the wall and shipped off to Naples. Other objects were removed for display to a small antiquarium built on the site.
  4. He made a discovery that contributed more than anything else to his fame: his recognition of the significance of cavities in the deposits of hardened ash as impressions of the victims’ bodies. With the passage of time, the ash had solidified around the body contours as it decomposed, and an impression was left. He deviseda method of injecting liquid plaster into the cavities, enabling him to recover not only the shapes of humans and animals as they died, but other objects made of perishable material. Today, a similar process of casting is used, but plaster has been replaced with a semi-transparent epoxy resin
Vittorio Spinazzola (1910 – 1923)

Vittorio Spinazzola, as director, was more interested in “the realities of town planning”(Etienne) than with the possibility of “extraordinary discoveries.” Between 1912 and 1914, he chose to move his investigations away from the northern quarters of the town and focus on a 600 metre length of the main commercial road – the Via dell’Abbondanza or the Street of Abundance – that ran west to east through Pompeii., linking the forum with the amphitheatre and the Sarnian gate. This resulted in a more unified approach, and these “New Excavations” as they came to be called, “revealed a Pompeii that had been scarcely dreamed of” (Etienne) with its election posters, popular paintings and numerous shops and workshops, such as the Laundry of Stephanus and the Inn of Asellina, interspersed with fine houses. His meticulous excavation method showed how the buildings along the main east – west street had been buried, and allowed him to reconstruct their facades as fully as possible, particularly the upper floors, with their windows, balconies and roofs. Occasionally, when he found a building of particular interest, he would dig past the façade into the insula. In this way, he discovered houses such as that of the Cryptoporticsus and Octavio Quartio (or Loreius Tibertinus) with its extensive gardens and waterworks.

However, criticisms can be made of Spinazzola’s work. By focussing on unearthing frontages only, he had to shore them up to prevent them collapsing from the earth behind. Also, he could only guess at the exact function of many shops.

Spinazzola’s directorship was caught up in the bureaucratic reorganisation and political changes associated with the rise of the Facist government of Mussolilni in Italy, and, in 1932 was forced to retire. However, by that time “the town’s most important business artery had been cleared over almost its entire length.” (Descourdres) It was left to his successor, Mauiri, to bring it to the condition visitors enjoy today.

Amadeo Maiuri (1924 – 1961)

Maiuri took over the directorship of Pompeii in 1924 and remained in charge until his retirement in 1961. He has often been described as the most productive, determined and controversial director in the history of excavations.

  • Piovene: “this prince among archaeologists”.
  • Wallace – Hadrill: “towering figure…endlessly energetic, learned and imaginative”; “his massive presence lies behind the excavation, publication and interpretation of the majority of houses”

His most productive period corresponded with the Fascist government of Mussolini – the twenties through to the outbreak of World War II – when Italian archaeology as a whole benefited from an injection of state funds. Excavations ceased during the war, and Pompeii suffered serious damage from 160 bomb dropped by the allies in 1943. Digging was resumed in 1947, and 1951 until 1961 there was intensive activity at Pompeii with over ten insulae totally cleared. However, much of the latter work was hurried and chronically underfunded. Despite his wide – ranging excavations, by the time he retired, 26 hectares of the total site of 66 hectares were still not excavated.

Summary of Achievements

  1. Continued work of Spinazzola along the Via dell’Abbondanza in an attempt to uncover the insulae on either side and gain a view of the whole
  2. Excavated the House of Menander with its famous silver treasure (118 pieces)
  3. Completed work on the Villa of the Mysteries outside the wall of Pompeii
  4. Studied the structure of the walls and towers
  5. Cleared and restored the area behind the Triangular Forum which revealed the terrace houses on the steep flank of the Pompeian mound.
  6. Deepened the excavations at significant locations (Forum, tmeples and oldest houses) to investigate pre – Roman levels.
  7. Restored public buildings such as the tribunal of the basilica and the roofs of many houses
  8. Supervised the re-openings of the excavation at Herculanuem
  9. Discovered the house of the Bi-centenary in Herc – the towns largest and richest residence – containing 18 wax tablets
  10. Resumed excavations after WWII with the Villa Imperiale discovered under the antiquarian and a pre Roman to Dionysus found in a bomb crater
  11. Explored regions I and II and brougt to light the House of Ajulia Felix which had been originally uncovered in 1775 and then reburied
  12. Cleared the necropolis outside the Nucerian Gate

Influences on Maiuri’s interpretations of the finds

  • Mussolini and the Fascist’s ruthlessly exploited the potential of Italy’s imperial past in order “to create a model for a new imperialist Italy” (Wallace Hadrill) Archaeology and Mauriri benefited from the dictator’s financial support. Whether consciously or not, Maiuri followed the political line by excavating glorious monuments such as the House of Menander and the Villa of Mysteries, which were a testament to the magnificence of Italy’s past.
    When he excavated the House of Menander between 1927 and 1933, the evidence, (wall paintings and silver treasure hoard) convinced him of ownership at the highest level of society, probably a member of the Poppaea gens to whom Poppaea Sabina, Nero’s second wife, belonged. Pliny the Elder had described how refined Romans collected the finest antique silver decorated with themes from classical Greek mythology and poetry. Painter: “In Maiuris interpretation the House of Menander became an illustration of Pliny’s text.”

After 1926, he became interested in the historical debate engendered by Michael Rostovtzeff’s The Social and Economic Hisotry of the Roman Empire in which he focused on the rise of the commercially and industrially based  bourgeoisie in early imperial Italy. Rostovtzeff was a Russian exile who became professor of ancient history and archaeology at Yale University. For his history, he had drawn on his knowledge of Pompeii which he had visited several times. In fact, he had written his thesis years  years before on ‘In the light of the New Excavations’. It is believed that Maiuri drew on Rostovtzeff for his interpretation of the archaeological finds in P and Herc.
Maiuri looked for physical evidence of economic and social change in both towns. To him the “often surprising juxtaposition of rich and poor, beautiful and commercial, luxurious and squalid, suggested patrician classes in decline”‘ with a “brutal invasion of the commerical world.” (Wallace Hadrill).  He formulated a thesis of a major social and economic transformation of the early empire, which developed into a crisis after her earthquake of AD 62, when he believed patricians left the city and retreated to their country estates, leaving a “motley crowd of enriched merchants, second hand dealers, bakers, fullers, decayed patricians, and thrusting industrialists dabbling in politics.”(Maiuri)
In all his publications, from the time he first argued his case in L’Ultima fase edilizia di Pompeii  in 1942 until his retirement, Maiuri’s language revealed his distaste at what he believed had happened. The following extracts were written 16 years apart.

1942 Pompeii:

“But it is also in this period [ie. Post-earthquake] that we witness the transformation of many upperclass houses into officinae and in the intrusion of shops. Cuponae and thermopolia into the interior and along the facades of patrician residences, the splitting up of a single, grand, upper-class house into several modest buildings the change and perversion of taste in type and style of the decoration of the rooms, sacrificing beautiful and noble old paintings for banal and poor redecoration. In short, the invasion of the mercantile class of the structure of the old Romano-Campanian patrician class of the city.”

1958 Herculaneum:

“But after upper class occupation lasting possibly as late as the Claudian era, the Profound transformation which the commercial life of the city had to undergo with the new arrangement of the Via del Foro, the grave crisis which the new currents of overseas commerce and earthquake damage produced in the class of the old patrician families of Herculaneum, and finally the need to withdraw from the noisy and Plebian commercial life of the Forum, were the multiple reasons which determined the decay of this house from an upper class residence to the practical use of a lodging with shops.”

To Maiuri, Pompeii and Herculaneum – particularly in the last 17 years of their existence – were in decline. He maintained that the Pompeian forum was still in shambles when Vesuvius erupted, and that this reflected the depressed economic conditions in Pomp after the earthquake of 62 AD.

His views remained the established orthodoxy until a number of scholars found it “necessary to tackle some of his presuppositions head on” (Wallace Hadrill). Although unaware of it, tourists today are still under the influence of Maiuri with his picture of Pompeian society expressed in most of the guide books and popular works. Some of the criticisms levelled at Maiuri include:

  • Much of his excavation 1951-61 was rushed, with few of the excavated buildings restored or protected, and in the same period there was virtually no documentation, let alone publication.
  • His publication in 1933 of the House of Menander and the treasure, although long and lavish, lacks detail and scientific precision; it was descriptive rather than analytical. In concentrating on descriptions of the paintings and discussions of the more spectacular finds, he was following the current political line.
  • His interpretation of social and economic transformation after the earthquake was based, according to Wallace-Hadrill, on anecdotal rather than statistical evidence and on false assumptions about the elite, trade and use of property; about the mix of commercial and residential establishments; and about the link between luxury, decoration and status. His view of an invasion of industrialists “is sheer fantasy” (Andreau) Wallace Hadrill has shown that, although there may be some truth in Maiuri’s account of the crisis after the earthquake, “his model is simply too rigid.”

It is easy in hindsight to criticise some of Maiuri’s methodology and interpretations, but it should not take away from his tremendous contribution to our understanding of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Maiuri set the agenda for future work at both sites. When, on his retirement, he commented that “what is left to do is a complex, laborious and ardorous, slow and costly work of preservation, protection and restoration” he was foreseeing the problems that the site would face in the next half century.

ii. Second half, last 50 years

Estelle Lazer

Area of Research:

  • From 1986 Lazer worked on a sample of over 300 individuals who were represented by a collection of disarticulated bones stored in the Sarno Baths and in the female area of the Forum Her research included statistical studies based on skulls, hip or pelvis, leg and arm bones to establish the make-up of the population.
  • The techniques of forensic medicine and physical anthropology were used to determine sex, age-at-death, height, signs of disease (pathology) and populations affinities of the victims.
  • The bones of very small children are fragile and often do not survive in archaeological record – most record of these individuals comes from casts.
  • She also had 2 smaller projects illustrate how interest in human remains from Pompeii and associated sites has moved away from a macabre fascination with groups of bodies caught in death to a scientifically based inquiry into the health of people in antiquity.

Work on the Skeletons of the House of Menander:

  • Some skeletal remains were staged into fabulous scenes for the benefit of celebrity guests. Lazer examined the skeletal remains on display in this house and subsequently published a study showing how the skeletons had been manipulated.
  • Mairui transported the group of skeletons in the House of Menander.
  • People visiting this site thought the bodies were displayed in their original location. The bodies were fancifully reinterpreted as ‘looters’ who had returned to Pompeii after the eruption, only to be killed by poisonous fumes that had been trapped in the ash.
  • Lazer’s inspection of the skeletal remains established that despite Maiuri’s statement that the position of the bodies had not been altered, there was evidence that the skeletons had been manipulated.
  • That these changes occurred in Maiuri’s time can be implied from the fact that the area around the bones was consolidated with plaster that was sprinkled with ash when it was damp, thus maintaining the impression of bones in their excavation context. Some of the bones near the surface were loose. The remaining bones were embedded in the compacted ash and plaster.
  • Comparisons of Lazer’s drawing with the original photograph establishes that the arrangement of skeletons had remained unchanged since the 1920’s.
  • Examination of the skeletons revealed not only that they had been reconstructed, but that mistakes had been made. One was found to have two left thigh bones. One had one juvenile and one adult upper arm bone. One had the skull of a child on the backbone of an adult. One skull was found to be totally faked – consisting of pieces from various skulls and even a piece of backbone as a nose – the photograph suggests that this addition postdates Maiuri’s publication.
  • Mauiri’s original excavation report informed of the relocation – with exception to the faked skull, there appears to be no deception. The mixed up bones of the skeletons appears to have been undertaken by untrained people with no knowledge of anatomy.
  • The alterations that post-date Maiuri are more disturbing – the addition of the bronze lantern and tools was a conscious attempt to create a tableau that would appeal to visitors.

X-Ray analysis of the cast of the ‘Lady of Oplontis’

  • Lazer and a multi-disciplinary team, including radiologists and radiographers, an anatomist and a forensic dentist, examined the body of the ‘Lady of Oplontis’ at a Sydney clinic while it was in Australia for an exhibition on Pompeii.
  • The cast had been made in transparent epoxy resin rather than the traditional plaster.
  • The body was x-rayed and the lower half was CT scanned.
  • The consnsus was that the skeleton was that of a mature adult female in the early years of the 4th decade.

Conclusions from Research:

  • The results indicate that almost equal numbers of males and females from all age groups did not manage to escape from the town before it was destroyed.
  • The findings of this work have been published in a number of journal articles and were fully set out in a book published in 2005.
  • No significant sex or age bias among the victims.

Technology used:

  • X-rays
  • CT scans
Sara Bisel

Area of Research:

  • The construction of a drainage ditch on what was once the beach of ancient Herculaneum in 1982 led to the discovery of skeletal remains. Subsequent excavations on the beachfront and inside the boat chambers fronting onto it, led to the discovery of 139 These were carefully disinterred and closely studied by Bisel, a physical anthropologist from 1982-1988.

Conclusions from Research:

  • Calculated the mean heights for the sample from Herculaneum at 155.2cm for females and 169.1cm for males –> these results indicate regional continuity and suggest that the diet of ancient Campanians was adequate and that they enjoyed relatively good health during the period of bone growth.
  • Bisel presented a male skeleton on the beach at Herculaneum as a soldier due to the sword and tools with him as well as indications of his musculature – unreliable – problematic as different activities can lead to the same sort of muscle development.
  • Documented cases of trauma in the Herculaneum sample – but did not separate healed fractures from other traumas, such as dislocations and inflammatory responses. She reported that 32% of the male sample, compared to 11.4% of the female sample, displayed signs of trauma, with a population average of 22.7%. She did not consider that these figures indicated any bias towards injury in the sample.
  • Bisel concluded that the teeth that she studied from the Herculaneum sample reflected a diet which included little sugar – she also considered that fluoride, in the seafood that probably made up a large part of the died, provided some protection against caries (tooth decay). Bisel also noted instances of gum disease and teeth lost prior to death.
  • Bisel collected samples for laboratory studies to establish died and to determine lead content in the bones. She analysed bones for the presence of calcium, magnesium, strontium and zinc. She concluded that most people in the sample from Herculaneum had not relied on mamals or bird for their main protein source. Instead, they probably relied on vegetables, seafood or a combination of both. Subsequent trace element analysis of the large number of skeletons that have been excavated since Bisel’s pioneering work essentially confirm her results.
  • Bisel also examined Herculaneum bones for the presence of lead. Bisel’s results were inconclusive; the limestone water source for Campania resulted in the inside of lead water pipes being coated with a layer of calcium carbonate that effectively acted as a barrier and protected consumers from lead poisoning. Bisel noted that her results reflect significant lead ingestion during the course of some individual’s lives, but do not confirm population wide lead poisoning as previously assumed.

b. Changing interpretations: impact of new research and technologies

i. Pompeian forum project

This project, which began in 1988, was initiated because the:

  • Existing architectural plans of the forum were inaccurate and incomplete
  • Architectural and decorative remains documented as late as 1983 were already deteriorating rapidly.

The project’s main objectives were to produce more accurate plans and elevations of the surviving remains, supplemented by large-format black-and-white photographs of archival quality, and computer models. These were to be used to stimulate discussions about Pompeian urbanism among scholars, and to use the forum data to study the Pompeian response to the earthquake of 62AD.

The team, led by John Dobbins (professor of Roman art and archaeology at the University of Virginia) included classical archaeologist, a specialist in Roman architecture, an urban architectural  historian, and urban designer, engineers and computer and AutoCAD specialists.

Structural engineering principles were brought to bear on archaeological questions. Much of the documentation work was performed using an electronic surveying device that interfaces with AutoCAD.

1996 – John Dobbins:

Dobbins disproved the idea that the forum was a builder’s yard after the earthquake. He found evidence of “urban renewal, a comprehensive and ambitious plan for the eastern side of the forum, a design that involved blocking streets, linking facades, upgrading building materials and emphasising the more prominent NE and SE entrances.”

Maiuri’s early interpretation, the Crisis Theory, was smashed by this evidence from Dobbins – instead of Maiuri’s purported ideals of economic decline and an already deteriorating town that met its end perhaps not


Began in 1988 because existing architectural plans of the forum were inaccurate and incomplete and architectural and decorative remains documents as late as 1983 were already deteriorating rapidly.

To produce more accurate plans and elevations of the surviving remains, supplemented by large-format black and white photographs of archival quality, and computer models.

These were to be used to stimulate discussions about Pompeian urbanism among scholars and to use the forum data to study the Pompeian response to the earthquake of AD 62.


Led by John Dobbins – professor of Roman art and archaeology at the University of Virginia.

Included archaeologists, a specialist in Roman architecture, an urban architectural historian, an urban designer, engineers and computer and AutoCAD specialists.


Computer mapping

Much of the documentation work was performed using an electronic surveying device that interfaces with AutoCad.

Changes in interpretations:

1996; Dobbins disproved the idea that the former was a builder’s yard after the earthquake. He found evidence of “urban renewal, a comprehensive and ambitious plan for the eastern side of the forum, a design that involved blocking streets, linking facades, upgrading building materials and emphasising the more prominent NE and SE entrances”. This is a change from Maiuri’s initial interpretaion of the Crisis Theory – that Pompeii was in economic decline and that the forum was in disarray after the eruption of AD 62.

ii. Herculaneum conservation project

In 2000, the Packard Humanities Institute, a philanthropic organisation, made a long term commitment by announcing its plans to give $10 million a year for ten years ($100 million) to excavate and preserve Herculaneum. The aim of the HCP (2001), which involves the British School at Rome and the local heritage authority, is to halt the serious decay to Herculaneum so that it can be maintained on a sustainable basis.

Initially, the HCP was faced with an emergency situation: how to deal with a serious groundwater problem. This was solved by restoring the ancient network of understreet sewers, reopening the ancient drainage  conduits of individual houses and draining all water down to the ancient shoreline and out to sea. The HCP followed this by:

  • Replacing roofing
  • Safeguarding walls
  • Restoring 20th century reinforced concrete lintels
  • Consolidating wall paintings and bubbling mosaics
  • Identifying suitable methodologies that can be used to conserve the wall paintings, plasters, mosaics and wooden features.

The Getty Conservation Institute is working in collaboration with the HCP to address a number of conservation issues at the site, such as the flaking and powdering of paint on wall paintings, and the treatment of mosaic pavements. Their scientists are testing non-invasive techniques. They are focussing on the House of the Bicentenary where they have installed a weather station to monitor environmental conditions as part of their diagnostic investigation into the deterioration of the wall paintings.

Archaeological Discoveries as part of HCP

The work undertaken by the HCP has not only preserved the material remains for future research, it “has generated a whole series of archaeological results that arguably would never have emerged without the focus given to conservation priorities”. For example, archaeologists discovered that:

  • The natural tufa bedrock of the ancient shoreline had been quarried in pre-Roman times
  • In the period before AD 79, the ancient shoreline had been affected by “bradyseism”, a phenomenon that occurs in seismic areas along the coast where the sea appears to retreat and encroach.
  • The encroachment of the sea affected the Suburban baths by eroding the tufa building material and forcing the authorities to block many of the large windows to prevent the sea from entering
  • The House of The Relief of Telaphus had a previously unknown extra floor that the owners had filled in and buried to protect the house’s seafront from the encroaching sea. Also discovered was the original timber roof of the same house, four storeys below its original position, with the remains of a decorative ceiling. “The HCP archaeologists led by Domenico Carmado and Ascania D’Andrea have now virtually reassembled the 250 or so pieces of the roof and reconstructed the elaborately decorated ceiling panels.”. (FIND) According to Project Director Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, “It will be the first ever full reconstruction of the timberwork of a Roman roof.”
  • The ancient network of sewers and drains still contained organic and kitchen waste. In one sewer, the archaeologists recovered 750 sacks of excrement, the largest deposit



  • In 2000, the Packard Humanities Institute, a philanthropic organisation, made a long-term commitment by announcing its plan to give $10 million a year for 10 years to excavate and preserve Herculaneum.
  • Aim is to halt the serious decay to Herculaneum to that it can be maintained on a sustainable bases.
  • Initially, the Herculaneum Conservation Project was faced with an emergency situation, having to deal with a serious groundwater problem.
  • This was solved by restoring the ancient network under-street sewers, reopening the ancient drainage conduits of individual houses and draining all water down to the ancient shoreline and out to sea. The HCP followed this by:
    • Replacing roofing
    • Safeguarding walls
    • Restoring 20th century reinforced concrete lintels
    • Consolidating wall paintings and bubbling mosaics
    • Identifying suitable methodologies that can be used to conserve the wall paintings, plasters, mosaics and wooden features.


  • THe Getty Conservative Insitute is working in collaboration with the HCP to address a number of conservation issues at the site, such as the flaking and powdering of paint on wall paintings, and the treatment of mosaics.


  • Scientists are testing non-invasive techniques. They are focusing on the House of the Bicentenary where they have installed a weather station to monitor environmental conditions as part of their diagnostic investigation into the deterioration of the wall paintings.

Changes in interpretations:

  • The restoration of the ancient drainage system revealed the carbonised roof and extra storey of the House of the Relief of Telephus.
  • The ancient network of sewers and drains still contained organic kitchen waste. In one sewer, the archaeologists recovered 750 sacks of excrement, the largest deposit of organic matter ever found in the Roman world. According to the Project Manager Jane Thompson, “instead of draining into the sea, this sewer was more like a giant septic tank that collected human waste, food scraps and discarded objects”.

c. Issues of conservation and reconstruction: Italian and international contributions and responsibilities; impact of tourism

A Second Death:

  • In 1986 Henri de Saint-Blanquat, in Science et Avenir, declared that Pompeii was “an archaeological disaster of the first order”
  • By the mid-1990’s, conditions had deteriorated so much that only about 14% of the excavated site was open to the public.
  • Despite UNESCO registering Pompeii and Herculaneum as World Heritage Sites in 1997, and signs of recovery in the first part of the 21st Century, in November 2010 part of the Schola Armaturarum on Pompeii’s thoroughfare collapsed. Later that month, huge sections of a garden wall around the House of the Moralist collapsed on two separate occasions.
  • These disasters led to international media hysteria and a political blame game regarding site management and Italy’s inability to care for its cultural heritage.
  • Although the heavy rains in an area at the time were a factor in the collapses, Pietro Giovanni Guzzo claimed that they merely “drew attention to the state of neglect that has dragged on for years”
  • Andrew Wallace-Hadrill agrees. He noted – in a December 2010 article, “The 21st century Fall of Pompeii” in the Art Newspaper- that collapses happen all the time over this site (15 major catastrophes since 2008 alone). “Collapses are only the most dramatic form of damage”.
  • In June 2011, the UNESCO Report on the disasters of 2010 said the “conditions that caused the collapses are widespread within the site”
  • For the past 200 years, Pompeii and Herculaneum have been subjected to a whole range of destructive forces, both natural and anthropogenic, some unavoidable, others preventable.

Negative Impacts on Pompeii and Herculaneum:

  • Andrew Wallace Hadrill “to dig is to destroy”
  • Despite sudden catastrophes, such as the allied bombing in 1943 and the earthquake that rocked Campania on the 23rd of November 1980 – causing columns, sections of walls and some upper storeys to crash to the ground – most of the destruction in Pompeii and Herculaneum began the moment the sites were excavated, exposed and neglected.
  • Past Superintended of Pompeii Pietro Giovanni Guzzo said “Pompeii’s death is not in one blow. It is slow but sure”.



  • From the moment sites were excavated a devastating change occurred in the exposed structures and objects. Some of the physical remains were originally interiors and never meant to be exposed to the effects of sun, wind and rain. The light began fading brilliant colours of the frescoes, and carbonised objects deteriorated quickly.
  • The strong sunlight in Campania, and the ozone, created in large quantities in the highly polluted conditions of the area in the 20th Century, speeded up in the fading and bleaching of paintings and the breakdown of organic materials.
  • Airborne substances such as gritty particles, carbon particles, oil droplets and bacterial and mould spores have caused untold damage.
  • In 1957, Karl Schefold carried out an inventory of all the existing wall decorations and discovered that almost a 1/3 faded completely with not ever having been recorded.
  • 20 years later, JP Desourdes and Kay Francis of Sydney University found that of Schefold’s original inventory of wall paintings, one out of every two that he had recognised as reconstructable, was lost forever.


  • Problem in the form of groundwater and rain.
  • In Herculaneum, the Suburban Baths complex was saturated by surface water that drained off the house above, causing the deterioration of the vaulted roof of the trepidarium and forcing the authorities to close the baths to the public.
  • However, while the HCP has attempted to address the question of groundwater, Pompeii, even in 2012, does not have an effective drainage system.
  • The high calcium content of wall paintings dissolves under the influence of moisture, and soluble salts come to surface injuring the paintings.
  • Since the pollution of the C20, acid rain has caused the discolouration, abrasion and corrosion of surfaces. The winter rains penetrate inadequate roofing and run down exposed walls, pooling on mosaic floors and causing damp to rise up the walls.


  • The fertility of the Campania area is “another enemy of the ruins”.
  • Weeds and parasitic plants grow over many of the ruins, particularly those houses closed to the public, and in enclosed areas of bare soil such as peristyles and gardens.
  • More than 30 varieties of weeds and brambles have been identified in Pompeii, including acanthus, wild carrot, fennel, fig, valerian and ivy.
  • There are also infestations of fungi and algae in areas of poor drainage and weeds clog gutters and sewers.
  • Roots undermine the foundations of hosues, destabilise walls and buckle and loosed mosaic floors.
  • As soon as a small piece of mosaic lifts from the floor, the damp encourages the growth of weeds, algae and lichens. Thousands of square metres of mosaic floors have disintegrated under their attack.
  • Brambles of ivy penetrate plaster inner walls and cling tenaciously to outer walls, destroying the ancient stonework. Attempts to remove them causes the walls to crack, break away and crumble, allowing damp to enter.


  • Insects and birds can also weaken structures. Large numbers of pigeons at Herculaneum have nested in the most secluded corners of the site and their acidic excreta has a corrosive effect on floors and wall decorations.
  • They also cause irreparable damage by pecking at the carbonised wooden beams, doors and window frames.
  • In 2004, the HCP proposed resolving the problem by using predatory falcons to discourage birds from nesting in the area.
  • Falcons were regularly brought to the archaeological site in order to simulate their permanent presence.
  • This technique is referred to as ‘territorial deterrence’.
  • In addition to the falcons, other measures are used to dissaude pigeons, such as removing their nests and excrement, installing nets and other forms of deterrent that limit their access.

Poor Restoration Work:


  • Unintentionally, archaeologists of the past have contributed to the decay due to failed attempts at restoration and conservation.
  • The replacement of lintels over doors and windows by softwood instead of seasoned hardwood has resulted in rotting, mould and infestation of termites.
  • The rusting of iron armatures in reinforced concrete used for repairs in the mid C20 split open the concrete and caused the collapse of both restored and ancient structures.

Fresco “Protection”:

  • Frescoes have been damaged by the application of modern mortars (the release of salts), paraffin wax and, even more recently, Paraloid B72 varnish, which prevented the plaster from breathing.
  • Where carbonised wood was not stabilised before it was covered with glass or fibreglass, it is now crumbling within the microclimate that has been created, while Perspex cases that were meant to protect frescoes and graffiti have created a humidity and dirt trap.

Non-Expert building firms:

  • In the recent past, the authorities were forced to use local firms who, according to French archaeologist Jean-Pierre Adam, may have been up-to-date with current building techniques, were incompetent in matters of restoration.
  • “Some mistakes are notorious. In the House of Meleager, in the north-west of the city, the roof timbers for a room 5m by 11m, designed to support the weight of over 5 tons oftiles, were erected with no triangular sections to give it strength; in spite of attempts to reinforce the roof with steel, the structure collapsed” Henri de Saint-Blanquat.
  • Also, a steel roof built over the loggia in the Hosue of the Mosaic Atrium in Herculaneum collapsed, covering the marble floor with rubble.

Looting and poor site security:

  • According to an Italian preservationist group, between 1975 and 2000, nearly 600 items were stolen from the sites.
  • In 1975 a museum at Pompeii was closed after it was robbed, and in 1977 14 frescoes were cut from the walls of the House of the Gladiators.
  • In 1990, a storeroom was robbed at Herculaneum with more than 250 artefacts taken and in later robberies frescoes were cut from the walls of the Hosue of the Chaste Lovers – fortunately these were recovered some time later.
  • It is likely that these cases were an ‘inside job’, possibly involving associates of the Neapolitan Mafia who took a keen interest in the sites, infiltrating the ranks of the site guards and demanding lucrative contracts for conservation and restoration work.
  • When the superintendent of Pompeii Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, took a stand against the Mafia, several unfortunate incidents occurred.
  • In 1997, the heads were cut from several Pompeian plaster casts, in July 2000 guards at Pompeii went on strike and locked out 12 000 tourists and in September the same year a fire was set near the house of Iphigenia.
  • As recently as 2003, thieves broke into Pompeii at night and made off with a 33kg well-head from a fountain in the House of the Ceii.
  • Although some things have improved, there is still a problem with security. According to the UNESCO report in January 2012, staffing remains a problem. Only 23 guards are on site at any one time and they are far from vigilant, often seen gathering in groups of 3 and 4 lounging in the shade. Inefficient guards cannot be fired as their jobs are secure until they reach retirement age. Also, security cameras are often out of action.

i. Tourism

A Double – Edged Sword

Close to three million tourists encroach on the sites every year, providing much needed revenues that is channelled directly into conservation and helping the public, through education, become more aware of the value of these heritage sites. However, tourism has a hugely negative impact on the sites, due to the restricted areas now accessible to the public. Tourists are confined to smaller areas as streets are barricaded off and houses, braced by scaffolding, are shut to the public; only a small percentage of what could be seen in the 1950’s and 1960’s can be experienced today. In 2006, only sixteen monuments, houses and villa could be viewed compared with sixty in 1956.

Most tourists are unaware of the impact they have on the fragile sites: millions of feet trample the mosaics and street pavements, wearing them down, and in some cases exposing lead pipes, which eventually crack and break up; hot humid breath and camera flashes cause further deterioration to already faded wall paintings; backpacks brush against walls and fingers rub walls, columns and frescoes causing perspiration to react with the ancient surfaces; rubbish is dumped, attracting vermin, and cigarette butts are discarded carelessly; fragments of marble and pottery are collected  as souvenirs; tourists climb over barriers to get into forbidden areas to amuse themselves, and then there is the inevitable damaging graffiti.

Eye Witness Account of vandalism in Pomp:

“There is a vast crowd of tourists. Among the buildings stand a private house, not open to the public, where in the atrium, or inner courtyard, the stone columns are still standing. It is impossible to keep an eye on everyone. Some of the tourists find their way into the courtyard and, by way of a game, start to push against the columns. Eventually they succeed in knocking them down. ” – (De Saint-Blanquat)

Also, there is the damage done by creating amenities needed to support the millions of tourists: signposts, bookshops, toilet blocks and eating places.

Today visitors are still amazed by the size of Pompeii, and yet disappointed by how little there is to see. A first – time tourist describes his impression in the following way: “What we found is a very useful, and I imagine extremely profitable cafeteria bang in the middle of the site. And besides that, acres of crumbling, anonymous ruins which we are barred from exploring by chains. There is also a fairly useful bookshop, but no museum to exhibit at least some of the sites most important relics…”

“If history does not repeat itself and a future eruption of Mt Vesuvius does not engulf the city with a blanket of volcanic ash, then the well-meaning tourist will surely destroy it bit ny bit. It seems likely that in time Pompeii will end up like the caves of Lascaux with its prehistoric paintings being recreated in an artificial setting away from the site itself, where gaggles of tourists can be herded through at speed. Although it (Pompeii) is too often packed with indifferent school children armed with clipboards and coach parties bussed from Rome with aching feet and dwindling interest, Pompeii is much more that just another attraction to tick off your list. The paradox is that while we need visitors, and more especially in their money, to finance conservation and research projects at Pompeii, it is the visitors who are speeding up the decay.”

“AT the very heart of any understanding of Pompeii and its archaeology must be the demands of the tourist, who as Maiuri explained was the client of archaeology.” (R Laurence)

ii. Poor site management

Despite some improvements in the recent past, such as getting rid of feral dogs and introducing a system where on ticket could be used to visit all the Vesuvian sites to pressure off Pompeii, poor site management can be blamed for the present state of the ancient city. This has taken the form of:

  • Lack of resources, good leadership and a skilled workforce
  • Failure to maintain constant monitoring of the site
  • Corruption
  • Divided authority between the superintendent and a ‘city manager’
  • Outsourcing of contractors
  • Cultural bureaucracy and red tape

“If I have to fix a brick wall, I first have to put out a tender for an architect to evaluate the damage. Then I have to put out a tender for a company to fix the wall. Then I have to see if I have enough money in my budget to pay for the repair, and then finally the work begins.” (Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, Superintendent of Pompeii 1995-2009)

Three years ago, the Italian govt. appointed special commissioners under emergency legislation to administer Pompeii, and within one year three superintendents followed in quick succession. After the collapses of 2010, there was a call for the resignation of the Culture Minister, and in 2011 military police launched criminal investigation after an independent study showed that the latest collapses were not caused by rain, but by negligence.

However, by the time the UNESCO Director- General visited the area in 2012, the Italian authorities had put in place emergency conservation procedures. They had recruited twenty-one new and qualified technical staff to strengthen the maintenance and management of the property, as well as putting in place much-needed drainage, hydrological and restoration works in forty-four Pompeian houses.

Despite these emergency measures, there are calls from some quarters to completely privatise the site. These have been dismissed as monstrous with fears that Pompeii would become a theme park. Rather, the international community has been urged to make even more efforts than in the past to protect the site.

Unfortunately, not everything can be saved for the future. Since conservation can only be carried out at a considerable cost and compromise, a resource management plan must be put into effect that will balance the competing interests of tourism, the local economy, scholarly research and the obligation to hand down a unique cultural legacy to future generations.

d. Ethical issues: study and display of human remains

i. Excavation, treatment and display of human remains

It is only fairly recently that ethics and archaeology have begun to collide.

The issue of human remains arose predominantly through the concerns of indigenous peoples such as the Americans, Indians, Australian Aboriginal and other groups for whom it is taboo to disturb the dead, and has evoked a passionate debate. However it is not only the pressure exerted by these particular groups that has brought about a re-evaluation of the treatment of human remains. “Archaeologists’ standards are products of their time and changing values mean that every generation of archaeologists inevitably regards its predecessors as crude and insensitive.”

In the early days, excavators and treasure hunters showed little regard for human reamins. At Pompeii, skeletal remains were often destroyed in the rush to discover precious finds, while others were taken away as souvenirs. The English writer Geroge Bulwer-Lytton is supposed to have kept a Pompeian skull on his desk that gave him inspirations for the villain in his novel The Last Days of Pompeii (1843). Some of the early Pompeian water colourists record the deliberate positioning of skeletons in grisly tableux to impress visitors to the site, a practice obviously not acceptable today. Even Maiuri, in his attempt to attract tourists in Herculaneum, used a skeleton of a young boy to completely stage a tableu in what he called ‘the room of the weaving girl’ attached to the House of Neptune and Amphitrite.

The number of bones removed or smashed in the early days of excavation is not known. Some skeletons were piled carelessly in bathhouses during the later excavations where the bones became disarticulated and separated, making it almost impossible to study a whole skeleton. Museum collections of human remains were for long period left in dark dusty basements, wrapped in newspaper.

Science vs. Cultural Sensitivity

Although today human remains are generally treated with respect, there are some scholars who believe that all excavation of human remains should be stopped and that it is unethical to display those that have already been excavated. At the other end of the continuum, are scientists such as osteo-archaeologists who find this unacceptable to their profession, and there is a generally held belief that the public should have access to the stories human remains tell.

The study of human remains has always been an integral part of archaeology, and the following extracts from Ethics and Archaeology reveal the importance of scientific studies of human bones.

“Human skeletons are indispensable for archaeological research. Ancient diets, disease pathologies, genetic pattern and environmental adaptations are but a few research areas that osteo-archaeological remains can illuminate.” (R. Ford)

“Archaologists and anthropologists have long considered archaeological human remains an important source of information about both biological and cultural aspects of prior human populations. Data derived from human populations of all ethnic and socio-economic groups are critical to our understanding of many aspects of modern human biology as well as to the field of forensics.” (A Cheek and B Keel)

Today, however, the “authority of science over the dead is not absolute.” (economist.com) and modern archaeologists, conservators and curators do not operate in a vacuum. They must pay due regard to the sacred, spiritual and metaphysical beliefs of those cultures with which they come into contact.

Some of the questions raised in this ethical debate include:

  • Should bones be seen solely as artefacts that provide valuable information?
  • Should our view of the human remains be a function of the age of the remains?
  • Should archaeologists have the freedom to pursue knowledge and scientific enquiry without political pressures and legal constraints?
  • Who should have custodianship over the human remains?
  • What is the most appropriate way to store and display human remains?

It is generally agreed that where human bones are of great antiquity (pre-1000), and where ethnic connections ‘are lost in the mists of time’, custody favours the scientist rather than any cultural group. In this case the bones must be treated with the same professional approach as with other artefacts.

However the interests of the scientists and their rights of enquiry do not necessarily override the wishes of living relatives, direct descendants of ‘cultural’ descendants.

The question of custodianship of human remains seems to lie along a continuum, with direct descendants and cultural descendants at one end and museums as custodians of the general public at the other.

Treatment and Storage of Bones

Often past treatments of bones (e.g. substances for adhering bones) have been carried out with no understanding of future ramifications. Even today, with the ability to conduct a wide range of sophisticated tests, people are questioning whether it is ‘ethical to jeopardise the physical characteristics of bone for potential future analysis on elements that have not necessarily survived in the sample” (FIND)

In some museums, the storage facilities for human remains have long been substandard. Storage should conform to sound conservation practices that protect the remains against physical deterioration: wrapped in acid-free paper, placed in protective containers, as well as being guarded against theft or malicious use. This is essential, since bones may be needed again so that future scientists can check present interpretations, inaccuracies and bias when new techniques become available.

Display of Human Remains in Museums

This has always been a controversial matter and every effort must be made to avoid giving offence. For example:

  • “No ethnic identification should be affixed if it is demeaning, or if no useful purpose is served.” (r. Ford)
  • The sensitivities of certain religious groups such as Jews and Muslims, who object to being in close proximity to human remains, should be taken into account, as should the interests of children.
  • Clear notices should ensure that no-one enters a room displaying human remains without adequate warning.

The International Council of Museums (ICOM) in addressing the display of human remains, states:

“Human remains should be displayed in a manner consistent with professional standards and, where known, taking into account the interests and beliefs of members for the community, ethnic or religious groups from whom the objects originated. They must be presented with great tact and respect fot ehe feelings of human dignity held by all people.” (ICOM)

Some of the intact skeletons from the boatshed of Herculaneum are displayed in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples and coming face to face with these twisted agonised skeletons can create a greater response from the viewer that all the plaster casts of Pompeii together. While the aim of a museum is to provide a fascinating exhibition, skeletal remains should only be displayed when furthering the public’s understanding of the activities of archaeologists. Opinion of R. Ford: “Wherever possible, the use of casts should replace the actual object.”

Casts at Pompeii

Most people would agree that one of the most fascinating aspects of a visit to Pompeii is the chance to see plaster casts of the victims displayed in a number of locations, some in situ.

Thirteen figures can be seen in the Garden of Fugitives, lying where they fell; two in the Stabian Baths, two in the Villa of Mysteries and two in the Marcellum. Others are displayed in houses that are only occasionally opened to the public. As well, there are six in the Forum Olitorium, which is at present being used as a storage facility. They were orignally displayed in the Pompeian Museum, which was closed in 1975 after thieves looted it of jewellery and coins. These are certainly not displayed to the best advantage and hopefully will find a more appropriate ‘home’ in the future.

Although these casts reveal more than anything else the full horror of those fateful 18 hours in August AD 79, they are intended to help the general public understand Fiorelli’s unique contribution to archaeology, and the tragic deaths of the inhabitants of the city. Despite the evidence of the pain and suffering experienced – which may cause some to reflect – and the fact that the casts contain the remains of bones, they do not to offend, and provide a fascinating display.

Others are safely and sensitively displayed behind glass in the Naples Museum. It is possible that in the future, during construction, road building or agricultural activities, more remains may be found in the countryside around Pomp where many people fled and died in 79. Although there would be no particular religious or cultural reason for not excavating, archaeologists would have to come up with a convincing rationale for it and fulfil the ethical propositions involved in cultural resource management.

The question of the excavation, treatment and display of human remains is ‘an evolving topic’.

ii. Ownership and international traffic in antiquities

There has always been treasure seeking, souvenir hunting and looting of archaeological sites – none more so that at Pompeii and Herculaneum – as well as a lucrative antiquities market. Many of the ancient objects in museums around the world and in private collections have been acquired in this way. Artefacts sold as objects d’art fetch high prices, which is a further incentive to looters.

However, the booming international traffic in antiquities today is different in two ways from that of decades ago. Today it is ‘big business and dangerous. Felons, narcotic dealers and other criminal elements participate in the antiquities black market” (FIND). And the advent of the internet, with its online auction houses, has made it easier to dispose of artefacts and harder to police, especially since many objects have been in private collections for generation. The growing demands from the market and the manufacture of forgeries are destroying archaeological heritage and distorting archaeological evidence.

Over the years there have been many conferences on cultural property, but there are often conflicts of interest between archaeologists, museums, auction houses and art dealers. In 1999, the Italian govt. requested that the USA State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee block the import of thousands of years’ worth of ancient artefacts. Both the Italian govt. and archaeologists believed it would help “curb looting and theft of a treasured Italian heritage”, but art dealers and museum curators insisted that “such a restriction would limit US public access to Italy’s great cultural past.”

Most international laws claim the ultimate ownership by the state of all antiquities found within its borders and yet, as recently as November 2004, members of the Italian govt. shocked archaeologists by proposing to “legalise the private ownership of archaeological treasures in Italy.” Under this proposal, “treasure hunters who declare their finds can keep and own them if they pay the state 5 per cent of the object’s estimated value.” (FIND). Scholars call the plan “an incitement to theft” and “a looters charge”.  The professor of archaeology at Cambridge said: “This legislation would be a slap in the face for those in administration who work for the conservation of its heritage.”

Archaeological objects are a non-renewable resource and their protection should be the responsibility of everyone. However, once they have left the country of origin, proving that they have been stolen is one of the most difficult of legal issues, and if a country is to re-acquire them it has to pay, often at astronomical cost.



Apodyterium- Changing room

Caldarium Hot room

Frigidarium- Cold room with a cold plunge bath

Palaestra- Exercise area

Tepidarium-Warm room

Eruption of Vesuvius:

Pyroclastic flow/surge- Fast-moving and highly destructive flow of gas and rock resulting from the collapse of the eruption column of a volcanic eruption

Forum and Businesses:

Aediles- The two officials responsible for law and order in the town, as well as the supervision of baths, water supply and places of entertainment

Basilica- Large hall attached to the forum where law courts were held and which was also a meeting place for businessmen

Duoviri- The two officials responsible for judging law cases

Forum- Large open space that was the commercial, administrative and religious centre of Roman towns

Macellum- Food market

Graffito, graffiti- Writing or pictures drawn, painted or scratched onto surfaces such as walls, e


Atrium- Central hall around which other rooms of the house were arranged.  (No real equivalent in modern northern European houses)

Compluvium-  Hole in roof of atrium to let in light and collect rainwater

Hortus- Walled garden

Impluvium- Pool for rainwater

Lararium- Shrine of the household gods

Peristylium- Garden surrounded by a colonnade

Tablinum-  Study/main reception room used by the head of the family

Triclinium-  Dining room named after the standard arrangement of three couches on which Roman diners reclined


Lares- Guardian spirits of a town or family

Podium- High platform on which Roman temples stood.  Temples were normally reached by climbing a flight of steps at the front of the podium.

Precinct- The area around a temple where public worship took place

Theatre and Amphitheatre:

Arena- Area in which performance took place in a Roman amphitheatre.  ‘arena’ is the Latin word for ‘sand’

Bestiarius, bestiarii- People who both looked after animals before the show and then hunted them in the arena

Cavea- The curved and banked seating area of Roman theatres and amphitheatres

Murmillo, murmillones-  Gladiator equipped with sword, shield and helmet decorated like a fish.  Often fought the retiarius

Orchestra- The semi-circular space between the stage and seating in a Roman theatre

Retiarius, retiarii- A lightly equipped gladiator who fought with a net and threepronged trident.  Often fought the murmillo

Scaenae-  The high stage building of a Roman theatre

/**google code above*/