Archaeologists excavate a fully furnished house in Pompeii
The city of Pompeii was buried in an instant and took centuries to excavate, lending itself to an enduring fascination with a moment in history that continues to yield new insights. More recently, a small complex of furnished rooms was opened in a structure in Regio V, one of the largest areas of the ancient city, in a middle-class house. The rooms surround a sumptuous thearium, which is a sanctuary for the “lares” or guardian spirits of the house. This particular version features an enchanted garden motif, discovered during excavations and facade repairs in 2018.
Now the adjoining rooms offer a coveted glimpse into the way of life of these Pompeians, producing items such as plates, vases, amphorae, glass and earthenware left in chests and cupboards. Some of these objects were visibly damaged by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE which encased the city in volcanic fallout; others were simply abandoned in a hasty retreat from the disaster. Of particular note are some less documented artifacts, including a valuable decorated incense burner and a unique group of seven waxed tablets bound by rope.
“Pompeii is an ongoing discovery that continues to inspire admiration,” said Massimo Osanna, director general of museums in Italy, in a statement from the Pompeii Archaeological Park. “Not only from a romantic point of view, which undoubtedly marks the interest not only of scholars, but also for its unique quality of being an inexhaustible laboratory for study and learning, which allows research to never to cease, and to new hypotheses and reasonings to be advanced.
Seven rooms have been excavated to date, including a bedroom with a partially preserved bed frame and pillow remains that show the texture of the fabric. The bed is a simple cradle, and possibly indicates the servants’ quarters, as it resembles three beds discovered last year in the Villa of Civita Giuliana in the “Chamber of Slaves”. The room also contained a cupboard, left open and pinned under a fallen beam, which yielded several abandoned containers and dishes. Other rooms appear to have unfinished walls and dirt floors, one of which also contained a wooden cupboard, inside which was a pile of wooden planks tied with ropes. According to the statement, the plants represented a variety of types of wood in different sizes and finishes, and were possibly used as scrap metal to make furniture or do household repairs.
The most exciting and rare finds were thought to be in two upper rooms, although their contents fell into the lower rooms when the house collapsed. This includes a unique set of wax tablets, which represent seven triptychs, linked together by a cord. The so-called polyptych is an exciting find for archaeologists, as is a set of ornate bronze vessels and a cradle-shaped incense burner with human figure adornment and polychrome geometric painting.
The final room to be excavated revealed structural details on the lathe and plasterwork that offer insight into building techniques of the time.
“In the Roman Empire, there was a significant proportion of the population who fought for their social status and for whom ‘daily bread’ was anything but a given,” Ossana said. “In the House of the Lararium at Pompeii, the owner was able to embellish the courtyard with the lararium and the basin of the cistern with exceptional paintings, but evidently the funds were insufficient to decorate the five rooms of the house, one of which has been used for storage.
“We don’t know who the inhabitants of the house were,” Ossana added, “but certainly the culture of otium (leisure) that inspired the wonderful decoration of the courtyard represented for them more of a future they dreamed of than a lived reality.”