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I will set out Pompeii’s location firstly, then its plan and then a plan of the Forum. Please
note that you can zoom in on all images.
Pompeii is located on the Bay of Naples in southern Italy, in the region of Campania and the
province of Napoli, on the southwest slope of Mount Vesuvius at the mouth of the Sarno
Reasons why people settled there are simple to explain: There was a settlement here because
defence - promontory
the fertile soil - volcanic ash - crops
trade - River Sarno and seaport
pleasant climate
the scenic setting adjacent to Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples
As you will see from the second image above, there is a grid system (though some parts are
dictated by terrain). It is believed to have been devised by the fifth century BC architect
Hippodamus of Miletos.
Features and Origins
Once you look at the Picture on page One you will note that the city is surrounded by a wall.
They are pre-roman walls as it was conquered by Rome well after its foundation. In the 5th
century BC, the Samnites conquered it (and all the other towns of Campania); the new rulers
imposed their architecture and enlarged the town. After the Samnite Wars (4th century BC),
Pompeii was forced to accept the status of socium of Rome, maintaining, however, linguistic
and administrative autonomy. In the 4th century BC, it was fortified. Pompeii remained
faithful to Rome during the Second Punic War.
Pompeii took part in the war that the towns of Campania initiated against Rome, but in 89 BC
it was besieged by Sulla. Although the blunts of the Social League, headed by Lucius
Cluentius, helped in resisting the Romans, in 80 BC Pompeii was forced to surrender after the
conquest of Nola, culminating in many of Sulla's veterans being given land and property,
while many of those who went against Rome were ousted from their homes. It became a
Roman colony with the name of Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum. The town became
an important passage for goods that arrived by sea and had to be sent toward Rome or
Southern Italy along the nearby Appian Way. Agriculture, water and wine production were
also important.
It was fed with water by a spur from Aqua Augusta (Naples) built c. 20 BC by Agrippa; the
main line supplied several other large towns, and finally the naval base at Misenum. The
castellum in Pompeii is well preserved, and includes many interesting details of the
distribution network and its controls.
The city has seven gates, and I have a powerpoint on moodle which looks at the gates and
names. L Sull is inscribed outside the Herculaneum Gate and may refer to the tomb of
Lucius Sulla. Other important features of the city is the aquaduct, the water distribution
system including distribution towers and fountains at the crossroads, some of which are
marked with human heads and others the heads of animals. The streets were paved though
there are grooves in the paving from years of chariot wheels. The streets having stepping
stones to cross from one path to the other as the roads also acted as drainage and indeed
sewage systems!
The Forum
As you will see from the Forum plan on page 2, the Forum was a rectangular area which was
pedestrianised. It was the centre of religious, political, economic and social life and therefore the
heart of any Roman city. It had a peristyle (a courtyard with a covered walkway all the way
around it) which consisted of two-tier columns, with Doric below and Ionic above.
two-tier Columns
Statues of important people and gods were placed in the Forum.
Buildings of the Forum
 Temple of Jupiter, with arches on each side of the temple (temple dedicated to three
gods - Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva - a Roman custom)
 Temple of Apollo (bronze statue of Apollo)
 Ponderaria Table (measures controlled)
 Basilica - courthouse and business transactions
 public administration buildings
- Aediles' office (Aediles were in charge of public buildings, roads, corn dole,
and shows)
 Senate House (town council met there)
 Office of Duoviri (the two most important magistrates of the town)
 Comitium - election building
 Building of Eumachia (priestess - Guild of Fullones; door with marble surround)
 Temple of Vespasian (Emperor - marble altar with sacrifice scene)
 Temple of Lares (spirits of protecting gods of town)
 Macellum (market with Tholos)
Informal Entertainment in the Forum and City
Basilica - listening to law cases
Listening t o philosophers
Talking t o friends
Informal d e b a t e s and discussions
Walking around the shops (markets)
Reading the posters and graffiti
Enjoying the sculpture, painting, and m o s a i c
Watching the craftsmen and tradesmen at work , e.g. jeweller or blacksmith
Temples OUTSIDE of the Forum
Temple of Venus (Patron of the City)
Temple of Fortuna Augusta
Temple of Isis (Egytian Goddess)
Temple of Zeus Milichius
From the temples one can deduce:
 the importance of religion
 the religious influence from outside (Egypt and Greece)
 that the emperors were raised to the level of gods
 their belief in afterlife (Lares)
 that there were great architects and builders
 a concern for aesthetics
Religion In Pompeii
Pompeian religion is evident in public places with examples such as temples, festivals, Villa of
the Mysteries.
Villa of Mysteries
The Villa of the Mysteries or Villa dei Misteri is a well preserved ruin of a Roman Villa
which lies some 400 meters north-west of Pompeii, southern Italy.
Although covered with meters of ash and other volcanic material, the villa sustained only
minor damage in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, and the majority of its walls, ceilings,
and most particularly its frescoes survived largely undamaged.
The Villa is named for the paintings in one room of the residence. This space may have been
a triclinium, and is decorated with very fine frescoes. Although the actual subject of the
frescoes is hotly debated, the most common interpretation of the images is scenes of the
initiation of a woman into a special cult of Dionysus, a mystery cult that required specific
rites and rituals to become a member. Of all other interpretations, the most notable is that of
Paul Veyne, who believes that it depicts a young woman undergoing the rites of marriage.
The Villa had both very fine rooms for dining and entertaining and more functional spaces. A
wine-press was discovered when the Villa was excavated and has been restored in its original
location. It was not uncommon for the homes of the very wealthy to include areas for the
production of wine, olive oil, or other agricultural products, especially since many elite
Romans owned farmland or orchards in the immediate vicinity of their villas.
The villa may be accessed from Pompeii. The villa is outside the main town, separated from
it by a road with funerary monuments on either side (a necropolis) as well as the city walls.
The Villa of the Mysteries is considered a suburban villa (Latin: Villa Suburbana), with a
close relationship to the city, but outside the town.
The ownership of the Villa is unknown, as is the case with many private homes in the city of
Pompeii. However, certain artifacts give tantalizing clues. A bronze seal found in the villa
names L. Istacidius Zosimus, a freedman of the powerful Istacidii family. Scholars have
proposed him as the owner of the villa or overseer of reconstruction after the earthquake of
62. The presence of a statue of Livia, wife of Augustus, has caused some historians to instead
declare her to be the owner.
As in other areas of Pompeii and Herculaneum, a number of bodies were found in this villa,
and plaster-of-paris casts were made of them.
There are many different interpretations of the frescoes, but they are commonly believed to
depict a religious rite.
Religion in the Home
For Romans being civilized very much meant living in a home. If the saying states that 'an
Englishman's home is his castle', then this very much also was true for the Roman.
And the very spiritual center of his home was the hearth. This will no doubt have gone back
to ancient times, when the peasants on the hills of Rome lived in primitive round houses,
huddling around the fire in the middle of their hut during cold and rainy days.
The fire of the hearth was something the woman of the house were to guard over. Just as
Rome itself had its eternal flame burning in the Temple of Vesta, then so too the hearth was
meant to be kept alight. Before the house retired to bed the fire would be stocked up, so it had
fuel to burn alone during the night. In the morning it would be built up anew from what little
fire was left.
If the fire was to burn on forever, then it was only when the family moved away to another
home, that the fire would be put out with wine in a small ritual.
It was at the hearth sacrifices were made to the gods and the spirits of the families ancestors.
Household Gods
Two gods of the Roman state cult guarded the private homes of the Roman citizen. One was
Janus, the god of doorways and beginnings. It was he who was seen as the chief guardian of
the home. His was the passage through the door, he was both inside and outside the house at
once. Hence he was its guardian.
And yet he was not to be the only god in care of the door to a Roman's home. There was
Cardea, the goddess of hinges, Forculus, god of the door leaves, and Limentius, the god of
the threshold.
The second official deity of the home, next to Janus, was Vesta. She was the goddess of the
hearth. As the hearth was of practical importance (for cooking) and of spiritual significance
(sacrifices) it is quite understandable that Vesta was seen to be of great importance to a
Roman's home.
Every day prayers would be said to Vesta. During meals some food might be set aside and
passed into the fire as an offering to the goddess.
Household Spirits
The spirits of the household were the lares and penates. The lares were the spirits of the
families ancestors. They were represented by little figurines which would be kept in a special
cupboard. Among them the lar familiaris, the family spirit, was the most important.
On a everyday bases short prayers and small offerings would be made to the lares. And on
the more sacred days of the month - the calends, ides and nones - or on special days like a
wedding, birth or birthday, more elaborate rituals were held in their honour.
Meanwhile the penates were the spirits of the larder. thanks were given to them for keeping
the family fed. They too were represented by little figurines and they too had their own little
cupboard they resided in. But they would tend to be taken out and placed on the table during
When the family ever moved house, then its lares and penates invariably moved with them.
The third household spirit of note was the genius, who was usually represented in form of a
This genius was in a sense the 'manhood' of the family, which empowered the husband to
father children. Naturally the place of its greatest influence within the house was in the
marital bed.
The genius of the household was particularly celebrated on the head of the family's birthday.
Apart from friendly spirits there were also ghostly spirits of the dead which might haunt a
house. They were the so-called larvae and lemures. These could be driven out of the house by
ritual, performed by the head of the family, which involved spitting our black beans and
noisily bashing together metal pots.
Births, Marriages and Deaths
Births, marriages and deaths all were of great spiritual significance.
Juno Lucina was the goddess who watched over the birth of a child. But ever since its very
conception a fetus had a whole host of spirits guarding over it.
After a birth a meal would always be made for the gods, Picumnus and Pilumnus in thanks
for their services.
Thereafter a boatload of other minor gods all played theri part, overseeing matters such as
breast feeding, the growth of bones, drinking, eating - even talking.
The naming of a child (on the ninth day for a boy, the eighth for a girl) was watched over by
the goddess Nundina. The child would then be given an amulet, the bulla, which a girl would
wear until she married and a boy would wear until he reached manhood and was given his
toga virilis, at an age between 14 and 17 .
Enacting a marriage could be done in several ways:
1 Simple consent of both sides, without any rituals or any festivities.
After a couple had cohabited a year, the woman not having been absent for more than three
A symbolic purchase of the bride, with a holder of a pair of scales and five witnesses
4 With full religious ritual and elaborate ceremonies in the presence of the pontifex maximus.
This was a legal requirement for patrician families.
The early forms of religious ritual for a marriage included prayers, sacrifice, the sharing and
sacrificing of sacred bread and the taking of auspices, while the couple sat on chairs covered
with lambskin and tied together. This type of marriage lasted until about the second century
AD, after which it was superceded by a new kind of rite.
At an official betrothal ceremony the bride had a ring placed on her finger in front of the
gathered guests.
At the later wedding she would wear a bright red/orange veil, crowned by a wreath made of
blossom. Animal sacrifice was made and the entrails of the animal were then examined for
any omens. Thereafter the bride and groom would exchange vows and thus be married.
If all through a Roman's life spirits watched over him, then when he died, he died without any
such guardians.
Once the corpse was cremated or buried its spirit joined all the other spirits of the dead,
which were known collectively as manes. Of course it now also became one of the family
If the funeral sought to honour the deceased, there were no spirits to be pleased to watch over
him. And so the rituals of the funeral sought rather to help purify the living members of the
surviving family. Family members were sprinkled with water and bid to step across the
ceremonial fire.
Thereafter there was a feast in honour of the deceased.
To help cleanse the house of death a pig was sacrificed to the goddess Ceres and the house
was thoroughly swept.
Entertainment in Pompeii
The theatre was the place where performances of comedies and tragedies were held. It
included a semi-circular cavea from which led the series of steps divided into sections on
which the spectators sat. Below was the area for the orchestra (the part intended for the
chorus) and the scena, that is the stage where the actors performed. The theatre in Pompeii
shows the features of Greek models in that it exploits the natural inclination of the terrain.
The Roman-type theatre on the other hand depends on an architectural structure.
Established in the 1st century B.C., it represents one of the most harmonious and wellbalanced examples of architecture of this type. It could hold up to 1,000 spectators and could
be covered permanently. It is well preserved and shows the typical design of the Greek
theatre with its structure deeply embanked in the natural slope of the terrain. It was used to
host plays and musical events. In addition it was used for the performance of mimes.
Mime was a special theatrical performance of a comical or even bawdy nature, inspired by
aspects and incidents of everyday life. Usually it only lasted for a short time.
The actors used masks as a rule and women were also admitted to the performance, which
was not otherwise the case. Mime originated as farce in Sicily and was later modified in the
Roman age.
Although it is actually the only theatre in Pompeii, it was given this name to distinguish it
from the nearby Odeion, which is much smaller and was used for different purpose. It was
built in the 2nd century B.C. more or less according to traditional Greek canons in so far as
the tiered seating makes use of natural slope and the orchestra is arranged in a horse-shoe
shape. It was extended and restored during the reign of Augustus at the personal expense of
the Holconius brothers, who were rich Pompeian vine growers. An inscription tell us that the
entire seating area had been resurfaced in marble, but this was removed and carried off after
the destruction of the town. The upper circle was added to increase the seating capacity and
the two side boxes above the entrance to the orchestra were reserved for the guest of honour.
In this way the theatre of Pompeii could accommodate 5,000 people seated in three different
areas which were separated by corridors. The first (called the ima cavea) was situated in the
orchestra itself and had four rows of seats which were reserved for the decurions, while the
first rows of the media cavea were for the representative of the corporations: one of these was
reserved for the eldest of the Holconium brothers and was identified by an inscription in
bronze letters. The remaining places right up to the top part (summa cavea) were designated
for the ordinary townspeople. The final tier had stone rings fitted into the walls which were
used to support the poles which held the large canopy covering the theatre to protect the
audience from the sun. The stone stage was rebuilt after the earthquake of 62 A.D. in
imitation of the façade of an important building decorated with column, niches and statues,.
To the rear was a small and unusual-shaped dressing room running the whole width of the
stage area, which could be reached by three doors directly from the stage. A further three
doors lead out onto a large courtyard.
1. Circular orchestra
2. Passage between orchestra
and stage (parados)
3. Built into hill
4. Example :Epidaurus
1. D - shaped orchestra
2. Stage joined to auditorium
3. Auditorium raised on arches
4. Example: Pompeii
The Romans, however, continued to use Greek theatres where these already existed but
often reconstructed them, changing the shape of the orchestra and joining the stage to
the auditorium.
The word Amphith means double theatre. The amphitheatre was in Pompeii before Rome - oldest stone
built amphitheatre in the world.
Pompeii’s Amphitheatre
Situated in the south eastern corner of the city, Pompeii’s amphitheatre dates to 70BC. It
survived the eruption of Vesuvius almost intact, making it the world’s oldest surviving
Roman amphitheatre. It also offers fascinating insight into the design of amphitheatres and
their importance to Roman society.
The History of Pompeii’s Amphitheatre
According to inscriptions, Pompeii’s amphitheatre was built by C. Quintius Valgus and M
Procius, two of Sulla’s commanders who became the city’s magistrates after its subjugation
by the Romans. This dates the amphitheatre to 70AD, making it one of the earliest
constructed Roman amphitheatres and the oldest one left standing.
The amphitheatre was central to life in Pompeii. It was amongst the first buildings
reconstructed following the earthquake in 62AD, despite the fact that no games had been held
there for 3 years. In 59AD, a ten year ban was placed on gladiatorial contests in the city after
riots broke out amongst Pompeian spectators and those from nearby Nuceria. The ban was no
doubt revoked early following the earthquake as a way of lifting the moral of Pompeii’s
The fatal eruption of 79AD did not destroy the amphitheatre. Whilst most of it was buried by
volcanic debris, its uppermost parts remained partially exposed up until the middle ages. It is
these areas that display the most damage, with the holes for the crowd shading awnings
known as velaria partially eroded.
The amphitheatre was initially exposed in 1823 when it was cleared of overlying material by
Antonio Bonnucci and Michele Arditi. It was not until the twentieth century that it was
systematically excavated by the great pioneer of Pompeian archaeology Amedeo Maiuri.
The Structure and Design of Pompeii’s Amphitheatre
In contrast to later amphitheatres, Pompeii’s is very simple and represents and example of the
earliest style of amphitheatre. It measures 135m long and 104m wide. Its arena was a pit
excavated 6m below ground level with earth from the excavations heaped up into
embankments that served as a seating area. All that divided the audience from the spectacle
below them was a 2 metre balustrade which would have offered poor protection for those on
the nearest seats during wild beats fights
The south and east sides of the structure were contained by the city walls which were joined
by purpose built retaining walls to enclose the north and west. External staircases built into
the walls were the earliest access ways to the seating areas which was initially wooden. There
were only two entrances to the arena itself: the Porta Triumphalis which was used for the
opening ceremony procession of gladiators and the Porta Libitinensis which was the exit
point for the dead.
Improvements were made to the design and appearance of the amphitheatre during the repairs
of 62AD. A new seating area was constructed and brick buttresses were added to support the
access tunnels. A covered walkway was added in the seating area allowing access via
stairways to the internal access corridor to allow the city’s elite to enter the amphitheatre
through the main arena entrances rather than the external stairways.The balsrade of the arena
was painted with bright panels depicting gladiator fights. Two inscribed statue niches over
the northern entrance indicate this was funded by C. Crispus Pansa and his son.
The chief difference between Pompeii’s amphitheatre and later design is the lack of external
structures. The arena is built on solid ground, without the underground vaults and cells for the
containment of gladiators and animals found in later amphitheatres. The only internal feature
was a simple corridor cut into the earth base of the cavea. Running the circumference of the
amphitheatre, it was used to access to the arena.
The Popularity of the Games in Pompeii
The arena accommodated all social classes, demonstrating the universal popularity of the
games. The 35 rows of seats which could accommodate 20000 people were divided into three
areas to accommodate three distinct social groupings of spectators from the city and its
outlying regions: the ima, media and summa cavea. The media was kept for the general
populace whilst the ima cavae ran around the arena and was kept for well to do. Slaves and
women and the lowest classes viewed the games form the summa cavae, at a distance from
the show. Protection from the sun was provided by velaria suspended above the crowd from
the top of the arena.
The external walls of the amphitheatre were covered with posters praising the gladiators and
recording the outcome of the contests. The Thracian Celadus is described as the ‘hero’ and
‘heartthrob of the girls’. The area around the amphitheatre developed into an area of taverns
and eateries to provide pre and post games’ refreshment. Signs painted on the arena walls
marking out rented spaces indicate that temporary booths were set up just outside the arena
walls, selling souvenirs, food and drink.
Gymnasium (Palaestra)
The discovery of the statue of Doriphorus, the symbol of youth and strength and a roman
copy of the original of Polycletus, led early archaeologists to define this space with its
surrounding colonnades beside the Large Theatre as a gymnasium (palestra). However, it was
actually the headquarters of a military association of noble Pompeian youths who used to
train here for parades and official competitions. The limited space available meant that
certain kinds of training probably took place in the adjoining area of the Triangular Forum.
The building dates back to the 2nd century B.C. and is enclosed by tuff-stone Doric columns
on three sides only as, after the earthquake of 62 A.D., the nearby Temple of Isis was
extended into the gymnasium area. Opposite the entrance there are two pedestals, the larger
of which most probably housed the statue of Doriphorus. Beside it was a flight of steps which
allowed the young athletes to place crowns on the statue. The lower pedestal was used for
placing gift.
The Palaestra is situated in the eastern periphery of the city, near the Amphitheatre. It was
created during the Augustan period, one of the projects of imperial propaganda which led to
the founding of the ‘collegia iuvenum’, organizations of young people whose prime scope
have been that of furthering sports but whose secondary scope was that of providing an
atmosphere of adhesion to the principles of the new political ideology in which the future
citizens would be formed. The palaestra of the ‘Iuventus Pompeiana’ occupies a vast area,
141 x 137 meter, and consists of a central space for gymnastic exercises, surrounded by a tall
perimeter wall with ten monumental entrance gateways. Inside, on three sides, runs a portico
of 118 columns in brick covered with stucco. Originally there were two rows of plane trees,
of which the impression of the roots still exist. At the centre of the courtyard was a large
swimming pool from one m. to two m. in depth. A room preceded by two columns off the
south-west side, with the base for a statue near the back wall. This was probably the space
dedicated to the cult of Augustus, patron of the ‘collegia’. A large latrine was on the
southeast side. The Palaestra had been heavily damaged in the earthquake of A.D. 62 and was
still being restored when the eruption of A.D. 79 took place.
Baths of Pompeii
There are three main public baths in Pompeii: the Stabian baths, the Forum baths, and the
Central baths.
The oldest of the thermae in Pompeii is the Stabian baths, and four different building stages
can be identified. The bath is located at the Holconius intersection, which is where the
decumanus maximus (Via dell'Abbondanza) crosses the cardo maximus (Via Stabiana).
During the earliest stage, which dates to the late 4th century BC, a trapezoidal exercise field
(palaestra) and colonnade were constructed, and a series of cells with tubs was built along
the north side. The general layout of the bath dates to the 2nd century BC, when the palaestra
was reconfigured and additional features were added. After the earthquake of AD 62,
dressing rooms (apodyteria) were included. The bath was divided into two opposing, separate
sections, one for men and one for women.
The Forum Baths are the smallest, but the most elegant of the thermae. They were built
shortly after the establishment of Sullla's colony in 80 BC. An inscription credits the duovir
Lucius Caesius and the aediles Caius Occius and Lucius Niraemius. Despite their small size,
they contained everything necessary for the full bathing ritual: dressing rooms, hot, tepid and
cold rooms, exercise field, and toilets. These baths were also divided into separate facilities
for men and women. They were the only baths still functioning in Pompeii after the
earthquake of AD 62.
The Central Baths are the most recent version of thermae in Pompeii. When the socialeconomic axis of Pompeii moved towards the intersection of the Via Stabiana and Via di
Nola, a new bath complex was designed, and it replaced an entire block (insula) of the town.
The baths were constructed after the earthquake of AD 62, but were never completed before
the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. It is notable that separate sections for men and women
were not provided, nor did it have a frigidarium, but it did have a laconicum instead.
Gladiators and Gladitorial Barracks
Who were the Gladiators?
In the main, gladiators were slaves purchased for their strength by local businessmen. They
were trained in troupes and then hired them out to fight in the games.
Many gladiators had single names like ‘Princeps’ and 'Hilarius’ which indicated that they
were slaves. Some gladiators were also free. The gladiator Lucius Raecius Felix was
probably a freedman. Felix was a common slave name and his other two names were
probably adopted from his former master’s name and added after his freedom.
Some gladiators were also freeborn. Graffiti in Pompeii records the name of a gladiator
Marcus Attilius. His name is not that of a slave and does not indicate he was a freedman,
suggesting he signed up to the arena for profit.
The House of the Gladiators
Before 62 AD, this was the original gladiator’s barracks and training area for gladiators in
Pompeii. A converted house, it consisted of a central peristyle surrounded by rooms. Graffiti
on the pillars of the peristyle informs on the types of gladiators who appeared in Pompeii and
how the gladiators themselves saw each other.
Besides the well-known fighters such as Thracians, Murmillos and Retinarii (net men) the
House of the Gladiators trained essedarius (chariot fighters) and eques (cavalrymen). There
are also various pieces of graffiti that refer to the popularity of certain gladiators with local
women, suggesting that the gladiators at least saw themselves as sex symbols.
The Gladiator’s Barracks
After 62 AD, the gladiator’s training venue moved to the portico of the large theatre. This
large complex known as the Gladiator’s Barracks was occupied at the time of the 79 AD
eruption. Eighteen human skeletons were found on the premises as well as that of a horse.
The barracks consisted of a kitchen, mess hall, stables and armoury for storing the ceremonial
armour and helmets that the gladiators wore in processions. Stairs on the east side were
believed to lead to the lanista’s quarters on the second floor. A further set of stairs led below
the barracks to an ergastulum or slave prison. Four more skeletons were found here. They
were unchained despite the provision of iron fetters.
The Mortality Rate Amongst Gladiators
Not every gladiator who lost a fight lost their life.
Graffiti is commonly found on tombs flanking the major routes into the city, detailing the
outcome of gladiatorial combat. The equivalent of modern day sports reports, these accounts
named the participants, how many bouts they had fought and how many of these fights they
had won.
Victors were indicated by the letter ‘v’. Losers could be marked as either ‘m’ for 'missus'
indicating that they had lost but been reprieved or ‘p’ for ‘perrit’ indicating they had been
killed. Far more gladiator’s names were marked with an m indicating that losers often
Collapse of Gladitorial Barracks 2010
Italy's ancient ruins threatened by neglect
By Salvatore Laporta, AP
A frescoed house in Pompeii where
gladiators prepared for combat
survived the furious explosion of
Vesuvius in 79 A.D. but apparently
could not withstand modern-day
Frances D'Emilio, Associated Press
ROME — Italy is rich in ancient wonders, but the real wonder may be that so many are still
standing given the poor care they get.
The collapse in Pompeii last week of a frescoed house where gladiators prepared for combat was
the latest archaeological accident waiting to happen. The structure was a piece of storied past that
had survived the furious explosion of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. — but apparently could not withstand
modern-day neglect.
"We're stunned when some walls fall down. But these are ruins not systematically maintained, so
the miracle is that so few of them collapse," said Andrea Carandini, a world-renowned
archaeologist who leads a panel of professional consultants in the Cultural Ministry.
Last spring, a huge segment of the now underground complex of Nero's fabled Golden Palace in
Rome gave way, raining down pieces of vaulted ceiling in one of the galleries beneath a garden
popular with strollers. Three years ago, a 6-meter (20-foot) section of ancient wall named after the
3rd century Emperor Aurelius, who built it to defend Rome against the first onslaught of barbarians,
crumpled into a pile of bricks after days of heavy rain.
A couple of months ago, three chunks of mortar broke off the Colosseum, hours before the symbol
of the Eternal City opened its gates to tourists.
While the ancient Roman arena of gladiator battles and other spectacles has survived earthquakes,
lightning strikes and pillaging, architects and engineers still fret about the architectural marvel,
eroded by pollution, rattled by subway cars running nearby, and still suffering from centuries of
poor drainage.
But topping experts' list of potential perils is the Palatine Hill. For years, archaeologists and
structural engineers have been issuing alarms that the once palatial homes of Rome's ancient
emperors risk collapse because of poor upkeep.
Fissures are apparent in brickwork, and rainwater seeps through stone, forcing the closure of much
of the hill's expanse to tourists.
Pompeii's gladiator barracks along the doomed city's main street joined a list of other recent victims
of neglect in the sprawling remains that were once buried under the volcanic ash of Vesuvius'
Among the more noted casualties was the collapse in January of the House of the Chaste Lovers,
which was excavated in 1987, a relatively recent addition for the 3 million tourists who tread the
Pompeii's stone paths each year.
"We are tired of commenting on the continuous collapses and damage to the archaeological heritage
of our country," said Giorgia Leoni, president of the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists in a
statement after the gladiators' place fell apart on Saturday.
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday decried what he called "terrible negligence" as a
chief reason for national embarrassments like the Pompeii collapse.
Carandini, interviewed on Italian radio, warned that should Pompeii be hard hit by an earthquake—
"we wouldn't be able to do a (complete) restoration" because no relief map has ever been made of
the site. The Naples area, which hosts the ruins, is one of Italy's most earthquake-prone.
Lovers of antiquities here have long bemoaned the chronic shortage of funding — relative crumbs
in the national budget pie — for routine maintenance of treasures to shore up shaky structures and
save them for posterity.
Italy's Cultural Ministry, whose duties include caring for and repairing ancient monuments and
artworks, gets a mere 0.18% of the national budget, compared to roughly 1% for France, according
to ministry officials. It's a startling contrast for a nation that boasts the world's highest number of
ruins, churches, monasteries and other artistic and architectural treasures — helping to make
tourism one of Italy's biggest industries.
Ironically, experts describe Italy as being "in the avant-garde for programs of prevention, for
pinpointing" potential peril with the help of architects and engineers, and drawing up a "kind of
map of risk."
Giorgio Croci, one of Italy's best-known engineers for structural problems, said the nation's knowhow is so in demand that Turkey has commissioned him to study Istanbul's monuments for potential
"But one of the woes of this country is a bureaucracy that's paralyzing," he said. "In some cases,
plans just languish in the drawers of officials or bureaucrats."
Greece, with its legacy of ancient marvels, seems to do a better job at keeping their treasures intact.
On the whole, Greek sites have benefited from generously-funded restoration and conservation
program over the past decades. Although Greece is staggering through a severe economic crisis,
work has continued on the Acropolis, whose marble temples and monumental gates have been
painstakingly taken to pieces, sorted out and stuck together.
That work started after experts realized, in the 1970s, that quick action was needed because of
worsening pollution and damage from past restorations.
In Italy, private sponsors, ranging from utility companies to mattress manufacturers, fill some of the
gap. But they pick and choose, often "adopting" only the most high-profile projects, seldom
unheralded but crucial work like removing wildflower roots from cracks in millennia old
Croci said the Pompeii collapse might have been avoided if simple, affordable measures had been
taken preventatively — like injecting material to encourage cohesion in the stone or simply
covering the structure with some kind of shelter.
"A lot of the interventions are not that costly," said Croci, who has mapped out weak spots in the
Colosseum and Palatine Hill ruins.
The structure was repaired in 1947 after damage from World War II bombing, and the use of
reinforced concrete in that restoration was cited by some as a possible cause for the collapse.
Inspecting the wreckage on Tuesday, Pompeii's recently appointed superintendent, Jeannette
Papadopoulos, said reinforced concrete was "slowly" being removed from some of the earlier
restorations but that "unfortunately" restorers hadn't gotten around to tackling the gladiators'
Croci, who hasn't inspected the collapsed house, disagreed, citing infiltration of rainwater rather
than concrete as the more likely culprit.
During a walkabout through the ruins two days after the collapse, a noted Pompeii expert pointed to
rivers of rain runoff — as a state TV camera rolled — pouring through the sprawling site because
weeds were clogging gutters and sewers.
"All you need is a team of artisans, carpenters and such to call when you see a simple problem" said
Fabrizio Pesando, a professor at Naples University of Oriental Studies
Sample Plan of a Roman House
formal entrance hall
"wings" opening from atrium
small room; bedroom
garden room
colonnaded garden
office; study
dining room
entrance hall
This reconstructed model of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii shows the exterior of
the house from the front, the back and one side.
First style painting from the House of Sallust in Pompeii
Example of II style painting, from the Villa of the Mysteries
Third style from in Pompeii, from the House of Marcus Lucretius Fronto
Fourth style painting in Pompeii, from the Hous of Fabius Rufus
The wall decorations in Roman houses and villas have been classified into four styles
according to figural content and chronology.
The First Style, also called encrustation style, was popular from 150 B.C. up to 80 B.C. and
can be recognised by the shiny stucco decoration imitating marble lined walls. The final
result is achieved by inserting a variety of colours into different partitions for the lower panel,
for the smooth paintings and for the rusticated paintings.
The Second Style, also referred to as the architectural style, is characterised by the fact that
for the first time the walls of the house create an illusion of being open to the outside world.
This style was common between 80 B.C. and 14 A.D. and involved the depiction of
architectures which extended the physical space of the house towards imaginary landscapes.
The decoration does not merely attempt to imitate marble patterns but makes good use of
perspective to create two or more levels of depth. These compositions included columns in
the foreground and colonnades in perspective disappearing into the distance with the figure
subjects or large painting, a mythological, heroic or religious theme, in addition to small
panels with doors set between the architectural features. This highly scenographic decoration
seems to have been inspired by a growing theatrical taste.
The Third Style, up the year 62 A.D., abandons the use of space and architectural features as
the subject matter of the composition with the result that the over-all decoration loses depth.
The columns, balustrades, architraves and shelves are flattened against the wall conserve a
purely ornamental function. Columns are often used in an elongated form to frame large
figure paintings inserted in large areas of plain coloured wall.
Landscapes are reduced to miniatures inserted into a single colour background now painted in
new shades of sea-green and golden yellow.
The Third Style is also referred to as pseudo Egyptian because of the presence of typically
Egyptian elements: lotus flowers, small stars, rosettes, coloured fillets and a band running
above the skirting with details of still life scenes, gardens with bulrushes and elegant birds in
a variety of poses. The wall decorations depicting large scale subjects inspired by gardens
with trees, fountains, pools, small columns and birds in flight also belong to this period.
From the earthquake of 62 A.D. up to the town's destruction in 79 A.D., the houses in
Pompeii were decorated with Fourth Style paintings. These were also said to be in the
ornamental style because the whole wall is treated simply as a free ornamental composition.
The architectural features no longer have any reference to reality and are reduced to unreal
designs, a mere flight of fancy in which ornamentation is often excessive. There is also
frequent use of bas relief stucco work, as in the Second Style. Figure paintings become
smaller or disappear altogether. Formal subjects are chosen; often inspired by philosophical
or exotic themes, although we still find paintings that draw on the everyday life or news
reports of important events, such as the brawl that took place in the Amphitheatre, the
painting of which is now displayed at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
The Fourth Style was a sign of wealth that typified the houses of the rich merchants of
Pompeii before the catastrophe. Several experts believe that this tendency drew inspiration
from the models adopted in the Domus Aurea, the imperia1 palace in Rome, built after Nero
had set fire to the capital in 64 A.D. destroying many buildings. Fufidius Successus with his
workshop in Via Castrice was the best known painter in Pompeii. The frescoes decorating the
houses are not signed by the artist as the work was completed by more than one person, often
working in series. However, experts can recognise the work of the individual groups of artists
through their representation of certain details.
The wall paintings in Pompeii were executed using the fresco technique, by which the basic
outline of the composition was prepared and the colours were then added to the fresh plaster
so that, by penetrating inwards, the overall painting would last longer. This greater resistance
to the effects of time and wear is due to the protection of a transparent film of calcium
carbonate that is formed by the reaction between the slaked lime in the plaster and the air.
This natural protection forced painters to use the encaustic technique only to fix the
expensive red colour, basically obtained from mercury and known as cinnabar red, which
gave a brighter shade of red than the one obtained with an ochre base.
When the actual painting was finished a fine layer of wax was passed over the work.
Mosaic ornamentation was widely used in the decoration of the houses in Pompeii and saw
various stages of development. The oldest examples are works executed with simple motifs,
using tesserae of rough workmanship and of modest material; those of subsequent epochs, on
the other hand, show refinement in their composition, in their taste in colour and in the
preciousness of the tesserae used. In the first period the works are characterized by the
repetition of simple geometric motifs or they repeat the pictorial patterns of the second, third
and fourth phases. Mosaics were often used as flooring. There are some admirable examples:
the famous "cave canem" placed at the entrance to many houses is perhaps the best-known
among the many which have survived. The panel depicting "The Battle of Alexander" housed
in the Archaeological Museum in Naples and originating from the House of the Faun, is,
though, one of the most important and magnificent examples.
Important Houses in Pompeii
House of the Surgeon
House of Paquius Proculus
Surgical Instruments
Portrait of magistrate and his wife (brother of
the house owner who was a baker)
House of Venus
Frescoes of the birth of Venus (in shell) in
House of Vetti
House of the Faun
House of Julia Felix
House of the Gladiator
House of Menander (poet)
In fourth style as mentioned earlier.
Two brothers named Vetti
Frescoes of Amoretti (cupids) :
i. Buying Flowers
ii. Preparing and selling oils and perfumes
iii. Chariot Races
iv. Goldsmiths and metalworkers
v. Fullers
vi. Making and selling wine
First Style (believed to house Sulla’s nephew)
i. Body of lady with jewels
ii. Mosaic of Alexander the Great
iii. Cat-and-Partridge mosaic
Private Baths
Painting of the riot in the Amphitheatre
118-piece set of silver.
The Villas were usually outside the walls.
Villa of Mysteries had a fresco of the initiation of a bride into the mysteries of
Dionysus and was designed with the second style
Villa of Cicero used the third style.
Achievements of Architecture
1. Arch
Could span wide areas
Could bear heavy weight
Allowed for high buildings
2. Cement
Vaulting, using wooden moulds
Evidence of arches are found in:
Triumphal arches
Circular Buildings (Tholos)
Baths (Thermae)
Roofs -vault
Daily Life in Pompeii
Main officials:
Decurions which were town councillors
Duoviri which were chief magistates in charge of Justice
Aediles which were the two officials in charge of public – buildings, shows,
and city maintenance.
State Priests
(1) Patricians (aristocrats)
(2) Plebeians (ordinary citizens)
(3) Slaves
In order to be able to write about life in Pompeii it is also important to know about Roman
education, burial customs, etc.