Four new rooms discovered in a house in Pompeii provide a poignant picture of life as it existed for ordinary middle-class Pompeiians when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 brought everything to an abrupt end. In these rooms archaeologists found a frozen portrait of daily life just before the explosions, including bowls and plates, an open trunk, a bed, a utensil-crockery cabinet, and a crib-shaped glaze-decorated incense burner. These finds are helping archaeologists and historians piece together a better picture of everyday “non-elite” Pompeii life.
Life of Ordinary Pompeiians Emerges
The ancient city in the Campania district, which also included the Roman seaside town of Herculaneum and its numerous hillside and seaside villas, was buried under 4-6 meters (13-20 feet) of volcanic ash and pumice in the 79-AD Mount Vesuvius eruption. This volcanic ash preserved many buildings and settings exceptionally well and has provided valuable insights into Roman life in Pompeii.
And now we have four new rooms full of middle-class daily life objects that are already telling us more about normal daily life in the city. The extensive and majestic Archaeological Park of Pompeii, one of Italy’s major tourist attractions, has just published a report on these new middle-class finds .
These glass and ceramic bowls, in perfect pieces, some now taped together, are sitting where they were left by a middle-class Pompeii family when Mount Vesuvius effectively destroyed highlife and lowlife across Campania, Italy. ( Pompeii Sites )
The Courtyard and Rooms In Pompeii’s ‘House of the Larario’
Until recently, Pompeii excavations largely focused on the lavishly decorated and furnished Roman elite villas of the city. However, recent archaeological activity has widened its scope to hunt for and explore the humbler homes of middle-class and ordinary Romans living in Pompeii.
Announcing the new finds, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the park’s director said, according to the report, “A large slice of the population in the Roman Empire were people who sweated for their daily bread but were also anxious to raise their social status.”
The four new rooms are on two floors of a house or domus first excavated in 2018. The house was given the name “House of the Larario” because of the ancient Roman guardian deities or Lares found in the building’s courtyard, reports the Daily Sabah . The courtyard was also decorated with remarkable frescoes of birds, animals, and hunting scenes.
This “religious” crib-shaped decorated incense burner was also found in one of the new middle-class Pompeii rooms in the House of Larario. ( Pompeii Sites )
New Rooms Offer Insights into Life of Middle-class Pompeiians
The furnishings, decorations and household objects discovered in the four new rooms provide precious insights into the lives of ordinary middle-class Pompeii citizens. One room had unpainted walls and an earthen floor and seemed to have been used for storage.
Fox News reports Zuchtriegel as saying, “evidently, the (financial) resources [of the residents] weren’t enough to decorate the five rooms of the home.” Instead, the decorations and focus were on the home’s courtyard housing the Lares guardian figures, as well as an exceptionally well-decorated cistern or well.
The Roman middle-class had to choose a part of the house to spend decoration money on, and the evidence shows they primarily chose the courtyard for this. The elite villas of Pompeii also displayed maximum decorative emphasis in their courtyards.
In the bedroom the archaeologists found the remains of a bed frame with traces of fabric from the pillow. Interestingly, the bed is similar to three cot-like beds found last year in a tiny room in another residence of ancient Pompeii. That room, archaeologists believe, acted as the storeroom-cum-sleeping quarters for a slave family .
Apart from the cot, the bedroom also contained a wooden trunk with the lid open, as though in the process of being emptied. Although the trunk had been badly damaged by the collapse of the building’s beams and ceiling panels caused by the volcanic explosion, some of its contents were intact. Notable was an oil lamp decorated with a bas relief depicting the Greek god Zeus being transformed into an eagle. A small three-legged table found standing nearby resembled the accent tables in use nowadays.
Keeping Things Tidy
In the home’s storeroom area, archaeologists found a wooden cabinet with its backboard intact but the shelves fallen in. It originally had at least four panel doors and held utensils for the nearby kitchen. A hinge was also found in the Roman storeroom .
The collapsed wooden wardrobe. ( Pompeii Sites )
Another discovery was a large fragment of a translucent, rimmed plate in startling shades of cobalt blue and emerald. Finally, a cradle-shaped incense burner, colorfully decorated, was found in perfect condition, as if it had been last used yesterday.
Altogether, the House of Larario, its fresco paintings, furnishings, and the daily-life objects found in it paint a picture of residents who couldn’t afford the Roman elite luxuries but who tried to imitate these wealthier citizens in their courtyards. As Zuchtriegel put it, “We don’t know who lived here but the pleasurable life depicted in the courtyard [frescoes] was probably more of an aspiration than their everyday reality.”
Top image: This is the scene archaeologists found in the bedroom in the middle-class Pompeii House of the Larario, so-called because of the many Lares guardian deities found in the home’s well-decorated courtyard. Source: Pompeii Sites
By Sahir Pandey