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Pompeii. Sources: The Destruction of Pompeii & Herculaneum by C.A.R Hills Antiquity 1 by Unlocking the Past by. What has the discovery of Pompeii & Herculaneum told us about ancient life ?. Historical evidence. They bare whole towns with 2 storeyed buildings in tact.

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The Destruction of Pompeii & Herculaneum by C.A.R Hills

Antiquity 1 by

Unlocking the Past by

What has the discovery of pompeii herculaneum told us about ancient life

What has the discovery of Pompeii & Herculaneum told us about ancient life?

Historical evidence

Historical evidence

  • They bare whole towns with 2 storeyed buildings in tact.

  • Pots and jugs still in the kitchen

  • Meals still waiting on tables.

  • Historical records tend to only recount the activities of the rich BUT Pompeii gives us evidence of how the ‘ordinary’ people lived.

  • Very little of private houses left in Rome but here in P and H many private houses and streets remain.

The city

The city

  • The following buildings/amenities have been excavatedforumtemplestheatresamphitheatrespublic bathspalaestrashopsprivate dwellings

  • Walled city with 8 gates

  • Streets paved and guttered with a good water supply

The forum

The Forum

The forum pavement

The Forum pavement

Basilica a public building

Basilica – a public building

Basilica in herculaneum hercules and telephus with arcadia

Basilica in Herculaneum, Hercules and Telephus with Arcadia

The forum baths

The Forum baths

Cork model of the forum

Cork model of the Forum

Gladiator barracks

Gladiator barracks

Temple of apollo podium

Temple of Apollo - podium

Homes domus

Homes [domus]

  • Usually the wealthy

  • Ornately decorated usually

  • Might stay in the one family for generations

  • Typically faced inwards

  • Very plain looking from the outside

  • Designed for security, privacy and peace & quiet

  • Few windows to the streets

  • Main hall [atrium] was fed light by opening in roof

  • Often 2 storeys

  • Greek influence shown by peristyles, large open colonnaded courtyards at the back of the house

  • These were often embellished with statues, fountains & gardens

Fountain house of fontana grande

Fountain - House of Fontana Grande

Homes cont

Homes [cont…..]

  • Homes for the poor might have been over a shop. Ostia has good examples of this type of housing At the time of the eruption many larger houses had been divided into a number of smaller flats

  • People tended to live in insulae [large blocks]

  • Some houses split into flats for several families especially during the last ears before 79AD

  • No residential area

  • 800 house have been excavated at Pompeii

  • The ‘best’ 50-room mansions of 2000 square metres down to homes of only a few rooms

Insula of julia felix

Insula of Julia Felix

Homes features of a wealthy home

Homes – features of a wealthy home

  • The houses of Pompeii were exquisitely designed. The size and décor of your house usually depended on how rich you were.

  • The houses in Pompeii never had doorsteps but they always had gardens. The gardens were usually full of brightly coloured flowers and beautiful green trees.

  • As soon as you walk in the door of a Pompeian house you are standing in the fauces. This is also known as the entrance hall. In older houses the fauces was usually divided into two. It was also sometimes used as a cloakroom the door posts in the fauces was beautifully decorated and the floor in a wealthy house would be covered with a mosaic

Heating hypocaust

Heating hypocaust

Fauces house of faun

Fauces -HouseofFaun

Homes cont features of a wealthy home

Homes [cont…..] –features of a wealthy home

  • If you walk through the fauces you arrive at the main room [atrium], this was where guests were received. The atrium was covered by a roof which sloped downwards to allow rainwater to enter the impluvium. Every house had an impluvium; this was a pool for rainwater that then carried the water down into a system for general use. In the corner of the atrium there was a lararium [shrine for the household gods]. The families would worship their household gods every morning and every evening.

  • After the atrium, there was the tablinum. This was a room were all the business between the master of the house and his clients took place. The tablinum was divided from the atrium by curtains or a wooden screen. It opened out into the garden

Couch from the house of carbonized furniture

Couch, from the “House of Carbonized Furniture”

Atrium from tablinum house of the tragic poet

Atrium from tablinum – House of the Tragic Poet

Atrium from entrance house of the tragic poet

Atrium from entrance – House of the Tragic Poet

Compluvium house of the tragic poet

CompluviumHouse of the Tragic Poet

Homes cont features of a wealthy home1

Homes [cont…..] –features of a wealthy home

  • Next to the tablinum was the triclinum, which was also known as the winter dining room. This room had three large couches with cushions and also with niches in the walls for supporting extra wooden couches. Each couch was allocated to certain people e.g. The first couch was occupied by the master of the house and the chief guest was seated on the middle couch.  

  • At the back of the house was the summer dining room also known as the triclinium this room opened out into the garden. The couches in this room were in the shape of a three-sided square. Opening out into the garden was broad windows, and in the garden there were stone couches that would not rot in the rain.

Tablinum house of faun

Tablinum – House of Faun

Triclinum tragic poet

Triclinum – Tragic Poet

Kitchen in the house of the tragic poet

Kitchen in the House of the Tragic Poet

Homes cont features of a wealthy home2

Homes [cont…..] –features of a wealthy home

  • In a Pompeian house there was no set place for a kitchen but it was usually behind the atrium, the toilet was often next door or even inside the kitchen. The contents of the toilet drained off into a pit. Only public toilets had a sewage system.

  • Then there was the peristylium, which was the garden. The surrounding walls of a Pompeian garden were painted with outdoor scenes. The most popular style garden was with a colonnade, which offered the people of the house some shade during summer.

  • Pompeian houses were always painted white to keep them cool. Around a Pompeian there was always beautiful painting representing things like gods or there were usually a lot of paintings showing sexual scenes.

  • Pompeian houses were beautifully built and decorated. The richer you were the more mosaics and paintings you had in your house.

Peristyle house of amorini dorati

Peristyle - House of Amorini Dorati

1 st peristyle house of faun

1st peristyle – House of Faun

2 nd peristyle house of faun

2nd peristyle – House of Faun

Room off the peristyle house of amorini dorati

Room off the peristyle – House of Amorini Dorati

Religion temples

Religion- temples

  • 10 excavated in Pompeii

  • Two functions – to house the gods and be a place for rituals to be carried out by the priests

  • Not places of regular worship by the public [except temple of Isis]

  • Temple of Apollo rebuilt and remodelled several times, and enlarged after 62AD

  • Temple of Venus which had been destroyed in 62 had only just begun to be rebuilt in 79

  • When Pompeii became a Roman colony in 80BC the temple of Jupiter was converted to the temple of the Jupiter, Juno and Minerva – it had not been repaired after 62

  • 2 temples associated with imperial [Roman] rule were temples of Vespasian, and Fortuna Augusta

Temple of jupiter

Temple of Jupiter



  • At least 2 eastern religions practiced in Pompeii – an ivory figurine of a Hindu fertility goddess, Lakshmi and a bronze bust of the near Eastern fertility goddess, Sabzias found

  • Shrines & altars also found on the streets, many at crossroads

  • 1 shrine near a fountain on the Via dell’Abondanza had the charred remains of a sacrifice made at the time of the eruption

  • Images of gods were painted on the alls of shops

  • In the temples rituals etc were carried by priests and priestesses

  • Images of Venus found throughout Pompeii – the goddess of love and success

  • One aspiring politician wrote in graffiti, “Vote for me and the Venus of Pompeii will bring success to everything you undertake”

Temple of apollo with altar

Temple of Apollo with altar

Religion temple of isis

Religion- Temple of Isis

  • Dedicated to the Egyptian god, Isis

  • Worshippers of Isis met in then temple twice a day

  • 1st in the morning celebrating the rising of the sun, the rebirth of Osiris

  • 2nd in the early afternoon ceremony of water, where Nile water was blessed

  • Badly damaged in 62 but fully rebuilt by freedman in the name of his son, N Popidius Celsinus

  • Ceremonial objects found with skeletons suggesting the priests had fled Vesuvius with statues, a silver urn and other vessels

Religion household

Religion- household

  • Household religion was central to roman citizens at the time.

  • Houses in Pompeii had small shrines [lararium]

  • Each day offerings were made to the household gods

  • After the earthquake of 62 most lararia were quickly restored

  • In 79AD people fled with their lares as many lararia found without their lares as well as many being found in the streets near skeletons

  • Vesta the goddess of the hearth [fireplace]

  • Panates, guardian spirits of the pantry!!



  • Despite kitchens and bedrooms often being small even in the better houses, generally they were much more beautiful than modern houses.

  • Floor mosaics, wall paintings & decoration exist in abundance in Pompeii & Herculaneum.

  • Art historians are able to identify 4 styles of painting

  • Most famous paintings at Pompeii are those of the Villa of Mysteries showing initiation ceremonies into the worship of the Greek god, Dionysius.

  • These are great works of art BUT also very important historical documents.

Painting of narcissus house of loreius tiburtinus

Painting of Narcissus – House of Loreius Tiburtinus

Paintings cont

Paintings cont….

  • 4 main points about Roman wall painting

  • Ancient houses were painted much more than today. Today we tend to think of individually commissioned murals as reserved for only the very rich yet in Pompeii and Herculaneum it was a daily occurrence.

  • Quality varies from room to room. The more important, and therefore more highly visible and visited rooms, received better paintings.

  • Paintings must be considered in the context of the architecture settings in which they occur. What was the function of the room? Was it well lit? How does it work with pavements? With furniture?

  • Wall paintings are a measure of the artistic taste and social aspirations of the owner of the house.

Painting of the poet house of menander

Painting of the Poet – House of Menander

Painting to right of fountain in the house of fontana piccola

Painting to right of fountain in the House of Fontana Piccola

Paintings in the house of ara massima

Paintings in the House of Ara Massima

Villa of mysteries

Villa of Mysteries

Painting in the villa of mysteries

Painting in the Villa of Mysteries



  • Had raised pavements on either side

  • Stepping stones placed at intervals so people could sidestep water and rubbish

  • Streets were cobbled

  • Evidence of many ruts in the streets from traffic

  • Streets very narrow by modern standards

  • Rarely more than 4 metres wide in Pompeii while those of Herculaneum were even narrow hardly wide enough for a chariot

  • Most intersections had a public fountain with sculptured headstones

Pompeian street

Pompeian Street

Villa of mysteries room with frescoes

Villa of Mysteries room with frescoes

Another pompeian street with stepping stones and wheel ruts nb how narrow they are

Another Pompeian street with stepping stones and wheel ruts. NB how narrow they are!!

Shops hotels etc

Shops & Hotels etc

  • Much evidence of shops, workshops, hotels, restaurants & places of entertainment

  • One hotel in Pompeii has a large dining room, kitchen and 6 bedrooms

  • Some guest wrote their names in bedrooms

  • Two friends, Lucius & Primigenus, shared one room and 4 actors shred another

  • Plenty of snack bars [thermopolia] in Pompeii – you can still see food counters & containers from which dishes were served

  • No large scale industry nor factories in Pompeii but plenty of small scale business such as dry cleaners, bakers

Shop with wooden clothes press

Shop with wooden clothes press

Thermopolium fountain

Thermopolium & fountain

Public buildings

Public buildings

  • Amphitheatre the oldest surviving in the empire [c 80BC]

  • Lacks the network of underground rooms found at the Colosseum in Rome

  • Forum, temples, law courts, council offices, business headquarters

  • One of the earliest buildings found in Pompeii was the Temple of Apollo [6th C BC]

  • A temple to a Greek god at this time suggests the early influence of Greek colonists

Fortified towns

Fortified towns

  • Pompeii has strong walls, towers and gates

  • Earliest sections of wall date from 5th C BC

  • 12 towers added in about 100BC

  • Sulla besieged the town in 89 BC during the revolt of much of Italy against Rome in what has become known as the Social War [socii is Latin for ‘allies’]

  • Herculaneum also had walls though les well preserved

  • An indication of how peaceful the Roman empire had become is the existence of grand houses on the promontory overlooking the sea at Herculaneum often using parts of the defensive wall as sun terraces!!

  • Cemeteries were outside the town gates by Roman custom



  • This gives us a real insight into the real thoughts of the ordinary citizen, adult or child, of Pompeii

  • Herculaneum [a more dignified town!?] had far less graffiti

  • Much related to the annual March elections for town officials

  • It is said of one candidate that “he stands for good bread” [bonam panem fert]

  • Another said that “Vibius Restitutus slept here alone and missed his dear Urbana”!!!

  • One girls rejects the overtures of Tertius because he is too ugly!

  • Obscene graffiti is very common, both heterosexual and homosexual

  • Someone else write “everyone writes on walls except me”

  • A schoolboy also writes that if you don’t like the works of Cicero you will be whacked!!

Graffiti cont

Graffiti cont….

  • Gladiators get much praise – Celadus the Thracian is “the girls heart throb” [suspirium puellarum]

  • Actors seem equally popular – one group inform us that they are “companions of the Paris Club” while another writes “Actius our favourite, come back quickly

  • There are signs of a high level of literary culture with Virgil, Tibullus, Lucretius and Ovid being quoted [think of you quoting Shakespeare!]

  • Some of these literary quotes, obviously by children judging by their height, are probably an attempt to show off what they had learnt at school

  • One adult quoted or wrote some delightful folk poetryNothing lasts foreverthough the sun shines goldit must sink into the seaThe moon has also disappearedwhich but now so brightly gleamedso if the loved one rageshold fast, this storm will soon yieldto the soft Zephyrs

Some more graffiti

Some more graffiti!!!

  • Samius to Cornelius – go hang yourself!

  • Health to those who invite me to lunch

  • The weaver, Successus, loves Iris the slave of the innkeeper’s wife

  • I am surprised, O wall, that you who have to bear the weariness of so many writers, are still standing

  • Lovers, like bees, need a life of honey

Real people

Real people!

  • It has been possible to identify individuals of Pompeii.

  • A bronze statue of the banker Lucius Caecilius Iucundus includes a wart on his face

  • There is also a wall? painting of a young married couple holding a papyrus roll and a wax tablet possibly showing Paquius Proculus who we know rose from being a baker to the town official of aedile

  • We know that 7 children died in an upper room of the house of Paquius Proculus

  • Population of Pompeii has been quoted as between 8000 and 10,000 [antiquity 1] but generally as about 20,000

Real people cont

Real people!Cont….

  • One piece of graffiti states “Hail, profit!” perhaps giving us a real glimpse of what Pompeians were all about!!

  • 40% slaves

  • We know that the following were included amongst the people of Pompeii: artists, metal workers, glass blowers, potters as well as bakers, inn keepers, weaving & spinning [cottage industries], wine making, olive oil production, bath attendants and brothel keepers!

  • Venus, goddess of love, was the patron god of the city!

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