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Unit 03 Pompeii/Vesuvius

Pompeii -- the City

For a fairly comprehensive set po images of Pompeii, Herculanum, and surrounding
ancient towns and villas, see
Pompeii was buried under ash and ignimbrite during the 79 AD eruption.  Estimates of current inhabitation of the "red zone" of any  future eruption approximately the same as the 79 AD red zone is about 1.7 million persons.  Families living closest to the volcano can receive up to 35,000 dollars if they move out, and several thousand families have already accepted the offer.  Current evidence indicates that there is a pool of 600 cubic kilometers of magma about 1.5 kilometers below the large caldera which encompasses the Campi Flegrei, the Bay of Naples, and Vesuvius. 

The Great Pompeii Project (2014-21)-- first new excavations in Pompeii in 70 years

All of the images in the first part of this lesson were released with great fanfare in an effort to recommence tourism in the area.
One third of Pompeii has never been excavated (orange areas in the map above).  Until 2014 there had been no new excavations in Pompeii for more than 70 years/
Dr. Zuchtriegel was a protege of Dr.Osanna in the early days of the Great Pompeii Project before being appointed to head the excavations at Paestum.  He is an expert in modern archeologocal practices, and while in Paestum he led the discovery of a fourth Greek temple using remote
sencing technology.  It is yet to be determined if that temple will be excavated.
From a historical point of view, this graffito is perhaps the most importaant find of the Great Pompeii Project.  The facts of the eruption, destruction, and eventual excavation of Pompeii and other sites around Vesuvius have not changed -- this find clarifies the date of the eruption and points to a probable error in the historical record based on the letters of Pliny the Younger to the Roman historian Tacitus.
The fact that this candidates campaign advertisement, found in the newly excavated "wedge", was newly painted (as were numerous other such throughout the city) indicates that the autumn campaign season was under way -- more evidence to support the October date for the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius Ceiling.jpg Ceiling.jpg
This is not the interior decoration of the vault ceiling in the previous image.  It's from another vaulted room in Pompeii, and it is included here to illustrate that vaulted ceiling decorations did survive, to some extent, in the city.
The unvieling of this erotic fresco to the press by former Pompeii Director Massimo Osanna was part of the media blitz designed to attract tourism back to Pompeii.  Covid 19 lock downs have , for the moment (April 2021), thwarted the effort.
Everything a resident or itinerant sorceress might need to suit the dominus, domina, or familia
Guides and guidebooks, not to mention web sites, will tell you that the ruts in the streets of Roman cities and in Roman roads were the result of constant traffic of war chariots.  That's all utter nonsense:  there may have been some wear and tear from the wheels of ox carts, but those ruts were cut purposely to keep heavy wagons on track.  Articulated front axles for wagons weren't invented until the late Medieval period, so steering was extremely difficult.  Tracks were cut in city streets to help wagons avoid obstacles and to help them make turns.  In some places forked tracks were used like railroad switches -- a strategically placed stone or wedge forced the wheels into the correct set of tracks.  War chariots, in fact, were never allowed inside the pomeria (sacred boundaries) of the cities.  Despite the deadly speed and power of chariot armies there is little record of their use after ca. 1200 B.C.  In fact by the time Rome was founded, chariots were almost entirely relegated to a ceremonial use and had no value on the battle field.
Roads outside the cities were often high-crowned (i.e., humped up in the middle to encourage drainage) so wagons tended to slide toward the edges.  This was especially a problem when wagons had to move toward the sides in two way traffic.  Ruts cut into the roads would catch the inside wheel and prevent the curb-side wheel from rubbing or breaking against the curb.  War chariots also never were  used on Roman roads. Even ceremonial chariots were too valuable to be rattled apart on stone roads.  As with  tracked vehicles today, heavy  chariots were invariably put on wagons (often disassembled) when Romans wanted to transport them.  Light wickerwork racing chariots were only used at racetracks, and even if they did ocasionally appear on roads, they were to light to cause any damage.
The image clearly shows the (2/3) part of urban Pompeii that has been excavated over the last few centuries.  To the right of the picture, the two large un-excavated areas of the city appear as two green area.  There may have been suburban areas outside the walls that have not been excavated.  Modern Pompeii, which provides services to diggers and tourists, is to the left. Pompeii had "city" status under Roman law, but it would be a small town by modern Western standards.  Maiuri's estimate of a population of 20 thousand is now widely disputed -- 10 thousand or less is now more generally accepted.   Nonetheless, it is a huge site by archeological standards with dozens of city blocks (here called insulae) of public, religious, and private buildings.  There were business streets, like strip malls, with shops occupying street-level rooms on the front of large houses, many of which had upper stories.  The city existed for several centuries, and, during that time, a hodge-podge of structures grew around each other, with rich and poor living together in undifferentiated neighborhoods.  Some buildings, inevitably had different functions over time, and some of the largest houses had subsidiary apartments within their walls at the time of the eruption.  There is no way to know whether shops, apartments, or light industries were run by the main owner of the house or whether they rented out space for extra income.  There is also no way to know if upper-class folks were displaced by a rising middle-class (as Maiuri said) after the earthquakes of the early 60s AD.  Only a small part of the population was found buried beneath the rubble of the excavated areas -- many obviosly fled the city in the early hours of the 79 AD eruption.  Depending on how far they fled and the direction the went, some may have survived, but many probably were killed in the course of fleeing.  They, of course, are still out in the countryside.  With the benefit of hindsight, they should have headed northeast and gone more than ten miles to be safe.  (As with tornadoes, it's best to flee at right angles to the path of the approaching disaster.)
Modern Pompeii, like many small Italian towns, centers on a cathedral.  Across the square are government buildings and a commercial area.  Ancient Roman towns were laid out the same way, but ancient Pompeii was distinctly off center.  This was largely because its growth pattern was severely restricted by terrain -- it was built on a tongue of lava from a much earlier eruption and initially built by non= Romans.  After the Roman conquest of the town (General Sulla took it in 89 BC, Social War) it was greatly expanded following, as much as possible, a standard Roman grid-like plan.
"Regions" and "blocks" (and also "houses") in Pompeii are artificial divisions made by archeologists (Mostly by August Mau) rather than neighborhood divisions from ancient times.  The ancient town was probably not large enough to have administrative subdivisions like the "regiones" of ancient Rome.  The archeological subdivisions were designed to be used for cataloging finds, but, unfortunately, very much of what was dug up was unrecorded and simply discarded by archeologists under pressure to produce prestigious finds.
The big Pompeii dig looked pretty much the same one hundred years ago as it does today.  The volcano, in those days, was a heavy smoker, but the characteristic smoke plume did not return after the 1944 effusive (lava) eruption.
Pompeii's amphitheater, dating from 60 BC is the earliest known permanent stone ampitheatre structure:  there had been temporary wooden ones in Rome and elsewhere.  This has led some analysts to speculate that the concept originally may have been Oscan, i.e., that it was invented by the pre-Roman population of the region around Pompeii.  Holding only 20,000 spectators, it was much smaller than the later big one in Rome (100,000+) and even smaller than many later provincial amphitheaters.  The word amphitheater means "theater on both sides", that is, two theaters facing each other.  Gladiatorial and other games among teams  from Pompeii and surrounding towns were held in the arena.  The Palaestra next to the Amphitheater was both a training ground for athletes and an exercise/game field for the citizenry.  In the center of the Palaestra was a swimming pool, deeper on one end than the other much like modern pools.  Many Italian towns still today have one or more palaestrae. An incomplete but still extensive list of Roman ampitheatres is at

Next to the palaestra (above it in the image) was a 
large complex of properties belonging to Giulia Felice ("Lucky Julia"), built toard the end of the 1st century BC, incorporating several previous buildings into a single complex that can only be described as an urban resort characterised by the predominance of green areas, outdoor triclinia, lounges, and by some accounts, rental suites where sexual activities could be arranged. The property is set into four different cores with separate entrances: an atrium house, a large garden which opens on a number of residential areas, a thermal facility and a large park.
Inside and outside the Pompeii amphitheater, which, because of its concrete core, survived the pyroclastic surges and flow.  It was completely buried and in very good condition until marble miners took most of the seating for use in Renaissance and later buildings.
The slightly electronically enhanced image shows a painting from Pompeii of a riot in and around the Pompeii amphitheater in 59 AD.  The genesis of the riot is obscure, but it is recorded that several visiting fans from neighboring Nucera were killed.  Nucera was a rival of Pompeii in more than sports, so the riot may not have been only sports related.  Nero banned games for ten years in Pompeii after the disturbance.  The painting clearly shows a retractable awning to shade spectators.
Large theater and odeon.  The smaller odeon was roofed over and the theater, according to painted advertisements in the city, could be covered by retractable awnings.  Also visible in the picture is one end of the rectangular area behind the stage of the theater and a similar area behind the odeon where food and refreshments and necessary conveniences were available.  Theater and odeon performances most often had semi-religious and quasi-patriotic festival aspects and performances of several different plays/odes would follow each other on the same day: spectators might arrive at dawn and stay until sunset, so the backstage rest areas were much needed.  It is recorded that Nero was performing one of his original odes in the Pompeii odeon when the 64 AD earthquake struck and that he remarked that his survival and that of the audience was a sign that the gods were pleased with his performance.  Odes were usually performed in a dily lot venue, self accompanied on the Greek Lyre, the musical instrument associated with Apollo.
After a hard day of watching plays in the theater or playing trigon in the palaestra, Marcus Pompeiannus might head for this address for a little extramarital activity.  Sex was recreational and omnipresent in Pompeii and elsewhere in the ancient Roman world.  Roman male citizens were expected to have extramarital encounters -- they weren't exactly condoned, but they also went pretty much unpunished.  Women might also get a little on the side, but they were expected to be discreet:  bringing dishonor to the name could earn a woman disgrace, exile, or even death.  Pompeii was particularly notorious even in the ancient Roman context.
Above the doorways of the cubicles (six on the first floor and more on the second) were pictures showing different kinds of available entertainment.
The "Forum Baths":  Pompeii had at least three sets of public baths:  there may be more still to be excavated.  They were, of course, smaller than those in Rome, but they still followed the basic pattern with "hot rooms" (calidaria), "warm rooms" (tepidaria), and "cool rooms" (frigidaria).  Public baths also included unroofed swimming pools and small participation sports fields.  Officially, men and women bathed separately, but for a fee, the whole bath could be had for private after-hours co-ed parties.  (Later in the empire, co-ed bathing became more common, but Pompeii had already been buried by then.)  Baths like those of ancient Rome are still available in Albania, Turkey, and the Middle East -- and the private party option still exists.  There are, of course still operating "spas" in Europe and elsewhere in the west.  Some of the baths are actually restored or remodeled ancient Roman baths -- including the eponymous one at Spa in England.  The highly sulfurous Roman bath at Bagno Tivoli, forty-five minutes west of Rome, a favorite resort of Hadrian, is still open for business -- and you can smell it from miles away. 

Parts of the forum baths now house the only bar, restaurant, amd ice cream stand 
in the ruins of Pompeii.
The Stabian baths were near the gate of Pompeii through which ran the road to Stabiae, down the coast.  The compound had a relatively larger palaestra and lots of small private rooms.  Some analysts have decided that these baths also hosted a corps of prostitutes.
Baths had apodyteria or changing rooms with cubby-holes for the clothing of patrons.  Actual bathing was a buck naked operation.  A slave might be set to guard the patron's clothing.  Theft must have occurred, because curses against thieves survive as graffiti, and there are references to patrons  going home naked in theatrical comedies  (in fact, highly unlikely -- the baths would have provided at least rudimentary garb for a quick trip home.)  The Forum Baths of Pompeii had erotic illustrations above each of the cubbies, perhaps to serve as for patrons who may have relaxed too much and too long in the baths or perhaps to help an illiterate slave on errand to find a master's clothing -- "Go get my toga from below the cunnilingus!".
Bath tools were private property, but these were left behind in the rush to escape the volcano.  The curved tools are strigils of scrapers -- the root of the word is the same as for the English word astringent.  After exertion in the palaestra, olive oil (perhaps scented) and a mixture of fine volcanic sand and ash would be rubbed on the skin and then scraped off with a curved strigil.  The set shown here has the stoppered oil bottle and also a mirror attached.  The oil and ash would almost make a liquid soap and the sand would serve as a mild exfoliant -- the same ingredients, boiled down and cut into bars would give you Lava(tm.) soap.  It was considered really declasse to jump in the pool without first applying the strigil -- something a barbarian visitor might do.  Visitors to Roman towns were steered directly to the nearest baths to wash off the journey's dust.  There was a minimal fee for use of the baths, usually the smallest coin, but, also usually, local politicians or magistrates would put baskets of coins at the entrance to the baths and often with an accompanying political campaign slogan:  although the emperors might arrogate their office, local elections were real, and, judging from graffiti and professionally painted signs, a political campaign had just finished at the time of the 79 AD eruption.  This should have been a clue that the eruption took place in the fall of 79AD rather than in August as it was thought to have been until a grafitto "date stamp" was found in the recent new excavations in Area V.
Photo of the forum shot from a tethered balloon.  Roman municipalities always had a forum where public religious and civil/civic functions were carried out.  Around the Pompeii forum were ranged the offices of the civic magistrates, a comitia or local election and civic announcement venue,  several temples (temples of Apollo/Dianna; of the "Capitoline Triad" -- Jupiter, Juno, Minerva; of the Imperial Cult -- rededicated to the recently dead and deified Vespasian right before the eruption; and of the municipal "lares", which were place-specific patron gods), a civic basilica where civil law judges and notaries sat,  an office of weights and measures  (the mensa ponderaria, or weight board), a macellum or open-air market, and the meeting hall of the town's most important fullers and dyers guild, called the Eumachia Building because Eumachia, an important local priestess, had built it for the guild.  The Isis temple, because it was foreign, was a few blocks away:  foreign cults were usually banned from Roman fora (one known exception being the Castor and Pollux temple in Rome.)
Plan of the Pompeii forum
The Forum in its ruins, view from in front of the comitium toward the Capitoline Triad temple.
Overlay for the preceding image -- the same view of the forum before the eruption (but the big temple of the Capitoline Triad -- Jupiter/Juno/Minerva -- was only partially reconstructed on the day.

The following images are of Pompeii forum buildings:

The comitium -- local elections, civic announcements
Basilica -- civil courts, notaries (also private business deals).  This building is heavily reconstructed; lighter sections are new masonry.
The interior of the Basilica -- artist's rendering
The Apollo Temple precinct was next to, but on a slightly different axis from, the forum.  Is thought to be an indication that the temple predated the layout of the forum.
Apollo, the Archer statue -- replica of the statue of Apollo tin an archery pose.  The original, slightly less than five feet tall, is in the National Archeological Museum in Naples, having been restored most recently at the Getty Museum in Malibu, Califirnia (2009).
Diana, the Archer -- replica.  The original is in the National Archeological Museum in Naples.  her lower half was not found.
One of three side-by-side magistracy offices on the southern end of the forum, opposite the Temple of the Capitoline Triad.  Most Roman forums had "civic" offices on one end and a "religious" opposite end, although it always got somewhat confused as more civic and religious buildings sequentially were built.
The mensa ponderaria.  Weights and balances were found here along with the graduated volume measurement table.
Podium and sacrificial altar of the Capitoline Triad temple (sometimes simply labeled as the temple of Jupiter.  It had three separate internal mysteria within the cella, one for for Juno, the central one for Jupiter (= Diu, or Zeus Pater = "God the Father"), and the third for Minerva.  Jupiter was also known as Jove, Juno was his wife, and Minerva was the "other woman" -- apparently inherited by the Romans from the Etruscans.  Minerva was sometimes identified with Athena. The temple was first built by the Oscans who held the town before the Romans conquered it, and it was probably originally dedicated to the Oscan equivalent of Jupiter, Diu Vei (which, of course, is a linguistic cognate of Jove).
An artist's impression of how the Apollo temple may have looked before the eruption.  The Capitoline Triad temple would have had the same general external aspect.
Pompeii forum macellum:  Looking across the inside of the macellum at a corner of the market that was reconstructed to cover and preserve wall frescoes.  The word macellum really means "meat market" and was appled to this area by the excavators (modern Italian macelleria = "butcher shop), but it's fairly certain that other foods were also sold here. There were numerous stalls inside and outside the walls of the market, just as there are in the many neighborhood markets Mussolini built throughout Italy to replace local street markets.
Macellum:  a closer view of what's under the reconstructed roof, and a plan of the macellum
Not in the macellum, but a good example of why it's important to keep frescoes safe from the elements -- the Blue Room in the Villa Vestalis as it appeared shortly after excavation and 200 years later
The exterior rear wall of the macellum where repairs of damage form the earthquakes of the early 60s AD are visible.
Macellum -- the raised shrine at the back of the macellum.  There were rituals and rites associated with the sale of foodstuffs and especially with the slaughter of animals.  Similar rites can still be seen early mornings in the Arab "triple suq" in Jerusalem and in the meat market off the "Street called Straight" in Damascus.  Mediterranean Christians have pretty much gone to an annual "blessing of the flocks" but a prayer is often still muttered by the superstitious butcher even as he (very seldom, she) cuts a steak or chop.
Municipal Lararium.  Every family, every shop, every guild of fraternity, every neighborhood, every town had its own "guardian angels" or "household gods", i.e., minor gods called Lares, who were supposed to deflect misfortune.  Of course, they were sometimes outwitted by the Fates -- it certainly happened here.  The modern Italian equivalent is the madonnella, a small shrine inside the house (almost always to the Madonna and hence the generic name) or a streetside shrine on the side or corner of a building.  (An extensive picture compendium of the madonnelle of modern Rome is on the Internet at
By 79 AD dead Emperors were routinely "deified", so there was, in every town, a temple for the Imperial Cult.  This was particularly important just at the time of the Eruption.  Vespasian and later Titus had put down a revolt of the Jews from 67 through 70 AD (Destruction of the Jerusalem Jewish Temple) over the question of homage (i.e., ceremonial subservience) to the Roman Imperial cult.  In July of 79 AD, a month before the eruption, Titus had rededicated the Pompeii temple of the Imperial cult to his dead father, Vespasian.   The pristine new dedicatory altar today stands in front  of the ruins of the temple.   (P.S. -- If, like me, you have trouble remembering how to spell "deified", remember that it's a palindrome -- spells the same backward and forward.)
Eumachia was a priestess and prominent citizen of Pompeii. She was patroness of the guild of fullers (cleaners, dyers, and clothing makers), one of the most influential trade-guilds of the city because of the importance of the wool industry in Pompeii's economy. Although her ancestry was humble, the fortune she inherited from her father, a brick manufacturer, enabled her to marry into one of Pompeii's older families. She provided the fullers with a large and beautiful building which was probably used as the guild's headquarters.  Over each of the two entrances to the building is the following dedication:
"Eumachia, daughter of Lucius (Eumachius), public priestess, in her own name and that of her son, Marcus Numistrius Fronto, built with her own funds the porch, covered passage, and colonnade and dedicated them to Concordia Augusta and to Pietas."
The fullers reciprocated by erecting a statue of Eumachia, head veiled as a priestess, within the building.  The statue now standing in the Eumachia building is a replica, the original having been taken to the National Archeological Museum in Naples to protect it from tourists and the elements.  The dedicatory inscription reads:
"To Eumachia, daughter of Lucius, public priestess, the fullers [dedicated this statue]. "
The southern wall of Pompeii.  The southern edge of Pompeii was on an old lava dike.  The city and the walls on the city on top of the dike were ravaged by the pyroclastic surges/flows of the Peleean phase of the 79 AD eruption, but the building below the southern edge of the dike survived almost unscathed:  the pyroclastic blasts simply blew right over the top of it.  It was, of course, completely buried by the fallout.  Pompeii was a  walled city (even though Rome was not, at this time) because Pompeii had been a military colony in conquered territory for much of the preceding 150 years.  Pompeii had been Samnite (part of the Oscan linguistic group), and the Samnites had fought in three civil wars against Rome.  Sulla finally defeated them in 80 BC and founded a military colony dedicated to Venus.  By the time of the eruption, Pompeii had been thoroughly integrated under Roman control -- mostly by population replacement -- and had achieved the legal status of civitas. Nonetheless, the walls remained.  A precis on the various occupation levels of the area around Pompeii/Herculanum is on the Internet at
The Pansa House follows the standard linear plan of a large Roman "atrium domus".  The plan in the image shows just about every kind of room and use of space that you might find in a domus.  A large percentage of Pompeii's population lived in much less opulent surroundings, but it is in this type of house that most of the artwork -- frescoes, mosaics, statuary, plate, jewelry, etc. -- have been found:  rich folks, by definition and as always, had more riches.  The size of Roman households (or "housefulls") is much disputed.  It's clear that some houses had separate apartments -- you just have to count the lararia, altars to household gods -- but it's not known whether the apartment inhabitants were renters, relatives, freedmen, permanent guests, potential adoptees, foreign hostages, or members of several other possible groups.  Archeological folks and academics, especially doctoral candidates looking for a Pompeiian topic, argue about this kind of thing a lot.

Ruins of the Pansa House, a proposed side elevation, and another plan showing first floor shops and apartments surrounding the central, presumably owner's, large central suite.  Disputes also still rage over whether there may have been separate additional apartments on the second floor of this and other similar large houses.  Few buildings retained their upper floors.  Ash fall protected most ground floor from pyroclastic surges and flows, but anything that stood above the level of the ash took the full force of the Peleean blasts.
Shown in this picture is the famous "replica garden".  The ash from Vesuvius fell so quickly and settled so rapidly that the flowers in the original garden left their impressions in the ash. When these were filled in and then examined, botanists were able to determine which flowers were planted.  Workers today try to make the area an exact replica of the garden the Vetti had almost 2,000 years ago.  The Vetti house (domus) got its name from the two gold rings found there, each of which was inscribed with the name of a Vetti brother.  The house was perhaps the most lavishly decorated house inside the walls of Pompeii: comparable decoration is available at several suburban and coastal villas also buried by the 79 AD eruption.  "Venus on the half-shell" was a fairly common motif in Roman art, but the Vetti Venus is particularly good.  Botticelli never saw this particular girl -- it still lay buried in his time -- but you would never know that by looking at them.  The Bottiicelli version is available all over the Internet, with a fine version at
Rich they must have been and upper-class, but not exactly what we would call "high class". The effect of all the elegant art inside is spoiled for modern visitors by the tacky fresco of Priapis to the left of the front door.  He is shown weighing his enormous organ against a bag of gold -- a comparison of the advantage of wealth over a good (male) sex-life.
One of the most photographed bakeries in the world has produced no bread for almost two thousand years.  Roman bakeries often were "vertically integrated":  they did everything from milling the grain to retail selling of baked products.  This was done because the food dole, to which everyone was entitled, was distributed in the form of unground wheat imported from Egypt and North Africa.  The line, "Give us this day our daily bread", would have been clearly understood in early Christianity as a reference to the grain dole, and, in fact, the Christian cult took over food distribution from the time of Pope Gregory I ("the Great"), who was a high ranking civic official in Rome before he left society, became a monk, and was elected pope.  The characteristic Pompeian (volcanic tufa) millstone was a local product and was often reproduced for export to other parts of the Roman world.  A higher resolution version of Mau's drawing of a Pompeian flour mill is available on the Internet at  A drawing of a much larger 4th century Roman industrial flour at Barbegal near Arles, France, is on the internet at
Only the largest houses had their own kitchens:  everyone else either ate out or had carry-out.  Even the rich often ate "fast food" during the day at a local taberna, and might hire caterers to bring in large meals.  The taberna tradition survives today in Italy with the tavole calde (hot tables) that sell everything from individual meals to family-size take-out to catered banquets.  Other Mediterranean cultures have similar establishments.
The name of the Taberna Fortunatae was easy to determine:  archeologists found the name over the door.  Hot and cold foods were dispensed at the counter, which had embedded terra cotta jar, insulated by surrounding masonry.  Samovar-type liquid dispensers usually held hot spiced wine:  Italy had not yet discovered the coffee habit.
Pompeii's cleaning, dying, and fabric industry was, as mentioned above, a mainstay of the Pompeian economy.  Fullonica Stephani re-used a large atrium house:  a large vat, in which clothing was washed, occupied the center of the former atrium.  It was built on top of the impluvium, the pool that captured rainwater that drained from the inward-sloping roof of the atrium.  Some fullonicae processes used human urine (collected in streetcorner pots), but it's not known what was in the atrium vat.  The Stephani fullonica was by no means Pompeii's largest: its fame is really associated with the fact of its reuse of a former plush residence.  It is assumed that the proprietors occupied the rest of the domus.  The graffito,  found in a Pompeii fullonica, is a parody of the opening line of Virgil's Aeneid: it sings "of fullers and the owl" rather than "arms and the man".  The graffito reference to "the owl" is most often associated with Minerva (Athena) a patron goddess of the fullers, but the word used, ulula, is the Screech Owl, and it may refer to the noise level of the work environment.  Some 15,000 graffiti of various levels of grammar, painting skill, and cultural antecedents (Vergil!) have been catalogued in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The upper part of this image is an artist's reconstruction of a large fullonica in Ostia, Rome's seaport at the mouth of the Tiber River.  We know what fullonicae looked like because of advertising such as that shown in the Pompeii fresco  in the lower part of the image.  The Ostia fullonica picture and the graffito in the previous image are from on the Internet.


New excavations in Area V of Pompeii