and art in the area around Vesuvius
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Urban Architecture in Pompeii
The simulated rooftops of a single insula
(= "island" = city block) in Pompeii. Many roofs slope inward for
The same block with some roofs removed to show rooms inside the
A cutaway side view of one of the houses and development of the
More on the development of the domus.
The interior of a large domus.
How big can a domus get? This one is the Imperial Palace in
An impluvium is a roof
structure that directs rainwater (pluvia)
inward (im). Water was
collected below in a small pool called a compluvium. Overflow
from the compluvium was
directed to an underground cistern.
The atrium appears to
have been developed by the Tuscans (i.e., Etruscans) and the
Oscans. An Etruscan atrium
often had a gallery with doorways into second floor rooms. Oscan
Atria might have a simulated gallery.
An Oscan atrium -- house of
Upper class formal dining was usually in a triclinium, a room or area with
three couches or benches where people reclined to eat. Later, after the destruction of Pompeii, there were also semi-circular
arrangements called stibadia,
but the triclinium remained the norm throughout the ancient Roman
period. There were summer triclinia
-- ourdoors -- and indoor winter triclinia.
Most eating was less formal. Poor folks apparently ate at tables
of counters and sat on backless chairs or benches.
A triclinium scene.
If you were rich enough, your house would have an enclosed garden
-- a viridarium.
The bigger, the better. Big water features were sure signs of
Building and construction methods varied considerably. There was
a lot of opus mixtum which could mean alternating
layers of it could mean "mixed work" caused by numerous bouts of
remodeling and expansion.
Pompeii lasted for centuries, so there, naturally, were changes in
use. The Fullonica Stephanus
was a laundry that had previously been a large domus.
Anything outside the walls was "rustic". The basic farm house
had accommodation for the owner (or overseer) and the animals and
storage facility for tools and crops.
At the other end of the spectrum were huge establishments designed
for "country living" by the rich. As fortunes grew and waned,
some, like the Villa of the Mysteries, changed hands and added
additional roles. By the time of the 79 AD eruption, this pile
held large entertainment spaces for a rich middle-class owner and a
winery that produced in commercial quantities.
The biggest "rustic villa" ever was the Villa Adriana in Tiburtina (now
Tivoli) east of Rome. It was near therapeutic hot springs and
also near the quaries that produced the "tiburtina" stone (travertine)
that was used to build much of the villa and of Rome.
The fashion of Roman villas didn't die with Rome.
Public buildings around the Pompeii forum.
Map showing the major public buildings in the forum area.
Looking down the forum at the temple of the Capitoline Triad:
Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.
The Apollo Temple at the side of the forum.
The temple of the Imperial cult was rededicated to Vespasian by Titus,
his son and successor, one month before the 79 AD eruption.
The Basilica was the venue of courts and public functions.
Other public buildings
The amphitheater was called a spectacula
long before it was described as an "ambi-theater" or "theater on both
sides". This one, built by Quinctius
Valgus and Marcius Porcius at private expense, opened after 70 BC --
about 150 years before the big "Colossem" was built in Rome, and it is
the earliest known stone amphitheater. It's not known if similar
wooden structures existed earlier. This one held about 20,000
spectators (i.e., people who went to the spectacula). Before there
were amphitheaters, gladiatorial contests were staged, first, in
graveyards -- they were funerary games. Public games were first
held in forums, still to commemorate fallen soldiers. When
theaters started to be built, the games were moved there where they
shared the bill with theatrical performances (which also started a
funerary events.) Finally, amphitheaters supplanted theaters as
Unlike the amphitheater in Rome, this one in Pompeii had no underground
cages and passageways. The center of the arena (which in Latin
meant "sand") was below ground level -- excavated and the dirt thrown
up in an elliptical ridge to support the grandstands. (The
theater, below, was built the same way.) Next to the amphitheater
a rectangular area for public participation sports -- only a corner is
visible at the upper left of this picture.
Another venue for public participation sports was this palaestra at the Stabian baths (the
baths just inside the Stabian Gate of Pompeii.
The theater had a slightly deeper orchestra than was usual in Roman
theaters. It was free standing (unlike hillside "Greek" theaters,
but the orchestra was below grade level.
A view of what was: awnings protected the audience (from audientia = a hearing).
Adjoining the theater was a smaller odeon,
a roofed structure for musical performances and poetry "readings".
Odes, actually, were almost always sung by their author/composers and
were self-accompanied on the cithara (a lyre-like instrument).
Nero was singing one of his odes in the Pompeii odeon when the 64 AD
earthquake struck. The odeon did not fall down, and Nero said it
was because the god (Apollo) was pleased with the imperial performance.
The Via Abbondanza ran out from one corner of the forum and appears to
have ben the main shopping district.
The Stabian baths had the standard chambers and functions, but no
separate facilities for women. Among its rooms were several small
cubicula whose unknown
function has caused centuries of gossip. There were four sets of
public baths, but the "central baths" were still under construction at
the time of the eruption. The central baths, the forum
baths, and the Stabian baths can be visited, but the fourth set was
Public toilets were spotted around the city, some privately funded and
some built a public expense. This large establishment was at a
corner of the forum. Urine was collected in pots on street
corners and in front of fulleries for use in processing an cleaning
A small snack bar with an upstairs room which was probably an apartment
or storeroom. Some establishments had back rooms or upstairs
dining rooms and some, inevitably, had rooms where sex was available
for money. The masonry counter fronted on the street and held
pottery jugs for hot or cold food.
A combination mill and bakery. Grain was distributed daily to
anyone who cared to go to the distribution points. The grain was
taken to the the bakery where it could be exchanged immediately for
bread, at a slight premium. Bread was made in several
grades: the rich ate white bread and the poor ate whole grain.
Tombs were always outside the pomerium,
or sacred precinct, which, in practice meant outside the walls of a
city: the pomerium
expanded with the city walls.
Publicly funded fire brigades were organized by Nero in all Roman
cities after Rome burned in 64 AD. There had been some fire
regulations in Rome and Ostia at least from the time of Augustus.
Art and Decoration
Romans used frescoes, mosaics, and sculpture as decoration, although
some works approach whar we call "art". Much of their art was
derivative of Greek art.
Pompeian wall decorations were usually frescoes (mosaics were usually
on the floor.) August Mau's 19th century "four styles" are still
used to describe Pompeian frescoes. From the beginning, large
areas of stylistic overlap have been recognised, but only recently have
chronological overlaps been added into the mix. It's now apparent
that the four styles were additive and that new versions of old styles
were sometimes done to add variety.
The first style was an imitation of marble panels. First the
panels would be molded and in various levels. Later examples add
"pillars" and the panels were not molded, but rather they were painted
on flat surfaces with the illusion of depth accomplished by painted-on
Early style 2 added some architectural detail to the pillars and later
style 2 added "openings", into which the "outside world" was painted.
Painted "outside world" scenes could be architectural, rustic, or
mythological, with the latter appearing most often in upper class homes.
Style 2 scenes
Style 3 added large flat panels of color and the scenes gradually
shrunk to smaller sizes: they were no longer "openings' but now
were more like framed paintings.
Style 3 architectural details became more attenuated and stylized.
Although style three scenes became smaller, they were still quite
Painters applied fresh plaster in small sections to walls, on which the
outlines of the composition were already incised. Here the
surface layer has fallen off exposing the "cartoon."
Fourth style was composite and eclectic and carried forward earlier
trends. "Scenes" became individual and sometimes tiny,
architectural details still more tenuous and fantastic. There was
a great deal of variation.
By the time of the eruption, Style 4 was almost surreal.
The house of the Vetti was being redecorated in Style 4 at the time of
the eruption. This particular style 4 has the look of a picture
Occupational information: Vetti house cupids have given a great
deal of information on how things were done.
More Vetti Cupids
The Alexander mosaic, from a floor in the House of the Faun, shows the
Battle of Issus where Alexander defeated the Persian King,
Darius. From the composition and findspot it appears that about
two-thirds of the mosaic is preserved (now in the National
Archeological Museum in Naples). The mosaic was famous in
its own time and was identified by Pliny the Elder as a copy of a Greek
painting by "Piloxenus"of Eretria, created for
King Cassander of Macedonia
The border below the Alexander Mosaic was this Nilotic scene.
Every house had a Lararium or
family shrine. The Lares (singular, Lar) almost always appeared as a
pair of young men holding aloft wine goblets. The flanked the genius or spirit of the family.
Another form of popular "art" was what we would have called
pornography. It appeared in bars, restaurants, and other "public
houses", but also in the houses of the rich. Nobody likes to say
it -- not politically correct -- but the taste for pornography might
well have stemmed from the fact that Pompeii was resettled as a
military colony (Cornelia Veneria) after General Sulla conquered the
city in 89 BC and displaced the Oscan upper classes.
More Venerial art
At the front door of the Vetti House, Priapus weighs himself against
"Mercury" delivering a message.
The "Three Graces" Chastity tries to restrain Lust and Beauty
By the Renaissance the Three Graces are dancing (Botticelli) ...
or sitting on clouds (Raphael).