Pompeii: Discovered the House of a Middle-class Family with Preserved Furnishing

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The Discovery Of Furnishings From The House Of The ‘lararium’ In Regio V A Snapshot Of Middle Class Pompeii

Small furnished apartments have been uncovered surrounding a lavish lararium depicting an ‘enchanted garden,’ which was earlier unearthed in 2018 during excavation front maintenance activities.

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The Pompeii home life is brought to light once more: the final moments of existence documented in the furniture broken by the AD 79 catastrophe. Plates, vases, amphorae, glass, and terracotta artifacts were left in chests and cabinets after the tragedy and are now retrieved with stratigraphic excavation instruments However, fewer recorded artifacts appear, such as a valuable painted incense burner and a one-of-a-kind collection of seven waxed tablets tied by a rope, of which a cast has been made.

It is the most recent discovery at Pompeii, in the northern area of the so-called Regio V, one of the ancient city’s largest districts, which was previously the target of excavations in 2018, as part of a broader intervention aimed at the maintenance and stabilization of the excavation fronts along the perimeter of the city’s un-excavated area, overseen by the Great Pompeii Project.

In 2018, a magnificent and richly furnished lararium opened in this region, accessible by Vicolo di Lucrezio Frontone. It was a worship area with a niche holy to the ‘Lares,’ the household’s protecting deities, and below two ‘agathodaemon’ serpents (‘good’ daemons), symbolizing wealth and good luck. It is flanked by walls painted with pictures of bucolic landscapes and rich nature with plants and birds, with one side occupying a whole wall with hunting scenes on a crimson background.

In 2021, the Archaeological Park of Pompeii provided for the expansion of the archaeological investigation to the upper rooms on the first floor, as well as those on the ground floor, in front of the lararium, which led to the discovery of the rooms (two above and two below) that still concealed additional varied furnishings, of which casts could be made, and everyday objects.

“In the Roman Empire there was a significant proportion of the population which fought for their social status and for whom the ‘daily bread’ was anything but taken for granted. It was a social class that was vulnerable during political crises and famines, but also ambitious to climb the social ladder. In the House of the Lararium at Pompeii, the owner was able to embellish the courtyard with the lararium and the basin for the cistern with exceptional paintings, yet evidently funds were insufficient to decorate the five rooms of the house, one of which was used for storage. In the other rooms, two on the upper floor which could be reached by a mezzanine, we have discovered an array of objects, some of which are made of precious materials such as bronze and glass, while others were for everyday use. The wooden furniture, of which it has been possible to make casts, was extremely simple. We do not know who the inhabitants of the house were, but certainly the culture of otium (leisure) which inspired the wonderful decoration of the courtyard represented for them more a future they dreamed of than a lived reality.” said Massimo Osanna, Director General of Museums.

The Lower Floor Rooms

All of the furnishings in the rooms below could be recovered because the gaps left in the cinerite during the excavation phase allowed for the creation of castings of the furniture (the technique involves liquid plaster being poured into the voids, which once solidified recreates the shapes of the objects or bodies).

The Bedroom

One of the rooms contains a bed, elements of which have been preserved, as well as the volume of the cushion, the texture of which is still evident. The bed is comparable to three uncovered last year at the Villa of Civita Giuliana’s ‘Room of the Slaves’ – it consists of a very plain cot, devoid of décor, that was without a mattress and could be removed. One was stretched out on a sort of rope netting, remnants of which are retained in the plaster cast, and a piece of cloth was draped over it.

The chest featured a miniature sigillata plate and a double-spouted light depicting Zeus’ metamorphosis into an eagle in bas-relief. A little, round three-footed table next to it had a ceramic cup with two glass ampoules, a small sigillata plate, and another small glass plate.

A glass ampoule, as well as miniature jugs and amphorae, at the foot of the table, attest to the room’s daily use. The furniture and ceramic containers were discovered in the position in which they must have been left when the owners fled, providing us with a picture of that time.

small, circular three-footed table, upon which was a ceramic cup containing two glass ampoules, a small sigillata plate and another small glass plate
Small, circular three-footed table, upon which was a ceramic cup containing two glass ampoules, a small sigillata plate and another small glass plate

The Storage Room With A Wooden Cabinet

The other excavated chamber appears to have been a storage area or warehouse. It is the sole chamber without plastered walls, and even the floor is made of ordinary pounded soil.

the-storage-room-pompeii
The storage room

Two castings were made, one of which revealed the barely discernible outline of a shelf onto which the amphora had been jammed, while the other revealed a pile of wooden boards linked together with ropes. The planks, constructed of various wood species, sizes, and finishes, were most likely employed for a variety of reasons, ranging from furniture to repairs on home and service structures.

The Wooden Cabinet

What is astonishing is what has been recovered outside the room, at the southern corner of the little corridor in front of the kitchen.

A wooden cabinet with at least four doors was preserved within the cinerite. The upper half of the sculpture, as well as the front doors, were jeopardized by the fall of the ceiling above, with tiles, flooring, and plaster destroying the higher levels, though their outlines can be seen on the back wall.

the-wooden-caminet-pompeii
The wooden cabinet

The furniture in issue stands roughly 2 meters tall and has at least five shelves. Small jugs and amphorae, as well as glass plates, have been discovered on the topmost level, while excavation of the lower levels is still underway.

THE ROOMS ON THE UPPER FLOOR – The waxed tablets, the incense burner

Although the top rooms were excavated first, the items uncovered were mostly discovered where they had fallen into the region of the rooms below.

Among these is a tiny cast of waxed tablets, which has significant documentary importance. It was a genuinely remarkable find that enabled us to construct the first example of a cast that provides for a perfect yield of volume and detail. It consists of seven triptychs connected by a thin wire that runs horizontally and vertically. The polyptych was most likely housed on a shelf among other ceramic and bronze artifacts.

small-cast-of-the-waxed-tablets
Small cast of the waxed tablets

Other well-preserved ceramic pots for ordinary use in the kitchen and canteen, as well as containers in sigillata (a form of Roman fine table pottery) and glass, were discovered within a big cabinet that fell during the eruption. Along with this came a collection of bronze containers, the most notable of which is a well-preserved pelvis (bowl) with a beaded base and handles with palmette attachments. There are two bronze jugs in addition, one of which has a handle with a sphinx-shaped attachment above and a lion’s head attachment below.

incense-burner-in-the-shape-of-a-cradle
Incense burner in the shape of a cradle

In addition to these copper containers, an incense burner in the shape of a cradle was discovered in exceptional condition, with the polychrome pictorial painting entirely intact, displaying features such as the male subject’s lips, beard, and hair, and geometric ornamentation on the outside.

THE ROOM BEHIND THE HOUSE OF THE LARARIUM

Finally, a room belonging to another residential unit has been explored behind the House of the Lararium, exposing the partial collapse of the false ceiling in which, using the plaster cast method, the meticulous lathwork stored in the core of the false ceiling’s mortar has been recovered.

The numerous bundles of narrow laths may be seen, connected by a thin rope and wrapped with gauze to keep them dry. Using the same procedure, castings of what seems to be boiserie along the north, east, and south walls of the chamber were later obtained. Some panels have etched coffered ornamentation, while others have an intarsia decoration inlaid with tiny and thin bone components, some of which are thankfully still in their original locations.

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