Artifacts from 2000 Years Ago: Casting Light on Pompeii’s Lower Class.
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In the Roman villa of Civita Giuliana, just about 600 meters from the ancient walls of Pompeii, furnishings from a room believed to have been used by slaves have been unearthed. The scene appears so real, almost like a snapshot depicting vulnerability and subordination. However, it’s an impression from nearly two millennia ago, crafted using the unique casting technique that’s known only in Pompeii and its surrounding areas. Items like furniture, fabrics, and even the bodies of those who perished in the eruption of 79 A.D. were blanketed by a pyroclastic cloud, which solidified over time. As the organic material decayed, it left a void in the solidified earth. By filling this cavity with plaster, the original shape and form of these items and bodies were revealed.
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The newly excavated room, named “environment A,” differs from “environment C,” discovered in November 2021. The earlier room housed three simple beds and also served as a storeroom. The recent findings hint at a distinct hierarchy amongst the servants. One of the two beds unearthed is rudimentary, similar to those found in 2021, while the other is of a more luxurious design, referred to in literature as a “headboard bed.” Traces of red decorations are still evident on two of its sides. This room also contained two small cabinets (partially preserved as casts), a collection of ceramic pots and amphorae, and several tools, including an iron hoe.
On a microscopic level, the pots and amphorae from “environment C” revealed the presence of three rodents. Two mice were found in one pot, and a rat in a pitcher placed under one of the beds. It seems the rat was trying to escape when it met its end during the volcanic eruption. While rodents often appear in ancient literature, the extent of ancient rodent infestation and its potential impact on disease transmission is debated. Findings from one room in a Pompeiian villa, although not conclusive, suggest that the impact of rodents on hygiene, disease control, and storage in ancient times might have been significant.
The archaeological exploration of the Civita Giuliana villa, which initially saw excavations in 1907-1908, commenced in 2017. This initiative was a collaboration between the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, responsible for safeguarding the region surrounding the ancient city, and the Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata. They, together with the Carabinieri (Italian police), had unearthed extensive illegal excavations in the villa’s area, leading to both criminal and civil actions against the perpetrators.
Gennaro Sangiuliano, Minister of Culture, remarked, “The ongoing findings emphasize the importance of continuous scientific research in this area. Thanks to the combined efforts of the judiciary and the Carabinieri, we’ve saved this place from looting and illegal archaeological trading. What we’re learning about the material conditions and social organization of that era is offering fresh insights into historical and archaeological studies. Pompeii remains a unique treasure admired globally. Following the completion of the Grand Pompeii project, we’re planning new initiatives and securing further funding to continue our research and preservation efforts.”
Gabriel Zuchtriegel, Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, added, “It’s evident from the findings that the villa owners employed various privileges, including allowing some slaves to form families – albeit without legal protections – to foster loyalty. The uncovered information reveals the social structure within the servant class, designed to prevent escape or resistance. Interestingly, there’s a lack of physical barriers, suggesting that control was mainly established through the internal organization of the servants. As we continue our investigations, we aim to make this unique historical site more accessible. During the upcoming reopening of the Antiquarium of Boscoreale, we plan to provide a dedicated space to update the public on ongoing excavations, which under the guidance of my predecessor, Massimo Osanna, led to the discovery of a ceremonial chariot recently displayed in Rome. I want to extend my gratitude to the team involved in the archaeological dig and Prosecutor Nunzio Fragliasso for their outstanding work.”
Massimo Osanna, the Director-General of Museums, said, “The Civita Giuliana investigations exemplify the exemplary preservation and enhancement of our heritage. Strong collaboration between the Ministry of Culture, the Prosecutor of Torre Annunziata, and law enforcement agencies have already unveiled an impressive complex and its extraordinary furnishings, including the Bridal Chariot. These latest discoveries validate the significance of our project. I hope we can soon offer the Pompeii community and the broader public a significant archaeological site, shedding light on the lives of people from various social backgrounds who lived 2,000 years ago.”
Topics: Pompeii slave room artifacts, Civita Giuliana Roman villa excavation, Insights from ancient Pompeii, Pompeii’s archaeological treasures, Life of slaves in ancient Pompeii
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