November 13th, 2007

Day 65: Pompeii (III)

Joshua Turnbull and Dominic Machado


            Today was our last day in Pompeii, though there was hardly time for reminiscing as we had quite a full schedule.  The day began bright and early with group breakfast provided by Hotel Vittoria.  After choking down the battery acid they call coffee, we made our way into the gates of Pompeii a stoneÕs throw from the front door.  The itinerary called for four paired reports on Pompeian sites, beginning with Josh and Radha presenting the Stabian Baths.

            Located near the theater area and along the main road of Pompeii, the Via Abbondanza, the Stabian Baths were the oldest and largest bath complex in Pompeii dating in its earliest form to the second century BC.  It was excavated in 1853 but, unfortunately for us, it had already been raided for furnishings and sculpture before the modern period.  The baths consisted of a large exercise area flanked on the west side by a swimming pool and on the right the men and womenÕs baths.  Here it was possible to see the social stratification of the sexes:  the menÕs baths were entered from the main road, the womenÕs from an alley;  the menÕs baths consisted of a full range of hot, warm and cold rooms while the womenÕs only consisted of the hot and warm rooms that were much smaller than their masculine counterpartÕs.  Indeed, the architectural differences were astounding and while we were able to see the beautiful decoration of the menÕs changing room the womenÕs was closed to us.

            We proceeded next to the highest most northern part of town to see the Castellum, or the large basin where the cityÕs water supply was kept and channeled through.  Greg and Chelsea presented the building, while a few students crawled through the cracks of the walls into the structure itself—right before a few guards came walking by (whew!).  A large aqueduct, built in the time of Augustus, originated at Misenum and emptied here.  Running water, instead of having slaves retrieve buckets from wells or cisterns within the house, was a luxury provided to Pompeii by the empire.  Most strikingly, however, were the three ways the water was distributed:  into the thermal baths, into public fountains for drinking water and flushing the streets, and into private homes.  Elites could pay the local government a fixed sum in order to have running water piped directly to their homes, prices varying according to the diameter of the pipe itself.

            We then moved back to the Forum for Allia and DominicÕs presentation on the macellum. The macellum was fronted by two rows of statue bases that used to display the images of famous Pompeians. This combined with the fa¨ade of yellow tufa opus reticulatum would provide for an impressive entrance to the marketplace. After venturing into the market, we soon learned that the interior space was primarily used for the sale of fish because of dodecagonal structure called the tholos. In the drains for the tholos, archaeologists found scales, showing that live fish were probably stored and descaled at the site. In the central room on the southern side of the macellum, we were presented with that contained two statues of possibly Julio-Claudian figures. This may have been yet another shrine to the Imperial Cult. We then looked at some 4th style wall paintings that displayed Io and Argus and Odysseus and Penelope. We discussed the possible reasons for depicting these figures together and what message that these paintings might have had for the shoppers at the macellum. Finally, we examined the walls of the building for horizontal and vertical seams and different building techniques. Finding a multitude of these seams showed us the difficulty and the massive amount of work that citizens of Pompeii had while rebuilding after the earthquake of 62.

            Driu and Emily presented the Sanctuary of the Lares, possibly the home of the Imperial Cult or a library, built sometime after 14 AD.  Located next to the Macellum on the east side of the forum, the building was rectangular in plan with an apse on its central axis.  On the lateral axis two bays protruded that could have housed either statues to the imperial cult or massive book shelves containing Latin and Greek texts.  Like the Pantheon it had a marble floor that alternated designs between circles and squares of various colors.  Because of the huge span of the roof it is unknown whether or not it was open to the air or some massive structure was built over it.  Regardless, Driu and Emily did an excellent job despite everyoneÕs growling stomachs.  Immediately after we broke for lunch at the International Cafˇ—a restaurant built directly into one of the buildings of Pompeii.

            Our stomachs filled, we began to investigate several houses in Pompeii. The first house that we examined was the House of the Vetii. The Vetii were brothers who had gained their freedom from slavery and had done very well for themselves afterwards. The house was filled with images of children especially chubby winged babies hard at work. We debated the importance of illustrations of these children, wondering whether these portrayals of work harkened back to the days when the owners were slaves. Here, Professor Stewart discussed the possible gains upon liberated from slavery, most importantly the assurance of your family. The next house, we visited was the House of Marcus Lucretius Fronto, an important Pompeian during the Augustan era. Here we saw more mythological wall paintings including another depiction of Narcissus. More importantly, we saw pictures of two young children on opposite sides of a door. It is believed that these children were probably deceased and that these pictures of them were probably done in memoriam.

            After these two houses, we ventured to some of PompeiiÕs more well-known houses. We made our way to the House of the Tragic Poet, best-known for a mosaic at its entrance with dog and the Latin sign ŅCave CanemÓ (Beware of the dog). We then headed to the House of the Faun, where we saw a reconstruction of an Alexander the Great mosaic we had seen in the Naples museum. This mosaic depicted Alexander driving a scared Darius III from the battlefield at Gaugamela in 331 BC. Finally, we went to the Villa of the Mysteries hoping to see a wall painting depicting an interesting female ritual, but due to the oncoming darkness we were unable to examine it closely. After this long day, we headed back to hotel at Pompeii where we received a hearty three-course meal.