Discoveries in Pompeii reveal lives of lower and middle classes

A trunk with its lid left open, a wooden dishware closet and a three-legged accent table topped by decorative bowls. These are among the latest discoveries by archaeologists that are enriching knowledge about middle-class lives in Pompeii before Mount Vesuvius’s furious eruption buried the ancient Roman city in volcanic debris.

Pompeii’s archaeological park, one of Italy’s top tourist attractions, announced the recent finds on Saturday.

Its director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said the excavation of rooms in a domus, or home, first unearthed in 2018 had revealed precious details about the domestic environment of ordinary citizens of the city, which was destroyed in 79AD.

In past decades, excavation largely concentrated on the sumptuous, elaborately frescoed villas of Pompeii’s upper-class residents. But archaeology activity in the sprawling site, near modern-day Naples, has increasingly focused on the lives of the middle class as well as of servants and other enslaved people.

One of the well-preserved decorative bowls discovered in Pompeii.
One of the well-preserved decorative bowls discovered in Pompeii. Photograph: AP

“In the Roman empire, there was an ample chunk of the population that struggled with their social status and for whom daily bread was anything but a given,’’ Zuchtriegel said.

“A vulnerable class during political crises and food shortages, but also ambitious about climbing the social ladder.”

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The finds unveiled on Saturday include furnishings and household objects in the domus, which was called the House of the Lararium – an area of a home devoted to domestic spirits known as lares. The home unearthed in 2018 has one in the courtyard.

Zuchtriegel noted that while the courtyard also had an exceptionally well-adorned cistern, “evidently, the [financial] resources weren’t enough to decorate the five rooms of the home’’. One room had unpainted walls and an earthen floor apparently used for storage.

Gabriel Zuchtriegel in one of the rooms of the house of the ‘enchanted garden’ in Pompeii, 6 August 2022.
Gabriel Zuchtriegel in one of the rooms of the house of the ‘enchanted garden’ in Pompeii, 6 August 2022. Photograph: Cesare Abbate/EPA

In a bedroom, archaeologists found the remains of a bed frame with a trace of fabric from the pillow. The bed is identical to three, cot-like beds unearthed last year in a tiny room in another residence that archaeologists believe doubled as a storeroom and sleeping quarters for a family of enslaved inhabitants of Pompeii.

The bedroom findings announced Saturday also included the remains of a wooden trunk with an open lid. Although the weight of beams and ceiling panels that crashed down in the wake of the volcanic explosion heavily damaged the trunk, among the objects found inside was an oil lamp decorated with a bas relief depicting the ancient Greek deity Zeus being transformed into an eagle.

Crockery from middle-class households is separated from the rubble in Pompeii.
Crockery from middle-class households is separated from the rubble in Pompeii. Photograph: AP

Nearby was a small, three-legged round table, similar to the accent tables in vogue today.

Exposing the storeroom revealed a wooden closet, its backboard still intact but the shelves caved in. Archaeologists believe the closet had at least four panel doors and held cookware and dishes for the nearby kitchen. The excavators found a hinge from the enclosure.

Other objects found in the house include a large fragment of what had been a translucent, rimmed plate in brilliant hues of cobalt blue and emerald, and a well-preserved incense burner, shaped like a cradle.

The Guardian

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