The city of Pompeii was buried in virtually an instant and has taken centuries to excavate, lending itself to an enduring fascination with a moment in history that continues to yield new insights. Most recently, a small complex of furnished rooms has been opened in a structure within Regio V, one of the largest districts within the ancient city, in a middle-class household. The rooms surround a lavish lararium, which is a shrine to the “lares” or guardian spirits of the household. This particular version features an enchanted garden motif, discovered during excavations and façade repairs in 2018.
Now, the adjoining rooms offer a coveted glimpse into the lifestyle of those Pompeiians, yielding items including plates, vases, amphorae, glass, and terracotta objects left in chests and cabinets. Some of these objects were discernibly damaged by the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius that encased the city in volcanic fallout; others were simply abandoned in hasty retreat from the disaster. Especially of note are some lesser-documented artifacts, including a precious decorated incense burner, and a unique group of seven waxed tablets bound by a cord.
“Pompeii is an ongoing discovery that continues to inspire awe,” said Massimo Osanna, Italy’s director general of Museums, in a statement from the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. “Not only from a romantic point of view, which undoubtedly marks the interest not only of scholars, but also for its unique quality of being an inexhaustible laboratory of study and learning, which allows research to never cease, and for new hypotheses and reasoning to be advanced.”
Seven rooms have been excavated thus far, including a bedroom with a partially preserved bed frame and remains of a pillow that show the texture of the fabric. The bed is a simple cot, and perhaps indicates servant’s quarters, as it resembles three beds discovered last year in the Villa of Civita Giuliana in the “Room of the Slaves.” The room also held a cabinet, left open and pinned under a fallen beam, which yielded several abandoned vessels and dishes. Other rooms appear to have unfinished walls and dirt floors, one of which also contained a wooden cabinet, inside of which was a pile of wooden planks bound together with cords. According to the statement, the plants represented a variety of wood types in different sizes and finishes, and were perhaps used as scrap to make furniture or perform household repairs.
The more exciting and rare discoveries were thought to be housed in two upper rooms, though their contents had fallen into the lower rooms during the collapse of the house. This includes a unique set of waxed tablets, which represent seven triptychs, tied together by a cord. The so-called polyptych is an exciting find for archaeologists, as are a set of ornamented bronze vessels and a cradle-like incense burner with a human figure adornment and polychrome geometric painting.
The final room to be excavated revealed structural detail about the lathe and plasterwork that offers insight into building techniques of the time.
“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,” said Ossana. “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.”
“We do not know who the inhabitants of the house were,” Ossana added, “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.”