House of Cuspius Pansa, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
Introduction to Pompeii and the City’s History
Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur, Terracina, 4th century BCE, reconstructed view / Wikimedia Commons
Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur cryptoporticus / Wikimedia Commons
Sanctuary of Hercules, Tivoli, 2nd century BCE / Wikimedia Commons
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, Palestrina, c.120 BCE / Wikimedia Commons
I have talked about a number of monuments that were connected to one another geographically and also chronologically, and were also made out of the same material: concrete faced with opus incertum. I remind you of three of those: of the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur at Terracina; of the Sanctuary of Hercules Victor at Tivoli, in the center; and then on the right the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina. We’re going to do something entirely different today. We’re going to look at a single city, one city, in all its aspects: its public and private architecture, its civic, commercial, and religious buildings. We can’t do this sort of thing very often, because too few Roman cities are either well preserved enough or well-excavated enough to allow such an overview. But this is no ordinary city. This is a very special city. The city we will be concentrating on today is Pompeii.
Italy in Roman Times / Wikimedia Commons
Pompeii was located in an area of Italy called Campania. It was located near Naples; it was located near the Mediterranean Sea. It was a small resort town in the late first century B.C. and into the first century A.D. And you can see it on this map. You can see that this area of Campania is obviously south of Rome. It is along, again, the Mediterranean Sea. And you can see Pompeii here also, with its sister city of Herculaneum, and some of the other well-known cities from this area: Boscoreale, Oplontis, for example, and Naples itself, ancient Neapolis. You can see this cluster of these cities that make up Campania. This was an area–the town itself again was a small resort town. It was a town that obviously had its own population of people who made their money largely from commerce, because they were located so close to the sea. But it was also a spot that was highly favored by the glitterati of Rome, who used to come down to this area of Rome, not only to go to Pompeii itself, but to establish villas, to build villas in the vicinity of Pompeii. And we have imperial villas at places like Oplontis and at a place called Boscotrecase that is located here as well, and along what is now the Amalfi Coast and on the island of Capri. So this was a town again that was noticed and was visited, even by the most elite in the city of Rome, in the capital city of Rome itself.
But what’s very important for us, from the outset, is to recognize that although Pompeii, as we know it today, was essentially a Roman city, it had a history that was much longer than that, that went back much further than that. And I’d like to go over some of the major highlights of the history of Pompeii, because they will situate us and will help us to understand the city’s architecture. The history of Pompeii, as I noted, is much longer than the history of Roman Pompeii. It goes back as far as Rome itself. It goes back to the eighth century B.C.–the same Iron Age period–when Romulus was founding the city of Rome. Pompeii goes back that far as well. It was first overseen by an Italic tribe called the Oscans, but the Oscans were soon taken over by an even more powerful tribe called the Samnites. And the Samnites are in fact extremely important for the city of Pompeii and for the architecture that we’ll review today.
The Samnite period in Pompeii lasted from the fourth through the third and even into the second centuries B.C., up to 80 B.C., because it was in 89 that Pompeii fell to Rome. We’ve talked about Rome colonizing this particular part of Italy — not only the area right around it, but the area south of it — and Pompeii fell to Rome in an important military campaign in 89 B.C. And in 80 B.C. Sulla made Pompeii a Roman colony. What happened thereafter was the Samnites, who had built homes for themselves and public buildings that we’ll study here, the Samnites were essentially thrown out of their homes. Their property was confiscated, and that property was given instead to the Roman veterans. We’ve talked about the fact that that was the way the Romans operated. They paid back their veterans for loyal service by giving them land, and they usually gave them land of those that they had conquered. So that happens here as well; Samnite property confiscated, and the Roman veterans settle in their homes and begin to redo them, settle into using their public buildings but begin to remake them in the Roman image. The next century and a half saw the construction of Pompeii’s most famous buildings, but we should not forget, and we’ll concentrate in part on that today, that some of these buildings had their genesis under the Samnites. During this period there was a very high civilization in Pompeii. There was trade with Greek cities and especially with the Greek city of Neapolis, Neapolis being the ancient name for Naples.
Remains of the House of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, Pompeii / Alamy
Portrait bust of Lucius Caecilius Jucundus, c.50 CE / Eastern Tennessee State University, Creative Commons
The next very important year in the history of Pompeii was the year A.D. 62, when the city was literally– the city of Pompeii was literally shaken to its foundations by a very significant earthquake–a very significant earthquake indeed. And to give you some sense of that earthquake, I show you a frieze that encircles a shrine that was located in the house, or that was commissioned for the house, as decoration and as a place to place the household gods that the owner and his family worshipped. The shrine had a frieze around it. The man himself, by the way, was named Lucius Caecilius Iucundus. And we’re very lucky–you don’t have to remember his name, but Lucius Caecilius Iucundus–and Iucundus, fortunately we have a portrait preserved of Iucundus. So we can get a good sense of what he looked like, literally warts and all, because you can see that he had a huge wart on the lower left side of his face. And he was willing to have himself memorialized, and here we are sitting and looking at him today in this classroom in New Haven, as he was really was, with this large wart on the lower left side of his face. But a wonderful portrait of Iucundus, the owner of this particular house, who was obviously so struck, and probably so effected in his own life by the earthquake, that he decided to have a relief commissioned that would depict the event of 62 A.D.
Temple of Jupiter in front of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii, built 150 BCE / Wikimedia Commons
And you see exactly — you see what is happening here. You can see, in fact, the great Temple of Jupiter, the Capitolium of Pompeii, which we’ll talk about today, literally collapsing. And you can see that in front of that temple were two tall bases with equestrian statues honoring important people of the city. Those look also like they are shaking in their boots, so to speak, and about to fall over. If you look down here, you see the city wall. And note, your ashlar masonry, your opus quadratum, and the use of headers and stretchers in this wall, the wall of the city of Pompeii. But you can see the gate is not doing too well; it also seems to be tottering and about to fall down. So this is a graphic depiction of what happened then, and you can–it gives you some sense of the significance of this for the people of Pompeii.
Now at the end of this, like in so many natural disasters–obviously these people loved living where they did; it’s a beautiful part of the world–and they essentially stood up and dusted themselves off and began to remake their city, to restore their city to what it was. And we have, from this point on, from 62 on, almost immediately seventeen years of frenzied building activity in which the Pompeians tried to bring their city back from the dead, so to speak, to bring it back to what it had once been. But you know the punch line here, you know the end of the story. You know that all of this work, all of this seventeen years of hard work was all for naught, because on that fateful day of August 24th in 79 A.D. the long dormant volcano of Vesuvius–which you see looming up behind the Temple of Jupiter in Pompeii today–the long dormant volcano of Vesuvius erupted, covering the city of Pompeii and all of its sister cities in a mass, or in a blanket of ash and lava.
Excavation of a house in Pompeii at the end of the 19th century / Wikimedia Commons
Excavation of the House of Vettii, 1894-1896 / Wikimedia Commons
Covering it forever? Well not quite forever; almost forever. Because as you also know, the city was rediscovered in the eighteenth century, and when it was rediscovered what happened there first was a period of treasure hunting. Well-to-do individuals, primarily from Europe, made a beeline for Pompeii, once it was rediscovered, and began to build their own personal collections of art from what lay around. They took jewelry; they took metal items, precious metal items. They even did the unspeakable by cutting portrait paintings and other paintings out of the walls and taking them back to decorate their own palaces and villas in other parts of the world. That went on for a while, but fortunately not too long. The archaeologists gained the upper hand and we begin to see not long after that a period of scientific excavation. And I show you two images here, which show that scientific excavation, which show some of the houses of Pompeii being revealed by archaeologists. And, of course, it was all–the good work that they have done, and work continues apace at Pompeii excavations still go on in parts of the city, that have allowed most of the city, as far as we can tell, to be revealed to us today.
The Early Settlement and the Forum at Pompeii
Now this tragedy that befell Pompeii, in August of 79, was indeed a tragedy for them, for the people who lived there obviously. It was also a tragedy for the reigning emperor, a man by the name of Titus, who’s honored in the famous Arch of Titus in Rome. We’ll talk about him and his architecture in Rome later in the semester. But it was a disaster for him, and he had to contend with a plague and a fire in Rome also at the same time. It was very difficult for him, and poor man, even though he was quite young, died of natural causes after only three years in office. And I think it was in part this catastrophe that had happened, in the Bay of Naples area, that led in part to his–the stress of it led in part to his demise. So this was a great tragedy for him, a great tragedy for the people of Pompeii, a great tragedy for Rome. But it was a stroke of good luck for archaeologists, and in a sense for us as well, because of course what happened to Pompeii is something very different than what happened to Rome. What happened to Pompeii is that it was–its life was snuffed out all at once, it came to an end all at once. Compare this to Rome, which has been inhabited over millennia. In Rome buildings have been redone, rethought, remade over time.
That never happened in Pompeii because Pompeii again died essentially in August of 79, and everything that was there was preserved, just as it was, and that’s how it was discovered when it was excavated in the mid-eighteenth century, as it had been — exactly how it had been, on that day in August in 79. This is extremely important. It’s one of our only really fixed chronological dates, and it provides us with an incredible laboratory of material. Because, again, everything–nothing is changed from the time that it was left there, except for what the treasure hunters removed. But for the most part nothing has changed, and we can study it as it was. The other thing that you must remember from the outset, that although what was revealed by excavators in the eighteenth century, nineteenth century and beyond even today, was not just the–it was the Pompeii of August 79. But the buildings that stood there were not just the buildings that had been renovated between the earthquake of 62 and the eruption of Vesuvius of 79, but some of the very earliest buildings, including the Samnite structures, still stood. And so when we look back we will be able to trace, in a sense, the city of Pompeii and its architecture, from the time of the Samnites up until the time of the emperor Titus.
Pompeii city plan / Wikimedia Commons
I want to begin with a plan of the city of Pompeii, and you see it here. And the plan that I show you is a plan of the city as it was in A.D. 79. We see all of the buildings at that juncture. We see that the shape of the city is essentially an irregular rectangle, and we also can see very well that the city is surrounded by a wall, a protective wall, as were–so it was walled like all the other cities that we’ve talked about thus far this term. You can see some of the major buildings very clearly: the amphitheater that we’ll talk about today, the theater and the music hall over here. You can see the streets of the city, the cardo or north-south street, and the decumanus, or east-west street of the city, as well as the fairly regular blocks where the houses and the shops were located. What is important to note, however, is that the Samnite city was obviously much smaller than the city of 79. And to recapture a sense of the Samnite city, we have to look at the bottom left side of this plan, where we see the original Samnite city, which seems to have been roughly a fairly regular square. And in that Samnite city, the Romans–and they followed Roman surveying methodology here–they looked to what was exactly the center of the city and they placed the cardo, the north-south street, and the decumanus, the east-west street, at that exact mid-point of the city. And then they located, as they liked to do, the forum of the city, the great meeting and marketplace, right at the intersection of the cardo and of the decumanus. And that is exactly where we see the forum that was begun in the Samnite period, right at the intersection of those two original streets. Then over time, obviously, as they expanded the city, the cardo grew and the decumanus grew. And it didn’t end up exactly at the center of the larger city, but it was at the center of the original city.
Pompeii Forum aerial view / Wikimedia Commons
Let’s begin, in fact, with the Forum, because the Forum was begun itself during the time of the Samnites. You’ll see from your Monument List that I’ve given you a date of the second half of the second century B.C. for the Forum at Pompeii, and again that indicates to us, because of the chronology of the city, of the history of the city, that it was begun in Samnite times. You see here on the screen an excellent plan of the Forum, as it was and as it grew over time, as buildings were added over time. This plan is from one of your textbooks, from Ward-Perkins, and I think it deserves careful study. Let’s describe it together today. We see that the central part of the Forum, which was again essentially the main meeting and marketplace of the forum, is a very elongated rectangle, with a temple, a Capitolium, a Temple to Jupiter, located on one of the short ends. And you should be immediately–your mind’s eye should go immediately to the sanctuary designs that we saw last time. Think, for example, of the Sanctuary of Hercules Victor at Tivoli, where we saw that the temple was pushed up against one of the back walls–in that case the long wall–and dominated the space in front of it. We see the same kind of scheme here, where we see this rectangular space with the temple pushed up–in this case on one of the short walls–pushed up against the back wall and then dominating the space in front of it.
Pompeii Forum plan / Wikimedia Commons
The Forum itself is surrounded by columns, a colonnade, as you can see here, and it is open to the sky, open to the sky. Then deployed around it all the other important buildings that needed to be in a forum: the curia or Senate House, over here; the basilica or law court over here; another temple, in this case the Temple of Apollo; and then a series of buildings that were added later, on the right side. A wonderful building of a woman, that we’re not going to be talking about this semester, called Eumachia–and it gives you some sense that women could wield power. It wasn’t easy. They couldn’t vote and they couldn’t hold public office, but they could sometimes wield power, and this particular woman did, in Pompeii — a very large building that was for her and for her trade guild. A lararium or a place, a shrine; a market or macellum up there. Some of these added later. But the ones that are particularly critical to our understanding of the Samnite city are the Capitolium and the Basilica, which both date to the second century B.C.
Temple of Jupiter plan in the Pompeii Forum / Wikimedia Commons
Temple of Jupiter, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
Pompeii aerial view / Wikimedia Commons
Here’s a view of the open rectangular space, the colonnade, the temple pushed up against the back wall — the Temple of Jupiter, the Basilica, the Temple of Apollo, Eumachia’s building, the Senate House, and so on. And this again underscores the value of Google Earth, as one can look down on these buildings and compare what one sees to the master plan.
Pompeii Forum colonnades / Wikimedia Commons
This is a view of the colonnade. It’s a two-story colonnade at the Forum of Pompeii, and you can see the same thing that we saw happening in the Theater of Marcellus in Rome, that the columns that they have used — they have looked at the Greek orders, the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian — and they have selected here to use the Doric for the first story and the Ionic for the second story. This colonnade does not date to the Samnite period. We believe that it was put up later, but it’s made out of white limestone, and it probably again does belong to a renovation of the Forum of a somewhat later date. Look also near the columns and you will see a series of bases: a large base over here, a smaller base over here. You see a lot of these still in the Forum today. And what these bases were for, of course, were to support statues, statues, and then there would’ve been inscription on the base identifying who that was. Sometimes they were statues of the reigning dynast in Rome–in the age of Augustus, it might be Augustus, or his wife Livia–but they also honored the most important people of the city of Pompeii: magistrates, great benefactors. Eumachia we know had a portrait inside her own building honoring her, standing next to the empress Livia. So that’s–you have to imagine that while the Forum is quite empty today, that in antiquity there would have been all of these bases with equestrian statues and full-length statues, vying with one another for attention — the individuals honored there sort of jostling with one another to underscore their fame, at least within their own city.
The Capitolium and Basilica of Pompeii
Plan of the Pompeii basilica / Wikimedia Commons
[We have seen earlier] the Temple of Jupiter, or the Capitolium, in the Forum of Pompeii; an extremely important building, and one that you can see from the Monument List, also what began to be put up quite early, in 150 B.C. But its triple cella, honoring the Capitoline Triad, Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, was, it won’t surprise you to hear, put up only after the Romans made Pompeii a colony, and that happened in 80 B.C. So you’ll see that I’ve given you a date of 150 for the temple, but 80 B.C. for the renovation of the cella to incorporate these three spaces for statues of the Capitoline Triad. Let’s look at the plan first. You see it down here at the bottom — you see it down here at the bottom, and you can see that the plan of the temple corresponds to plans that we’ve seen for other temples that we’ve studied thus far this term–the Temple of Portunus, for example–where we see this combination of an Etruscan plan and a Greek elevation. You can see here the façade emphasis; single staircase; deep porch; freestanding columns in that porch; the flat back wall as was characteristic of Etruscan temple design; the plain side walls over here. We can see all of that in this plan. And we also know that the building was made out of stone, tufa, in this case tufa, not from Rome but tufa from this part of Italy, from the Campanian region. Tufa there for both the columns and also the capital. So a stone building. So this same combination of Etruscan plan and Greek elevation that we saw in Rome. This view of the temple also shows you that it had a tall podium, as was characteristic of these other early temples. Here you can see the remains of the stone columns and of the building itself. It’s not as well preserved as we wish it were, but enough is there to give us a very good sense of what the Capitolium looked like in ancient Roman times.
Basilica of Pompeii, c.120 BCE / Wikimedia Commons
I mentioned that the other early structure added to the forum complex was the Basilica of Pompeii, and I’d like to turn to that now. The Basilica of Pompeii dates to around 120 B.C. You see its plan here again, in the bottom left, and you’ll remember it splayed off from the Forum to the left bottom side, as you face the Temple of Jupiter. You can see that the plan of the Basilica is very interesting because it actually is quite similar to the plan of the Forum itself. It is a rectangular space, not as large and not as elongated, but nonetheless a rectangular space. Its entranceway is over here, from the Forum. You can see that there are columns inside, a colonnade, just as we saw in the Forum itself. And the building is organized, as is the Forum itself, axially, so that there is a focus: something at the end that serves as the focus, and then the axiality comes from that. We see the focus over here at the end. It’s not another temple; it is a tribunal, a tribunal on which the judge would sit to try the law cases that came here. The main difference between the Basilica and the Forum itself is that the Basilica was roofed in antiquity. The roof is no longer there, as you saw in the Google Earth view, but it was roofed in antiquity, whereas again the Forum was open to the sky.
The view that you see of the Basilica as it looks today is also very illuminating. We are looking toward the tribunal. You can see the tribunal is actually extremely well preserved. We get a very good sense of what it looked like in antiquity. It itself has a tall podium. We can imagine the magistrate holding court up here, on the top of that tall podium, between the Corinthian columns, in this case. We’re not absolutely sure, but we believe the second story, which has smaller columns–they diminish in size on the second story–also were Corinthian columns, because you can see at least one of them. One of them is restored, at the top right, but that one is a Corinthian capital. So we believe Corinthian order on the lower story, Corinthian order on the second story as well, beginning to show this Roman penchant for the Corinthian order, which we’ve already discussed. And you can also see here some of the lower parts of the columns that would have been encircling the center of the structure and dividing the central space from two aisles, one on either side. It looks like they’re made out of brick, but they’re actually made out of a tile that looks like brick; brick wasn’t being used quite this early but a tile resembling brick was used in Pompeii, and we can see that served as the core of the columns. They would’ve been stuccoed over though and looked more like white marble, indicating to us again this desire of the Romans to make things look at least–or the Samnites at this point and ultimately the Romans when they renovated this structure–to make it look as Greek as possible.
Why are the columns almost all in the same place? These things were often pieced, and so sometimes that can happen. And it’s actually one of the–you raise a very interesting issue, because one of the things that archaeologists are beginning to speculate, only recently about–and you see this in some of the most recent literature–is here we say, and I said it today, that this city was preserved exactly as it was in 79. And yet when you look at what it looks like, it’s actually in a pretty ruinous state. So that could mean two things. One, that they didn’t make all that much progress in that seventeen years, that they worked very hard but that the damage had been so significant that they were not able to bring these things back as much as they had hoped to. But it also may be just the destruction. While the ash and lava covered the city and protected it, it obviously wrought some damage as well, so that some of these things obviously came down and over time the material got washed away or taken away or whatever. But it is curious that they sort of broke in exactly the same place, but it’s because of the construction technique and the way in which they were pieced together.
Basilica of Pompeii, cella wall and aisle / Wikimedia Commons
Let me show you another view of the right-side wall of the Basilica. You see these columns here, again, very regular. There’s a young woman standing right here; so that gives you a sense of scale. She’s about only up to this point of the column. So you can see how large in scale these were in ancient Roman times. But if you look at the two that are closest to the tribunal, you will see that they have Ionic capitals. So that gives us enough to go on, to speculate that the first story of columns–and there were two stories on the walls, two stories of columns. The lower ones were Ionic–and you can see that they are attached or engaged into the walls; those were Ionic. And then we believe that there was a second story that–we know there was a second story, but that the second story of columns would have been Corinthian capitals, up there.
Restored view of the Basilica of Pompeii / Pinterest, Creative Commons
This is a restored view of what the Basilica would have looked like in 120, after it was built; 120 B.C., after it was built. And you can see here the tribunal; we’re looking toward the tribunal. It’s two storied, Corinthian order on both stories, tall podium. We see here in black the columns of the central space that divide the center from the two side aisles. And here you can see very well the way in which they created two stories; a bottom story and an upper story. You could walk on that upper story, and using the Ionic capitals in the first story, and smaller Corinthian columns in the second story. And it’s important for me to note, in terms of the development, the later development of basilican architecture, that this basilica in Pompeii, of this early date, did not have what’s called a clerestory — c-l-e-r-e s-t-o-r-y, a clerestory. What is a clerestory? A clerestory is a series of windows, open to the outside, that allow views out and light in. This building does not have a clerestory. So it probably, in its heyday, in the Samnite period, was probably on the dark side. But we will see that clerestory, the clerestory, is incorporated into later Roman basilican architecture.
Pompeii’s Entertainment District: The Amphitheater, Theater, and Music Hall
One of the greatest buildings, without any question, at Pompeii, and one that everyone flocks to see–and if you have never been to Pompeii, let me just note that it is a little bit further out than some of the other structures, but it is a to-not-be-missed monument. And, in fact, I know at least one of you has already spoken to me about an upcoming trip to Rome and Pompeii, and consequently I just say that you absolutely need–you can spend days at Pompeii–but you must have a full day, a full day, for Pompeii. Because in order to get to the–not just to see the Forum and what’s in the center and a few of the houses; it doesn’t take that long, it’s a nice walk, it’s not a huge distance. But people forget to do it, because it’s on the outskirts. But you really must get–the two endpoints are the Amphitheater and the Villa of the Mysteries, both of them absolutely incredible to see and too often missed by tourists, but two of the greatest sites at the city of Pompeii.
Ampitheatre aerial view, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
This is the Amphitheater as it looks today from the air. The Amphitheater is one of several buildings that were begun immediately upon the Romans making Pompeii a Roman colony in 80 B.C. You can only imagine those veterans, those army veterans of war, who had just been settled in their new homes, clamoring from day one for the Amphitheater, a place where they could go for gladiatorial and animal combat. This is what they wanted to see, and consequently no local magistrate or emperor worth their salt would allow the city to continue without–there was no emperor in 80 B.C.–but would allow the city to go on without an amphitheater. So that was one of the first orders of business. This Amphitheater at Pompeii, which dates we believe to 80 to 70 B.C., is one–is an incredibly important building for the history of Roman architecture, because it is our first preserved stone amphitheater, and all the amphitheaters that come later, including the great Colosseum in Rome, are based on buildings like this one. This was a great experiment in amphitheater design, already in 80 to 70 B.C.
Ampitheatre aerial view, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
How did they go about building this amphitheater? What they seem to have done is to excavate the central area, the earth of the central area, to create a space for the oval arena, which you see here. So they’ve excavated that central space, placed the arena there. Then they have piled up earth. It’s essentially an earthen bowl, is what they’ve created here, an earthen bowl, with the excavated space for the arena, and then piled up the earth on the outside to support the seats, to support the seats, to serve as a support for the seats. There was no natural hill here, so they had to do this on their own. So they build up the earth, they place the seats–they line that earthen bowl with seats, stone seats–and they create the cavea of the amphitheater, because we use the same term for the seats of an amphitheater as for the seats of a theater. The cavea, or the seats of the amphitheater. And you can also see here indicated the wedge-shaped sections of the seats. Just as in the theater, they are called the same thing, the cuneus, or in the plural cunei. So these wedge-shaped individual sections, a cuneus–all of them together, cunei--the cunei or wedge-shaped sections of the seats apparent here.
The exits and entrances–and there are a couple of major ones on either side–those have a colorful and unforgettable name. I guarantee you, you will remember this name for the rest of your lives. Those exits and entrances are called vomitoria, which means they literally spit forth spectators; vomitoria, these entrances and exits to the amphitheater. Let me also note that the outer ring–and the outer ring is extremely important because it buttresses the earthen bowl–that outer ring is made of concrete, concrete that we’ll see is faced with opus incertum work. And the entire structure is encircled by an annular vault — one of these ring vaults that encircles the entire structure, that is made out of concrete. So another early example of the masterful use of concrete faced with opus incertum work, in this case in the Amphitheater in Pompeii.
Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia arcades and staircase / Wikimedia Commons
I think it’s important to compare the exterior of the Amphitheater of Pompeii, which is extremely well preserved, as you can see here, with the experiment at the much earlier Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina, where we also saw this use of concrete faced with opus incertum work. If we look at the façade of th e Amphitheater at Pompeii, we’ll see first of all how exceedingly well preserved it was. We also see this unique staircase here, with stairs–and I’ll show you a side view in a moment where you can see those stairs–stairs leading up, on both sides, to the apex. And then a series of arches, in diminishing size, larger in the center and diminishing in size as they go down the ramp, to correspond to the shape of the ramp, and then additional arcades over here. These are what are called blind arcades, because you’ll see that they have a wall in the back. You can’t walk in these arcades and get into the Amphitheater. There are only two barrel-vaulted corridors–and you saw them in the general view–one on either long side of the oval, that you can actually walk in and out of the Amphitheater from them. But you can go up the staircase and enter the Amphitheater as well from the cavea; go up to the top and then just go at the upper most part of the steps and walk down to your seats that way. So the blind arcades we can see here. We can see that once again, just as we saw in some of the other buildings we looked at last time, the way in which they’ve used opus incertum for most of the wall, the facing for the concrete for most of the wall, but they have used stone–both blocks of stone and these voussoir blocks, wedge-shaped blocks–to articulate the arcades, to make them more prominent, and also to give the building additional stability.
What’s interesting here, and one of the reasons I also bring back the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, is the fact that the Romans again are giving you some options in terms of how you get into this building. You can get in through the barrel-vaulted corridors, or you can climb up this distinctive staircase. And, by the way, we have no other–this truly is a unique staircase–we have no other one like it in the history of Roman architecture. So you have those options. But again, they are still pre-determining the way in which you go. They give you a few options, but within that scheme it is clearly a pre-determined path, up the staircase over here, and then through only those two barrel-vaulted corridors. And we talked about that at the Fortuna Primigenia Sanctuary — up the ramps and then up the staircase in the center — a very similar way of thinking about getting people from one place to another, in an orderly way.
The staircase is so distinctive that–and here I show you a side view of it, where you can actually see the steps leading up. And if you go visit there, you should try both options; go down the corridor, but also it’s a lot of fun to go up the steps and into the cavea. But it’s so distinctive, and never to be repeated, that when we look–there’s a painting that survives from a Pompeian house. We’ll look at it in more detail later in the semester, but I wanted to just show it to you now, because it is so apparent that it is a representation of the Amphitheater at Pompeii, which is not surprising, since this is a house in Pompeii. But you see that distinctive staircase here, with the steps, the way in which you can enter into the cavea. You get a sense of the cavea and the kind of goings on that happened in this Pompeii Amphitheater. But you can also see–this is a very important detail that is, and this is the only place where we actually have a representation of it–you can see that at the upper most part of the cavea, there is an awning, called a velarium–and I’ve put that word on the Monument List for you–an awning that was supported by poles, that were located on brackets at the uppermost part of the amphitheater. And that awning, the purpose of that awning–the Pompeiians seemed to have a thing for protecting, the Romans in general, for protecting people in inclement weather. So they put these awnings up; when it rained they put these awnings up to protect those who were there to see a gladiatorial combat, to protect them from that rain.
A fresco in Pompeii depicting the riot between Pompeians and Nucerians / Wikimedia Commons
In the ampitheatre view, you can see very well the two-barrel vaulted entrances and exits, one on either side, and that’s the only way–again those blind arcades, you can’t get in that way, and you can see that very well here. Those are the only entrance or exits into the theater, besides the staircase. And in the introductory lecture I made the point, and I’ll just bring it back home again, that the Yale Bowl here in New Haven is based on the Amphitheater in Pompeii, there’s no question about that. In fact, if one goes back in the literature on the Bowl, and its original construction, it is even mentioned in original articles that the architects were looking back–and I’m not making this up–the architects were actually looking back at the Pompeii Amphitheater as a model. And you can see the relationship. When you look at the Bowl from the air, you can see it’s kind of a bowl shape, almost exactly like the shape of the Pompeii Amphitheater.
Pompeii theatre quarter plan / Wikimedia Commons
I want to move from the Amphitheater to the other great entertainment district of Pompeii, and that was the Theater and the Music Hall, the Theater and the Music Hall. And I want to show those to you fairly quickly. We see them here in plan, the Theater in red and the Music Hall here in a kind of, I don’t know, chartreuse. As you can see, it dates to 80 to 70 B.C. — so another example of a building that was added when the Romans gained ascendance of this part of the world. And a couple of terms again. We can see, if we look at the Theater, we can see the fact that the Theater is semi-circular in shape, or the cavea is semi-circular in shape. We can see the wedge-shaped cunei up there. We can also see that the orchestra is semi-circular in shape, not round, and that there’s a scena, or a scaenae frons, as I called it last time, a stage building at the front. There is also a space over here, which we call the porticus–and again I put that on the Monument List for you–the porticus. What was the porticus? The porticus was an open rectangular space with covered colonnades on either side. The purpose of the porticus was to have a place where people could go during intermission to stretch their legs, during the intermission of the comedy or tragedy that they were there to see. And there were little shops along the way, little spaces along the way. Some of them served as shops for playbills and other souvenirs from the evening’s experience, but also that served as spaces where props and scenery and costumes and all sorts of things that were needed in the theatrical performances could be kept. So that’s the porticus.
Then over here we see the Music Hall. It’s a smaller version of the Theater, but it’s designed in exactly the same way, with a semi-circular orchestra, the semi-circular cavea, the division into cunei, as you can see here, a small and much less elaborate scena in the front. The major difference between the two–and we see this not just in Pompeii but throughout Roman architecture–is not just the scale, that the theater’s always much bigger than the music hall, but that the theater was open to the sky, and the music hall had a roof and that roof. The reason for the roof in the smaller music hall, and the reason for the smaller size, was to make the acoustics as good as they could possibly be, and that was easier to do in a roofed building and in a building of smaller scale.
Pompeii theatre and odeum aerial view / Wikimedia Commons
You can see they’re quite well preserved; you can see the exact shapes that you looked at in plan over there. Here’s our porticus, for example. You can get a sense of how pleasant that might be able to be during intermission time. What this view also gives you a sense of, however, is the way in which these two buildings are embedded in the rest of the city; they do make up an entertainment district, but at the same time they are very close to the city streets that have along them houses and shops and so on and so forth. So very closely embedded into the life, into the commercial life and the residential life, of the city, even though this was intended again as a great entertainment area for those who lived there.
Theatre at Epidaurus / Wikimedia Commons
Theatre at Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
And I made this point before, but I’ll make it quickly again, that while Roman theaters, like the Theater at Pompeii, are based on Greek prototypes, there are some differences. The two theaters–this is the Greek Theater at Epidaurus in the mid-fourth century B.C. They both have the stone seats; they both have–which is called the cavea–they both have these wedge-shaped sections of seats; they both have a stage building, although the Greek one is much simpler. But the major differences between the two is that the Greek theater has a circular orchestra, whereas the Roman theater has a–and this is the Theater of Pompeii–has a semicircular orchestra. And the other major difference, the most significant one, is the Greeks built their theaters on hillsides, as you can see at Epidaurus. The Romans built their theaters–and this is the case in Pompeii– on a hill made out of concrete.
Bath Complexes at Pompeii
Stabian Baths plan, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
I want to turn to an extremely important building, and one that I am going to come back to on a number of occasions during this semester. This one is a particularly important building. It is the Stabian Baths of Pompeii. It dates to the second half of the second century B.C., and it was remodeled in the first half of the first century B.C. The Stabian Baths are one of several bath buildings at Pompeii. I mentioned in the introductory lecture that these houses in Pompeii did not have running water and so access to bathing and to water for daily use was obviously critical, and the baths served that purpose, the place where one could go and bathe. But they were also–they also became great social centers, great places where you really wanted to go and hang out with your friends, while you were sitting in the sauna. And so they take on a very–they are a very important piece of life in cities like Pompeii.
The Stabian Baths, as their date indicates, are very early. They’re begun already under the Samnites, and they have some extremely interesting features. And once again I’m going to have to go over some of the bath terminology. You can see here that if you walk along the street, you just see a series of cubicles, which served as shops, so fairly unprepossessing. But there is an entranceway through those shops into a very large open space, surrounded by columns on three sides, that is called the palaestra of the baths. The palaestra was the exercise courts, where you jogged and ran around and so on, and after you exerted yourself and got all sweaty, you could jump into the pool, that was located over here. This was not a place to do laps, it was pretty much a soaking pool or a pool where you could cool off. But the technical term for that is either a piscina, which is what’s on the Monument List for you, or a natatio, a little pool where you could splash yourself after exerting yourself by exercising in the palaestra.
Stabian Baths / Wikimedia Commons
The bath block itself, the bathing rooms themselves, are located on the other side of the plan, on the right side, as you see it here, the northern side actually, of the plan. And we see two sets of spaces: this set of four down here, this one, this one, this one and this one; and then a set of a comparable number of rooms up there. These early Roman baths, there was a separation between the men’s section of the baths and the women’s section of the baths. And I’m sorry, ladies, but we’ll have to accept the fact that at least in ancient Pompeii the women’s section was quite nondescript. It was much smaller than the men’s–at least they had one, thank goodness–but it was smaller than the men’s, and the rooms had no architectural distinction whatsoever. All of the designer’s effort went into creating a wonderful set of rooms for the men. We see the men’s rooms again over here, these four, and the women’s at the top. Consequently the only ones that have any merit architecturally, in my showing you today, are the ones for the men’s baths, down here.
The four rooms, the four key rooms to both the men’s and women’s sections, were the apodyterium–and again these words are on the Monument List for you–the apodyterium, which was the dressing room. It’s a fairly–again, it’s large, but a fairly nondescript, rectangular room here. You can see it right down here. And the way it was designed was that you went in, and there were no lockers, no private lockers, but there were benches where you could, when you got undressed, you could just take your clothes and put them in a little pile on that bench. You had to just take on faith that no one was going to steal any of your belongings, and if you were very well-to-do, some of the very well-to-do Romans, men and women, brought slaves with them, their slave, their private slave, to watch their stuff while they were in the sauna with their friends. From the apodyterium you go into the so-called tepidarium of the baths, also usually a plain rectangular room, even in the men’s section, which served as the warm room, where you started to warm yourself up. You went from the tepidarium into the caldarium of the bath, which was the hot room, where you really–it was the sauna essentially of the bath. And consequently there was a basin over here with cold water, so if you got too hot, you could go and splash yourself with that cold water.
So apodyterium, tepidarium, caldarium. By then you’re really heated up and you can make your way back into this room over here, which is called the frigidarium, or the cold room. The frigidarium was the place that you could really cool off. And I think you can see by looking at these, the two most important rooms architecturally–you can see this even in plan–are the caldarium, which has an apse or curved element at the end, and this room in particular, the frigidarium, because it is a round structure with radiating alcoves–and we’re going to see that it’s domed. This is a particularly–again star, star, star, star — one of the most important rooms that I’ve shown you, probably the most important room I’ve shown you thus far this semester, in that it is going to have a very long future architecturally. What you see here basically ends up as the Pantheon, some day: this round space, round structure, with radiating alcoves and, as we’ll see, a dome, and not only a dome, but a hole in the ceiling, an oculus, that allows light into the structure.
Stabian Baths hypocaust sytem / Wikimedia Commons
How were these baths heated, how were the hot rooms heated? Through a system called a hypocaust; again I’ve put the word on the Monument List for you, a hypocaust, h-y-p-o-c-a-u-s-t. What was a hypocaust system? A hypocaust system was a system by which they put terracotta tubes in the floor and behind the walls. They blew hot air into those, and they also raised up the pavement of the floor, on a series of stacked tiles–and you can see that extremely well; here’s a very well-preserved hypocaust from the Stabian Baths–placed these tiles on stacks, stacks of tiles, leaving space in between them, and put braziers between those, metal braziers, metal bowls, that held hot coals and so on. And from those hot coals–they obviously had slaves who had to keep those coals hot–but coals that were placed in these pans, that helped also to heat the pavement that was located above. This very important room, the frigidarium of the Stabian Baths, you see it here as it looks today: a small, round space. It would have had a pool in the center, a round pool, radiating alcoves, a dome, a dome that is open to the sky, with an oculus that allows light into it. You can see the remains of paint, stucco and then paint, blue and red, paint, probably some kind of marine scene included here. But this, I can’t underscore enough the importance of this particular room and the future that this design has for Roman architecture.
Stabian Baths frigidarium / Wikimedia Commons
I’d like to show you another bath at Pompeii, the so-called Forum Baths. The Forum Baths are interesting because they’re later. They date to, as you can see from your Monument List, to 80 B.C. So this is what the Romans did when they came in and took over Pompeii and were making it into one of those mini-Romes, those cities in the model of Rome. And you can see it’s very, very similar to what was going on in the Stabian Baths, in the earlier Samnite baths, with the same palaestra; we see a palaestra up at 2; the exercise court. We don’t seem to have a natatio in this particular plan. We see the men’s section over here, at 3, 4, 5 and 6, and the women’s section over here, 7, 8, 9, 10. Again, the women’s section off to the side, of no architectural distinction whatsoever. The men’s over here, and you could enter the men’s either through the palaestra or from an opening over here at 1. We see the same set of rooms that we saw at the Stabian Baths. We see the apodyterium or undressing and dressing room over here at 3. The tepidarium at 5, the caldarium at 6, and the caldarium at 6 is of the same shape as the caldarium in the Stabian Baths, a rectangular room with an apse at the end and a basin for cold water splashes. And then you go back again to the frigidarium, and you can see the frigidarium in the baths, Forum Baths at Pompeii — the same shape as that in the Stabian Baths at Pompeii, a small round room with radiating alcoves.
Stabian Baths tepidarium / Wikimedia Commons
I can show you views both of the tepidarium of the Forum Baths, extremely well preserved, as you can see here. You can also see they’ve used a great barrel vault for this room. It isn’t as large as it looks here, but it’s a sizable room. And this is a very good place to show you by the way, to give you a sense of how these things were decorated, how so many rooms — Roman buildings today, are stripped of their original decoration. But that decoration was often quite beautiful and ostentatious, and we can see here, we can get here a sense of that. You can see the wall has been stuccoed over, and then also in stucco these great flowering acanthus plants and creatures flying above — animals, human feature, gods and goddesses flying above. They used paint as well, red and blue and white and other colors, to accentuate the design. This gives you some sense of the flavor of these. And then this wonderful detail below of these Atlas figures who are shown holding up the vault of this particular room. It gives you some sense of why Romans flocked to these places — not only because it was the only place they could bathe themselves, but also because it was just a wonderful space to be in and to enjoy again the company of friends. This is a view of what room, in the Forum Baths.
Stabian Baths caldarium / Wikimedia Commons
The caldarium, with its rectangular shape and then its apse and its basin for cold water splashes. And then look at the ceiling, how wonderful. In that apse you see a semi-dome, a round hole or an oculus in that semi-dome, to allow light into it. So here we see them exploring oculi in semi-domes, as well as in domes. And then the square and rectangular spaces: holes in the ceiling, openings in the ceiling that have been placed there also to allow light into the system so that you could use the room, but also to create the kind of wonderful light effects that it does, when you have rays of sunshine coming in on you while you are in your sauna.
Stabian Baths frigidarium / Wikimedia Commons
Stabian Baths frigidarium / Wikimedia Commons
Stabian Baths frigidarium / Wikimedia Commons
[These are a few] views of the frigidarium of the Forum Baths. You can see a dome up above, the oculus in that dome. You can see some of the stucco decorations still preserved. You can see the alcoves here, the radiating alcoves, and some of the stuccoed decoration here: sea creatures against a red background. And this is a restored view of what the frigidarium would have looked like, with the pool in the center; a nice place to relax. The radiating apses over here, and then the dome with the oculus and with the light streaming in. Again, I can’t underscore enough the importance of both of these frigidaria for the future of Roman architecture.
Cafeteria Baths, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
Tourist cafeteria in Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
The other importance of the Forum Baths is the Forum Baths is today where you can eat, and if you’re there for the full day, as I recommend you be, you’re going to want to eat at some point, and there is a cafeteria, which doesn’t look like much but actually the food is not bad. The Italians have a very hard time making bad pasta. So you can always get some good pasta at the snack bar and you will want to make your way–there’s a few views of it–make your way to the Forum Baths, if you’re there for any length of time.
Daily Life and the Eruption of Vesuvius
Petrified bread from Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
Ruins of a bakery in Pompeii show the mills for grinding grain plus one of the brick ovens. / Wikimedia Commons
Very quickly I just want to remind you–we talked about this in the introductory lecture–that one of the main reasons that Pompeii is so interesting to us today is because it tells us so much about the daily life, not only of the Pompeians, but of the Romans in general, because we have all these wonderful shops still preserved at Pompeii. This was a bakery. We see the millstones that were actually used for the grinding of the grain still preserved. We see the oven over here, looking wonderfully like a modern pizza oven, as you can see. And we also, believe it or not, have from Pompeii a petrified bread–it’s preserved–that gives you a sense of what Pompeian bread looked like. And it looks strikingly like our pizzas, with the segments of the bread. So if you want to have a sense of where pizza came from–I told you the Romans, again there’s nothing the Romans didn’t invent; bread, pizza, whatever. But you see that petrified bread, giving you a very good sense of what was produced in this particular bakery.
Thermopolium in Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
I also mentioned in the introductory lecture the fast-food stands of Pompeii; the thermopolium in the singular, or the thermopolia in the plural, these fast-food stands where you could get a bite real quickly. The way they were designed was to have a great counter in them, with recesses. Fresh hot and cold food was put out obviously every day, and if you were hungry you just went up to the counter, you took a peek at what was there, you pointed out what you wanted, and you could eat on the run. The Romans were never to have their state religion and their family religion far from them, and you can also see a nod to the gods over here. There’s a shrine with some of the representations of the household gods, even in this fast-food emporium.
Pompeii amphorae / Wikimedia Commons
We have wine shops from Pompeii as well. I show you actually a scene of one of the storage rooms at Pompeii that you can see actually as you walk along–it’s a wonderful ruffling, turning to the next page–these wine, these amphoras, these great clay amphoras that held wine. They’re located in one of these storage areas that one can see as one walks along the Forum, on the left side, in Pompeii today. But you can imagine these on shelves in a wine shop of ancient Pompeii, offering wines gathered from all over the world, for discerning oenophiles–is that the word?–oenophiles.
Via dell’Abbondanza and Via Stabiana, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
Via dell’Abbondanza and Via Stabiana, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
Ceres Fountain, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
Connecting all of these shops to one another were of course the streets of the city. The streets of the city are extremely well preserved. I show you here a couple of views of the crossing of the cardo and the decumanus in Pompeii, and you can see exactly what the streets looked like. You can see the multi-sided paving stones of the streets. You can see the sidewalks looking uncannily modern. You can see–you can’t see exactly here — but there are drains along the way, to allow rain water to filter off the streets. And all of this again an extremely modern look. And the streets of Pompeii give us the best sense, of any streets of any preserved ancient city, of what the streets looked like in any given Roman town. These streets had along them–again because of needs for water–had along them fountains. Here’s a very modest fountain where we see a representation of the goddess Ceres, with her cornucopia and the fountain spout coming out of her mouth. And you can see this is the sort of thing, when the Romans just needed a little bit of water for household use, they would go out to the local fountain. So as you walk along the streets of Pompeii, you see a lot of these small fountains.
Pompeii street graffiti / Wikimedia Commons
You also see graffiti; what would a city be without some graffiti on its buildings? Any of you who’ve been in Rome recently know there is too much graffiti. There’s like a graffiti craze. The Romans have always had a lot of graffiti, but it’s gotten so bad; it’s almost unimaginable now. But the graffiti tradition was alive and well in Pompeii, and you see it here, covered with glass. But you see it here. You see it here and there in the city as you wander by, and it gives you a sense that people did write right on their buildings, these–what they wrote on these buildings tended to be political, for the most part. And you’d see graffiti that would say things like “Vote for Barbatus, the bearded one; he’ll be the best guy for the office, and he’s pretty handsome too.” That’s the kind of graffiti that you’ll see as you walk along–if your Latin is good–that you’ll see as you walk along the streets of Pompeii.
Pompeii street stepping stones / Wikimedia Commons
Cart street ruts in Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
You’ll also see these big blocks of stone. And there are people who look at these and they think, “Oh how interesting, that’s debris from Vesuvius.” It’s not debris from Vesuvius, clearly. These are there deliberately. These are stepping stones. The Romans were so ingenious, and so again concerned about how to protect people in inclement weather, that they created, they put these stepping stones all around the city, usually at the cross-sections of two streets. So if there was torrential rain, and if the water had piled up and if the drains couldn’t quite handle it, you could get across the street without stepping in the water. You see very clearly the ruts that come from the carts that were made between the stepping stones, by those carts constantly riding through them. And it shows you that they had to orchestrate the wheels of the carts in such a way that they would span the stepping stones. But it’s a very ingenious thing. They’re fun to look at, fun to walk on, really fun to take pictures of. I have tons of them.
Via Nocera necropolis of Pompeii, one of the many cemeteries that surround the city of Pompeii. In ancient Rome the dead were buried in mass graves outside the walls of the city along the main roads. / 123RF.com
Via Nucera tombs with columns / Wikimedia Commons
Just a very few words on what happens to the streets of the city of Pompeii, or any Roman city for that matter, when you leave the gates and you go out on the intercity roads. Many of those intercity roads become cemeteries. The Romans used these roads as their cemeteries. The Romans had a religious belief that there was a separation between the city of the living and the city of the dead. So all of the tombs are outside the walls of the city. So you see at Pompeii two extremely well-preserved tomb streets, the Street of the Tombs and the Via Nucera– which is the one you see here, with tombs of all sorts of shapes and sizes. I’m not going to go into these in any detail. [Roman tombs] come in all sizes and shapes. They’re very, very interesting. They honor the people who are buried there, including–there’s a bench tomb, for example, where you can sit and think on the life and times of the individual who was buried there. So an absolutely fascinating, fascinating street, with a lot of different tomb types that show the variety of tomb architecture under the Romans.
Recreated eruption of Mount Vesuvius (left) and eruption of Mt. St. Helens (right) / Wikimedia Commons
I’d like to make at least a passing reference to a matter which is of huge concern to archaeologists, and huge concern to all of us, as human beings, and that is what happened to the people of Pompeii, in those very last moments of life? And archaeologists have been able to reconstruct exactly what happened to–or not exactly, but as close as possible in the time from which Pompeii was excavated to now — to reconstruct again what happened to these human beings at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius. They’ve been able to again to reconstruct a very moving picture of their last moments of life. What we know is that the ash and lava from Vesuvius–and you see a restored view here of what that would’ve looked like, and you can see Vesuvius and you can see the Forum over here, with the Temple of Jupiter and the Temple of Apollo, and the throngs of people inside the Forum, at this particular juncture, as they look up and see what is happening. And on the right-hand side–this is actually a view of Mount St. Helens, which as you know erupted in 1980, and the eruptions not so different, as you gaze upon them and look at them, in comparison today.
But we know that the eruption of Vesuvius did not happen all at once; it didn’t just happen and cover the city. It was gradual. There was actually quite a bit of time. There was time to escape. The Pompeians saw what was happening, and those who were smart did escape. But like any other natural disaster, there were, of course, a group of hardy souls, or perhaps we would call them foolhardy souls, who thought that they could ride it out. And they thought they could ride it out by hiding in their own houses or by–some of the smarter ones of the foolhardy type decided that they could ride it out in some of the very strong walled buildings, public buildings of the city, for example, the bath buildings, the Stabian Baths or the Forum Baths, that we looked at today. They were gravely mistaken, gravely mistaken. We don’t know how many stayed. We think it was actually a fairly small number; some have said about a thousand. We don’t know. But whatever, those who did stay made a grave error, because they were not actually killed by the ash and lava, the molten ash and lava, despite the fact that it was extremely hot. But what killed them were the noxious gasses that came into the city after the eruption, that followed that ash and lava. They were asphyxiated by those gasses.
Bodies in Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
After they had died, but before their bodies decomposed, the ash and lava formed a protective shell around their bodies, protecting them. And what the archaeologists were clever enough to do is — when the modern archaeologists, when they’re working with their pick axes, and when that pick axe hit a hollow in the ash and lava, they poured plaster into that hollow. Sometimes that produced nothing, but sometimes it produced bodies, the actual shape of the bodies of those whose bodies had decomposed there. And we can look at those bodies still today. And I show you a scene of a number of the victims of Pompeii huddled together for mutual and indeed ultimately futile protection. I can show you the body of an individual who is lying on the ground, his face and his hands trying to protect himself obviously from those noxious gases that have come into the city. I can show you the body, the plaster cast obviously, of the body of another Pompeian who was sitting with his knees up and his hands in front of his face, trying to protect himself once again from those fumes that are about to overtake him any second; the body of an individual who’s essentially given up at this point. He is expired. He’s lying on his back. There’s no hope any longer for him, a poor fellow who died on that day. And then this fellow, this heroic fellow, who is lifting himself, in his last moment of life, lifting himself, either to gasp a last breath, or perhaps to whisper something to a dear family member who is by his side.
Body of dog in Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons
And we even have the body of a dog. This story is particularly sad because this dog, this plaster cast of this dog, was found with a chain around his neck. So probably what happened here is the owner of this particular dog had the dog chained up, didn’t have time either to take the dog or to release the dog from his chain so that he could try himself to escape, and that poor dog perished on that day and we have the plaster cast of his body still today. All of these bodies can still be seen on the site of Pompeii and make a visit there all the more poignant. I know of no more moving human document from the ancient world than these bodies of these Pompeians, kept in perpetuity and for us to commiserate with and to understand even today.