Lifestyles of the Roman Rich and Famous: Houses and Villas at Pompeii

Via dell’ Abbondanza, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons

Lecture by Dr. Diana E.E. Kleiner / 01.27.2009
Dunham Professor, History of Art and Classics
Yale University

Introduction and the Ideal Domus Italica

[Addressed here] is the public architecture of Pompeii, about the forum, about the temples, about the basilica, about the baths, and also about shops, and tombs as well. [Now we] turn to the residential architecture of Pompeii; residential architecture that is extremely important, not only for what it tells us about Pompeii, but what it also tells us about domestic architecture in the first centuries BCE and the first century CE, because there is no place where the houses are better preserved than at Pompeii. So it tells us again, not just about the city itself, but also about residential architecture in Rome, where we have very few examples, and elsewhere in the Roman world.

Via dell’ Abbondanza, Pompeii / Wikimedia Commons

I want to begin with the image that you see now on the screen, which is a building that is on one of Pompeii’s main thoroughfares, the Via dell’Abbondanza, the Via dell’Abbondanza, the Street of Abundance. And the building in question is relatively well preserved, and what is significant about it for us right now is the fact that it is two-storied, as you can see here. What we’ll see in the course of today’s presentation is that most of the buildings, most of the houses, in early Pompeii, are single-story dwellings, but here we see one that is two-storied. And this two-storied dwelling actually dates fairly late in the history of residential architecture in Pompeii. It dates sometime between the earthquake of 62 and the eruption of Vesuvius of 79; so between 62 and 79 CE.

And we see that it has two stories, in this instance. A story down below that may have been–that says has entranceways, might even have been opened up as a shop, and then a second story that is very interesting indeed. And it has what we call cenaculae, which are second-story dining rooms that have open panoramic windows, these windows, as you can see, through columns. So an interesting nod to Hellenization once again, this idea of incorporating Greek elements into Roman architecture — elements that again are under- that come into Roman architecture through the influence of earlier Greek architecture, and views out through those columns. So two important points: one, that these have two stories, and that adding a second story to a Roman building, or a Pompeian building in this instance, doesn’t occur until between the earthquake and the eruption of Vesuvius; and secondarily, this idea of the picture window. And we’ve talked about the importance for the Romans of vista and panorama, and they’re doing it here. They’re opening up that second floor so that you can sit in one of these dining rooms and then have a very nice view out through the columns of the street and the street life below.

Now this building, on the Via dell’Abbondanza, lies at the end of the development of Pompeian domestic architecture. And so what I’m going to do is take us back to the beginning and trace Pompeian domestic architecture from the Samnite period up through the eruption of Vesuvius. With regard to the earliest houses at Pompeii, these were done during again the Samnite period, the fourth and third centuries B.C. Keep in mind that the Samnites were an Italic tribe, that is, indigenous to Italy from way back when–I had mentioned to you that Pompeii was founded already in the eighth century B.C. And these Italic tribes built houses, obviously, in which they lived already in the fourth and third — substantial houses — in which they lived already in the fourth and third centuries B.C.

Domus Italica illustration and plan / rivasdocente, Pinterest, Creative Commons (Click Image to Enlarge)

I want to begin our conversation about domestic architecture in Pompeii, and by extension in Rome itself, with the so-called domus italica. What was the domus italica? The domus italica was an ideal Roman house plan, and we know quite a bit about it because of the writings of Vitruvius. Vitruvius — not to be confused with Vesuvius — Vitruvius was an architectural theoretician who was writing in the age of Augustus, Augustus being Rome’s first emperor. And Vitruvius left a great deal of writings about all kinds of architecture, including domestic architecture, and he talks in detail about the domus italica or what he considered the ideal Roman house, and he describes all of its parts. And through his writings we can explore together what the ideal Roman house was, and what you’re going to find very interesting, I believe, is the fact that the actual houses at Pompeii conform, or the earliest houses, conform very closely to this ideal plan.

Let’s run through it together, both in plan and in restored view. I’m going to need to go over a lot of terminology here. Here you see the plan of the typical domus italica. You can see the entrance into the house. The entrance to the house was called the fauces; the fauces or the throat of the house (number 1). Sometimes the fauces had before it a vestibule, called a vestibulum, which was a place right before the beginning of the fauces, underneath the eaves of the house, where you could actually stand, get in from the rain in case it was raining outside, while you waited for the door to be opened. [In] very early domus italica houses, we don’t tend to see the vestibulum, just the fauces or throat of the house.

Then on either side of the fauces there are two rooms, which are called cells or cellae: cella in the singular and cellae in the plural (number 4). These can be treated in a number of different ways. They can either be closed off from the street and used as interior rooms for the house, extra bedrooms or living spaces, or they can be, as you see them in this ideal plan, opened up to the street. When they are opened up to the street they take on the role of shops or tabernae, shops. And those shops could be either used by those who owned the house, to make additional money, or they could be leased out to others for their shops. You see the fauces leads into the most important room of a Roman house, the so-called atrium (number 2), the famous atrium of the Roman house. The atrium was the audience hall of the house. And it’s important to mention from the outset that Roman houses had a very different role in Roman society than houses do for us today. We tend to think of our houses today in large parts as retreats, as places we can get away from it all — get away from work, get away from schoolwork and so on, and escape. Although we do enjoy obviously having friends and family visit us there, we tend to think of it as a place of retreat.

This was not true in Roman times, when the house was also a place to do some very serious business. The man of the house, the head of the household, the paterfamilias, often greeted clients in the atrium of the house, and when he was away on business, or away at war, his wife, the materfamilias, would stand in for him and she would conduct business in the atrium. So considered a very public part of the house, a place where you wanted it to look its best because you were going to be greeting important visitors there, to do business. So the atrium is located here. You can see this rectangular pool (number 3) in the center of the atrium. That is the impluvium of the house, which is a pool in which they collected rain water for daily use. How did they collect that rain water? Because there was an opening in the ceiling, also rectangular in shape. That’s called a compluvium, and the compluvium had surrounding it a slanted roof to encourage the water obviously to slide in through the compluvium and land in the impluvium down below.

Around the atrium and also around the impluvium, at 5 here also, are the bedrooms of the house, the cubiculum, in the singular, and cubicula, in the plural. And you can see that each one of them opens up off the atrium. They are very small in size, smaller than any other rooms in the house, and they were literally just a place to sleep. They were very small, mostly very dark. Some of them had slit windows. I’ll show you one of those later. Many of them didn’t have any windows, they were literally just sleeping spaces. Over here, at 5, we see the wings or the alae of the house. The wings of the house were a very important place from the point of view of family tradition and religious practice and so on. It was the place where the Romans kept the shrines of their ancestors. They had wooden shrines–they were usually made out of wood–with doors, and they kept inside those the busts and portraits of their ancestors, and they would take those out, they would open those shrines up and take those out on special occasions, usually anniversaries marking the anniversary of the death of the deceased. And they had an interesting practice in which the member of the family who most closely resembled the deceased in size and general appearance would put on that mask and participate in a kind of parade in honor of the dead. So they kept those in those shrines, in the wings or the alae of the house.

Here number 6 is on axis with the fauces and the atrium, and we know how much the Romans liked axiality as well as symmetry. This room is called the tablinum, which started as the master bedroom of the house, the most important bedroom, much larger than the cubicula, but over time it became a place where the family archives were kept. And beyond that, it becomes almost a kind of passageway between the atrium and the area that lay beyond here. At 7 we see also a fairly large room, the dining room or triclinium, and you can see in this case, in the ideal Roman house, it opens off the atrium; so easy to get to from the atrium. And then at the back, number 8, for one of these ideal Roman houses, the hortus, or the garden of the house, which was obviously open to the sky.

If you look at the restored view, you can see how these earliest houses really had a very enclosed feeling. They were quite stark and geometrically ordered, with very few openings. You can see, in this case, this one opening as an entranceway into the fauces, as well as into two shops, as you can see here. And then, of course, the compluvium, a hole in the ceiling, and then the hortus is open to the sky. But, other than that, there are no windows whatsoever. It’s a very enclosed structure. And we’re going to see that although that’s the case in the beginning that changes over time; we’ll see a very important and interesting evolution.

Now another point that I want to make from the start is just as in temple architecture, and we’ve traced the development of early Roman temple architecture, where we saw the Romans ultimately using–combining an Etruscan plan with a Greek elevation. We’re going to see something actually quite similar happening in the development of Pompeian and Roman domestic architecture. We’re going to see that Etruscan, earlier Etruscan monuments, had an impact. And I show you a plan of an Etruscan tomb over here–we’ve looked at this before–an Etruscan tomb over here, just to show you that the general arrangement of that tomb, with an entranceway here, with two rooms over here, kind of like the tabernae that we looked at, or the cells that we looked at just before. A big space over here, not unlike the atrium. The idea of axiality: entering into it, then this large space, then another space which mirrors the tablinum or is like the tablinum of the Roman house, and then other rooms on either side. So this whole idea of this progression of one space, an axial progression of one space to another space to another space that’s on the same axial focus; very important, and I think those who were building these fairly early on, the Samnites and so on, were clearly looking at Etruscan examples.

Tomb of the Shields and Seats, Cerveteri, 6th century BCE / Wikimedia Commons

Tomb of the Shields and Seats plan / Wikimedia Commons

And it shows us, very early on also, that in the minds of the Romans there was a very close association between the houses of the living and the houses of the dead. This is the Tomb of the Shields and Seats in Cerveteri of the sixth century BCE. If you look at it, you can see that inside the tomb – it’s all carved from the rock, from the tufa rock-  looks very much like what you’d expect a house to look like, with beds. And notice the detail. They’ve even provided–it’s all done in stone, the tufa stone — but you see they’ve even provided stone pillows here, not very comfortable, but it gives you the sense of what a house would’ve been like. And we know that beds in houses looked very much these. There is a throne, with a nice footstool, as you can see. And then if you look very carefully, also indicated in stone, the rafters, the beams done in stone. And then the moldings around the door and around the shields, which is the reason this is called the shields and the seats obviously is because it has seats and it has shields on the wall. So I just wanted to make the point, because it’ll turn up a number of times in the course of the semester, the close association in the minds of the Romans between houses of the living and houses of the dead, and also that important point that the early Samnite builders are looking at Etruscan prototypes.

Early Pompeian Houses and the Ideal Hellenized Domus

Medical instruments in the House of the Surgeon, Pompeii, 4th-3rd centuries BCE / Wikimedia Commons

I want to show you now the way in which actual Pompeian houses conform very closely (the early ones at least, of the fourth and third centuries BCE) to this domus italica ideal plan. I want to begin with the so-called House of the Surgeon in Pompeii, which dates to the third century BCE. It’s called the House of the Surgeon because of all the surgical instruments that were found in the house, and I show you the array of them now on the screen. This should be of considerable interest, to especially–and I know there are a number of you in here — students whose major is biology. And I want to mention also that you might be surprised to hear–but maybe not, Yale has such amazing collections–that the Medical School has a collection of surgical instruments that goes way back, and it goes way back to ancient Rome. You can actually see ancient Roman surgical instruments in that collection that we have here at Yale, not perhaps as many as this, but an interesting selection, and those of you who are in that field might at one point want to take advantage of that and get to see them firsthand. So this house got its name from this cache of surgical instruments that were found inside. That probably gives us some sense of the profession of at least one of the people who was living here.

House of the Surgeon plan / Wikimedia Commons

I show you the plan of the House of the Surgeon, and you’ll see a version on your Monument List that actually has the rooms designated there, which I don’t have here. So that will be helpful to you as you–I wanted you to have that version so that you, when you’re studying, you have that before you. And in any exam, by the way, even if I show something slightly different in class, I will show you only what is on your Monument List in the exam. So those are the ones that you should study and remember. But you’ll see the plan is exactly the same. It just doesn’t have the labels here. So we can see that it conforms, the House of the Surgeon, third century BCE., to the ideal domus italica plan.

You enter into the fauces or throat of the house. There are two cells, one on either side. It’s very clear in plan that this cell is closed to the outside and opens only off the atrium, so used by the family for their own purposes. This one is open to the street, clearly used as a shop, either by this family, or they’ve leased it out to somebody else. The atrium is on axis with the fauces. We can see that the atrium has a pool, a rectangular pool, or impluvium; and there would’ve been a compluvium up above. On either side the cubicula or bedrooms of the house, opening off the atrium. Over here the wings or alae of the house, for the ancestral shrines. Over here, again, a dining room, a triclinium, that opens off the atrium. Up here we think probably a portico, one column or two, but that might belong to a later renovation, and I’ll explain why in a moment. And then in the back a somewhat irregularly shaped hortus or garden. But I think you can see from this example how closely these actual houses track the domus italica described by Vitruvius.

House of Sallust plan, Pompeii, 3rd century BCE / Wikimedia Commons

Another example of one of these early Roman houses that conforms to the domus italica type is the so-called House of Sallust in Pompeii that dates to the third century BCE. This is another house that has the domus italica as its core. But, just like most of the houses in Pompeii–you’ll remember how when the Romans took over Pompeii in 80, or made Pompeii a Roman colony, they tossed the Samnites out of their homes, they took them over, and of course once they took them over, they renovated them. So there’s quite a bit of renovation that takes place to some of these early Samnite houses. In this case the House of Sallust seems to be an example of that.

But we still see the original core of the domus italica. The entrance over here into the fauces of the house. The atrium on axis with that, with the impluvium. There are also the cubicula, the alae or wings here, and the tablinum of the house. In this case you can see that the triclinium opens up off toward the hortus instead. This family wanted to provide views of the hortus rather than the atrium, from the dining hall. Now what’s particularly interesting, and may belong to the renovation, are the shops that are opening up off the street. Because you can tell in plan exactly how this shop was used.

It’s a fast-food shop, a thermopolium, because we can see the counter and we can see the recesses in plan. So this family either had, or let its space out, for one of these thermopolia, for one of these fast-food stands in the front of their house. So two examples, the House of the Surgeon and the House of Sallust, that conform closely, third century BCE., to the original domus italica plan.

House of Menander plan, Pompeii, 2nd century BCE, Hellenized domus / Wikimedia Commons

In the second century BCE, we see something happen in house design, quite extraordinary, and that is linked to the same kind of development we saw in temple architecture.  They’ve been looking at the Etruscan type of plan, they’ve been conforming that to a certain extent. All of a sudden in the second century they get the bug to make their houses look more Greek, and they begin to incorporate elements that they take from earlier Greek architecture, and the result is quite extraordinary. I’m showing you here an example of an ideal plan of what we call the Hellenized domus, that has been given elements of Greek design. And let’s run through the plan again, of the so-called Hellenized domus type.

You can see that the core is the same as the domus italica. Here we can see in plan the incorporation of the vestibulum, this vestibule that is located right in front of, or at the beginning of the fauces, where you enter the house. The roof of the house protects you in case the weather is not good, but you still have to stand in that vestibule until you’re allowed into the fauces and the rest of the house. So we the vestibulum, the fauces, the two cells, cellae, one on either side, in this case they are not opened up as shops. The atrium, with its impluvium, to catch rain water. We have the usual cubicula, or bedrooms. We have the usual alae or wings. The tablinum on axis with the triclinium opening off the atrium. So once again the core of the original domus italica is very much intact in the Hellenized domus.

Under the influence of Greek architecture, under the influence of what’s happening in temple architecture, they incorporate columns into the interior of the house, and they place their garden there. It’s a garden court, with columns, which technically is called a peristyle. It is comparable to what we see in temple architecture when we saw the architects giving some of the temples – the peripteral colonnade (the colonnade that goes all the way around and is freestanding). It’s the same sort of thing here, except it’s on the inside of the building. On either side are additional bedrooms, or cubicula; these were probably very desirable, to have a bedroom that opened, had a nice view out over your garden. There are two additional triclinia, two additional dining rooms, to take advantage of the beautiful views that one could get, if one could see it – probably not terribly much through these narrow doorways, but at least opening up onto the peristyle court. There were even see columns added in the front to announce, from the very start, that this is a house that is owned by a very cultured individual, who knows his Greek, and knows his Greek culture, and knows to incorporate these Greek elements into his house. Then we see the compluvium. We see the peristyle from above open to the sky with columns, but still very stark, very plain on the outside. No windows to speak of, very much an enclosed space.

Hellenized Houses in Pompeii

House of Vettii plan, Pompeii, 2nd century BCE / Wikimedia Commons

So now I want to show you some examples of houses that conform to the Hellenized domus type, this being the first one. It’s one of the most famous houses in Pompeii, and if you’re going there anytime soon and are making a list of must-sees, this is one of those must-sees in Pompeii, the House of the Vettii. We think it belongs, although we’re not absolutely sure, to the Vettius brothers, to the Vettius brothers in Pompeii. It dates to the second century BCE and later. Looking at this plan you can see the way in which it conforms to the Hellenized domus type. Once again it has the core, it has the domus italica core. The entranceway with the fauces; the cells on either side, in this case used as rooms internal to the house, they do not open off the street as shops; the atrium, with the impluvium; a smaller number of cubicula on either side; alae. Look what has happened to the tablinum. The tablinum is gone essentially. All it consists of is a couple of pilasters.

Google / Creative Commons

So the tablinum has essentially disappeared. It’s become a kind of passageway from the core of the house into the garden. And it is a peristyle garden, surrounded by columns, as you can see. And you can see how important that peristyle garden has become. This family has decided to decrease their other space in order to have this stupendously large garden here. And they have also put a very large dining hall, triclinium up here, that opens off the peristyle, and it has a much bigger opening so that they could clearly dine and get views of this garden, this peristyle garden, of which they were obviously incredibly proud. So some major changes there. Now this particular house–oh I did want to say though, despite those changes, the house is still very enclosed and very plain and stark from the outside. This is a restored view of what we believe the outside looked like. So geometrically ordered, cubic, as you can see. Just one entranceway, possibly a few small windows, possibly not. And then you can see the compluvium and the peristyle court. But otherwise very much enclosed, like the earlier domus italica; not much change with regard to how the exterior of the building is treated.

House of Vettii atrium / Wikimedia Commons

House of Vettii garden reconstruction / Wikimedia Commons

This again is one of the reasons everyone flocks to this house is it’s very well preserved. There’s been some restoration work, of course, but really this is one of those must-sees, because it really gives you as good a sense as anything of what these houses looked like in antiquity. We’ve come through the fauces. We are standing in the atrium (top). We can see the pool or impluvium here. We can see the compluvium, very well preserved, up above. I think it’s probably the best preserved compluvium that we have, or close to it. And you can see that there were little antefixes added in terracotta and stuff, as decoration, up at the top. As we’re standing here we look back through what was once the tablinum, and now is basically a point of transition, a passageway from the atrium to the most important part of the house, from the point of view of these patrons, the garden. So you’re looking through. You see these great piers on either side, that are all that’s left of the tablinum. You look through that and you see the garden (bottom). The garden has its columns surrounding it. The walls are painted, of that garden, all a very lively and wonderful interior.

And what also becomes very clear in looking at this particular view is something that we’ve already discussed, and that is the importance in the minds of the Romans of vista or panorama, of great views that you can see from one part of a building to another. Remember the Sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur at Terracina and all of those wonderful lateral and axial entrances and exits, where there were all kinds of interesting light effects. We see the same sort of thing here. The idea is to pass from a particularly well-lighted area outside into a darker area, the fauces. Then a little bit more light added to the system through the compluvium, and then a whole host of light, that you can see in the distance, through the open peristyle. So dark, light, dark, light — this progression of space, this progression of light through the structure a very typical Roman thing to do. The other thing, of course, is this emphasis on axiality, this movement through a structure in a very axial way.

The garden reconstruction shows the garden surrounded by the columns, with garden furniture, little fountains, little marble fountains and the like, and with the walls with paintings. Look also at the columns because you can see they are made out of stone, some of them are made out of those tiles, that look like bricks. But in all cases they were stuccoed over white. Why were they stuccoed over white? To make them look like Greek marble. So once again, this Hellenization of Roman domestic architecture, this attempt to make these things look as Greek as possible.

House of Vettii kitchen with pots on stove / Wikimedia Commons

You asked about the kitchen. Well this is our best preserved kitchen from Pompeii. It’s really quite amazing. There’s a stove, and the pots and pans that were clearly still sitting on the stove at the time this particular family had to flee from Vesuvius. You see the kitchen marked on the house’s plan. You also see on that plan what’s called the Women’s Quarters, which was probably where some of the slaves who were owned by this particular family, the Vettius brothers, lived, in that area.

House of the Silver Wedding, Pompeii, 2nd century BCE – 1st century CE / Wikimedia Commons

Another example of a house that conforms, a Pompeian house that conforms to the Hellenized domus type is the House of the Silver Wedding, in Pompeii. We believe it was remodeled in the first century BCE, although it’s controversial. It might have been remodeled a bit later in the first century CE. It’s an interesting structure. It got its name, the House of the Silver Wedding, because there was a lot of fanfare in the late nineteenth century when the king and queen of Italy came to visit this particular house, and it became their favorite. And so the Silver Wedding is actually a reference to them and to their marriage, and so on and so forth.

It’s a wonderful house, and I think you can see how it conforms. Again, it has a core that is very much the domus italica core, but it is another example of one of these houses that has been remodeled because of the owner’s interest in Hellenizing that house. We enter here through the fauces. There are cells on either side, opening off the fauces. It’s an unusual arrangement. Then over here the atrium with the impluvium; the cubicula on either side; the alae or wings of the house; a dining room over here; two peristyle courts, one in the back, a smaller one, and then a huge peristyle court over here on the left-hand side. So for this family one was not enough, they wanted double the garden space, and they’ve allotted a lot of space in this house to those gardens. Then, most interesting of all I think about this house, and the reason I chose it to show to you, is that we are starting to see the Hellenization of the atrium as well. Because look what’s happened to the atrium. They have placed four columns around the impluvium, in the atrium. So it wasn’t enough to have these two large peristyles, they wanted columns everywhere, and they placed these four around the impluvium. An atrium that has four columns in it is technically called–and I put it on the Monument List for you–a tetrastyle atrium; this is a tetrastyle atrium.

Even that wasn’t enough. Look at that room in the upper left. That room in the upper left is a banqueting hall, an additional dining space, but a special dining space, that you can see opens up very nicely off the smaller peristyle of the house. The opening is fairly wide, so it probably would’ve had some wonderful views of the peristyle garden. And look, there are four columns in there as well. And this particular banqueting hall, its technical name–it’s got a kind of a funny name that I don’t think you’ll forget called an oecus, plural oeci. You can see that it’s an oecus that has four columns in it; so we call it a tetrastyle oecus.

House of the Silver Wedding atrium / Wikimedia Commons

All right, so now that we’ve had an opportunity to look at the plan of the House of the Silver Wedding, I want to give you a sense of what the building looks like today. It’s not as well preserved as the House of the Vettii, but we can get a very good sense of what it was like in antiquity. And the oecus, which in some respects is the most important room in the house, from our standpoint, is very well preserved. We’re looking here at a view. We’re standing again in the beginning of the atrium, looking through the atrium. We see the impluvium of the house — a lot of moss and some–it’s overgrown today. But nonetheless you can see it there, as well as the compluvium above. What’s most important to us is you can see that this is indeed a tetrastyle atrium, with four columns that are surrounding the impluvium, those columns supporting the ceiling, and of course the compluvium above. Also interesting is the way in which the columns are treated. You can see that they have been fluted and then stuccoed over. Do you remember the temple at Cori, that we looked at, where we talked about the fact that–the Temple of Hercules at Cori — we talked about the fact that the columns were fluted part of the way, and then down below those flutes were covered over with stucco and the stucco was painted. We see the same thing here. And if you look very, very closely, you can even see the remains of the red paint, the red paint that decorated the lower part of these columns. So some interesting correspondences there in terms of building practice. You can also see here, as we saw in the House of the Vettii, this wonderful vista from the atrium of the house, through what remains of the tablinum, into the garden of the house, the peristyle garden of the house, which from the patron’s point of view was one of the most important, if not the most important part, of the house.

House of the Silver Wedding oecus / Wikimedia Commons

This is the oecus of the House of the Silver Wedding, and you can see it is extremely well preserved, and you can also see how very interesting it is, in all kinds of ways. It is a tetrastyle oecus – again, a banqueting hall with four columns. Those columns are stuccoed and painted over. The paint is very well preserved. It’s a reddish, purplish color, probably meant to conjure up porphyry, which comes only from Egypt. It’s only quarried in Egypt, very expensive to bring it that great distance, all the way to Pompeii. And, of course, this isn’t porphyry, it’s just a painted column. But the whole idea of this, from the patrons’ point of view, was to look like he and she were very well-heeled, that they could afford to bring this expensive stone from very far away to use in their house. Look also at the fact that there’s a barrel vault. This is actually a wooden vault, rather than a concrete vault here in this room. But very nicely done, and the walls are extensively painted. They are weathered today, but they give you a very good sense of what would have been the original appearance of this room.

The House of the Faun

House of Faun, Pompeii, 2nd century BCE / Plan by Paige Boyadis, Creative Commons

I want to turn now to what is surely the most important surviving house at the city of Pompeii, and this is the famous House of the Faun. If you’re in Pompeii and you only have time to see two houses, you go to the House of the Vettii and the House of the Faun. The House of the Faun dates to the second century BCE, for the most part. The reason that I show this to you is because the House of the Faun is particularly large. You can see from this plan that it takes up in fact the entire block, an entire block of the city of Pompeii, and it is much larger than some of the others. For example, look at the House of the Vettii over here. It’s twice, if not larger, than that: twice the size of the House of the Vettii, if not even more than that. So it’s a very large house. Clearly no expense was spared, either in accumulating the property, and also in enhancing the décor of the house.

If we look at a plan of the House of the Faun, we will see, without question, that it corresponds and it follows the Hellenized domus type. We see it has a vestibulum; a fauces; two cellae, one on either side; an atrium with an impluvium; the cubicula on either side; the wings or the alae. It does have a tablinum, and then it has two peristyle courts, with columns encircling them, a smaller one and then a very large one in the back. Note also that there is a very interesting room that is located over here. It’s a rectangular room. It has a couple of columns on bases and pilasters, one on either side. It opens right off the peristyle court, and on the floor of that space, which we call the Alexander exedra, after Alexander the Great, because on the floor of that was the most famous mosaic that we have surviving from antiquity, that represents Alexander the Great.

House of Faun facade / Wikimedia Commons

First let me show you what the house looks like from the outside. It’s well preserved. It doesn’t have its ceiling the way the House of the Vettii does, but otherwise it’s pretty well preserved. You see the polygonal masonry blocks. You see the sidewalks here as well, and how modern they look. You see the stepping stones. You can see the entranceway, and you can see that the entranceway has on either side a pilaster, a pilaster with a Corinthian capital above. And that’s very important, because it’s announcing to us, as did that ideal Hellenized domus that I showed you before, that this is a patron, this is an owner of this particular house who has leanings toward things Greek and wants us to know that, even before we have entered into the house.

House of Faun vestibule / Wikimedia Commons

You go into the house and stand in the vestibule. You will see that there is still quite a bit of decoration preserved. The walls are painted with blocks, what look like blocks of stone: an illusion. This is an example of First Style wall painting; we’re going to talk about that on Thursday. And then up here a shrine is still preserved, a shrine that probably held statues or statuettes of some of the household gods, the revered gods for this family. This is an excellent view because it shows us again how entering this house you would stand in the vestibule; you’d go from there into the fauces, then into the atrium, then into the peristyle that lay beyond – the first smaller one and then the larger one after that. But it shows us again the point that I’ve made so many times, and that is this Roman interest in vista or panorama. They’ve set up a view from the moment in which you enter the house, a sequence of experiences from light to dark to light to dark, but also a sequence of visual experiences that make entering this house and walking through this house an extraordinary experience, one that they have helped enhance.

House of Faun atrium / Wikimedia Commons

House of Faun First Style wall in atrium / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a view of the atrium as it looks today. We are standing in front of the impluvium. In that impluvium is a statuette in bronze of the Dancing Faun, from which this house gets its name. The one that you see there now is a copy and the original is in the Archaeological Museum in Naples. This view also shows you the way in which you had the series of visual experiences, from the fauces to the atrium, and ultimately toward the peristyle with its wonderful forest of columns done à la Grecque, in the Greek style. Here’s another interesting view. We’re still in the atrium. You can see the Dancing Faun right here. We’re looking at the side wall; if we’re facing the Faun, this is the wall to the left. This is very helpful because it shows us exactly what the cubicula that opened off the atrium would’ve looked like. You can see that they were very dark. Some of them had these tiny slit windows, or perhaps slightly larger slit windows. But for the most part they were very dark — again meant only as a place to sleep at night and to be used for no other purpose than that. You can also see from this view that this is a rubble wall that has been stuccoed over, and that reliefs, painted different colors, have been placed on that wall. This is an example of so-called First Style Roman wall painting.

House of Faun atrium restored illustration / Wikimedia Commons

This is a wonderful restored view of what the House of the Faun would’ve looked like when all of its First Style Roman wall painting was intact, showing what it would’ve looked like to stand in the atrium and look back through what survived of the tablinum, with these very large pilasters again, announcing the Greek leanings of this particular patron. And then the view toward the peristyle, where you would also see the columns that looked like they were very much in the Greek style. So here’s clearly a person who not only is building his home to correspond to the latest in domestic architecture, namely the Hellenized domus type, but who just wants to make that point over and over and over again: that he’s cultivated, that he knows things Greek, and that he has the funds to be able to incorporate those into his house. And indeed First Style wall painting, as we’ll find out when we discuss it, is also a style that is based on Greek prototypes. So another example of the Greek elements in this building.

House of Faun tetrastyle atrium / Wikimedia Commons

House of Faun peristyle / Wikimedia Commons

This is the tetrastyle atrium (top), because you can see there are four columns, one around each corner of the impluvium. So this is a house with two peristyles; a house with two atriums, and even one of the atriums has four columns. Here you can see all these drums placed one on top of another to create the columns. So that you can see over time how easy it would be for some of those to fall off or become dismantled, and for us to be left with the sort of thing that we’re left with when we look at what remains in the Basilica of Pompeii. Here’s a view obviously of one of the peristyles (bottom). Here you also see something interesting in terms of building technique. The columns in Pompeii tend to be either of local stone, a local tufa, or made of these tiles that look like bricks, but then in either case stuccoed over, white, fluted, to make them look, once again, like they are marble columns: the illusion that they are marble columns, even though they are not, to underscore their Greekness.

House of Faun exedra / Wikimedia Commons

Alexander Mosaic / Wikimedia Commons

This is a view (top) of that Alexander exedra that I mentioned to you before, that opens off the first peristyle, with two columns on bases here. Note the red at the bottom, white at the top. Two pilasters painted red, as you can see. And you can see the tourists standing there, gazing down. They’re gazing down at a copy. And this copy, by the way, for a very long time, for as long as I remember going there, except for this last time I was there, there was nothing there, and I think most people had no realization that this amazing mosaic originally was on the floor. But they have a put a copy here – the mosaic is now in the Naples Archaeological Museum, long ago moved there – so that people who visit the House of the Faun realize, oh, this is where the Alexander Mosaic (bottom) was located, which is particularly important, because this is a view of the mosaic, this extraordinary mosaic of Alexander the Great, that’s now in the Naples Archaeological Museum. It was a floor pavement in the House of the Faun.

Nonetheless, you can see it’s an extraordinary work of art. I’m not going to go into it in great detail, but I did want to expose you to it because it is so important and so magnificent, and I also want to make absolutely sure that you don’t miss, when you go to the Pompeii area, you do not miss going to the Archaeological Museum in Naples. It’s an amazing museum, one of the greatest of all the museums in Italy, and it has of course–almost all the great stuff that comes from Pompeii is at that museum today. So it’s another one of those asterisked, must-sees. It represents the battle between Alexander and the Persian King Darius at the famous Battle of Issus, and at that battle Alexander was victorious, and you see it here. And one of the reasons that it’s so important for our understanding of the House of the Faun is that we believe that this mosaic was a copy of an earlier lost Greek painting, a Greek painting of this same scene, of Alexander and Darius, done in around 300 BCE by a Greek painter, that was copied for this house in mosaic, sometime in the second century BCE

So it’s another example of this patron, of this owner of the house, who is so besotted with Greek art that he wants to have as much of it around him as he possibly can, and he clearly has the assets that enable him to commission a mosaicist to make this amazing mosaic. Now there are a lot of people who talk about this mosaic, and they say, “Well, you know, it’s such a pale reflection of what the painting would’ve been, and it’s a typical derivative, Roman art. They had to look at Greek art and derive from it. They couldn’t come up with anything on their own.” But I would maintain that’s absolutely untrue, and I would also maintain that to do this kind of work in mosaic, rather than paint, is much more difficult. This is a true tour de force, to be able to create this kind of active battle scene, with collapsing horses and with spears in the sky foreshortened, and foreshortened weapons down here. This is an amazing thing to do in mosaic, when you think of all of these individual tesserae, these small stones, multicolored stones, that had to be brought together, placed in mortar, to create this amazing tableau. To me it seems like it is a much, much greater feat to have to achieve that, and to achieve it so well in mosaic than in paint.

Alexander on Bucephalus in mosaic / Wikimedia Commons

Darius in mosaic / Wikimedia Commons

Just quickly a couple of details. Here’s the one of Alexander himself on his horse (top). It’s an incredible characterization of the great Hellenistic general and king, and you see him on his favorite horse, Bucephalus here; and I think it’s a wonderful characterization by this particular, very talented mosaicist and his workshop, to capture the relationship of man and horse. If you look at not only the eyes, but also at the hair, the hair of Alexander tousled, flowing in the wind, the mane of the horse, so closely allied with one another. The artist has really very effectively captured that again, even just using these very small pieces of stone, which you can see very well here. Look at the way the shadows are cast, even by that stone. It’s incredible. Here’s the other detail that I’m going to show you of Darius, in his chariot (bottom). As you can see, he’s looking toward Alexander, he’s mesmerized by the great Hellenistic king, but he’s at the same time afraid. And he’s beating a retreat, because you can see that his driver has turned the chariot around. He’s whipping the horse and he’s heading in the other direction, away from Alexander, as is this figure here. We see his horse from the rear, a real tour de force, depicting a horse. But he too is looking at Alexander, quite afraid, and his horse is also turning to go off into the distance. So capturing this very dramatic moment.

Detail of shield on mosaic / Wikimedia Commons

And to me the most wonderful detail is this one is a view of one of the fallen Persian – the shield is falling over on him, but the shield is polished to such a shine that he can see the reflection of his own face. He can see the reflection of his own face in the shield. And this view is particularly good. It’s really an extraordinary work of art. The stones (tesserae) very small, they’re very small, and the reason for that is in large part so that they will blend ultimately, and from a distance it will have the feel of a painting. Certainly when it’s on the wall, probably less so when you stood and looked at it, in its original location, because you’d be looking down on it and you’d be closer to it than here. But it’s an amazing work. And again remember that although the original painting, done by the Greek painter, was probably, did hang on a wall, this one was meant as a floor mosaic in this house — but again a testament to the Greek leanings of this particular patron.

Additional Pompeian Houses

Cave Canem Mosaic, House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, 62-79 CE / Wikimedia Commons

That’s not the only mosaic in Pompeii. It’s the greatest, by far, and it’s without question the finest surviving mosaic in the history of ancient Greek and Roman art. But there are plenty of other mosaics preserved, including at Pompeii, and I want to show you just one. It’s so beloved; it’s even more beloved by most tourists to the site than the Alexander mosaic, which after all you can’t see on the site, you have to see it in Naples, at least the original. But this is the so-called Cave Canem Mosaic, and it belongs to the House of the Tragic Poet, a house that was put up between 62 and 79 CE.  You see what’s meant to be a very ferocious dog with his teeth bared. This one is done much more simply, in only three colors; mainly black and white tesserae (small stones). But you can see that there’s one touch of red, the collar of the dog. And the dog is chained, as you can see, just like that poor plaster cast of the dog that we saw last time, he’s chained. But he’s meant to look very ferocious. He’s baring his teeth. And the whole point, Cave Canem, beware of dog, is for you to be warned of the fact that if you dare step any further than that vestibulum, and try to get into this house or try to steal anything or whatever, this dog will attack. It’s like a security alarm system actually for antiquity. It is located in the vestibulum or the fauces of the house, so that even before you got in as far as the fauces you were warned that you’d better beware of the dog.

House of Menander plan, Pompeii, 2nd century BCE / Wikimedia Commons

I want to show you briefly a couple of other houses, just to make a few small points, well, important points, an important point or two about each of them. The first one is the House of Menander, in Pompeii, which dates to the second century BCE and later. You see it in plan here. The House of Menander, like everything else we’ve seen in the latter part of this lecture, is a Hellenized domus. You can tell that because of the peristyle here. In other respects it’s very similar to everything we’ve seen: the usual fauces, atrium, cubiculum, tablinum system, the large peristyle up here, and some dining spaces opening off that peristyle. What makes this particular house interesting, and the reason that I show it to you, is it’s a good illustration of what happens when over time you remodel, and also over time, when other property becomes available nearby. And we can tell from this plan that what happened here is that the core of the house was added to, as property on either side, additional property, became available, and this owner purchased that property and added it. And the plan becomes much more irregular obviously, because of that. An addition over here, an addition over here; some of that sense of axiality and symmetry is lost when you start to add to either side horizontally. But there are lots of houses like this, and it’s one of the things one needs to keep in mind as one visits the city and as one looks at each of these incredible structures.

Fresco of the Greek poet Menander in the House of Menander / Wikimedia Commons

House of Menander garden / Wikimedia Commons

House of Menander atrium / Wikimedia Commons

House of Menander shrine / Wikimedia Commons

Just very quickly, with regard to the house, just so you have a sense of what it looks like today. It’s named the House of Menander because of this painting (top photo) of the poet on one of the walls of the house. Part of the peristyle is actually quite well preserved, as is the atrium. We’re standing in the atrium (center photo), as you can obviously see, with the impluvium, looking back toward the garden. This is interesting because you can see again the cubicula opening off either side, but also because of the incorporation, just as in the House of the Faun, of columns elsewhere than just in the peristyle. These in that transition place between the atrium and the garden, the so-called tablinum space, these very large columns, stuccoed over, fluted, and you can see in this case, not painted red at the bottom but a kind of bright yellow to match the colors of the wall. So again this incorporation of Greek elements into houses like this one. This is also a good view. It’s a very well-preserved house. We’re back in the atrium again. You can see the way in which the cubicula, the small cubicula open off that. You can see some of the paintings. And here’s the entranceway, through the fauces, and you can see in this particular case a small shrine (bottom photo) that’s located in the corner — the purpose of that, for the household to display the household gods.

House of Pansa plan, Pompeii, 2nd century BCE / Wikimedia Commons

This is another interesting house that I just want to treat fleetingly. It’s the so-called House of Pansa in Pompeii, and it dates to the second century BCE. It’s a very large house, as you can see, like all the other Hellenized domuses, because we see that it has a peristyle with columns here. Like all the others it has everything that we’ve seen: the vestibulum; the fauces; the atrium; the cubicula; the wings or alae; the tablinum, a dining room; and a bevy of shops down here. In fact more shops than we have seen be the case in most of the houses we’ve looked at, at least five, if not six shops down here, which gives us something of a clue to something that might be going on in this house. If we go back to the peristyle and we take a look at that, we see that there’s a pool in between the columns. And you might speculate, “Oh how nice; a nice pleasant pool. You could sit around, you could dip your hands or your feet into that pool; a nice pleasurable spot to enjoy.” Well actually it wasn’t that at all. We think now that it was probably a pool that held fish, and fish–not fish, just attractive fish that one could admire, but actually fish that were sold in one of the shops in front.

House of Pansa peristyle / Wikimedia Commons

One of the reasons we believe that is a scholar by the name of Wilhelmina Jashemski, whose specialty is gardens of Pompeii, has spent her whole scholarly career–and it was well worth it because she’s come up with some extraordinary things–on studying the root marks of the gardens in Pompeii, and she’s been able to demonstrate, through studying those and working with experts on that sort of thing, just what was grown in these gardens. And you find that some of them were pleasure gardens with beautiful flowers, and some of them were produce gardens. And this one was a produce garden, so that there would’ve been vegetables and fruits and so on, that were gardened here and then they were sold in the shops that were located at the front. So here we see a wonderful example of the way in which these houses could even be used by some owners as a means of income for them and for their families, and that was surely the case with the House of Pansa. It also has a very well-preserved peristyle. We can see the columns here around that pool that was used to hold the fish that were sold in one of the shops. The columns are extremely well preserved, including some of the capitals, Ionic capitals, as you can see here, and the fluting, and then the plain, stuccoed over at the bottom, with the paint–you can see in this case, remains of the red paint that would’ve decorated the bottom part of those columns.

House of Marcus Loreius Tiburtinus plan, Pompeii, 62-79 CE / Wikimedia Commons

Another very interesting house, and one that’s important for us because it marks a later development in Roman house architecture in Pompeii, is the House of Marcus Loreius Tiburtinus. Remember Tibur was the ancient word for Tivoli, and so it’s likely that Tiburtinus in fact came from Tivoli, moved to Pompeii, and built this large house sometime between the earthquake and the eruption of Vesuvius, so 62 to 79 CE. Like the House of the Faun, it took up an entire city block. But you can see that the owner has made a different decision than the owner of the House of the Faun, because the house itself takes up very little space, and most of the space is taken up by the garden. We’re less sure here whether this was a pleasurable garden – there are some indications that it might have been – or whether it too was used as a produce garden. We don’t have all those shops on the front, so that seems less likely here. But you can see it’s another example of the way in which these houses are becoming not only more personalized, but also with much more emphasis on the garden and on the dining rooms that are surrounding that garden; we see one of those dining rooms here.

House of Marcus Loreius Tiburtinus lower (first floor) garden / Wikimedia Commons

House of Marcus Loreius Tiburtinus upper (2nd floor) garden / Wikimedia Commons

What’s particularly interesting about this house, and one that helps us round the circle to where I began at the beginning of the lecture when I talked about the fact that it was between 62 and 79 that the Pompeians began to build second stories on their houses. They began to expand vertically, and we saw the cenaculae of the Via dell’Abbondanza building. We see the same thing happening here, that a second story has been added around the living quarters. Now here it was obviously really needed, because they weren’t giving much space to the living quarters, so they had to build up vertically for those. And if you look very carefully at the restored view, you will see that the windows of that second story open off and look out over onto the compluvium of the atrium. You see that there, the compluvium of the atrium, and then around it you can see the second story, with the windows looking out over the compluvium of the house. Then the rest, needless to say, garden.

Myth of Narcissus painting in the House of Marcus Loreius Tiburtinus / Wikimedia Commons

It’s actually pretty well preserved. It’s fun to wander around. You see these wonderful trellises and all kinds of interesting architectural forms that are part of this incredible garden, in the House of Tiburtinus. And you even see there this magnificent grotto, which leads me to believe that we’re beginning to see something interesting here, which is the incorporation of the sorts of things that you would tend to see in villas, not right in the center of a city, but villas that were located either outside the city or along the coast. And the reason I say that here is because we can see this grotto-like effect, where we have what looks like a pebbled effect on the back wall: painted, two columns, Corinthian columns, with a pediment above, and then these two wonderful mythological paintings. This one you probably recognize as the Myth of Narcissus. You can see his reflection in the water; he’s admiring himself in his reflection down below, and then Pyramus and Thisbe over here. What’s important to us is not which myths, but just that Greek myths are incorporated into the scheme here; so this pretension toward things Greek. But most important this grotto-like element that you would tend to find in a villa along the Amalfi Coast or some such, rather than in downtown Pompeii. So we’re beginning to see this interesting merging, at least for the very well-to-do, the rich and famous as we–the lifestyles of the rich and famous, as this lecture is called; we begin to see that in some of the houses, especially in the later period.

Villa of the Mysteries

Villa of the Mysteries plan phase 1, Pompeii, 3rd-2nd century BCE / Wikimedia Commons

Villa of the Mysteries plan phase 2, Pompeii, 3rd-2nd century BCE / Wikimedia Commons

The second to last building that I want to show you is an extremely important one. It is the Villa of the Mysteries, in Pompeii. It is indeed a villa. So it’s a nice segue from the Loreius Tiburtinus House. What started to happen in Pompeii, even though there was quite a bit of space initially, as time went on things became more crowded, and the really well-to-do began to move outside the city, to the suburbs, so to speak, right outside the city — interestingly enough, right along those same streets that formed the cemeteries, of the city. So we see the villas and the cemeteries intermixing in a very natural way. But this very important villa was part of that development. And I want to say–it went through a couple of phases, and I want to show you the two phases here.

Villa of the Mysteries reconstruction / Wikimedia Commons

What we see here is something very interesting. Looking at the top, we see the entrance into the villa. We see the peristyle there, the atrium there, and the tablinum there. Now what do you think about that? It’s very strange. We’ve never seen a house or villa that departed from the scheme that we talked about before, from this movement from the entranceway, the fauces, into the peristyle first, then into the atrium, then into the tablinum. It’s a different progression. We might think to ourselves, well this must be the whim of this particular patron, but Vitruvius tells us otherwise. Vitruvius tells us about villa design, and he tells us the major distinction between Roman villas and Roman houses, in terms of their plan, is that in Roman villas you enter into the peristyle first. So it shows again the growing interest in peristyles. And yet this peristyle, very, very early indeed, because it belongs to the first phase, which is even before the early second century B.C., which is when the second phase is dated. We can also see here a great podium, and I’ll say a bit more about the podium as we look at Phase Two.

Villa of the Mysteries exterior with podium / Wikimedia Commons

In Phase Two of the house, you can see the entranceway; the fauces; the peristyle first, a very large peristyle; the atrium of the house; the tablinum. So this different order described by Vitruvius. We can see also that it rests on a tall podium. It is a podium that looks exactly like the podia we saw for the great sanctuaries at Tivoli and Palestrina. We see that underneath that podium, just as at those — or Jupiter Anxur at Terracina, just as at Terracina — we see there’s a cryptoporticus or underground passageway, underneath that podium. It is barrel vaulted, and the concrete is faced with opus incertum work, just as we saw it in the sanctuaries. Why have this kind of podium here? To give the villa an even grander appearance, to put it up high on top of a podium, and also to help to muffle the sounds from the street–remember, this is a major street, a thoroughfare that’s just left the city and has become an intercity road–to muffle the sounds that one would hear from that, by raising the villa in a sense away from them.

Villa of the Mysteries peristyle / Wikimedia Commons

The most important point though that I can make about this villa, and something that speaks to the future, is the fact that we are beginning to see–we’ve talked about how enclosed and plain and severe the earlier exteriors of Roman houses were, even up through the Hellenized domus, except perhaps for the addition of a pilaster or a column here and there. Here we see something entirely new happening. We see that the architect has designed these elements that project out of the rectangle of the villa plan, and are curved; and you can see one over here, and most importantly one over here. It’s like a giant bay window, with views that can be seen through that bay window. So this projecting out into the viewer’s space and so on, and also into the space of those who live inside this building, offer wonderful panoramas and vistas of the sea beyond. The sea was closer to Pompeii at that point than it actually is today: beautiful views out onto the sea, and in a sense the exterior of the structure breaking out of its rectangular bonds to do something entirely different from what has come before.

Villa of the Mysteries restored view / Wikimedia Commons

This is a restored view of what that structure would’ve looked like in its second phase, and I think you can see that very well here, resting on this tall podium. Arcades, just as at the sanctuaries; these are blind arcades, just as we saw there. Concrete opus incertum facing. But look at the difference that having this bay window has made. They’ve opened up the wall. The windows are very large. No more slit windows. Big panoramic windows, projecting elements, also with very large windows, there’s hardly any wall there whatsoever. The rest is the same. The compluvium, the peristyle, all look like they did in the Hellenized domus. But this is a big change and one that looks forward again to the future.

This is a view of it as it looks today: the Villa of the Mysteries. You can see the great podium over here, with its blind arcades, as well as part of the house. And look at how open that house is. Now part of this is villas. There’s more of a desire when you build a villa to open it up, more so than a house in town. But it’s also an important development for architecture as a whole. This is a view of the peristyle court. It’s a little different than any other peristyle court we’ve seen, because you can see they have embedded the columns into the wall of the–there’s a wall around; the columns are embedded into that, which is a different motif. And I thought you’d be amused to see that the Villa of the Mysteries is one of those — and there are several places in Italy, many places in Italy, where people go in particular to take photos, after their wedding, to take photos of themselves: photo-op places. And the Villa of the Mysteries is one of them. So don’t be at all surprised, if you are there, especially on a weekend, if you see a wedding party taking photos. You can just imagine the kinds of poses that people take in places like this.

House of the Large Fountain, Pompeii, 62-79 CE / Wikimedia Commons

I just want to close, just very briefly, with this last house, or this mosaic fountain from this last house. It’s the so-called House of the Large Fountain, so-called because of this extraordinary fountain that was found there and still exists. Dates to between the earthquake the eruption of Vesuvius, 62 to 79 CE. It’s very well preserved. You see it here on the right-hand side of the screen. It shows you that mosaics could be applied to any kind of surface by these very talented artists, in this case applied to a curved surface, as you can see very well here, once again using multi-colored tesserae, as we saw in the Alexander mosaic. And you can only imagine how lovely it was when there was actually a water display and so on, in fact, so lovely that it was imitated almost exactly for the Getty Villa in Malibu, which I show you on the left-hand side of the screen. Many of you have probably been there.