New Pompeii Discoveries Shed Light On Middle-Class Roman Lifestyle

Excavations at Italy’s archeological park of Pompeii have shed light on the lives of the lower and middle classes in the ancient city, situated near modern-day Naples.

The discovery of several rooms containing furniture and household objects gives an insight into a stratum of society hitherto little investigated.

It is part of site director Gabriel Zuchtriegel’s push to reveal more about the lives of ordinary citizens when the violent volcanic eruption of 79 AD wiped out the city.

Pompeii excavations reveal household life moments before disaster struck

The latest finds are part of an excavation project into a series of rooms in a domus (home) that began in 2018.

The rooms are located in the House of Lararium, named for the discovery in 2018 of a room called a lararium devoted to protective domestic spirits called lares.

In the four small rooms, archeologists have unearthed furnishings and household objects that give a snapshot of life just before Vesuvius’ furious eruption buried Pompeii in ash.

Plates, vases, amphorae and terracotta objects have been discovered in chests and cabinets, hastily abandoned as disaster struck the city.

More unusual objects have also been uncovered, including an intricately decorated incense burner shaped like a cradle and a collection of seven waxed tablets bound by a cord.

A wooden chest left open as occupants fled the eruption held a lantern with a bas-relief depiction of the transformation of Zeus into an eagle.

In the hallway, a wooden cabinet was recovered that had been damaged when the ceiling gave way during the volcanic explosion. On the highest shelf, small jugs, amphorae, and glass plates were found.

In a bedroom, archeologists unearthed fragments of a bed frame and traces of the form and fabric of a pillow. The bed is identical to three others discovered last year in the Room of Slaves in a nearby domus.

What was life like for Pompeii’s middle classes?

Investigations of recent decades have focused on the extravagant lives of Pompeii’s upper class revealing opulent villas with elaborate fresco decoration.

But Zuchtriegel has been working to enrich the understanding of the city’s other residents, including servants and the middle classes.

“In the Roman empire, there was a significant proportion of the population that struggled with their social status and for whom daily bread was anything taken for granted,’’ Zuchtriegel said in a statement.

“It was a vulnerable class during political crises and famines, but also ambitious to climb the social ladder.”

Zuchtriegel adds that the owner of the House of Lararium was wealthy enough to embellish the courtyard with an ornately decorated cistern and sumptuous frescoes but funds were insufficient to decorate the other five rooms of the house.

“We do not know who the inhabitants of the house were, but certainly the culture of otium (leisure) which inspired the wonderful decoration of the courtyard represented for them more a future they dreamed of than a lived reality,” the director said.

Several recent excavations have focused on a northern district of the city known as Regio V. The area remains largely unexplored and excavations are part of a broader intervention involving the maintenance and stabilization of this zone.

“Pompeii is an ongoing discovery that continues to inspire awe […] for its unique quality of being an inexhaustible laboratory of study and learning,” said Massimo Osanna, ex-director of Pompeii.

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