Pompeii Home Of Slaves Turned Roman Elite Opens After 20-Year Restoration

Restoration of a Pompeii home thought to be owned by two former slaves turned wine traders has just finished after twenty years, and the home is now open for visitors to witness a snapshot of elite Roman life, circa 79 AD.

Known as the House of Vettii, it was discovered in the late nineteenth century, but constant pillaging, flooding, and bureaucratic neglect prevented the site from being restored until 2002, the Associated Press reported. Intense restoration has now been able to reveal the numerous frescoes — or watercolor paintings on walls and ceilings — in the home. The paintings depict many scenes from Greek mythology, which reflect the values and narratives common to elite Roman life.

“The House of the Vetti is like the history of Pompeii and actually of Roman society within one house,” Pompeii’s director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said. “We’re seeing here the last phase of the Pompeian wall painting with incredible details, so you can stand before these images for hours and still discover new details.”

The two owners of the house were named Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus. Sharing the first two names while having different surnames is an indicator that the two likely had no biological relation and were slaves owned by the same man, likely named Aulus Vettius, according to The Guardian. It is believed that their substantial upward economic mobility after achieving freedom was thanks to wine trading.

Zuchtriegel said that the two men “had an incredible career after [slavery] and reached the highest ranks of local society, at least economically,” taking note of the impressive domus and garden. “They evidently tried to show their new status also through culture and through Greek mythological paintings, and it’s all about saying, ‘We’ve made it and so we are part of this elite.’”

A depiction of Hercules as a child crushing two snakes can be found in the living room. Aside from many frescoes, viewers can find marble baths and tables surrounding the garden.

Arianna Spinosa, Pompeii’s architect director of restoration, called the home “iconic,” saying that it “represents the Pompeiian domus par excellence, not only because of the frescoes of exceptional importance, but also because of its layout and architecture.”

According to National Geographic, much of Pompeii was well-preserved thanks to the thick volcanic ash from the eruption of the nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, in 79 AD. The high quality of preservation has allowed archaeologists and historians to almost step back in time and study Roman life. About one-third of the city remains buried. However, the real challenge is not uncovering the rest, rather it is continuing to preserve what has already been uncovered, given it is exposed to weather, pollution, and tourists.

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