Pompeii Archaeologists Have Excavated A 2,000-Year-Old Middle Class Home

Pompeii’s archaeological park announced Saturday that it had uncovered several furnished rooms and household objects in a middle-class home in the city, it said in a press release.

The discovery, according to the archaeologists, sheds considerable light on the lives of middle-class citizens in Pompeii. The team began excavating rooms in the House of the Lararium, a middle-class domus (home) in 2018. The house is so named because it contains a lavish room with a niche devoted to worshiping lares, or domestic spirits believed to protect the household.

“In the Roman Empire there was a significant proportion of the population which fought for their social status and for whom the ‘daily bread’ was anything but taken for granted.’’ Pompeii’s director Gabriel Zuchtriegel said in the statement. “It was a social class that was vulnerable during political crises and famines, but also ambitious to climb the social ladder.”

Archaeologists investigated two rooms above and below the lararium and one outside of the house.

On the lower floor, the team uncovered a bedroom and a storage room. Within the bedroom, they found a partially preserved bed frame as well as a trace of fabric from a pillow. A simple cot, the bed is similar to those unearthed in a small combination storage and bedroom for an enslaved family at the Villa of Civita Giuliana last year. Alongside the bed was a wooden chest, holding a small plate and an oil lamp with a bas-relief of Zeus transforming into an eagle. Next to the wooden chest was a three-legged accent table with decorative bowls and plates. Small jugs and amphorae were also placed around the room.

The storage room, however, is one of the only rooms found so far without plaster walls and with only a simple earthen floor.

“The owner was able to embellish the courtyard with the lararium and the basin for the cistern with exceptional paintings, yet evidently funds were insufficient to decorate the five rooms of the house, one of which was used for storage,” Zuchtriegel said.

In a hallway just outside of the storage room and kitchen was a wooden cabinet with at least five shelves, which would have held cookware and dishes—some of which have been recovered.

Archaeologists excavating the lower levels of the House of the Lararium in Pompeii, Italy, August 2022.

On the upper floor, which upon collapsing had fallen into the floors below, archaeologists found a number of objects left behind, including seven waxed tablets held together with a cord, a set of bronze vessels, and an incense burner shaped like a cradle.

Detailed lathwork and decorated boiserie were found in the room behind the House of the Lararium.

“We do not know who the inhabitants of the house were,” Zuchtriegel said, “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.”

One of Italy’s top tourist attractions, the ancient Roman city of Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash following the 79 C.E. eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the Gulf of Naples. Ongoing excavations of the city have provided vast insight into life in antiquity, primarily of the upper and lower classes, including the unearthing of elite homes, public brothels, and an amphitheater.

Excavations of the area, Regio V, one of the largest districts of the ancient city, are still ongoing.

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