Understanding the Lives of the Lower and Middle Class in Pompeii

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In Pompeii, new insights are being gained about the classes that were vulnerable during political crises and food shortages.

A chest with an open lid, a wooden crockery cupboard and a three-legged table decorated with decorative bowls. They are among the latest discoveries to provide new insights into middle-class life in Pompeii before the violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the ancient Roman city in volcanic rubble.

The Archaeological Park of Pompeii, one of Italy’s most important tourist attractions, has announced the latest finds.

Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, says the excavation of rooms in a domus, or house, first uncovered in 2018, has revealed valuable details about the domestic environment of the ordinary citizens of the city destroyed in 79 AD.

Understanding the Lives of the Lower and Middle Class in Pompeii 1
A chest with the lid left open and a three-legged coffee table decorated with decorative bowls discovered in Pompeii.

In recent years, excavations have largely focused on the stately, elaborately frescoed villas of Pompeii’s upper-class residents. But archaeological activity in the expanding area near present-day Naples has increasingly focused on the lives of the middle class as well as servants and other enslaved people.

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“In the Roman empire, there was a large mass of the population who struggled with their social status and for whom daily bread was quite important,” Zuchtriegel said. A vulnerable class during political crises and food shortages, but also ambitious to climb the social ladder.”

Among the finds unearthed on Saturday (August 6) are furniture and household items from the domus, called the Lararium House.

Understanding the Lives of the Lower and Middle Class in Pompeii 2
Well-preserved decorative bowls from Pompeii.

Zuchtriegel notes that although there was a very well-decorated cistern in the courtyard, the financial resources were not enough to decorate the five rooms of the house.

The walls of one room were unpainted and the floor was apparently used for storage.

In one bedroom, archaeologists found the remains of a bed skeleton with a fabric imprint of a pillow. The bed is identical to three beds unearthed last year in a small room in another dwelling that archaeologists believe was used as a storage and sleeping room for a family of enslaved residents of Pompeii.

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Among the bedroom finds announced on Saturday were the remains of a wooden chest with an open lid. Although the weight of falling beams and ceiling panels after the volcanic eruption heavily damaged the trunk, objects found inside include an oil lamp decorated with a relief depicting the ancient Greek god Zeus transforming into an eagle.

Understanding the Lives of the Lower and Middle Class in Pompeii 3
Gabriel Zuchtriegel in one of the rooms of a house in Pompeii.

Nearby was a small, three-legged round table, similar to the coffee tables fashionable today.

As archaeologists uncovered the storage room, a wooden cupboard was revealed, the backrest still intact but the shelves collapsed. Archaeologists believe the cupboard had at least four panel doors and contained pots and dishes for the nearby kitchen.

Other objects found in the house include a large fragment of a translucent, framed slab in bright cobalt blue and emerald hues and a well-preserved incense burner in the shape of a cradle.

The Guardian. August 6, 2022.

Ali Esen

Istanbul University, Department of Mathematics. Interested in science and technology.

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