POMPEII: ELECTORAL INSCRIPTIONS DISCOVERED INSIDE A HOUSE
“Vote buying” could even be promoted during dinners
EXCAVATIONS HAVE ALSO REVEALED THE LAST SACRIFICE ON
THE HOUSEHOLD ALTAR
Electoral inscriptions in a house have emerged from the latest excavations in the central area of ancient Pompeii, as reported in the online scientific journal of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, the E-Journal degli Scavi di Pompei ( http://pompeiisites.org/e-journal-degli-scavi-di-pompei/il-larario-della-casa-ix-10-1/ and http://pompeiisites.org/e-journal-degli-scavi-di-pompei/passione-elettorale-nelle-mura-domestiche-un-larario-una-macina-un-candidato/). The new excavations currently being carried out in Regio IX are intended to improve the state of preservation of the houses and shops along via di Nola.
Following the discovery of a still life depicting flat bread and a glass of wine ( http://pompeiisites.org/e-journal-degli-scavi-di-pompei/una-natura-morta-con-xenia dallo-scavo-della-casa-ix-101-a-pompei/), a series of electoral inscriptions, the ancient equivalent of today’s electoral manifestos and posters, have now been found in the room that contained the lararium, the household shrine. It is a quite extraordinary find.
This kind of inscription is usually found on the outer façades of buildings where people could read the names of the candidates who wished to become city magistrates.
However, their presence inside the house – as explained by the authors of the article published today – may be related to the custom of organising events and dinners designed to promote the electoral campaign in the houses of candidates and their friends.
The inscriptions invite people to vote for Aulus Rustius Verus, a candidate for the position of aedile. He was a figure from the last phase of the existence of Pompeii, already known from other inscriptions, who, together with Julius Polybius, the owner of a splendid house in via dell’Abbondanza, reached the highest office – that of duumvir – in the 70s AD.
The house, which is currently being excavated, appears to have belonged to a supporter of Aulus Rustius Verus, possibly one of his freedmen or a friend. It also contained a bakery which consisted of a large oven, near to which three victims of the eruption, two women and a boy who died due to the collapse of a roof during the first eruptive phase, were found several months ago. (http://pompeiisites.org/e-journal-degli-scavi-di-pompei/ri-scavare-pompeinuovi-dati-interdisciplinari-dagli-ambienti-indagati-a-fine-800-di-regio-ix-10-1-4/)
The presence of the bakery should not be considered a factor of secondary importance, particularly in regard to the electoral campaign in ancient Pompeii, where what is now known as “vote buying” was standard practice, as Maria Chiara Scappaticcio, professor of Latin at Federico II University in Naples and co-author of the recently published study, explains: “Aediles and bakers collaborated in a way that verged on being illegal and, like Julius Polybius, Aulus Rustius Verus may well have realised from the start, when he was scheming to become aedile and at the height of his electoral campaign, that voters (above all else) live on bread.”
This may also explain why the candidate’s initials, A.R.V., appear on a millstone made of volcanic rock, left in the atrium of the house where renovation work was being carried out at the time of the eruption. Aulus Rustius Verus probably directly funded the bakery, both for economic and political reasons.
The remains of a votive offering, probably made shortly before the eruptions, were found on the masonry altar of the large painted Lararium (shrine), marked by two stucco serpents, known from a few rare parallels.
Archaeobotanical and archaeozoological analyses have led to the identification of the contents of the sacrifice and have revealed various parts of the ritual carried out there.
The offering consisted mainly of figs and dates that had been burned in front of the altar. The fuel used to burn the offering consists of numerous fragmentary remains of olive stones to which were added pinecones with pine nuts, an essential part of the rituals that were performed, especially in lararia (household shrines).
The ritual culminated by placing a whole egg directly on the masonry altar of the lararium. The altar was then covered with a tile.
Traces of previous offerings have also been identified and, together with the ones already discovered, include grapes, fish and the meat of mammals.
“The study of this extremely interesting context is an exemplary operation on two different accounts”, states Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii. “Firstly, it was an interdisciplinary initiative between the Park and Federico II University, involving archaeologists, archaeobotanists, archaeozoologists, archaeo-epigraphers, restorers and architects. Secondly, thanks to the e-journal of the excavations of Pompeii, we can now share new discoveries even while excavations are underway, almost live, in accordance with scientific formats and standards. As far as I am aware, we are the first archaeological site in the world to engage in this form of scientific transparency: we are convinced that this new initiative will make Pompeii an international model for a new form of accessibility to data as a result of the opportunities provided by digital technologies. The future of archaeology lies here.”