POMPEII: THE LIFE OF SLAVES IN CIVITA GIULIANA
A procedure using the technique of plaster casts
Furniture from a room assigned to slaves has been found in the Roman villa of Civita Giuliana, about 600 metres north of ancient Pompeii. It looks like a photograph, exposing a situation of precariousness and subordination. However, it is an image from almost 2,000 years ago, made using the technique of plaster casts, a method which exists only in and around Pompeii. Objects such as wooden furniture and textiles, as well as bodies of victims of the AD 79 eruption, were covered by the pyroclastic surge, which then hardened and became solid while the organic matter decomposed and left a void in the hardened ash: a mould that, when filled with plaster, revealed the original shape.
The new room, referred to as room "a," looks different from the one known as room "c," reconstructed in November 2021 in which were found three beds and that served simultaneously as a storage room. What has now emerged suggests a definite hierarchy within the servants' quarters. While one of the two beds found in recent weeks is of the same workmanship as those discovered in room ‘c’ in 2021, extremely simple and without a mattress, the other is of a more comfortable and expensive type, known in the bibliography as a "letto a spalliera” or “bedstead." Traces of red-coloured decorations are still visible in the cinerite on two of the side panels. In the recently excavated room, in addition to the two beds there are two small cupboards, also partially preserved as casts, several ceramic amphorae and vessels, and several tools, including the blade of an iron hoe.
Meanwhile, the micro-excavation of the ceramic vessels and amphorae from room "c" has revealed the presence of at least three rodents: two small mice in an amphora and a rat in a jug, placed under one of the beds and from which the animal apparently tried to escape when it died in the pyroclastic flow of the eruption. Details that once again underscore the precarious and unhygienic conditions in which the lowest members of society of the time lived.
The new archaeological exploration of the villa of Civita Giuliana, which had already been the subject of excavations in 1907-8, began in 2017 on the basis of a collaboration between the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, as the body responsible for the protection of the area surrounding the ancient city, and the Torre Annunziata Public Prosecutor's Office. Together with the Carabinieri they had uncovered a longstanding clandestine excavation around the villa, which was later halted and those involved were prosecuted both criminally and civilly.
"What has been reconstructed confirms the need to continue scientific research in a place that, thanks to the work of the judiciary and the Carabinieri, has been seized from the looters and illicit trafficking of archaeological goods to tell remarkable moments of daily life in antiquity. What is being learned about the material conditions and social organisation of the time opens new horizons for historical and archaeological studies. Pompeii represents a unique site that the whole world envies. With the conclusion of the Great Pompeii Project, we are planning new initiatives and new funding to continue research and conservation," says Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano.
"We know that the owners used various privileges, including the possibility of forming a family, albeit without any legal protection, to bind some slaves more closely to the villa, also with the purpose of having them as allies in guarding the others. What emerges here is the social structure of servitude that was meant to prevent escapes and forms of resistance, not least because traces of window grilles, padlock, and shackles are missing. It seems that control was mainly through the internal organisation of the servants, and not through physical barriers and constraints," explains Pompeii Archaeological Park director Gabriel Zuchtriegel.
"We are committed to continuing research and improving the accessibility and understanding of a place that, like no other in the ancient world tells the story of the everyday life of the Romans. With the reopening of the Antiquarium at Boscoreale next autumn, we plan a room to inform the public about the ongoing excavations at Civita Giuliana, the same ones that, under the direction of my predecessor, Massimo Osanna, led to the discovery of the ceremonial chariot recently on display in Rome, at the Baths of Diocletian. In addition, I would like to thank the team engaged in the archaeological excavation, and the Prosecutor's Office led by Nunzio Fragliasso for their excellent work."
For the Director General of Museums, Massimo Osanna: "The research at Civita Giuliana is an admirable example of the safeguarding and enrichment of our heritage. A solid collaboration between the Ministry of Culture, the Public Prosecutor's Office at Torre Annunziata, and law enforcement agencies have already made it possible to excavate and reveal an impressive villa complex and its extraordinary furnishings, including the wedding carriage. The new plaster cast objects confirm the relevance of the project. I hope this work will soon lead to the return to the Pompeian community and to the wider public, an archaeological area of great importance that tells another piece of the biography of people, from different social classes, who lived 2000 years ago."
More information can be found in the E-Journal of the Pompeii excavations at the following link: http://pompeiisites.org/e-journal-degli-scavi-di-pompei/of-mice-and-men/