The fresco of a Priapus, like that of the famous house of the Vettii, emerges from the excavations of the Regio V
A prestigious dwelling on Via del Vesuvio, with elegantly decorated rooms, and a fresco at the entrance depicting Priapus, in the act of weighing his member on scales, has emerged during re-profiling works on the slopes of Regio V which face onto Via del Vesuvio, within the site of the new excavations.
The ongoing operations form part of the wider stabilisation works on the excavation fronts, which mark the 22 unexcavated hectares of Pompeii, envisaged by the Great Pompeii Project and focusing on approximately 3km of the fronts.
The figure of Priapus, well known at Pompeii for the depiction of him which stands at the entrance of the House of the Vettii, now appears for a second time in this nearby domus. A god of Greco-Roman mythology, according to the majority of sources he was the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus. (Minor legends instead name him as the son of Aphrodite and Hermes, Ares, Adonis or Zeus). Hera, jealous of the adulterous relationship of Zeus with Aphrodite, took revenge on Priapus and endowed him with a grotesque appearance, and enormous genitals.
The phallus, as often depicted in frescoes and mosaics of the age, was held to be the origin of life, and to the Ancient Romans it represented an apotropaic symbol, to ward off bad luck and to wish for fertility, health, good business and wealth.
It is indeed no coincidence that a little further down the street, on a wall of Vicolo dei Balconi, another phallus in painted grey tufo has emerged.
The domus along Via del Vesuvio which is coming to light is yielding not only the fresco of Priapus located at the entrance (fauces), but also various finely decorated rooms, including a wall with the face of a lady within a clipeus and a bedroom (cubiculum) decorated with an exquisite upper frame and two small paintings (pinakes) in the central part: one with a seascape and the other with a still life, flanked by miniature animals.
Proceeding towards the south of Via del Vesuvio, the upper section of a fountain/nymphaeum has been brought to light, the façade of which faces towards the interior of the insula, where it likely opened out onto a garden. The surface thus far exposed (the upper section of the columns and the upper section of the niche and pediment) is coated in vitreous glass tesserae and shells, which form complex decorative motifs. A bird is depicted above one of the columns.
“Safeguarding of heritage at Pompeii, carried out correctly and systematically, leads to extraordinary finds - declares Director General Massimo Osanna - “Research, understanding (and thus excavation), protection and conservation are all closely linked aspects, and cannot be advanced if not in a systemic manner. Via di Vesuvio (from which the new frescoes come), Via delle Nozze d’Argento and Via dei Balconi, where the stabilisation works are currently focused, have previously been subjected to repeated collapses and loss of archaeological material (such as the face of Priapus). Non-systematic and retrospectively conducted interventions, when the damage is already done, temporarily held off problems without solving them. The current project however is an impressive intervention characterised by both a systematic approach and methodological rigor, which will resolve the most serious problems in their entirety, re-profiling the excavation fronts across their entire extent. For the first time at Pompeii, the forces deployed will include a large interdisciplinary team of professionals, putting archaeologists, architects, engineers, geologists, vulcanologists and restorers into action on a daily basis. The team of archaeologists also consists of stratigraphic excavation specialists, paleobotanists, archaeozoologists and physical anthropologists - in other words, all professions which allow us to develop a site of ‘all-inclusive’ archaeology. Professionals from ISCR have also been involved on the matter of the frescoes.”