Discovery of drawings of gladiators made by children before the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79

New mythological paintings found in a room within the same insula

Two victims of the eruption discovered by the main entrance of the house


Gladiators and hunters, painted by small children with charcoal on the walls of a service courtyard in the House of the Colonnaded Cenaculum in via dell’Abbondanza at Pompeii, help to shed light on childhood in ancient Rome. As reported by the authors of an article published today in the E-Journal of the excavations of Pompeiihttps://pompeiisites.org/e-journal-degli-scavi-di-pompei/, exposure to extreme forms of violence, even among very young children (estimated to be between 5-7 years old), does not seem to be a problem related exclusively to our own era, surrounded by video games and social media, with the difference that in antiquity the blood splattered in the arena was real and few people regarded it as a “problem”, with all the possible effects on the psychological and mental development of Pompeian children.

In the insula(block) containing the House of the Chaste Lovers, where the discovery took place as part of a project aimed at restoration, excavation and improving accessibility and which can now be visited “from above” thanks to a raised walkway, the Archaeological Park of Pompeii is involved in an interdisciplinary research project designed to enhance the wealth of new data.

The Park of Pompeii has entered into a partnership with the Department of Child Neuropsychiatry of Federico II University of Naples in order to study the children’s drawings. The remains of two victims, a man and a woman, were discovered in the lapilli from the eruption of Vesuvius in front of the closed door of the House of the Painters at Work (the name stems from the fact that the house was being repainted at the time of the eruption); a small cubiculum(“bedroom”) came to light inside the house. It wasfurnished as a small study close to the tablinum (reception room) of the house. The mythological scenes include an unusual small painting, which has no parallels withing the repertoire of Vesuvian art, depicting a young hooded boy, possibly the deceased son of the owners.

As from today- 28 May2024- it is possible to visit the excavation every day from 10.30 amto 6.00 pm by following a completely “accessible” route withan itineraryfree from architectural barriers (in keeping with aims of the “Pompei per Tutti”–“Pompeii for all” -project). The tour includes a lift that enables people with special needs to reach the raised walkway.

The raised walkway will offer visitors an innovative view from above of the whole insula as well as the architecture of Roman houses with the alternating series of rooms with their different functions, ranging from productive and commercial activities to residential use. It will also enable them to watch the activities involved in the excavation as part of a process of a new and improved form of access to the public.

Entrance to the area, which is situated alongvia dell’Abbondanza,will be restricted to a set number of visitors in order to ensure the best possible and safe access, also taking into account the ongoing activities of the excavation.

“On a regular and increasingly frequent basis, Pompeii is throwing up a series of wonderful new discoveries and confirms its status as an extraordinary treasure chest of information,” stated Gennaro Sangiuliano, the Italian Minister for Culture. “This is why we have decided that the budget should expressly include funding for the excavations at Pompeii where numerous digs are being carried out that are bringing to the attention of the general public new wonders on an almost daily basis. After the completion of the Grande Progetto Pompei (Greater Pompeii Project), we want to give a stable, organised structure to this incredible site which attracts tens of thousands of visitors every day”.

“With the facilitated “Pompei per tutti” (Pompeii for all) tour, launched in 2016 and since then the subject of gradual implementations and development, together with the new excavation campaigns that have brought to light incredible discoveries over the last few years, a new exciting, inclusiveapproach has been adopted to the enhancement of the site,”addsMassimo Osanna, Director General of Museums. Today’s opening, the achievement of an important and complex excavation, launched as part of the Grande Progetto Pompei(Greater Pompeii Project), is especially significant.

It offers the added value of accessibility and the inclusion of all visitors, including the whole set of activities that take place behind the scenes, such as the main activities of excavation and restoration, which have now become visible to all without any barriers.”



Among the various rooms unearthed during the excavations, elegant frescoed walls painted in the Fourth Style have emerged in the House of the Painters at Work. The upper part with a white background is decorated with mythological figures (centaurs, sirens and griffins) which frame the image of a deity on each side.It is possible to identify Aphrodite, Apollo andDionysusand a fourth deity (very likely a female figure) who is hard to make out due to a crack in the wall concerned.

This room, which is still being excavated, was entirely destroyed by the pyroclastic flow. After the mechanical removal of the cinerite (the sedimentary rock formed of ash), the painted surfaceswere cleaned and stabilised byrestorers.The middle register featurespanels on a red background with small paintings that were painted directly onto the surface. Perseus and Andromedaare depicted on one side while the purification of a heroappears on the other.

On another wall, a highly unusual smaller painting depicts a young boy wearing a traveller’s hood and cloak,surrounded by large bunches of grapes and pomegranates; beside him is a puppy. Situated close to the entrance that looks onto the triporticus (a garden with a portico arranged in three wings), the scene creates the illusion of perspective with the garden.

Another room in the House of the Painters at Work, which had been partly explored in previous excavation campaigns, has been identified as the main entrance of theHouse of the Painters at Workvia the western lane.

The excavation has led to the discovery of twoelderly victims,a man and a woman who, once they had entered the door on the lane, had sought shelter in the fauces(access corridor), a small space still free from the lapilli that had fallen during the first phase of the eruption, subsequently meeting their deaths due to the grey lapilli that inevitably piled up later on.

During the excavations and work designed to remove volcanic material in theHouse of the Colonnaded Cenaculum, several charcoal drawingswere found on one of the walls of a corridor near the service courtyard about 1.50 metres above floor level. Due to the simplicity of their execution, the naivety of thestrokes and the simplification of the iconography, they appear to have been done by a child who may well have climbed up onto the scaffolding mounted for the work being carried out on the house. The drawings in this room depict two scenes in the parts that have been preserved:a scene of gladiatorial combat, with two gladiators facing each other and a venatio (animal hunt), with twobestiarii (beast fighters)holding long spears, facing what are probably intended to be a pair of wild boars. To the right there is the head of a bird of prey, possibly an eagle.

"Together with psychologists from Federico II University of Naples, we have reached the conclusion thatthe drawings of gladiators and hunters were almost certainly based on first-hand viewing and not from pictorial models,” statedGabriel Zuchtriegel, the Park Director. “A child or perhapsseveral children, playing in this courtyard amongst the kitchens, toilet and flowerbeds used for cultivating vegetables, had probably witnessed fights in the amphitheatre,thus coming into contact with an extreme form of spectacularised violence, also including executions of criminals and slaves. The drawings show us the impact of this on the imagination of a young child who had obviously experienced the same developmental phases that children have today. Cephalopods, figures with arms and legs that emerge directly from the head, are a characteristic way of drawing the human figure employed bychildren to this day. It is clearly an anthropological constant,irrespective of artistic and cultural fashions."

In another space identified as an area used both for the storage/draining of amphorae and for productive purposes, another series of drawings have emerged on several walls. They are not situated at great heights, between 0.20 and 0.50 metres from floor level, probably within reach of a child.

They consist of three small hands outlined with charcoal, two scenes of gladiatorial combat, a drawing that seems to depict two figures playing with a ball, an animal that can probably be identified as a wild boar and, lastly, a boxing scene in which one of the two boxers is lying on the ground.

Besides containing a drawing of another boxing scene, which once again immortalises the “knock-out” of one of the two athletes, the east wall also has a more complex scene painted by another person in a period pre-dating the (still ill-defined) period of existence of the room, since the drawing is partly covered by cream-coloured whitewash which may have been done to conceal this drawing.

The earlier drawing was not done using charcoal, but rather with a red mineral pigment, possibly ochre. The drawing is a schematic depiction, albeit with a highly ironic aim, of a maritime scene, featuring two large ships surrounded by fish, objects that relate to fishing (fishpot?) and below a largerfish with long jowls, plausibly a mullet, and two male members, one of which has been caught by a hook.



The insula of the House of the Chaste Lovers (IX 12) is part of the central district of the ancient city ofPompeii (Regio IX), and is situated along Viadell’Abbondanza. Itoccupies an area of about 2.600 sq.m. (70 x 37 m),about half of which has been excavated

The core of the project –divided into two separate parts–involved the following phases:the testing, designand construction of a new roofing system; archaeological excavations; re-profiling of the excavation face; securing the walls; restoration of the surfaces and the archaeological elements.A team of professionals (architects, restorers, engineers, and archaeologists) initially took part in an exploratory fact-finding study of all the specific aspects and features of the area (architectural survey, building techniques, historical phases, state of preservation of the material, mechanical features and structural deterioration, etc.) in order to get an “overall picture” of the area and the structures within it prior to excavation, including the use of in situ instrumental analysis (geognostic survey, physical survey, structural survey etc.) and laboratory analysis (analysis of samples).Once the pre-existing roof was shown to be ineffective for protecting the structuresin their currentstate of preservation, a study was carried out to design a new roofing systemthat freed the insula of any elements that would restrict access to the areas and was only supported along the two side alleyways.Following thorough archaeological surveying, the position of the foundations of the 12 columns supporting the structure was located with complete precision.

The first phase of work has now been completed.It began with the programme funded by the ‘Grande Progetto Pompei’(Greater Pompeii Project) and was entrusted to a temporary consortium led by the firm B5 srl (which, under the supervision of the architect Francesca Brancacciowas responsible for directing works during the first part, with the engineer Vincenzo Calvanese, Head of the Park’s Technical Office acting as project manager). The work involved shoring up the excavation faces and the complete renovation of the roofing with the construction of a reticulated spatial structure that covers, with a single span, the entire surface of the insula for over 2,000 sq.m., as well as the creation of a raised walkway that has an overall length of about 240 linear metres. The first part of the work was undertaken by RTI Fratelli Navarra / Icores / Cassisiand cost an overall sum of about8 millionEuros, largely financed with National Operational Programme(NOP) European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Culture and Development 2014-2020.

The activities currently underway concern the second phase interventions designed to secure and restore the structures and decorative features that have emerged.

The second part of the work is being carried out by the architect Paolo Mighetto, the Project Manager, and the architect Arianna Spinosa,the Director of Works and the Contractors: Consorzio Officina and Forte Costruzioni.

The roof was made using a steel reticulated spatial structure, which was seismically isolated at each column head, with a grid that is oriented and arranged by being adapted to the position of the building fabric of the insula. Special attention was focused on the impact of the roofing on the landscape of Pompeii and the existing relationship between solids and voids in relation to courtyards, atria and gardens inside the insula.

Glass panels were specially designed for the exposed areas in order to have sunlight from above. The skylights were made with special glass panels with integrated solar cells designed to capture solar energy and produce sufficient electric energy to make the complex self-sufficient both in terms of nocturnal lighting and for the lift. With regard to access to the area, a solution was designed to improve accessibility for visitors, partly with the aid of a raised walkway, attached to the roof and linked, by means of a lift, to the “Pompei per tutti”(Pompeii for all) tour.

The three artificial excavation faces underwent re-profiling and were protected using systems of soil bioengineering to ensure the safety of the whole area with regard to potential risk of instability of the said excavation faces.

The re-profiling operations led to the discovery of major archaeological finds and parts of frescoes or architectural structures either still in situ or swept away during thecollapse phases. Several portions of the geological sections related to the stratigraphy resulting from the eruptions discovered during the excavations were left visible. Specificsupport systems for the walls were designed to ensure the stability of the structuresand to make a significant contribution to increasing space to allow improved access to the area. A complex project has been devised that involves the restoration of all the surfaces of theinsula (about 200 façades) and the enhancement of the floors and internal itineraries, gauged according to the effective forms of dilapidation recorded and their extent, which is the subject of a further contract.

The project also includes an archaeological excavationaimed at improving our understanding and the accessibility of the residential units that have already been identified.


Part 1:

Project managers: Stefano Aiello, Michele Granatiero, Alberta Martellone, Massimo Osanna, Gabriel Zuchtriegel and, fromDecember 2021 until completion, Vincenzo Calvanese.

Design and Direction of Works: Temporary Team of Professionals: B5 s.r.l (agent), represented by the architect Francesca Brancaccio (who also supervised the Direction of Works) the engineer Ugo Brancaccio, Gianluca Minin (geologist), Francesca Fratta (archaeologist), Carlo Serino (restorer) and the consultancy of the following experts: the architect Giovanni Carbonara, the architect Fabio Mangone, Fabrizio Ruffo, Francesca Longobardo, the engineer Luigi Di Sarno, the architect Ugo Carughi, the engineer Luca de Sanctis, the engineerAlfredo Postiglione.

EconomicOperator: Temporary Group of Firms with agent Italiana Costruzioni (subsequently Fratelli Navarra), with Cassisi and Icores.

Static Testing: the engineer Armando Santamaria with the assistance of the engineer Prof. Luigi Petti.

Technical-Administrative Testing: the architect Arianna Spinosa, Giuseppe Scarpati, Manuela Valentini.

Part 2:

Project managers: Stefano Aiello, Michele Granatiero, Paolo Mighetto.

Design:Temporary Team of Professionals: B5 s.r.l (agent), represented by the architect Francesca Brancaccio (who also supervised the Direction of Works) the engineer Ugo Brancaccio, Gianluca Minin (geologist), Francesca Fratta (archaeologist), Carlo Serino (restorer) and the consultancy of the following experts: the architect Giovanni Carbonara, the architect Fabio Mangone, Fabrizio Ruffo, Francesca Longobardo, the engineer Luigi Di Sarno, the architect Ugo Carughi, the engineer Luca de Sanctis, the engineerAlfredo Postiglione.

Economic Operator: Temporary Group of Firms Consorzio L’Officina with Forte Costruzioni.

Direction of Works: Director of Worksarchitect Arianna Spinosa, with chief operating archaeologist Giuseppe Scarpati, chief operating restorer Manuela Valentini and Ludovica Alesse, coordinator of security during the execution phase, the architect Crescenzo Mazzuoccolo, assistants of the Director of Works the surveyorAngelo Capasso and the architect Mariapia Amore.




LINK VIDEO Minister Sangiuliano









LINK VIDEO roofing and Park Director Zuchtriegel


Press Office Parco archeologico di Pompei






Direct link with the excavation of the Insula of the House of the Chaste Lovers

The Restaurant Café in the Casina dell’Aquilais due to open in autumn

The project designed to increase refreshment facilities within the Archaeological Park of Pompeii is taking shape.

As from the first days of June, visitors will be able to enjoy wine and food experiences thanks to tasting tours held in the newly opened cafés and stands, situated in the inner courtyard of the eighteenth-century building known as the Casina dell’Aquila, at the end of the tour of the insula of the House of the Chaste Lovers in Via dell’Abbondanza.

A Cafè & Wine Bar will enable visitors to taste seasonal and local products such as cold cuts, wines and cheeses, breads and pizza and authentic dishes from Campania, accompanied by bar service, cocktails, ice creams and traditional cakes.

The important opening of the cafés and stands, with summer approaching, will increase the quality of services that the Archaeological Park of Pompeii aims to offer those who visit the site every day, adding further quality, care and beauty.

The cafés and stands also offer visitors a splendid view of the whole park of Pompeii, Vesuvius and the bay of Castellammare di Stabia.

This opening is part of a broader project which the Archaeological Park of Pompeii is implementing with the firm CIRFOOD, the winner of the tender for refreshment services, which will also open the Restaurant Caféin the Casina dell’Aquila in autumn.


Press Office CIRFOOD

Daniela Fabbi


Laura Bagnoli