Press kit: the votive offerings

The history of pre-AD 79 Pompeii reconstructed through ex-votos

An unknown chapter in the history of Pompeii before AD 79 can now be reconstructed through the votive offerings which have been rediscovered in the sanctuaries. Objects hailing from all over the Mediterranean have been found, including weapons, pottery with Etruscan inscriptions and jewellery given as an offering for the most important phases of life: from the passage from childhood to adulthood, marriage, the first child and to the initiation of arms.

These are objects well known to history, but they have been discovered in great numbers in the excavations which have recently been conducted within the sacred areas of Pompeii (the Sanctuary of Apollo, Athena and Hercules and the Capitolium) and in many cases they have been found intact, particularly in the Suburban Sanctuary of Fondo Iozzino, where they have been found almost as if in the moment of their deposition, and date to the long period between the 6th century to at least the beginning of the first century BC.

The Sanctuary, located in the heart of the modern city in what was once a Iozzino owned quarry for the extraction of lapilli, has been studied on many occasions since 1960, and since 2014 has borne witness to thorough and continuous research.

Recent investigations have focused on the space between the two sacred precincts, and have brought to light a layer of activity dating back to the 6th century BC, in which a great many bronze and iron weapons have been found. Ceramic pottery, particularly in bucchero, has also been found, intentionally deposited, including examples of brochettes, kantharoi and bowls. Among the weapons: short swords, around twenty spearheads made of iron, and sometimes with bronze handles, javelin tips, an iron sceptre - exceedingly rare in Southern Italy - and a large bronze shield with a decorated inner band into which the arm was placed. 

The most striking aspect of the finds dated to the Archaic Age is the sheer quantity of bucchero pottery with engraved inscriptions in the Etruscan language, which represents the largest corpus of Etruscan inscriptions yet found in a single context in Southern Italy. The bucchero pottery was employed in sacrifices which saw offerings of red or white wine, or herbal infusions, to the gods.

The inscriptions were made on the basin and on the feet of the bowls and banquet vases, which after usage were deposited upside down on the ground.

These inscriptions reveal the names of those who made the offerings - Etruscans who also came from Tuscany, and of the deities to whom the sanctuary was dedicated - the god ‘apa’ or ‘father’ - perhaps Jupiter Meilichios. Beside these inscriptions there are also numerous engraved symbols, such as crosses, five-pointed stars, asterisks and tree saplings. Together with these offerings, jewellery such as silver or gold rings with decorated stones have been found, and pottery hailing from all over the Ancient Mediterranean: black varnished ceramic from Attica, perfume vases from Corinth, legged ointment containers from the Ionian world and Etrusco-Corinthan cups.