Monday, October 26, 2009

A painted garden in Casa dei Ceii

Casa dei Ceii is a small upper class house, with a tremendously interesting history, in Pompeii. Here we see the wall placed behind the small garden. The scene (and I tell you, it is huge, probably 5x5 m) was probably meant to make the room look bigger than it really is. Notice how close it is in style to some of the paintings at the Villi Oplontis (compare the small yellow area to the right with this painting from Oplontis).

It is also interesting to notice the small square holes in the wall - these are marks of shelfs being put up on the wall during antiquity. Now, this is one of the largest and most beautiful paintings in Pompeii. Why would anyone ruin it in this manner? We find similar refitting in other houses in Pompeii and there's also other evidence telling us that something wasn't quite right in the city at the time of the eruption. Something was going on during that last years of the city.


Björn Nilsson said...

Something caused by the big earth quake which struck Campania some years before the volcanic catastrophe which destroyed Pompeii? It may have been strong enough to disrupt the traditional social life maybe? Suppose the houses which remained standing after the quake were used to accomodate for more people, which increased the need for shelves?

Patrik Klingborg said...

Well the earthquake of 62 ad (which we only know of from Tacitus – “An earthquake too demolished a large part of Pompeii, a populous town in Campania”) is traditionally the explanation to everything strange we find in Pompeii.

However, I do not believe that the remodeling we find in many houses from 79 ad can be traced to this earthquake. Simply the fact that 17 years went by should mean something in a society with a life expectancy of 27/28 years (although this number isn't really fair due to a number of factors).

We can also notice that even as many houses were still in bad shape during the eruption, even more were fully restored. We also find a lot of old upper class houses that are refitted into workshops or storage facilities. I normally fall back on of three possible scenarios;

A small number (perhaps between 2 and 5) rather bad earthquakes between 62 and 79 that were not reported to us eventually forced everyone who could afford it to move.

A large number of smaller quakes that disturbed the inhabitants eventually made the upper classes move away (seems improbable). The problem with this approach is that Pliny the younger tells us: “here had been noticed for many days before a trembling of the earth, which did not alarm us much, as this is quite an ordinary occurrence in Campania”. There were obviously small tremors but they didn’t alarm anyone.

But the most simple and perhaps most probable reason is that the roman society was changing rapidly during the period. The old fashion atrium house is losing ground quickly and the elite try to fit themselves into a society where the emperors finally completely dominate the political scene.

Oh well, I’ve written far too much now. I wish that my paper could be on this subject instead of modern graffiti.