History mystery: Pompeii The resurrection of a city -2
Pompeii’s other main features included the Temple of Venus (8), the Temple of Apollo (9), the Basilica (10), the Temple of Jupiter (11), the Civil Forum (12), the Building of Eumachia (13), the Forum baths (14), the central baths (15), the Stabian baths (16), the Triangular Forum (17), the theater (18), the gladiator’s barracks (19), the Odeon (20), the palaestra (21), and the amphitheater (22). Homes included the House of the Faun (23) and the House of the Vettii (24), both in the city’s north-west sector.
The pictures on the walls and sophisticated paintings, the bawdy graffiti and dignified inscriptions engraved in marble, all materialized before the eyes of the archaeologists. Even the streets still bear the track marks of carts.
A vivid picture of daily life began to emerge simply from the insults and proverbs scrawled on walls – ranging from ‘Figulus loves Idaia,’ to the more lyrical, ‘you could as soon stop the winds from blowing and the waters from following as stop lovers from loving.’ Election posters illustrated the vitality of political life in the city: ‘Vote for Maurus Epidius Sabinus as administrator of justice. He is a respectable man, considered by trustworthy judges to be capable of defending the citizens.’
Every one of Pompeii’s excavated buildings gives the historian an insight into the city’s public and private life, yet surprisingly little is known about its early history.
The uncovering of a Doric temple proved that the town existed in the 6th century BC and that it was subject to Greek influence. It was probably a settlement of the local Ausonian people, thriving as a free port used by both the Greeks whop had settled on Italy’s west coast and the Etruscans to the north. Its economy was based on the production of wine and oil and supplemented by a flourishing commerce in wool and woollen goods.
The coming of the Romans around 80BC opened new vistas of economic enterprise. The neighbouring town of Puteoli (Pozzuoli) became Italy’s principal port and Roman traders began to flood the eastern Mediterranean.
Pompeii prospered not only as a market town and port, but also as an immensely popular resort. Every summer thousands of Romans flocked to the city to take advantage of its climate and its beautiful position in the Bay of Naples. The orator Cicero was one of the many who acquired a holiday home in Pompeii. As the fashion caught on, the area became a playground for the rich.
Then, in AD 62, an earthquake struck. The drama is depicted in the bas-reliefs which a wealthy banker, Caecilius Jucundus, had sculpted in the hallway of his house. Buildings tilt, arches and monuments crash to the ground – all evoked with rude vigour. The banker probably commissioned the reliefs to give thanks to his household gods for his survival.
Pompeii reacted to the ravages of this catastrophe with a frenzy of building that was proof of the city’s prosperity.
The art collection of a local politician, Julius Polybius, was found stored in the room of his house to keep it safe from the building work, still in progress when Vesuvius erupted 17 years later.
The largest public buildings stood in the south-west corner of the city, where the first settlers of Pompeii had made their homes. Here, clustered round the Civil Forum, stood the Temple of Apollo, the most ancient of all the buildings in Pompeii- proved by the discovery of Greek pottery dating back to the early 5th century BC. Next door the Basilica, A combined market hall and law court, is the best preserved of the city’s buildings. Thanks to graffiti on the walls, it can be dated to the 2nd century BC. Its main hall, surrounded by a colonnade, testifies to the commercial might of the city. At the end was a tribunal where justice was administrated. Graffiti covers the walls. ‘Lucius Istacidius,’ wrote a citizen, ‘who did not invite me to share his meal, is a barbarian!’
On the opposite side of the Forum stands the Building of Eumachia. Inscriptions inside describe how Eumachia, a public priestess, paid for the construction of the building and how she dedicated it to the ‘Peace and Harmony of Augustus’.
The Macellum, or general market, stood at the north-east corner of the Forum. The rows of stalls which encircled the main building can still be seen, as can the remains of the various cereals and fruits that were being sold on the fateful August day in AD 79. A drain full of fish bones marks the position of a fish stall. Nearby stand the public baths of the Civil Forum.
The second area of ancient public buildings clustered round the Triangular Forum, with Pompeii’s public entertainment district spread out along its eastern side. The city’s largest theatre could accommodate an audience of 5,000 in the open air. The Romans were passionate theatre-goers; its repertoire would have included classical drama, comic mime, and low burlesque, interspersed with clowning, dancing, and acrobatics. For lavish marine spectacles, the stage could be flooded with water, and in the heat of the Mediterranean summer a sprinkling device showered perfumed water on the audience.