Classical Civilisation, OCR, pompeii


Geography of Pompeii

Probably founded by people who lived in south of Italy in about 8th century BC

1st century BC Romans took it over

Was appealing because:

  • built on lava spur-
    • excellent natural defence
  • next to the river sarno-
    • led inland so could get to other places and provided natural irrigation
  • Was a harbour town on bay of Naples
    • good access for trade
  • was built on a volcano
    • fertile soils which would have been ideal for growing things like grapes
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Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius lies in a chain of volcanoes

  • Pompeians had little idea that their town was volcanic
    • their town was prone to seismic activity
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Reactions and Consequences to Earthquake

Earthquake of 63AD

  • Buildings collapsed
    • people replaced old houses with newer more modern constructions
  • Seneca's description gives us evidence of the earthquake
    • extensive damage to Pompeii and Herculaneum
  • marble relief's found depict the earthquake
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The Eruption

The volcanic activity started with an earthquake in 63AD

Vesuvius erupted- 24th August 79AD

warning signs=

  • small earthquakes
  • wells dried up
  • springs stopped flowing
  • dogs howled
  • birds were silent
    • they ignored the signs

Started in the middle of the day and lasted for 18 hours

Pompeii was down wind from the volcano that day so the volcanic debris was blown over the town

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Ash, Pumice and Rock

The first stage of the eruption was Ash

  • there was a minor explosion of ash and stream which fell on the east of Vesuvius
  • a column of hot gas exploded forming an 'umbrella pine'

The Second stage was Pumice and Rock fragments

  • these would have been falling and were carried by the south-east winds over Pompeii and oplontis
  • The noise and violence would have been:
    • terrifying
      • some tried to flee others stayed and prayed to the gods
  • The ash blocked out the sun
    • pliny's account 'a night blacker than any other'
      • would have caused panic and confusion as had no scientific knowledge
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Third stage= Rocks

  • People got hit by rocks
    • death and building collapsing
  • Roofs collapsed under the weight of the rocks
    • difficulty moving in the streets
  • People got knocked over, trampled and crushed
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Pyroclastic Surge- 4th Stage

Came the following morning when one side of the volcano collapsed triggering a series of 'pyroclastic surges'

  • It was made of hot ash and gases
    • They reached temperatures of 100-400'C
  • The column collapsed
  • the 4th surge travelled at 100kph
  • people died:
    • suffocation due to lack of oxygen
    • burning because of extreme temperature- people carbonised
    • heart attacks
    • asphyxiation- dying from breathing in toxic fumes
  • plaster casts give us an insight into peoples last movements
  • people who didn't flee or die in the 1st surge died in the 4th
  • The majority of people who escaped would have perished in surrounding countryside
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Pugilistic Effect

The town would have been buried first by the ash and rocks then by the pyroclastic flow

Pugilistic effect=

1. breath of hot ash and cause

  • lungs fill with fluid

2. breath took in more ash

  • mixed fluid and solidified in the windpipe
3. It thickened like 'cement' and the victim suffocated
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ways people died summary

  • Crushed by falling roofs
  • Hit by rocks
  • Being trampled
  • suffocation due to lack of oxygen
  • burning because of extreme temperature- people carbonised
  • heart attacks
  • asphyxiation- dying from breathing in toxic fumes
  • pugilistic effect
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The Two Plinys

The eruption was recorded by an eyewitness so we have evidence

  • Pliny the younger was a 17 year old boy who was staying with his uncle
  • Pliny 'the elder' was a natural historian and an admiral in the royal navy- in charge of the fleet in the bay of Naples

Pliny the younger wrote letters to Tactitus telling him what he saw from the north side of Naples

The letters also tell of his uncles attempt to rescue the people trapped on the shore

  • but he died from suffocation from the poisonous gases

Pliny the younger narrowly avoided death and went on to be a prominent Roman citizen who became a provincial governor

Pliny's account was detailed of all his observations and were found in 16th Century

  • it is the basis of our understanding
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The Discovery

Treasure hunt stage- not interested in making sense of finds- only finding precious objects, did damage to the buildings and were careless

Herculaneum 1st discovered in 1709- theatre and other buildings were plundered under the Austrian king who wanted statues and art for palaces

1730's- Spanish king Charles 7th promoted art and engineering

  • continued with excavations
  • Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre was put in charge
    • a military engineer trained in mining and tunnelling techniques

1748- Alcubierre starts digging Pompeii

  • known as la civita

1750-1762- villa of papyri is excavated at Herculaneum

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The Discovery

1749 onwards

  • Karl weber a Swiss military engineer and assistant of alcubierre draws the first plan and adopts a systematic approach to digging
    • tunnelling along streets and entering houses through the front door

1755- Whole of pompeiis villa of Julia Felix is excavated

  • Johann Winckelmann criticised alcubierre for destroying finds and for his lack of interest in historical questions
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The Discovery

1763- inscription identifies la civita as pompeii

  • backfilling become forbidden
  • ruins left exposed
  • conservation and presentation was considered
  • was easier to visit
  • paintings drawn before removed
  • some ruins restored
  • some roofs were built to preserve wall paintings in sites

1808-1815- area under french occupation

  • Joaquin and Caroline murat encourage more excavations
    • first time town is excavated, planned and considered as a whole
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Giuseppe Fiorelli

1863- Fiorelli a local numismatist is appointed director of Pompeii

He believed that 'archaeology proved that the unification of Italy was inevitable and enabled restoration of its former greatness'

Fiorelli also believed like many other italian people in education and enjoyed for all

He imposed an entrance fee so anyone could visit but would pay for custodians and guides

In 1866 he established the first archaeological school to train future excavators

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Fiorelli's Process

He realised that were a corpse had been buried in ash it rotted over time and the cavity remained

  • When a cavity was found it was filled with plaster of paris and left to harden
  • The ash around the plaster was then carefully removed
  • this meant a replica of a person at the moment of death remained

Gave information on

  • what happened
  • how people died
  • what they were doing
  • clothing

plaster casts could also be made of other organic material- wooden shutters, doors, root cavities- gives info on food, furniture, animals

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Innovative techniques of Giuseppe Fiorelli


  • Town divided into subdivisions
  • 9 regions
  • regions were split into blocks- Insula(e)
  • individual buildings and doors were numbered


  • he introduced a Journal of Excavations which kept detailed notes of finds
  • Fiorelli banned the removal of items for private collections


  • He built roofs over excavated buildings to protect them from the sun and rain
  • he also cleared the mounds of waste from the site
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Disadvantages of Giuseppe Fiorelli

He was opposed to restoration of buildings

  • decayed before could be saved

forbidden to export finds

  • severe plundering of other sites which weren't protected
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Amedeo Maiuri

=Director of Pompeii from 1924-1962 (38 years)

  • Appointed under Mussolini
    • archaeology used to prove Italy's greatness
    • Mussolini was keen to show the world what a great country Italy was and used the past to project his ideas onto the present
  • After ww2 excavations started again
    • 5 year plan provided employment
    • Hundreds of workers used
      • spoil heaps cleared- used for fertilisers
      • volcanic fill used in motorway building
      • excavations had taken industrial proportions
        • extended the excavated areas
          • quality suffered
          • very few excavation reports
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Contemporary Archaeology

Focus= conservation

aim is to be as non-invasive as possible

new developments in science and technology

  • more sophisticated and less destructive methods
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Archaeology and Politics

  • Work being going for over 250 years
  • aims and methods have changed according to political circumstances and the agendas and belief of the men in charge
  • archaeological techniques have changed dramatically from period to period and have only become modern in the past 20 years
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Map of the forum


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Buildings in the forum

1=Macellum= meat market

2= sanctuary of public lares

3= temple of vespasian= worship cult of emperor

4= eumachia= base of fullers guild (our equivalent of dry cleaners)

5= comitum= sorted out elections and census

6= Municipal buildings- meeting places of the magistrates and town councillors

7= basilica- commercial and political centre

8= temple of Apollo- patron god of the city

9= forum holitorium (granary) = regulation of weights, selling grain and pulses

10= temple of Jupiter- most important temple

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The forum

  • The heart of pompeii is the forum
  • it is situated in the south-west of the town near the gate which led to the harbour
    • it had the feel of a modern city centre
  • at the heart was a paved open area were people would:
    • politicians came to speak to win influence
    • many people met socially
    • the forum was lined with statues of important public figures
      • these remind people how great past was
      • gods for protection and worship
      • people pay for a statue to be built showing there wealth
      • statues of wealthy family members who are politicians gets name known
  • the whole area was a pedestrian precinct with blocking stones preventing access for vehicles  from adjoining streets
  • In the porticoes people set up stalls during the day so it became like a market
  • columns- held up porticoes, provided shade, provided privacy, and protection from weather when moving from one place to another
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Religious Buildings

Contained the towns 4 main temples:

  • Temple of Jupiter- most important also dedicated to Juno and Minerva
    • most prominent building in forum which symbolised the power of Roman state religion 
  • Temple of Apollo-one of the earliest temples of the town
    • worship of apollo suggests early Greek influence, inside the sanctuary two statues have been found one of apollo and his bow and the other of his sister Diana
  • Temple of the emperor (vespasian) and
    • where the pompeians worshipped the Roman emperor since emperors were worshipped as gods
  • Temple of Public lares
    • where people worshipped their ancestors, the protective spirits of the town

The open area meant people could gather on festival days

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Commercial buildings

contained buildings concerned with various trades and industries:

  • Macellum- market selling meat and fish
    • in centre was an open area with a circular building holding a pool of water with fish for sale, around the edge were shops
    • Some of the wall paintings show what goods were sold there- fish, bread, poultry and wine
  • Eumachia- funded by a woman called Eumachia (wealthy pompeian priestess)
    • was traditionally believed to have been a guildhall for fullers since fulling (cloth manufacture) might have been one of the cities largest industries
  • Weights and measures table and the Granary
    • weights and measures was used to check the accuracy of forum traders
    • table had 9 holes each one equal to a specific measure and with a mini trapdoor at the base, when the hole filled to the brim and the trapdoor was released the exact amount contained fell into a pot below
    • the granary (or forum holitorium) was used to store grain and cereal
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Political buildings

5 buildings that formed heart of government in pompeii

  • 3 municipal offices- for the town councillors
  • the comitium- a polling station where the town's elections were held
  • the basilica- one of the most important public buildings in pompeii- a law court and business centre
    • at the far end there was a raised platform which was probably used for judges in trials or auctioneers at auctions
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Politics in Pompeii

Most important= duovirs (2 of them) made legal decisions, managed public funds and oversaw meetings of the town council

then= The aediles (2)- responsible for more menial administration e.g. road maintenance, supervision of markets and upkeep of temples

Each pair of magistates was based in a municipal building

the third was for the curia- meeting place of the town council which consisted of about 100 members known as decurions mostly former aediles or duovirs

Elections for the senior positions were held annually in the comitium

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Duovirs and Aediles

Must be:

  • male
  • over 25
  • free born
  • wealthy and with a good reputation

first you have to be an aedile then a duovir

presided over proceedings in the ordo decurionium and elections in the comitium

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Ordo Decurionium

= 100 decurions

elected every 5 years from the junior magistrates

made decisions that concerned the city as a whole

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Common people

adult male citizens- including freedmen

peoples assembly

elected magistrates and voted honours

During elections posters were displayed to get people to vote for people, people graffited walls to say who to vote for, politicians spoke in public places to increase popularity

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Patrons and military tribunes


  • rare honour
  • protect the interest of the community in Rome

Military Tribune=

  • awarded by popular demand in return for services to community as a whole
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Evidence suggests the elections were hard fought affairs

on many outside walls of buildings painted slogans and graffiti can still be seen advertising a particular candidate

some of the advertisements suggest that traders formed guilds (trade unions) which made candidates favourable

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Private Houses

latin name= domus

was built around 3 important uses of space- atrium, tablinium and peristylium

Entrance into the house was via a large door and a narrow entrance way, alongside this on the outside of the house normally were shops going out onto the street, the house owner could make money by renting shops

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The atrium and tablinum

atrium= main entrance room of the house

  • visitor would first arrive so it had to be visually impressive

Had a hole in the roof which would fall into a well (impluvium) in the centre of the room

  • also a way in which families could store some water

on either side of the atrium would be small bedrooms

Beyond this was the tablinum which was the main study or office for the master of the house

  • its significance can be seen from its central position in the house
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the peristylium and furniture

behind the tablinum was the peristylium which was a colonnaded garden which was a private area for the family

  • only close family friends would be invited there
  • of the rooms around the peristylium there would be at least one dining room, usually further bedrooms and a kitchen
  • many houses had an upstairs area but little evidence of this has remained after the eruption

The furniture was usually sparing with beds and dining couches

  • however wealthy houses were often decorated in two different artistic mediums: the mosaic and the wall painting
    • which both depicted stories from history and mythology
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The house of the Vetti

Named after the two Vetti brothers lived in the house at the time of the eruption

they were freedmen who seem to have acquired great wealth; indicated in the way it was rebuilt after the earthquake

  • no shops going out onto the street and no tablinum
    • suggested they were so wealthy they didn't need to earn money from clients

House's entrance is famous for its painting of the god Praipus weighing his phallus; common image in pompeii to symbolise wealth and prosperity 

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Features of the house of vetti

It had two atria

  • the first of the atrium were found two large bronze chests, 
    • used to store the wealth of the household

next to the second atrium was a kitchen and one of the house's two sets of service quarters

  • One of the rooms contains a set of ****** paintings
  • the other set of service quarters is on the other side of the atrium
    • may have been a stable for horses
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Features of the house of Vetti

The focal point= the peristylium

  • garden had a number of running fountains
    • the house had its own water supply
  • had statues made of marble or bronze

the garden was surrounded by the main reception rooms:

  • rare for a Roman house to base itself around its garden in this way
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The wall painting

Room A- contains the Cupids' frieze, which portrays various cupids engaged in commercial activities such as making perfumes and garlands, working metal and making bread

Room B- is most famous for its punishment of Ixion for trying to **** Hera. He was tied to an ever-spinning wheel

Room C- has three paintings, the most notable is the depiction of pentheus being torn apart by bacchus 

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What learn from house of vetti

The Vetti brothers are freed slaves who are keen to show off all their riches they had amassed

  • The praipus painting and the bronze chests are powerful statements of this wealth

Also the brothers must be keen entertainers as they had so many reception rooms

Their display of Greek art and mythology suggests that they want to present themselves as educated and refined, since the knowledge of Greek culture was considered to be essential for a well educated Roman. 

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The house of the faun

Is one of the biggest houses in Pompeii, and occupied the whole length of a block

It is distinctive for having 2 atria, each of which could be entered from a front door on the street

  • one was more important than the other, 
    • the main atrium led to the tablinium which would be where business contacts and clients would be received
    • which meant that it was designed to create a powerful impression

The house takes its name from the statuette of a dancing faun found in the impluvium of the main entrance

The second atrium was a more intimate place and was probably used by family members or friends

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Important features

  • Had 2 peristylia, separated by a summer room, on the floor of the summer room was the house's grandest work of art
    • huge mosaic of a battle between Alexander the great and the Persian emperor Darius
  • leading off the second atrium was a service quarters for slaves, which lead into a larger peristylium
    • which had a door onto the street which meant that slaves and traders could enter the house without disturbing their master
  • The house had its own water supply and bathing room, which was equipped with a hypocaust- only very wealthy people would be able to afford this
  • the house had many impressive works of art,
    • mosaics depicting sea creatures,
    • scenes on the river Nile
    • cat carrying a dead bird in its mouth
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Thermopolia= snack bar which sold food and drink, sometimes had stables to tether horses, particularly common near the main gates where it would have been busiest, some where also inns for travellers and provided a place to stay


  • masonry counter which served food- L shaped bar (still exists today)
  • domestic shrine
  • dolia- room where food is stored
  • stored drink in big jars
  • small spaces

Served hot and cold food- opportunity for Romans to have hot food as didn't have cooking facilities at home

  • served: lentils, meat, spiced wine, cheese, snack type meal, mulled wine, figs, fish bones, shell fish, bread, walnuts- suggesting varied diet
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Functions of thermopolia

  • meet up with friends and drink and gamble
  • all classes spoke to each other
  • place to hear news
  • travellers could stay in back room
  • business meetings
  • wall paintings in the thermopolia show people gambling, drinking, fighting and kissing
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The Thermopolium of Asellina

best preserved thermopolium in Pompeii is named after Asellina-

  • believed to have been a waitress who worked there

It was located on Pompeii's main shopping street and had rooms for rent upstairs

It had an open front giving out onto the street, there was a counter one side giving out onto the street, built into it were storage jars where different foods were kept

there was also rooms for seats and tables- although most people probably chose to 'take-away' purchases from the front counter

The bar is most famous for it painted shrine on the back wall;

  • on the far left is depicted Mercury who was the god of traders while at the other end bacchus, the roman god of wine-
    • owners must have thought they would bless their business
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The Baths

Bathing was central to life in the Roman world- only the wealthiest could afford to have their own baths at home, so the vast majority of people would keep clean by visiting the baths on a daily basis

The baths were funded by the government; might have been seen as generous but it was in everyone's interest to make sure people had a basic level of hygiene

  • prevent spread of disease
  • meant entrance to baths was free or cost very little

Types of bath:

  • apodyterium- changing room
  • frigidarium- cold bath
  • tepidarium- warm/tepid bath
  • caldarium- hot bath
  • palaestra- gymnasium
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The Stabian Baths

Built at the time of Pompeii's subjugation to Rome

located in the heart of pompeii 

well constructed system of baths

Romans extended then redecorated- made mark on city by adding Roman features

was extended to supply needs of growing population- Romans coming in so needed bigger facilities and more baths

characteristic: colonade ranged round three sides of the building

3 parts- north= oldest, 2nd= private baths, 3rd= eastern part

female section was less decorated and more simple- not as important

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Mans experience at stabian baths

  • Enter via main entrance, alongside shops went to changing room- apodyterium, would get a slave to rub oil into skin
  • went to palaetra and worked up a sweat,
    • lifted weights, throw and catch balls
  • then would go into baths
  • go to tepidarium which was a warm room
    •  gradually get used to the heat
  • then moved to hottest room the caldarium,
    • would either sit in a hot bath or in steam on a bench,
    •  room also contained a basin providing cold water-
    • before left a slave would rub off oil using curved metal scraper called a strigil- no soap or shower gels
  • went to frigidarium a much cooler room with cold plunge pool,
    • would jump in wash clean and allow the pores of his skin to close
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Women at the Stabian Baths

Entered at the back of the complex- not as important

their area had no frigidarium but there was a cold bath in the changing room

not allowed to bath with the men, use the palaestra or the swimming pool

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Central thermal baths

Constructed after earthquake in 62AD

was more modern

built because of the dramatic population increase

biggest set of baths- occupy an area of an entire insula

characteristics- big windows- lighter

division between men and women was got rid of- times brought in

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Forum thermal baths

2 sections for men and women

built in 1st century BC under Sulla

heating and cooling system of the rooms was achieved by running pipes through cavities in the walls

elegantly decorated 

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Importance of Baths

not just a place where people went to get clean, place were people went to eat, rest, play games, exercise, meet with friends

  • like todays leisure centres, sports centres and gyms
  • people would often meet there before going out for dinner, way of getting ready for an evening engagement
  • baths kept romans healthy, acted as a social club and enabled the to do business- crucial in everyday life

they were prominent in the town showing their importance

without baths would have washed in a bucket and they were part of the everyday routine

business men didn't have offices so would use the baths to conduct meetings, make contacts and show off power- rich men made point of being escorted to the baths by many slaves to show wealth and power

The rich would have more time to use facilities and socialise

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Water in the Baths

piped in by an aqueduct so there was a constant supply of water

rich could afford own baths- shows wealth

water was heated using hypocaust system

  • the floor in the warmest rooms was supported by pillars
  • to the side, slaves would stoke a furnace form which hot air would pass under the floor and heat it up
  • some baths had hollow walls to enable them to be heated by the rising hot air
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The theatre- comedy

2 theatres in pompeii- smaller one probably used for poetry or music recitals, while plays were put on in the larger theatre probably seating around 5,000 people

Roman comedy- came from the Greek world

  • romans were particularly keen on comedy, most famous comic playwright=plautus
    • his plays contained a strong element of farce and slapstick with actors playing stock characters from everyday life
  • most plots were based on the tricks of a resourceful slave to help the love affair of his young master who is being threatened by a rival or a strict father
  • climax of play= slave girl or a prostitute discovered to be free-born, since she was kidnapped as father- eligible to marry
  • typical stock characters= boastful soldier, a sponger, a cook
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Costumes and masks

actors wore masks

  • usually caricatures of the characters being portrayed
  • comic masks had grinning mouths
  • male character= brown mask
  • female character= white mask
  • masks allowed characters to play lots of different roles

costumes gave a clear indication if the character on stage

  • white costume for old man
  • multi-coloured for a youth
  • yellow was used for a prostitute
  • purple for the rich
  • red for the poor
  • slave wore short tunic
  • soldier wore a cloak
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The theatre

  • large theatre built into natural hillside
  • seating area was semi circular
  • most important men (e.g. decurions) sat in the front rows then behind them the rest of the audience
  • aisles running next to the seating- made easy access to the seating
  • estimations are that each person only had about 40cm- not much room
    • were provided some comfort from huge awning which protected from the sun
    • sometimes where sprayed with scented water to keep cool
  • main actors performed on stage
  • orchestra- musicians would perform between scenes and during the play
  • scenery was used to create a setting
    • comic- street scene from everyday life, with private buildings, balconies and windows painted in
    • a door could also be painted in to represent the entrance
    • colonnades and temple facades- create public space
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The audience

  • very vocal in expressing views
  • source suggests if got bored, couldn't follow the plot or if the plot was similar to plays they had seen before, if an actor sang out of tune, mispronounced his lines then he would be hissed at or booed off stage
  • however if they were enjoying it they would clap and cheer wildly
  • Famous actors would be hero worshipped
  • actor called paris became subject of graffiti 'Paris, pearl of the stage' he even had a fan club who called themselves the 'comrades of Paris'
  • but some actors were looked down on in roman society in the same light as prostitutes  
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The Amphitheatre

houses were demolished to make room for the new amphitheatre- shows importance

2 parts- cavea- spectator seating and arena- where games took place

was much smaller than the Colosseum in Rome but was huge arena for the size of the town

Gladiators were clearly important to pompeians- at the other end of the town there was a special barracks where gladiators lived and trained

Evidence shows that shows put on were much like the ones at the Colosseum

  • most popular was gladiator fights and wild beast Hunts
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The Cavea

Partly supported by embankment of the town and partly by an artificial embankment

spectators separated according to military rank- some public officials paid for permanent seating which formalised seating divisions

35 rows of seating split into 3 sections- 10,000 - 15,000 spectators could be accommodated

Una cavea= lowest sections, four flat terraces, wooden seats

Media cavea and summa cavea= seats of stone or wood- accessed by main entrance passages, ensured people entered in an orderly fashion

women may have been allocated seating in 'boxes'

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The arena

Arena measured: 66.8 by 34.5m, bordered by a parapet 2.18m high,

level of arena= 4.5m

arena could be accessed directly through 2 steep tunnels that were paved with basalt blocks- so carts could carry equipment for the games and enter easily

spaces at the end of the tunnel for gladiators and wild animals

smaller tunnels led straight from outside to the best seating area- allowed elite spectators to get to seats without mixing with the lower classes

decoration= thematic frescos

  • large panels depicting wild beast hunts and combat between different types of gladiator
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Games were sometimes paid for by a sponsor

  • wealthy public figure who wanted to gain popularity
  • in lead up to games he would pay for adverts to be painted on walls of main streets
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The Riot

one of only times pompeii is mentioned by ancient historians

59AD- historian tacitus recounts how pompeian spectators began to engage in a slanging match with other spectators who had come from the nearby town of Nuceria

things became violent, stones were thrown, then swords drawn and a full scale fight broke out

  • famous wall painting in a pompeian house depicts the fighting in and around the arena, by the end many were killed tacitus comments that 'the people of pompeii came off best' 

the emperor of the time Nero was concerned by the news of unrest between the two provincial towns so ordered the senate to hold an investigation

after which Pompeii was banned from holding games in its amphitheatre for 10 years and the sponsor of the games was sent to exile

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