Pompeii - Classics


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  • Bulit on a lava spur, giving the south-west of the city excellent natural defence
  • It was next to the River Sarno which led to other parts of the region; good for trade and helped the fertile environment by natural irrigation
  • Pompeii was on the Bay of Naples - excellent access for trade
  • The slopes of Mt Vesuvius were richly fertile
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  • 62 AD
  • Pompeians didn't know Mt Vesuvius was a volcano
  • The earthquake was devestating and they considered it to be 'their terrible natural disaster'
  • Houses and temples collapsed, people laid buried beneath
  • Pompeians took this opportunity to improve the town - especially the houses and the forum
  • It wasn't near completion when Mt Vesuvius erupted
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  • Vesuvius erupted on 24th August 79 AD
  • There were some warnings in the weeks beforehand the Pompeians ignored:
         - several small earthquakes
         - wells dried up and springs stopped flowing
         - dogs howled and birds were silent
  • The eruption started in the middle of 24th August and lasted 18 hours
  • Debris was blown all over town, consisting of pumice and rock which built up, buildings collapsed under the weight
  • Pompeians would have had plenty of time to evacuatie and the small minority that stayed behind will have chosen to do so
  • One side of the volcano collapsed the following morning sending pyroclastic surges over Pompeii, burying it
  • All those left in the town were killed by suffocation, poisonous gases or thermal shock
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Two Plinys

  • Pliny 'the Younger' was a 17 year old boy
  • Pliny 'the Elder' was his uncle, a natural historian and navy admiral
  • The younger Pliny wrote two letters about what he saw of the eruption
  • The letters told of his uncle's attempt to sail to the rescue of people trapped on the shore
  • Pliny 'the Elder' died from suffocation of the poisonous fumes
  • Pliny 'the Younger' narrowly escaped death but became a provincial governor of Rome
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  • Pompeii was rediscovered mid 1700s
  • Early excavators were careless, causing damage to buildings while collectors took valuable artefacts
  • Mid 1800s, Giuseppe Fiorelli brought a far more scientific approach to the excavation of Pompeii
  • Fiorelli's Process:
       - he realised that where a corpse had been buried in ash, it had rotted   and a cavity remained
       - wherever an excavator discovered a cavity, plaster of Paris was poured in and left to harden
       - the ash was removed so a plaster replica of the person at their moment of death remained
       - this process gave information about how people died & clothes they wore
       - it also got plastercasts of other organic materials telling us of their furniture and plants they grew
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Rediscovery continued

  • Fiorelli was also responsible for a number of other improvements:
       - blocks and buildings were numbered
       - he recorded everything and banned private collectors
       - he built roofs to protect buildings from the weather
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The Forum

  • The forum was the heart of Pompeii
  • In the centre of it was a paved open area where much of the city's life took place
  • The forum was lined with statues of important public figures
  • No vehicles were allowed in the forum
  • Around the forum lay the town's grandest buildings

Religious buildings

  • The Temple of Jupiter was to the north - the most important temple in the city
  • To the west was the Temple of Apollo - statues of Apollo and Diana were inside
  • The Temple of the Emperor and the Temple of the Public Lares were to the east
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The Forum continued

Commerical buildings

  • The macellum was to the north-east, a covered market selling meat and fish. There was a pool in the middle for fish and shops around the edges
  • The Eumachia building was a clothes manufacturer
  • To the north was the Weights & Measures table and Granary (self explanatory)

Political buildings

  • At the south were five political buildings, 3 municipal offices for town councillors, a law court and business centre (Basilica) and the polling station (the Comitium)
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Politics in Pompeii

  • The two most important magistrates were the duovirs who made legal decisions, managed public funds and oversaw meetings of the town council
  • Below them were the aediles who were responsible for road maintanence, supervision of markets and upkeep of public temples
  • Each pair of magistrates was based in a municipal office
  • The third municipal office was the Curia, the meeting place of the town council was consisted of former aediles/duovirs
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Private Houses

  • The typical design of a wealthy Roman house was built around the atrium, tablinum and peristylium
  • On the outside of the house were shops which were rented out to traders to earn money
  • The atrium:
       - was the main entrance room
       - had to be visually impressive because visitors would arrive here
       - had a hole in its roof for water to fall into the impluvium
       - small bedrooms were on either side
  • Beyond the atrium was a tablinum:
       - the main study/office of the house
       - its importance is showed as it was the central room of the whole house
  • Behind the tablinum was the peristylium:
       - a colonnaded gardern
       - a private area for the family
       - only close family friends would be invited through here
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Private houses continued

  • Around the peristylium would be dining rooms, bedrooms and a kitchen
  • Furniture was sparing, beds and dining furniture were the main pieces
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The House of the Vettii

  • Named after the Vettii brothers, freedmen who acquired great wealth
  • They had no shops or tablinum as they were so wealthy that they didn't need to earn money
  • The house's entrance had a painting of the god Priapus weighing his phallus - symbolising wealth and prosperity
  • The house had two atria:
       - in the first were two large bronze chests storing their wealth
       -next to the second was a kitchen and a service quarter
       - one room contained ****** paintings
       - the other service quarter was a stable for horses
  • The focal point was its peristylium:
       - he garden had its own water supply (shows wealth) and had a number of running fountains
       - it had a number of bronze and marble statues
       - it was surrounded by reception rooms
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The House of the Vettii continued

  • Three of the five reception rooms were decorated:
       - east of the peristylium contained the Cupids' Frieze
       - south-esat was Ixion's punishment
       - south-west was the depiction of Pentheus being torn apart
  • The Vettii brothers were keen to show off their wealth
  • They had so many reception rooms showing that they were keen entertainers
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The House of the Faun

  • Occupied the length of a whole block
  • It had two atria which could be entered from the front
  • The 'main atrium' lef to the tablinum so created a powerful impression
  • It had more important features:
       - two peristylia separated by a summer room which had a huge mosaic of the battle between Alexander the Great and Darius on the floor
       - the house had its own water supply, bathing room and hypocaust
       - there was a status of a dancing faun in the impluvium and other works of art
  • It is not clear who owned the house at the time of the eruption
  • Whoever did clearly enjoyed entertaining (2 atria and 4 dining rooms)
  • The owners were keen to show off their education (we know this by all of the artwork)
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Inns and thermopolia

  • Pompeii was visited by many merchants and traders, providing and industry because it needed bars and inns to cater
  • The most common thermopolia sold hot food and wine
  • Some were just snack bars and others doubled up as inns or stables
  • Bars and inns were common, especially near main gates and busy streets
  • The best preserved thermopolium is named after a waitress, Asellina
  • People sat in or took away
  • Many had shrines depicting gods, oping for a blessing of the business
  • People ate, socialised and played games
  • There were many foods e.g. bread, nuts, dates, olives, meat and fish - suggesting they had a varied diet
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The Baths

  • The majority of people kept clean by visiting public baths daily
  • The baths were funded by the government to make sure people kept clean and to prevent disease so entrance was free or very cheap
  • Pompeii had three bath houses, a fourth under construction
  • The Stabian Baths were the oldest and largest, central in the town
  • The baths were diverted into two areas, for men and for women
  • A man entered via the main entrance and changed in the apodyterium
  • Beforehand, they'd work up a sweat in the palaestra and have a dip in the pool
  • He'd go the the tepidarium - the warm room - to get used to the heat
  • Next he'd go to the caldarium - the hottest room
  • Finally, the frigidarium - the cool room
  • The Stabian Baths had an area for women who entered via the back - they had no frigidarium and couldn't use to palaestra
  • The baths were heated by hypocaust (underground heating)
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The Baths continued


  • The baths were an important social and business place
  • Many people would conduct their business meetings here
  • People would make contacts and show off power - often having as many slaves as possible escorting them to the baths to show wealth
  • It was a good place to socialise and people would often meet here before an evening out
  • It kept Romans healthy and acted as a social club
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The theatre

Roman Comedy

  • Drama came from the Greek world but Pompeii was keen on comedy
  • Their most famous playwright was Plautus who often used farce and slapstick humour
  • Most plots were about love affairs with slaves who turned out to not be a slave
  • Actors wore caricatural masks with great grinning mouths; brown masks for male characters, white for female
  • Old men wore white costumes, youths wore multicolours, prostitutes wore yellow, rich wore purple, poor wore red, slaves wore short tunics and soldiers wore cloaks
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The theatre continued

The theatre

  • It was built into a natural hill with semi-circular seating
  • Decurions sat in the front row, everyone else sat behind
  • A number of aisles were in the seating area to make seat access easy
  • The seats were very small, about 40cm wide
  • The audience were protected from the sun and sprayed with scented water to keep them cool
  • The main actors performed on the stage and the musicians in the orchestra
  • They had scenery and decorations


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The theatre continued 2

The audience

  • The audience were very vocal in expressing their views
  • They became bored if the plot was hard to follow or if it was too similar to previous ones
  • If an actor sang out of tune or mispronounced his words, he could be insulted, hissed at ot booed off stage
  • If the audience was pleased, they'd cheer wildly and clap
  • Famous actors were worshipped - most famously Paris, who had graffiti all over town and a fan club
  • Most actors were looked down on and given the same social status as prostitutes
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The amphitheatre

  • A capacity of 15,000
  • Gladiators had special living and training barracks - they were very important to the Pompeians
  • Evidence indicates that the shows were very similar to those at the Colosseum; most commonly gladiator fights and wild beast hunts
  • Games were paid for by a sponsor looking to gain popularity
  • He would pay for advertisements and make sure everyoe knew he was providing the games

The riot - 59 AD

  • Pompeians fought with Nucerians
  • Stones being thrown led to swords drawn and many were killed
  • Pompeii was banned from holding games for 10 years and the sponsor was sent to exile
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D Benson

I am sure this will help me. Thanks.

Radhika Bathia

thanks! this is great!!!

Radhika Bathia

thanks! this is great!!!

polly mcdermott

some spelling mistakes but fantastic all the same


which exam board is this for?


Thank you so much, this is amazing :)


brilliant, wish I found these ages ago!


brilliant, wish I found these ages ago!

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