At home with the Romans
We know how they waged wars and ran an empire. But what did Romans get up to in the privacy of their own abodes? Paul Roberts, curator of a major exhibition on Pompeii and Herculaneum, takes us on a guided tour of the Roman home
In AD 79 a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius on the Bay of Naples destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii was smothered by 4 to 5 metres of volcanic debris while Herculaneum was entombed in 20 metres of volcanic ash that hardened into tufa rock.
Pompeii was ransacked after the eruption, then the memory of the cities faded, only resurfacing in the 18th century. Herculaneum was first excavated in 1709, so deeply buried that the only way to proceed was by tunnelling. Over the next 40 years a warren of tunnels was driven through the site, yielding amazing discoveries, including wooden objects, foodstuffs, a papyrus library and many marble and bronze statues.
In 1748 excavations began at Pompeii, much less deeply buried, and far easier to excavate. In contrast to Herculaneum’s gloomy tunnels, tourists walked along Pompeii’s streets, and explored houses and public buildings in the light and air.