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

A Pompeian fresco from the first century showing a woman tuning a musical instrument. Excavations at the partially buried Roman city reveal that women played a prominent role in the home, and that they took personal grooming very seriously indeed. (Photo by: Werner Forman/UIG via Getty Images)

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.

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