At about noon on August 24, 79 CE, a massive eruption on Mount Vesuvius showered volcanic debris over the entire city of Pompeii, Italy. Buildings were destroyed, and the city’s population was crushed or fixated and buried under a blanket of ash and volcanic pumice.
The City of Pompeii is essential for studying and understanding Roman art as it gives us a glimpse into everyday people’s lives, homes, art, and lives. As art is a consistent and intricate part of our lives, Pompeii shows us what was important before and during 79 CE; we get a glimpse into what kind of Roman art was created during that time.
Pompeii’s History And Rome
The City of Pompeii remained buried under volcanic ash until it was unearthed in the 1700s. The world was astonished at the discovery of a sophisticated Roman city that had been frozen in time.
Before its untimely demise, Pompeii was a thriving Roman city. Before being aligned with the Romans, the city had also been conquered by the Greeks, Etruscans, and Samnites.
Under the care of Rome, Pompeii played an essential role in trade and commerce. It was close to the Mediterranean basin area and also near strategic roads built by the Romans. The Pompeii area had a lot of fertile farmland.
The discovery of Pompeii showed us the day-to-day life of what was once an ancient Roman City in Campania, Italy. Here are a few facts about Pompeii:
- City Aligned With Rome – Pompeii was aligned with Rome and colonized by Rome in 80 BC. It was located near the coast of the Bay of Naples, once a thriving Roman City.
- Also Under Greek And Etruscan Influence – Pompeii came under Greek and Etruscan influence before it was aligned with the Roman Empire.
- Damaged By Earthquake – Pompeii was damaged by an earthquake; a significant earthquake struck Pompeii in 63 BC, just a few years before the volcano completely buried the city in 79 BC. The earthquake tremors continued, and historians feel that the earthquake tremors must have become a way of life. Many people lived through the earthquakes only to be buried by volcanic ash.
- Pompeii Was Covered 6 Meters Under Volcanic Ash – When the Volcano erupted, it buried Pompeii under 6 meters of ash and other volcanic debris. This was a rapid and swift burial of an entire city.
- Important Archeological Site – Pompeii is an important archaeological site as it gives us a glimpse into ancient Rome’s life, culture, religion, and political life.
- Do Not Know How Many Died – We do not know how many of the 20,000 residents of Pompeii and 4,000 residents of Herculaneum and other areas died, but we know a lot about how they lived. The volcano eruption covered not only Pompeii but also a nearby city known as Herculaneum, Oplontis, and Stabiae. The city is so well preserved that we can learn much from them about life and art in ancient Rome.
- Preservations Of Organic Materials – What is very interesting about the volcanic eruption is that the ash in some areas is carbonized, preserving the wood, beds, doors, and even some organic materials as food.
Pompeii’s Importance To Roman Art
Pompeii was a Roman city that shows us Roman art, including frescoes, architecture, and other significant construction projects throughout the city. The city buried under the ashes had everything from an amphitheater to an aqueduct. These significant projects give us a glimpse into life in ancient Rome.
The importance of Pompeii to Roman art is that life, art, architecture, and the city was frozen in time. So Pompeii today shows us what life was once like in ancient Rome. In particular, Roman artwork such as frescoes and mosaics were well preserved, which helped to give us a glimpse into what life was like in this Roman city.
We also learned from Pompeii that art was essential to the residents there. Villas had frescoes and mosaics covering the walls and floors. We understand that in ancient Rome, art was not just a way of life but also a status symbol and a way to decorate one’s interior.
Here are some of the significant works of art that have been preserved and found in the city of Pompeii.
The Villa Of Mysteries
The Villa of Mysteries is a very well-preserved ancient Roman Villa on the outskirts of Pompeii. What is unique about this villa is the series of exquisite frescos in some rooms. These frescoes were thought to show the initiation of a young woman into a Grieco Roman mystery cult.
The frescoes are vital because they are well preserved and give us a glimpse into the art of ancient Rome. The frescoes paintings are thought to be from the first century BC.
The Villa is named the Villa of Mystery because of the beautiful Roman-style Frescoes dating from 70 to 60 BC. There are several murals today that have survived.
The Alexander Mosaic
The Alexander mosaic depicts a battle between Alexander the Great and King Darius II of Persia. This wonderful mosaic was discovered in 1831 during the evacuations of Pompeii.
The right-hand side of the mosaic is well preserved as it shows Darius and Persians. On the left hand, which is not very well perceived, shows Alexander and his army. Some historians say that the depicted battle goes back as far as 331 BCE.
The Cave Canem Mosaic
Another important mosaic is the Cave Canem mosaic, also known as the “Beware of the dog” mosaic. The mosaic of a dog is located at the entrance of the House of the Tragic Poet.
The dog on the mosaic looks like a dog ready to pounce on any unwelcome visitor that comes into the home. We learn a lot about Rome and its dogs from this mosaic: the dog has teeth and a chain around its neck.
Written in Latin is the phrase “Cave Canem,” which translates to “Beware of the dog.”
House Of Menander
The House of Menander shows us a home of a typical high-ranking family. The home was filled with art, particularly frescoes from the Illiad and Odyssey.
The home received its name because of a picture of Menander, an Athenian playwright, placed in the entrance. Artifacts such as silverware as been found in the house.
The House Of Vettii
Another important series of frescoes in Pompeii is at the House of Vettii. The dining room has a fresco displaying a series of cupids.
The importance of the House of Vettii is that it shows us some of the important design and interior design trends of the final years of Pompeii’s existence. The home shows us some key elements of Roman art and architecture.
Compared to many other houses in Pompeii, The House of Vettii gives us a glimpse into the direction that Roman art was going before Pompeii was covered by volcanic ash.
Pompeii gives us an essential glimpse into ancient Roman life and art. What is so unique about Pompeii and makes it so important is that Roman life, culture, and art were frozen in time under the volcanic ash. Because of Pompeii, we can discover the art and culture of ancient Rome.
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