A room that once housed a group of slaves has been uncovered at a large villa in the suburb of Civita Giuliana, north-west of Pompeii.
This villa has been the subject of ongoing excavations since 2017; previous discoveries include the remains of three horses in the stables (see CWA 90), two men who died during the eruption of Vesuvius (CWA 105), and a ceremonial chariot (CWA 107). The latest find is a room that was used by slaves who worked in the villa.
The room, located in the servants’ quarters, is a small, cramped space, just 16m2. The only source of light was a small, high window, and there is no evidence of any decorations on the walls. Thanks to the pyroclastic flow that flooded the villa during Vesuvius’ eruption, the room is extremely well preserved, and imprints left behind in the hardened volcanic ash have made it possible for researchers to create plaster casts of objects made of organic materials that do not often survive in the archaeological record.
Three beds were found in the room, made of roughly worked planks of wood that could be adjusted according to the height of the bed’s occupant. Two of the beds were c.1.7m long, but the third was only 1.4m and may therefore have belonged to a youth or child, suggesting that the room could have been occupied by a small family. The beds had webbed bases made of rope, the imprints of which can be seen in the volcanic material, with blankets placed on top that left cavities in the ash and have been used to create plaster casts. Several objects belonging to the slaves who lived in the room were found underneath the beds, including an amphora used to store personal possessions, ceramic jugs, and a chamber pot.
It appears that the small dormitory was also used as a storage room. Eight amphorae were found leaning against the corners of the room, which seem to have been left free for this purpose. Also found was a wooden chest containing metal and fabric objects that seem to be parts of horse harnesses, while the shaft of a chariot was found resting on one of the beds. This room is fairly close to the portico where the ceremonial chariot was found in 2021 and not far from the stables excavated in 2018, and it is probable that the people who lived in this room were involved in the maintenance and preparation of the chariot and horses.
The discovery of this room provides valuable additional context for these earlier finds, granting us a glimpse of the people who were behind the day-to-day running of the villa, and offering important insight into the lives of slaves in Pompeii and in the wider Roman world – an aspect of ancient society that is often missing from historical sources.