An intriguing tomb has been discovered at the Porta Sarno necropolis, to the east of the centre of Pompeii. The excavation, carried out by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii and the University of Valencia, revealed a large 1st-century AD stone tomb, with some paint preserved on its side – traces of green plants on a blue background. Its pediment has a marble slab bearing an inscription naming the deceased, Marcus Venerius Secundio. This man is also mentioned in the wax tablets found at the house of the Pompeiian banker Caecilius Iucundus on Via Vesuvio. He was a former public slave, who once worked as a custodian of the Temple of Venus, and went on to gain some wealth, as reflected by the scale of his resting place.
The inscription on the tomb gives us some information about Marcus Venerius Secundio’s activities. He joined an order of priests responsible for maintaining the imperial cult (the Augustales), and, significantly, organised Greek and Latin ludi (public games) for a period of four days. As director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii Gabriel Zuchtriegel explained, ‘Ludi graeci are to be understood as performances in the Greek language. It is the first clear evidence of performances at Pompeii in the Greek language, which had previously been hypothesised on the basis of indirect indicators.’ The direct mention of Greek performances is further evidence of Pompeii’s multicultural society and of diverse cultural activities going on in the ancient city.
The way in which the man was buried is notable, too, as adults in Pompeii at this time were normally cremated. He was buried in a 1.6m by 2.4m cell in the tomb, and his body was partially mummified, though, as Llorenç Alapont of the University of Valencia points out, further research is needed to work out if this mummification was deliberate – particularly through analysis of textile fragments found in the tomb, as there were certain fabrics that are known to have been used in the embalming process.
The sealed funerary chamber ensured the preservation of the remains buried in the tomb, including some hair as well as a skeleton. Study of the remains so far suggests the man was more than 60 years old when he died. As well as textile fragments, two glass unguentaria, small bottles for oils, were found. There were also two urns – one a fine, lidded glass vessel – in part of the tomb, used to hold cremated remains. One of these cremated individuals is a woman, named as Novia Amabilis in a small inscription.