Pompeii and Herculaneum, two cities on the Bay of Naples in southern Italy, were buried by a catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in just 24 hours in AD 79. This event ended the life of the cities but at the same time preserved them until rediscovery by archaeologists nearly 1700 years later. The excavation of these cities has given us unparallelled insight into Roman life.
Owing to their different locations Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried in different ways and this has affected the preservation of materials at each site. Herculaneum was a small seaside town whereas Pompeii was the industrial hub of the region. Work continues at both sites and recent excavations at Herculaneum have uncovered beautiful and fascinating artefacts. These include treasures many of which will be displayed to the public for the first time, such as finely sculpted marble reliefs, intricately carved ivory panels and fascinating objects found in one of the main drains of the city.
The exhibition will give visitors a taste of the daily life of the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum, from the bustling street to the family home. The domestic space is the essential context for people’s lives, and allows us to get closer to the Romans themselves. This exhibition will explore the lives of individuals in Roman society, not the classic figures of films and television, such as emperors, gladiators and legionaries, but businessmen, powerful women, freed slaves and children. One stunning example of this material is a beautiful wall painting from Pompeii showing the baker Terentius Neo and his wife, holding writing materials showing they are literate and cultured. Importantly their pose and presentation suggests they are equal partners, in business and in life.
The emphasis on a domestic context also helps transform museum artefacts into everyday possessions. Six pieces of wooden furniture will be lent from Herculaneum in an unprecedented loan by the Archaeological Superintendency of Napels and Pompeii. These items were carbonized by the high temperatures of the ash that engulfed the city and are extremely rare finds that would not have survived at Pompeii – showing the importance of combining evidence from the two cities. The furniture includes a linen chest, an inlaid stool and even a garden bench. Perhaps the most astonishing and moving piece is a baby’s crib that still rocks on its curved runners.
The exhibition will include casts from in and around Pompeii of some of the victims of the eruption. A family of two adults and their two children are huddled together, just as in their last moments under the stairs of their villa. The most famous of the casts on display is of a dog, fixed forever at the moment of its death as the volcano submerged the cities.
An unmissable exhibition. Book your tickets today!
*Children under 16 are admitted for free when accompanied by a paying adult, and do require a ticket.
Sponsored by Goldman Sachs
In collaboration with Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei
Image: Portrait of baker Terentius Neo and his wife. Pompeii, AD 55–79. © DeAgostini/SuperStock.