The archaeological site of Pompeii, a unique model of study in the world, is an inexhaustible source of surprises. While the dramatic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. brought death and destruction, it also formed a sort of protective shell that has left this open-air museum virtually intact. The layer of pyroclastic material consisting of ash, lapilli, lava and incandescent mud has frozen time in a freeze-frame. As early as 1748, thanks to King Charles III of Bourbon, excavations and explorations began, which have never stopped to this day and continue to provide us with precious details to reconstruct the life of the prosperous Roman colony.
The discovery of the suburban villa at Civita Giuliana
Some 1942 years later, the suburban villa at Civita Giuliana to the North of Pompeii has yielded an incredibly intact small room occupied by slaves. This area belongs to the same servile district where archaeologists found the ceremonial chariot and the stable with the remains of three horses (of one of which a cast has been reproduced). The logical conclusion is that this was the room for the so-called stable slaves. It was probably the same family that lived in this room called the slaves' room with its humble set of tools and utensils. The discovery is a window into the life of the 'last' in the hierarchy of the time, who are too often forgotten and not mentioned in History books.
And yet, it is worth remembering and emphasising that thanks to the immense work of the slaves that countless impressive works, infrastructures, and famous monuments were built and linked to the name of one emperor or another.
How and where the slaves lived in Pompeii
For the first time, an archaeological find allows us to spotlight the lowest rung of the social ladder at the time. A discovery that will enable us to make enormous progress in historical and, more broadly, scientific research. The details of these lives re-emerge thanks to the almost impeccably preserved environments that have been discovered: a true gift that history has given to the whole of humanity. As mentioned above, the findings took place not far from the portico where a ceremonial chariot was found in January 2021. Just next to the stable excavated in 2018, the accommodation of the slaves working in the Roman villa has now been returned to us. Among the numerous findings unearthed, we should mention: three rope and wooden beds with the marks of the mats that covered them, the large drawbar of the chariot, a wooden chest containing woven objects and metals (presumably the harnesses of the horses), a chamber pot (next to the beds), amphorae, tools and work equipment.
Discovering the simplicity of the Slave Room
The beds consisted of a few wooden planks that were modulated according to the height of the 'user'. Two of them were 1.70 m long, while the last one, 1.40 m long, was most probably intended for a boy or child. The bedsteads were made of ropes, whose marks can still be seen in the cinerite. The room, rather humble and without any decoration, was lit by a small window at the top. Its function was twofold: dormitory for the small family of grooms and storage for equipment.
The difference between the sumptuous, frescoed rooms of the villa and the humility of the room that the eruption has, paradoxically, preserved almost intact, is striking and unmistakable. A small room of 16 square metres with a cramped and unstable appearance has survived for nearly 2000 years. According to the Director of the Pompeii Archaeological Site, Gabriel Johannes Zuchtriegel, even though there are no great treasures, this is one of the most exciting discoveries of his life as an archaeologist. The human component, the unique testimony of the weakest link in ancient society, makes it precious and unique. Zuchtriegel assures us that the aim will be to make it accessible to the public and to enthusiasts who are already eager to admire it in all its incredible simplicity.