Public and Private Buildings in Pompeii
Much is known about the buildings in the city of Pompeii from the excavated buildings of the city. Like most Roman cities (including Herculaneum), Pompeii was divided up it blocks called insulae which average about 35 metres by 90 metres. Pompeii, however, has irregular shaped insulae due to its Greek origins. Often the poor and wealthy classes lived quite close to each to each other, although, there were distinct affluent districts (Rosen: The Destruction of Pompeii: 1987). The main street of Pompeii was the Via Dell Abbondanza which had deep wheel ruts and stepping stones suggesting that the city did not have as good a drainage system and saw much more traffic than Herculaneum.
The public centre of Pompeii was the Forum where the decumani (main roads) of Naples, Nola and Stabiae met at an intersection. Fish, fruit and other produce could be bought here. Religious events also took place here such as the festival of Jupiter from the nearby temple. The Forum possessed large widely spaced columns which surround a rectangular market of about 40 metres by 150 metres (Bradley: Cities of Vesuvius: Pompeii and Herculaneum: 2013).
While the Forum was the commercial centre, the political and legal centre would have been the Basilica. The building is building a Hellenistic style with 28, eleven metre high Corinthian and Ionic columns and imitation marble panels (Hurley, Medcalf, Murray, Rolph: Antiquity 2: Interpreting the Past: 2008). The Basilica was a large double story hall renovated from a covered market to be a law court. I also had a platform (suggestum) where political candidates could give speeches.
Pompeii’s many public baths formed the social centre of the city. The baths not only served to clean the inhabitants but were also an essential social meeting place. Extravagant Roman baths often included food stalls, relaxing gardens, libraries and massage rooms. Spending many hours at the baths was a common pastime for many citizens of the Roman Empire. For men, the baths were cheap, one quadran (the least valued coin) allowed them access to the baths whereas women had to pay four times the amount (Chandler, Talpin, Bingham: The Osborne Internet Linked Encyclopaedia of the Roman World: 2001). In Pompeii the public baths had a frigidarium (cold bath), tepidarium (sauna) and a caldarium (heated bath) which were open from midday to sundown (Bradley: Cities of Vesuvius: Pompeii and Herculaneum: 2013). Pompeii’s private buildings reveal as much about the lives of the inhabitants as much as the public ones.
“Pompeii’s greatest gift to history and social science is its houses ... nowhere else can we see so complete a documentation of ancient home life as at Pompeii and the nearby town and Herculaneum” according archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri in Pompeii.
There were four main housing styles in Herculaneum and Pompeii, the most common was the Atrium house. The Atrium house, like the House of Menander, was usually owned by aristocracy. It had an atrium (a large open room) at its centre which formed the social and religious centre of the house. Sky lights (compluvium) offered lighting due to the lack of exterior windows; an impluvium in the centre caught the rainwater which fell through. The second housing style, the Atrium-Peristyle house was a rendition of the Atrium house. Instead of an atrium, a courtyard garden became the centre of the house such as in the House of Vettii. The third style of house was the insulae house or apartment houses. The House of Trellis is one such house which had multistorey apartments which varied from spacious to tiny and could hold many families. Finally the largest and most luxurious housing style was the Villa. Often built on the outskirts of town such as the Villa of Mysteries, they were built as a holiday home for many wealthy Romans around the empire (Hurley, Medcalf, Murray, Rolph: Antiquity 2: Interpreting the Past: 2008).
One exemplary private house found was the House of Faun. It boasted 3600 square yards of living space and followed the simple and spacious Greek design. The inner atrium provided cooling and privacy for the four dining rooms, private bathroom, large kitchen and servant’s quarters (Davis: Pompeii: Vanished City: 1992).
It is known the people of Pompeii enjoyed baths and their home life centred around the atrium in their private homes. The lives of the people of Pompeii are revealed through the public and private buildings.
Public and Private Buildings in Herculaneum
The public and private buildings of Herculaneum have been excellently preserved due to the intense heat and dense volcanic material of the pyroclastic surge which buried the city (Andrew Wallace-Hadrill: Herculaneum Uncovered: Ideas Roadshow: 2013). Most of the city still remains buried beneath the modern city of Ercolano, however, much had been learnt from the excavated buildings.
Herculaneum appears to have been a quieter, more culturally inclined city than Pompeii. The absence of wheel ruts and paving stones on the street suggest that Herculaneum did not see as much trade as Pompeii; however, it boasted a better drainage system. The theatre, buried 24 metres below ground, dates back to the early Augustan period and was large for a city of such a small population. It could seat around 2500 people and was decorated with twelve Corinthian columns suggesting the townsfolk admired the Greek architectural influence (Hurley, Medcalf, Murray, Rolph: Antiquity 2: Interpreting the Past: 2008). Statues of Marcus Nonius Balbus around the palaestra and the theatre suggested that Balbus was a wealthy patron who paid for much rebuilding of public places after the AD 62 earthquake. Herculaneum’s main public centre is the yet undug Forum located at the end of the main street Deccumanus Maximus. Many religious, commercial and official public buildings are expected to be found here.
Another important part of Herculaneum’s infrastructure would have been the public baths. Herculaneum was fortunate enough to have two baths. The main bath followed all the typical luxuries of a traditional Roman bath including steam rooms, a cold circular pool and gender separate bathing areas (PBS: Herculaneum Uncovered: 2008). The baths were funded by the municipium although the second public baths (the suburban baths) were funded again by Marcus Nonius Balbus. The location and luxurious decor suggest that these baths were exclusively for Herculaneum’s elite. The suburban baths did not have gender separate bathing areas, which suggests that the men and women bathed at different times.
The private buildings in Herculaneum followed much the same style as the houses in Pompeii. The four main housing styles are present in Herculaneum as in Pompeii except for the greater number of doubled storeyed Atrium houses in Herculaneum than in Pompeii.
Several large houses such as the House of the Mosaic Atrium and the House of Stags overlooked the seaside in Herculaneum. This location was considered prime and many wealthy retired soldiers would have lived along the beach with their families. The House of the Mosaic Atrium displays the open plan and large spaces which derived from Grecian architecture. The large atrium which the house is named after was extended with a colonnaded garden and a glass enclosed portico. The House of Stags exhibits similar layout to the House of the Mosaic Atrium except the previous owner seemed to have possessed a sense of humour. Paintings of cupids line the halls while the garden is filled with statues of Satyrs and a drunken Hercules (Davis: Pompeii: Vanished City: 1992). Large rooms which opened to the outdoors and indoor wall paintings were common in the wealthier Herculaneum houses. Unfortunately there is limited information on the poorer houses in Herculaneum because many have not been uncovered yet or they were damaged by looters in search of precious artefacts.
Like Pompeii, the public and private lives of the inhabitants of Herculaneum are revealed by the public and private buildings.