Religion In Pompeii and Herculaneum
The inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum seemed to have had a pastiche of national deities, little gods, cults and foreign religions. Romans believed that their gods had human like feelings and had the power to destroy people if they did not satisfy them with offerings and worship (Rosen: The Destruction of Pompeii: 1987).
The largest gods in Pompeii and Herculaneum were the traditional gods which the in habitants were required to worship under Roman rule. Pompeii, the temple of Jupiter located at the North end of the Forum was not enthusiastically rebuilt after the earthquake of AD 62 suggesting that the inhabitants were not particularly dedicated to the mainstream gods. The lax attitude towards the traditional gods was thought to be the reason for the city’s destruction according to Roman beliefs (Dio Cassius: History of Rome: AD 205). Venus, however, was worshipped avidly as seen by the many images which appear of her throughout the city’s public spaces. Pompeii’s love for the goddess of love stemmed from the Sulla, Pompeii’s Roman conqueror who dedicated the town to her. The rebuilding of the temple of Venus after the earthquake had barely begun before the Vesuvian eruption buried it in AD 79.
Both Herculaneum and Pompeii worshipped little gods such as Lares or Penates in household shrines or lararium. The genius (advising spirit) of the house was offered food and prayers at the shrine. The House of Vettii has a lararium which shows two Lares dancing with the genius in the centre. The serpent represents good fortune and prosperity (Fulton: Religion in Pompeii and Herculaneum: 2013).
Pompeii, in conjunction with mainstream gods, worshipped many foreign gods and participated in cults. The mystery cult of Isis was a Hellenistic organisation based on re-enacting Egyptian mythology. It was introduced to Pompeii sometime during the late second century BC by sailors and merchants and quickly became the largest cult. The second largest cult was related to Bacchus (derived from Dionysus) the god of fertility. This cult was popular with women; it involved feasting and making sacrifices after fasting. According to Davis, M. in Pompeii the Vanished City the worshippers would then perform a passionately wild dance in which they would “lose their inhibitions and be released from mortality.”
Religion in Herculaneum is vague because the Forum of the city is buried beneath the modern city of Ercolano. Many temples and religious statues would be located in the forum to inform historians of religion in Herculaneum. However, from a painted fresco in Herculaneum’s bath house it can be seen that Herculaneum’s residents held great affection for their heroes. Herkales (or Hercules) was Herculaneum’s name giver and mythical founder; he was believed to offer protection (Fulton: Religion in Pompeii and Herculaneum: 2013).
Religion in Pompeii and Herculaneum was full of mainstream deities, household gods, cults and foreign religion as seen by the temple of Jupiter, household shrines and the cults of Bacchus and Isis.
Everyday Life in Pompeii and Herculaneum
Everyday life in Pompeii and Herculaneum can be regarded as largely similar to the lives of the citizens in other Roman colonies.
Typical families in Pompeii and Herculaneum were primarily patriarchal, the father or Pater Familia was the head of the household and the slaves were at the bottom (HSC Hub: Pompeii and Herculaneum Social Structure: 2013). A typical Roman family was larger than the families of today. Not only were there more children but slaves and servants owned by the family were also considered part of the family. The woman of the house had little control over her own life. She was her father’s property until she married where she became her husband’s property. Women could only divorce their husbands if he abandoned her, joined the army or became a prisoner of war. Education was only for wealthy sons; children of poorer families helped their parents with work and followed their parent’s profession. Women didn’t have many professions they could undertake but they could work as hairdressers of midwives. Rosen writes in The Destruction of Pompeii that daughters were taught only what they needed to know for family life. A typical Roman wedding would have started with the bride offering her childhood toys to the family shrine. The next day a beast would be sacrificed and if the priests determined the marriage was approved by the gods by inspecting the entrails the wedding contract would be signed. After a party the groom would carry his wife over the threshold of his house signifying that the bride was now under his care.
For most Roman’s eating during the day was not common. Rather they ate a small meal in the morning and then waited till the evening to enjoy a lavish meal. The poorer citizen’s diet would have included bread, porridge or stew. The wealthier citizens enjoyed a wide variety of extravagant dishes designed to impress. Common foods for the rich included fruit, eggs cheese cold meat and honey (Chandler, Talpin, Bingham: The Osborne Internet Linked Encyclopaedia of the Roman World: 2001). There was no sugar in the diets of the residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum and honey was rare.
In the Campania region where the cities of Vesuvius are located wine was plentiful due to the fertile lands which produced and abundance of grapes. Diluted wine was drunk more than anything else in Pompeii and Herculaneum, although, it was considered unrespectable to drink it undiluted with water. Pliny the Elder wrote that “Pompeian wines are rather dangerous as they may cause headaches which lasts till noon on the following day” showing the strength of the grapes produce from the fertile Campanian lands (Pliny the Elder: Natural History: XIV 70).
The wealthier classes in Pompeii and Herculaneum partook in sumptuous evening meals. These meals had very strict etiquette, nine was considered the perfect number of guests as three people could sit around three sides of the table. It was customary to hold the plate with the left hand and eat with the right. Unlike Grecian societies women in Roman societies were allowed to attend dinner parties with the men. The House of the Moralist in Pompeii also states some other rules of common etiquette at Roman dinner parties. An inscription on the walls states “Don’t cast lustful glances, or make eyes at another man’s wife. Don’t be coarse in conversation. Restrain yourself from getting angry or using offensive language. If you can’t, go back to your own house” (Cartwright: Pompeii: Graffiti, Signs and Electoral Notices: 2012).
Wool was the main fabric used for clothing in Pompeii and Herculaneum. From the many fulleries in Pompeii it can be inferred that dyeing wool in bright colours was fashionable. The fullery of Stephanus was one of the twelve fulleries in Pompeii where clothes were washed and dyed. Chandler writes in The Osborne Internet Linked Encyclopaedia of the Roman World that men wore tunics and togas, the togas was considered uncomfortable and only wore in public for special or ceremonial occasions. Women wore a stola (long robe) with a palla (shawl) over the top. Men were clean shaven and wore simple haircuts; women on the other hand curled their hair with heated curling irons and piled them on their heads. Unbeknownst to the ancient Romans the lead the ladies used in their make-up to whiten their skin caused a degree of lead poisoning.
The House of Surgeon in Pompeii shows that the Roman doctors were most often slaves or Freedmen will skill in medicine. The medical instruments such as pincers for removing splinter wounds show the doctors were somewhat advanced, although, they did not have any anaesthetics. Rosemary and sage were considered effective to numb pain, however, citizens mostly prayed to their different gods to be healed (Davis: Pompeii: Vanished City: 1992).
Leisure activities in Pompeii and Herculaneum included watching theatre and sports and visiting taverns and brothel houses. The citizens of Pompeii greatly loved their sports, Tacitus wrote that in AD 59 “there was a serious riot between the people of Pompeii and Nuceria, a nearby town.” A “small incident at a gladiatorial show” eventuated into a full riot which the Pompeians won. The consequences of this riot meant that the Roman senate banned gladiator games in Pompeii for ten years.
The everyday lives of the residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum were similar to that of people that lived under Roman rule throughout the rest of the Roman Empire as can be seen from their family life, food, fashion, medicine and leisure activities.