Daily Life in Pompeii
On 24 August 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted explosively, burying Pompeii under a crust of volcanic ash. For the next seventeen centuries, the city would remain lost, forgotten and preserved, sealed in a time capsule. Since excavations began in 1748, Pompeii was gradually revealed – street by street, building by building, room by room – providing an unparalleled record of life in the Roman Empire.
Explore this site to find out more about how the people of Pompeii lived and their culture and society. From social bathing to religious practices, businesses to public entertainment, the themes (listed in the menu) will provide the background to the objects you will see in A Day in Pompeii.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE: POMPEII’S AMAZING AQUEDUCTS
In its first several centuries as a town, Pompeii got most of its water from underground cisterns, which were fed by rainwater collected from roofs. One of the perks of being part of the Roman Republic, however, was having access to all the latest technology, and in the early first century AD Pompeii constructed an aqueduct system to bring fresh, clean water from the hills 40 kilometres away. This water flowed into a roofed reservoir (castellum aquae) before dividing into three large lead pipes which ran under the pavements. Six-metre-high towers with lead tanks on top were built at intervals along these three pipelines. The 35-metre height difference between the castellum and the lowest point in the city meant that the water in the pipes was under pressure, allowing smaller pipes to carry water up to the tanks, then back down the towers to supply public fountains, houses, shops and facilities such as baths.
Fountain from the house of the great fountain
Source: © Museum Victoria
Water pipes usually entered houses at the front door and fed fountains at the side of the impluvium or in the peristyle or garden — the early forerunner of the running water in our homes today. Any overflow went into a drain which emerged in the road at the base of the kerbstones and was used to flush the streets of rubbish before ending up in storm drains which carried it neatly to the river.
Lavatories, while decidedly rare in other parts of the world at this time, were commonplace in sophisticated Pompeii, and often occupied a small room off the kitchen.
In these hygienic marvels, a wooden seat was built over a lavatory pit, which, when flushed with a bucket of water, discharged into a cesspit near the house or under the street.
LEISURE TIME IN COSMOPOLITAN POMPEII
Bathing in Pompeii was a public activity, not a private one, and the public baths were important social meeting places. They were so important, in fact, that Pompeii (which had only 12,000 residents) boasted three major bathing complexes: the Stabian baths, which were the oldest; the Forum baths, built after 80 BC; and the Suburban baths, built in the early first century AD. A fourth, the Central baths, was under construction, but was still incomplete at the time of the 79 AD eruption.
At the baths, men and women had separate areas; if there were no separate facilities, women bathed in the morning and men in the afternoon. In addition to the main bathing block, which had facilities for hot, warm and cold bathing, there was usually an adjoining gymnasium for exercise. After the aqueduct system was built and a plentiful water supply was assured, an open-air swimming pool was even added to the Stabian baths.
All info from http://museum.wa.gov.au/pompeii/daily-life/water/
WHAT DOES A 2,000-YEAR-OLD HOUSE LOOK LIKE, ANYWAY?
In some ways, Pompeian houses were very different to those we live in today. For one thing, in Pompeii, all the living rooms of the house faced inward. Instead of having a front garden or even a gate, the front door opened directly onto the pavement, and the rooms to either side of the door were usually either utility rooms or a shopfront. From the front door, a passage led back to the largest room in the house, the atrium, which was lit by a rectangular aperture (compluvium) in the middle of its high, wooden roof. Rainwater fell through this open skylight into a rectangular basin (impluvium) in the floor beneath, and ran into a storage cistern under the floor — an arrangement similar to our modern water tanks, though almost certainly more attractive! Private rooms, which often contained couches, were situated to either side of the atrium, and at the far end lay the three most important rooms: the outer triclinia, or dining rooms, and the central tablinum, a formal reception room used by the master of the house for business and greeting guests. The doors to the house were thrown open at an early hour to admit the family dependents (clientes) who had been waiting patiently on the benches beside the front door.
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