Numerous finds emerge from the House of the Library in Pompeii


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Divided between the 6th and 7th Regiones, the Insula Occidentalis of Pompeii is one of the most exclusive residential areas of the ancient city. The area is located on the western edge of Pompeii, with a scenic view of the Gulf of Naples, and from the 2nd century BC onwards it was progressively urbanised thanks to the construction of the so-called “ville urbane” (urban villas), located above the city walls and equipped with terraces offering a wide panorama.

Numerous finds emerge from the House of the Library in Pompeii
Insula Occidentalis, Casa della Biblioteca [Credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei]

After the settlement’s annexation by Silla in 80 BC, the existing dwellings were further expanded with a series of terraces sloping down to the sea, which gradually came to rest on the city walls, which no longer served their purpose as a defence against external attacks. The residential complexes, among the most beautiful in the city, were brought to light as early as the first excavations carried out by the Bourbons, and their complex articulation also justifies the term used to refer to them as ‘urban villas’.

In recent months work has been underway to restore the Insula Occidentalis and in particular work is focusing on the House of the Library, the House of the Golden Bracelet, the House of Fabius Rufus and the House of Castricio.

From the House of the Library, one of the houses most representative of the serene atmosphere of leisure, meditation, and academic pursuits that characterised these dwellings, numerous new findings are emerging from the archaeological excavation, including finds attributable to the last phases of life in the house.

A worked stone disc that formed the base of a mortar and a bronze or copper vase, an olla (jar), all testify to the work that must have been going on in the building complex. The house, in fact, presents several problematic areas due to the numerous earthquakes that preceded the eruption of 79 AD, including the great earthquake of 62 AD and the seismic swarm that most likely preceded the disastrous event.

Numerous finds emerge from the House of the Library in Pompeii
Insula Occidentalis, Casa della Biblioteca [Credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei]

In modern times there was a further disaster when, during the Second World War, Pompeii was bombed and several buildings were affected by more than a hundred bombs that fell on the city and of which two also hit the House of the Library.

The stone disc, circular and with a polished surface, still has a small pile of fragments of glass paste ready for the milling necessary to produce the so-called ‘Egyptian Blue’, a blue/blue pigment used for painting.

The copper olla, on the other hand, found on the opposite side of the threshold of the opening that connected a vast vaulted room with the terrace overlooking the Gulf of Naples, still contains a small iron crucible that was probably used to cook the oxides in the pigment production process. Both finds were taken to the Park’s laboratories for content analysis.

The name Library House is attributed to the scholar Volker Michael Strocka, who identified one of the interior rooms as a “library”. It still bears a splendid fresco depicting a figure with an ivy-crowned head, carrying the tools for poetic compositions: a volumen, a lyra and a capsa for books. The poet is probably Philoxenus of Kythera, author of dithyrambs in Greek who lived in the second half of the 5th century BC.

Author: Alessandra Randazzo | Source: Classicult [Trsl. TANN; December 10, 2021]

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