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Archaeologists Find Pompei Frescoes Depicting Greek Gods

ancient roman fresco of a lady with wings and a crown on a red backdrop
Archaeological excavations in Pompei have brought to light frescoes depicting Greek gods and another two homes. Credit:  Sailko/ CC BY-SA 4.0.

Archaeologists recently found two more houses in Pompei containing frescoes of Greek gods and human remains. The eruption of the volcano in 79 A.D. destroyed the cities of Pompei and Herculaneum, but the area continued to be inhabited over the centuries to this day.

The amount of frescoes, graffiti, sculptures, and artifacts that keep resurfacing from the sister cities of Pompei and Herculaneum from under ashes of Mount Vesuvius never cease to amaze.

Excavations took place in the “Regio IX” area at the archaeological site of Pompei, where experts unearthed two homes. The frescoes were found in a house with a large oven and bakery, one of which had a bakery attached to it. Three human skeletons belonging to two adult women and a child between the ages of three and four were likewise found. They are currently being examined in detail by archaeologists.

At an entrance of one of the two houses, archaeologists identified two cubicles entirely covered in frescoes of mythological scenes. They found remains of charred furniture that burned when a fire broke out, possibly from the large oven.

Greco-Etruscan Pompei

This small Opician town had been used by nomadic peoples since the Neolithic era and was conquered by the Etruscans who built their temples here around the end of the 9th century B.C.

For this small town measuring sixty-four hectares of hilly, fertile land with a population of around twenty thousand, its advantage was its proximity to the florid Greek port town of Parthènope. Founded by the Pelasgians in the 8th century B.C., Parthènope stretched all the way down south of the Gulf of Naples and was surrounded by islands.

The volcanic land produced an abundance of oil and wine, and the port allowed for its shipping in the Mediterranean. The first urban plan for the city of Pompei was laid out by the Greek urban planner and architect Hippodamus of Miletus, and the strategic position of the city on Mount Vesuvius made this a great center of Greek cultural influence on the Etruscans.

However, the Etruscans were a peaceful, seafaring people, and were subdued by Aristodemus of Cuma, a leader of several battles over the course of the 5th century B.C. The old Parthénope was later referred to as Neapolis. According to several different ancient sources both Greek and Roman, such as those of Strabo and Titus Livius, the old city flourished alongside it, remaining the center of political power. It was named Paleopolis.

Pompei and Herculaneum, sister cities

Just a century after the founding of Neapolis in the 4th century B.C., Pompei was conquered by the Samnites, a pastoral and warring people who were being pressed south by Roman expansion. After the end of the Roman-Samnite war, the Samnites remained in Pompei and Herculaneum along with the Etruscans. 

However, they were always politically faithful to Rome. It was only in the 2nd century B.C. that Neapolis and Paleopolis were granted the status of a colony by Marcus Aurelius, while other cities that were part of the old Parthènope were being given Latin names. Roman historians such as Titus Livius never mentioned the old name of Paleopolis and could be making a point due to political and historical contingencies. Neapolitans still call themselves “partenopei.”

The prosperity of volcanic soil made the area around Neapolis a center of export for wine and oil. Its destruction by the partisans of the Roman dictator Silla in 82 B.C. devastated Pompei and many florid Etruscan towns. Neapolis slowly turned away from its merchant past and became more of a center for otium, where Epicurean schools were founded. It was a center of pleasure, art, and amazement. 

Close by, Pompei and Herculaneum were fully Romanized by the time of the Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D., but forced trade with the nearby Neapolis was a strong and local Hellenizing force just as it had been on Etruscan culture. Around the time when Vesuvius erupted, any respectable Roman patrician’s dream would have been to possess a domus on the seafront. The Villa of Papyruses discovered in the excavations in Herculaneum, for instance, was filled with Archaic-style bronze statues from around the 5th century B.C.

two ancient roman statues depicting two men, one at the forefront in pensive pose and one resting at the back
Greek-style Roman statues, one depicting Hermes resting. Credit: Nick in exsilio / CC BY-NC 2.0.

Greek influence on Pompei is inextricably tied to the port and trade routes of Neapolis. Neapolis was granted colony status by Marcus Aurelius. Findings keep revealing that Ptolemaic gods such as Serapis were worshipped as late as the 3rd century A.D.

The whole area is at high geological risk. As archeologists have in recent centuries tried to unearth even more and to date their findings, it has been noticed that over time different parts of the ancient poleis in the Naples Gulf rise and fall below sea level. Meanwhile, archaeological excavations started around three hundred years ago.

As shifting patches of land continue to slowly unearth areas previously unexplored, sites around Neapolis and Pompei are bound to keep bestowing us with archaeological gems such as these frescoes.

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