Pompeii was a city of ancient Rome and following the massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 it, together with the nearby city of Herculaneum, was buried beneath metres of ash.
As time rolled by both cities were largely forgotten to history until rediscovered again some fifteen centuries later and then investigated through excavations between 1738 and 1748. The world was entranced by the detailed picture of ancient Rome that gradually emerged through the continuing archaeological digs over the following two hundred years.
Pompeii was a comparatively wealthy city with a population of around 12,000 people by 25 BC. It became a business and agricultural hub in the area, bustling with traders and markets, and shops offered its inhabitants bread, wine, and fresh food daily.
Public entertainments included gladiatorial contests at the large local amphitheatre and live theatrical performances for the more genteel citizens. Some of the excavations revealed highly erotic art, and what is believed to have been a large lupanar – or brothel – appropriately decorated with erotica, was also discovered in the ruins.
The women of Pompeii wore the traditional stola, or plaited dress, with the wealthier also using extensive makeup and elaborate hairstyles. Colourful jewellery was also worn, predominantly made from gold, pearls and various gemstones.
As with today, the residences of the city varied according to the wealth of the owners, but the remains of some of the more expensive homes point to a pleasant lifestyle, involving a form of open plan living, gardens with fountains and rainwater storage tanks. Some of these houses were decorated with high quality paintings and frescos.
The health of the locals was well above the norm for the ancient world, with Roman medical knowledge learned from the Greeks and then developed further. Medicines were extracted from plants, including morphine from poppies, and this early form of anaesthetic allowed “doctors” to perform actual operations using medical instruments. A system of aqueducts kept the population supplied with abundant fresh water and this was also used in sewerage systems that were a significant contribution to community health.
In several ways living in Pompeii had similarities with the lifestyle of the modern cities of today, but with the presence of a large labour force of slaves a striking difference. Slaves were used in various levels of society, from gladiators and agricultural workers to road builders and household help.
Image: Portrait of a man and wife in fresco form, found on the wall of a Pompeii house. An inscription found inside showed that the house was owned by a man called Terentius Neo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.