An ornate house — which has a fresco featuring a huge penis — that belonged to two freed men in the ancient city of Pompeii has reopened to the public.
The Vettii House was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 BC before being rediscovered in a largely preserved state during excavations in the late 19th century.
The house, which is believed to have been built in the second century BC, has reopened after years of complex restoration work.
It is located in the affluent quarter of the sprawling Old Town Vettii House It was owned by Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva, who became rich by selling wine after being freed from slavery.
Theories in the past suggested that the two men were brothers, but it is more likely that they met when they were enslaved and had the same master, whose name was Aulus Vettius, according to Gabriel Zuchtregel, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park.
He said: “If they were from the same family, the first two names would be different and they would have the same surname.” “It was very uncommon to have biological siblings who were slaves and then freed, because family ties were broken by slavery, so it is very unlikely that they were brothers. It is more likely that they were mates during their time as slaves and then freed.”
Restitutus, meaning “to give back,” said Zuchtriegl, was a typical name given to a freed slave.
It was not uncommon for People freed from slavery to prosper In ancient Pompeii, the House of the Vettii was filled with elegant frescoes by the two wine merchants, who also extended the house to include a garden with statues and a fountain.
Among the most striking frescoes is one at the entrance to the house: this depicts Priapus, god of fertility and abundance, with a large phallus balancing on a scale next to a bag full of money, thought to symbolize wealth accumulated by men.
Inside the house is a 15 cm high frieze running along the wall of a room believed to have been a dining room, which featured cupids engaged in activities such as making perfume or selling wine. It also depicts divine couples and deities including Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.
A small room close to the kitchen, containing erotic frescoes, is believed to have been used as a brothel. Next to Priapus at the entrance is a small inscription in Latin referring to a woman with a Greek name, described as “of good manners”, along with the image of two Roman coins. The inscription is believed to refer to the small brothel in the house.
Aulus Vettius Restitutus also joined the high-ranking Augustales, a college of priests who were responsible for a form of emperor worship.
Zuchtriegel said the abundance of treasures found in the House of the Vettii is “absolutely amazing” and if a visitor to Pompeii had the opportunity to see only one house in the Archaeological Park, it would be this one.
“This is the house that tells the story of Roman society,” he said. On the one hand you have the artwork, the paintings and the statues, and on the other you have the social story [of the freed slaves]. The house is one of the relatively few in Pompeii for which we have the names of the owners.”
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