A well-preserved slave room has been discovered at Villa Civita Giuliana , a wealthy suburb of Pompeii located about 700 meters (2296.59 ft.) northwest of the city walls. This large and exuberant villa was partially investigated at the beginning of the 20th century and more recently since 2017, but it has been plundered over the years by treasure hunters.
Earlier in 2021 a ceremonial chariot and stable were discovered at this site containing the remains of three horses. Now, according to archaeologists, the discovery of a slave room is said to offer an extraordinary glimpse into a part of the ancient world that usually remains largely in the dark. And that darkened aspect of history the researchers refer to is the day to day brutality of the lives of slaves.
Looting Ancient Riches
The excavation of the slave room is being conducted by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii and led by Chief Prosecutor Nunzio Fragliasso of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata. Located in Southern Italy’s Campania region, Pompeii was built on the active volcano Vesuvius and thrived before the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius that caused the entire region to be incinerated and covered in a thick layer of cinerite.
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Times of Malta explains that an investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Villa of Civita Giuliana revealed it had been ‘systematically looted for years.’ However, since 2017 a series of new data and discoveries has led to the finding of the slave room. But even in this tiny room the archaeological heritage of the site has been damaged due to tunnels dug by grave robbers. It is estimated that throughout the villa, over the years, the total amount of damage amounts to almost 2 million euros ($2.3 million).
A Tiny Space for Storage, and Slaves in Pompeii
Director General Gabriel Zuchtriegel said what is most striking about the room is its “cramped and precarious nature.” Measuring only 16 square meters (172.22 sq. ft.) the tiny room is a cross between a dormitory and a storage room. Lit only by a small upper window, three short beds and a wooden chest were discovered containing ‘metal and fabric objects,’ which appeared to be parts of horse harnesses. Eight large amphorae (storage jars) and a ‘chamber pot’ were also discovered both under and at the ends of the beds.
The beds were made of wooden planks that could be adjusted to suit different heights of sleepers and the undersides were made with meshes of rope, a detail discerned from cordage imprints in the cinerite beneath the beds. Two of the beds measured 1.7 meters (5.58 ft.) long and the other was just 1.4 meters (4.59 ft.) long. It is still unclear whether the room hosted a group of slaves or a small family, as indicated by the child-sized bed, but what is known, however, is that the little space left in the room was used for storage.
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Rubbing Salt into Open Wounds
Massimo Osanna, Director General of Museums, said this fruitful collaboration with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata, studying the slave room, “will allow us to uncover new and interesting information on the living conditions and lives of slaves at Pompeii and in the Roman world.” Pompeii was a center of elite farmers, traders, and merchants, and their hubris led them to believe they could live safely on the edge of a geological monster.
When the 79 AD eruption occurred, however, traditional class systems were instantly wiped out when both lord and slave fell mercy to much greater force than money and social class. The slave room is evidence that while the richest of society placed great value in luxury imported goods, they were able to completely disassociate with the horrors of the slaves that they ‘kept’. This last point is made clear when we consider the slave room, with its tiny window and three small beds, was stuffed with the storage jars containing the wines, oils, fruits, and spices of the slave owners. But dare they so much as touch one of those clay jars.