The stunning art and magnificent artefacts found preserved in ash at Pompeii in the first century AD give the impression of a sophisticated and cultured society. But archaeologists who have worked at one of the most popular ancient sites in the world have also found evidence of a life that would make many of us squirm.
Sexually explicit graffiti, streets awash with rubbish and a brothel for every 250 inhabitants were part of the daily life of the walled city that came to an abrupt end when it was buried in mountains of hot ash from the eruptions of the nearby Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.
Three UWA academics, from the discipline of Classics and Ancient History, will feature in the West Australian Museum’s A Day in Pompeii exhibition, which opens this week and runs until September.
The exhibition has drawn unprecedented crowds to museums and galleries in Australia and overseas, with management forced to stay open 24 hours a day towards the end of some seasons, to cater for the long queues of people wanting to immerse themselves in ancient times.
Professor John Melville-Jones, Professor David Kennedy and Assistant Professor Glenys Wootton will be contributing to the exhibition through lectures and informal talks in June and August. A/Professor Wootton has made a study of gladiators and she will talk about Pompeii’s amphitheatre which was used for these fights, and the nearby gladiators’ training school. She will also deliver a lecture on gladiators on June 11. Gladiators were like our modern-day football heroes: a focus of adulation, with plenty of colourful graffiti devoted to girls’ adoration of them.
On June 18, Professor Melville-Jones will give an insider’s view of one of the biggest houses in Pompeii which he helped to record in the 1980s. Professor Melville-Jones was part of a University of Sydney expedition to Pompeii where he investigated the house, with about 60 rooms.
“We think some sort of business was conducted from the house because two front rooms opened only onto the street. One of them had what looked like prices on a wall, so it might have been a restaurant.”
He said many streets had stepping stones that crossed the street at a height of about 20 centimetres and this suggested that they were often littered with rubbish as there was no evidence of house-to-house rubbish collection.
Professor Kennedy will be running a Saturday afternoon session of his Roman archaeology group at the Museum, with at least three talks on Pompeii on August 28. Professor Kennedy’s group includes Associate Lecturer Nathan Leber who will talk about his exploration of the graffiti. In the same group, a/Professor Wootton is looking at the Pompeian frescoes and perhaps some of the erotic art from the brothels.
Excavation of the buried city of Pompeii began in the eighteenth century and despite thousands of archaeologists working there over the past 250 years, it is estimated that there is still about a third of the city yet to see the light of day. The exhibition at the Museum in the Perth Cultural Centre will include more than 250 objects including marble sculpture, gold jewellery and delicate frescoes.
A 3D theatre will allow visitors to experience the dramatic volcanic eruption that wiped out Pompeii. The University is a sponsor of the exhibition. Tickets are on sale through BOCS ticketing and available at the Octagon Theatre from 12 noon to 4.15pm, Monday to Friday.
From UWA News 17 May 2010