What does archaeological evidence reveal about how people in Pompeii and Herculaneum lived?

Essay by skyllinka March 2005

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The Romans would have had a word for it: Fortuna. It was surely thanks to the intervention of the goddess Fortuna that the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum ever again were to be seen in the light of day. For archaeologists, it is certainly heaven-sent fortune that these two holiday resort cities were discovered; their ruins revealing much of the daily lives of the towns' citizens.

"Hail Profit!" This piece of graffito at the House of Vedius Siricus (Pompeii) captures the essence of daily life in Pompeii (and to lesser extant Herculaneum). While findings of fishnets, sinkers, and bronze fish hooks imply a quiet fishing life for Herculaneans, Pompeian life was highly commercial. The day began with the Patricians greeting their clients in their forum, then immersing their day at the Basilica for business or attending to their land lording. Proletarian merchants going to their shops in the forum to ruthlessly promote their wares (evidence of their commercial ruthlessness comes from an ad at a Herculaneum winery which used religion to promote their wares: the god Bacchus appears on the wineshop's wall).

Slaves and freedmen led hard lives: the large crests on bones of 'Helmsman' at Herculaneum led NG anthropologist Dr Sara Bisel to conclude: "slaves appear to have been dreadfully overworked" doing extensive manual labour on their master's property, such as construction. After midday, following work and siesta (evident from the '1000 lamps' found in Pompeii's Stabian Baths), citizens went to the baths-an important part of daily life (indicated by 3 baths in Pompeii and 2 in Herculaneum, all occupying prime positions) , which allowed people to socialise, exercise and clean. Supper followed where they ate in the triclinum lying on coaches. Examination of teeth reveals a diet of honey, rather than sugar, using much less sweetening on their...