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Pompeii dig opens up the ancient world of slaves

The Australian, November 8, 2021 7:00PM Kids News

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An exceptionally well-preserved room for slaves who worked in Villa Civita Giuliana just outside the ancient city of Pompeii has been unearthed. It is the same villa where a ceremonial chariot and a stable with a harnessed horses were discovered earlier this year. Picture: AFP Photo/Pompeii Archaeological Park media_cameraAn exceptionally well-preserved room for slaves who worked in Villa Civita Giuliana just outside the ancient city of Pompeii has been unearthed. It is the same villa where a ceremonial chariot and a stable with a harnessed horses were discovered earlier this year. Picture: AFP Photo/Pompeii Archaeological Park

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Pompeii archaeologists* have unearthed* the remains of a “slave room” at a Roman villa destroyed by Mt Vesuvius’ eruption nearly 2000 years ago.

An extremely rare find, the little room with three beds, a ceramic pot and a wooden chest was discovered during a dig at the Villa of Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa just a few hundred metres from the rest of the ancient city.

media_cameraThe little room with three beds, a chamber pot and a wooden chest was discovered during a dig at Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa just a few hundred metres from the rest of the ancient city. Picture: AFP Photo/Pompeii Archaeological Park

An almost intact ornate* Roman chariot was discovered here at the start of this year, and archaeologists said Saturday that the room likely housed slaves responsible for maintaining and preparing the chariot.

“This is a window into the precarious* reality of people who rarely appear in historical sources, written almost exclusively by men belonging to the elite*,” said Pompeii’s director general Dr Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

The “unique testimony” into how “the weakest in the ancient society lived … is certainly one of the most exciting discoveries in my life as an archaeologist,” he said in a press release.

Pompeii was buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, killing those who hadn’t managed to leave the city in time. They were either crushed by collapsing buildings or killed by thermal shock.

The 16sq m room was a cross between a bedroom and a storeroom: as well as three beds – one of which was child-sized – there were eight amphorae* – distinctive ancient Roman jugs – stored in a corner.

The wooden chest held metal and fabric objects that seem to be part of the harnesses of the chariot horses, and a chariot shaft was found resting on one of the beds.

media_cameraA find of this quality is “exceptionally rare”, according to Pompeii’s director general Dr Gabriel Zuchtriegel. Items included metal and fabric objects that seem to be part of the harnesses of the chariot horses, and a chariot shaft found resting on one of the beds. Picture: AFP Photo/Pompeii Archaeological Park

The remains of three horses were found in a stable in an earlier dig this year.

“The room grants us a rare insight into the daily reality of slaves, thanks to the exceptional* state of preservation* of the room,” the Pompeii Archaeological Park said.

Experts were able to make plaster casts of the beds and other objects made of perishable materials because their imprint was left in the cinerite – the rock of volcanic ash – that covered them.

The beds were made of several roughly worked wooden planks, which could be adjusted according to the height of the person who used them.

The webbed bases of the beds were made of ropes, covered by blankets. While two were around 1.7m long, one measured just 1.4m, and may therefore have belonged to a child.

The archaeological park said the three slaves may have been a family. Archaeologists found several personal objects under the beds, including containers for private things, ceramic jugs and what might be a chamber pot*.

media_cameraUnearthed items included pieces thought to have been used at work tending the chariot, but there were private objects too, including one vessel that might have been used as a chamber pot. Picture: AFP Photo/Pompeii Archaeological Park

The room was lit by a small upper window, and there are no traces of wall decorations, just a mark believed to have been left by a lantern hung on a wall.

The excavation is part of a program launched in 2017 aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts* that can be sold on illegal markets.

The Villa of Civita Giuliana has been the target of organised looting* for years. There was evidence some of the archaeological heritage in the so-called “slave room” had also been lost to looters, the park said.

Damage by grave robbers in the villa had been estimated so far at almost $2.3 million.

media_cameraArchaeologists work carefully at the site. Experts were able to make plaster casts of the beds and other objects because of imprints left in the rock of volcanic ash that has covered them for nearly 2000 years. Picture: AFP Photo/Pompeii Archaeological Park

GLOSSARY

  • archaeologists: scientists of the human past and materials that people created and used
  • unearthed: discovered, found, brought to light
  • ornate: detailed, decorated, elaborate
  • precarious: unstable, unsafe, vulnerable to harm
  • elite: aristocracy, the richest, most powerful and best-educated in a society
  • amphorae: a distinctive Ancient Greek or Roman jug with two handles and a long neck
  • exceptional: special, uncommon, noteworthy, unusual
  • preservation: conservation, protection, maintenance
  • artefacts: man-made objects of cultural and historical interest and importance
  • looting: stealing from a place, often in times of civil unrest

EXTRA READING

Archaeologists find ancient chariot near Pompeii

Exploring the lost city of Pompeii

Mount Etna’s spectacular volcanic eruption

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the name of the volcano that erupted and destroyed the city of Pompeii?
  2. When did the eruption occur?
  3. What else was found earlier this year at the same villa on the outskirts of Pompeii?
  4. Why do experts think a child may have lived in the Slave Room?
  5. What was the excavation program launched in 2017 designed to stop?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Daily life in 79AD
If this was where a family of three lived as slaves for an elite man or family, and their main task was looking after the chariot, what do you think some of their jobs may have been?





Do you think they would have received some sort of payment for this?

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; History; Personal and Social

2. Extension
Do you think the gap between the rich and poor would have been common in those days? How does this compare to different classes in society today?

How do you think we could live in a more equal society?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Personal and Social

VCOP ACTIVITY
Imaginative dialogue
Imagine you were there during the event being discussed in the article.

Create a conversation between two characters from the article – you may need or want to include yourself as one of the characters. Don’t forget to try to use facts and details from the article to help make your dialogue as realistic as possible.

Go through your writing and highlight any punctuation you have used in green. Make sure you carefully check the punctuation used for the dialogue and ensure you have opened and closed the speaking in the correct places.

Extra Reading in history