‘Amazing’ Pompeii, home of men freed from slavery, reopens to public | Italy

An ornate house containing a fresco of a giant phallus that was owned by two freed men freed from slavery in the ancient city of Pompeii has reopened to the public.

The House of the Vettii was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 before being rediscovered in a largely preserved state during excavations in the late 19th century.

The home, believed to have been built in the second century BC, has reopened after years of extensive restoration.

There are erotic frescoes in the house, which is believed to have included a small brothel. Photo: Silvia Vacca/Atrio Vettii

Located in the rich quarter of the ancient city, the sprawling The House of the Vettii was owned by Aulus Vetius Restitutus and Aulus Vetius 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 Vetius, according to Gabriel Zuchtrigel, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park .

“If they were from the same family, the first two names would be different and they would have the same last name,” he said. “It was unusual to have biological siblings who were enslaved and then freed because family ties were severed with slavery, so it was highly unlikely that they were siblings. More likely they were friends during their time as slaves and then freed.

‘Amazing’ Pompeii, home of men freed from slavery, reopens to public |  Italy
Priapus, the god of fertility and abundance, with scales and a bag of money – symbolizing the wealth accumulated by the owners of the house. Photo: Silvia Vacca/Atrio Vettii

Restitutus, meaning “to restore,” is a typical name given to a freed slave, Zuchtrigel said.

It was not unusual for people freed from slavery to thrive in ancient Pompeii, and the House of Vetius was filled with elegant frescoes by the two wine merchants, who also expanded the home to include a statue garden and fountain.

Among the most impressive frescoes is one at the entrance of the home: it depicts Priapus, the god of fertility and abundance, with a large penis balancing on a scale next to a bag full of money, believed to symbolize the wealth accumulated by men.

Inside the home is a 15cm high frieze that runs along the wall of what is believed to have been a dining room, depicting cupids engaged in activities such as making perfume or selling wine. It also depicts divine couples and gods, including Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea.

A small room near the kitchen, which contains erotic frescoes, is believed to have been used as a brothel. Next to Priapus at the entrance is a small inscription in Latin that refers to a woman with a Greek name who is described as having “good manners”, along with an image of two Roman coins. The inscription is thought to refer to the small brothel in the home.

Aulus Vettius Restitutus also joined the high-ranking Augustales, a college of priests who were responsible for a form of worship of the emperor.

A frieze showing cupids at work runs round the wall of one room.
A frieze showing cupids at work runs round the wall of one room. Photo: Luigi Spina/House of Vettii 26

Zuchtriegel said the abundance of treasures contained in the Vettii house was “absolutely amazing” and if he was a visitor to Pompeii and had the opportunity to see only one home 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 works of art, paintings and statues, and on the other you have social history [of the freed slaves]. The house is one of relatively few in Pompeii for which we have the names of the owners.

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