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Casa del Fabbro

Form of house

This house lies to the west of the Casa del Menandro and has only one entrance to the street on to that to the north of Insula I 10. It has a ground-floor area of c. 320 m2 and is a relatively small house for this sample, belonging to Wallace-Hadrill's Quartile 3 (1994:81). It has a relatively standard front-hall/garden plan but with rooms along the west side of the front hall only.

Excavation reports

Unpublished: GdSc A,VI,6 (May 1912﹣March 1929):467, 545; A,VI,7 (April 1929﹣December 1935): 82, 258﹣302 passim.

Published: Elia 1934:278﹣308.

Excavation recording

The main excavation of this house was carried out between December 1932 and February 1933. The standard of recording is comparable to that in the Casa del Menandro, if not more careful. More precise locations of objects are provided but sometimes with incorrect compass points. The finds from this house provide a very comprehensive range of the artifact types found throughout the houses in this sample.*

Interpretation of whole house

The excavators reported removing material from previous excavations on the north side of the house (GdSc A,VI,7:83). Considerable evidence of post-eruption disturbance apparently existed within the house.

The skeletons in room 09 and the apparent cooking activity in area 11 suggest that this house had been occupied at the time of the eruption. Inscriptions on amphorae found in this house have been used to conclude that the last main occupant was "L. VOLUSIUS FAUSTUS" (Della Corte 1965: no. 523; Castrén 1975:244, No. 478.2). However, such an identification is invalidated (see Gralfs 1988:50﹣51; Ling 1997:163).

Elia noted that many finds from this house were of a "practical character" (1934:292). Particularly at the rear of the house and on both the ground and upper floors, they imply activities seemingly unrelated to traditional perspectives of household activities, based on the house's layout and decoration. The presence of a cart and of a diversity of tools and implements suggests that what may have functioned as the entertainment area of the house had been converted into a storage area for utilitarian domestic and trade materials, or a work area. Perhaps the owners had suffered impoverishment that caused them to carry out industrial activities or to store utilitarian material in what had previously been an entertainment area. Or perhaps the house had been reoccupied by someone who had no need for an entertainment area but did need to keep tools of trade in the house and possibly also to work there.

Elia felt (1934:292 n.1) that the quantity of specialized instruments as well as the more agricultural and industrial implements attested to the owner's multiple activities. She associated the often fine quality of the furnishings with the collection of tools and bone remains in room 09 to suggest that the principal occupant during the final phase had been a cabinetmaker. Bettine Gralfs was certain (1988:50), however, that the house had become a "Werkstatt" (workshop) and concluded (1988:52) that the large quantity of metal objects and the types of tools found in this house indicate that it had been occupied by a metalworker, not a carpenter.

Gralfs argued (1988:53) that the quantity of bronze finds in this house was too large for domestic purposes and therefore must indicate a production site. She reported that over 240 bronze objects were recorded from this house: over seventy-six in the front hall, over seventy-five in or above room 07, and forty in ambulatory 10. More than seventy of the bronze finds in the front hall were fittings for the cupboards in this area, however, and fewer than ten bronze vessels were reported here. Of the bronze finds in or above room 07, more than thirty-five were furniture fittings, twenty-three were coins, and most of the others were probably surgical instruments in their containers. Likewise, in ambulatory 10, while many of the bronze finds might be parts of other objects, conceivably incomplete, some of them were actual tools, and about twenty of them were furniture fittings. The comparatively high number of bronze objects from this house might be more a result of Elia's careful excavation and recording than have any bearing on the nature of the occupancy.

Noteworthy, however, is the comparatively large number of iron tools. Wolfgang Gaitzsch (1980:256) summarized the types of tools needed by metalworkers and woodworkers in the Roman period. He believed that the most important metalworking tools were a hammer, tongs, and anvil. He noted that soldering irons of hammerhead form were the expression of an advanced technique in metalworking. He believed that woodworking tools were highly differentiated but usually included a plane, chisels, axes, adzes, saws, and drill bits.

A number of hammers, large iron tongs, and small bronze and iron implements, including a reputed soldering iron,** were found in this house that suggest metalworking activities. A large quantity of chisels, at least one saw, and one axe head, however, suggest woodworking; wedges, trowels, and picks imply stoneworking; hoes, a spade, a shovel, and shears suggest agricultural activities; and a large number of small instruments imply surgical or pharmaceutical activities.

Thus, neither of the specializations suggested by Elia or Gralfs satisfactorily explain the range of tools and implements found in this house. Were all these activities carried out together in the same house under normal conditions, or is this evidence, as suggested for room 01, of an overlay of different activities or of material salvaged from other locations? The storage in this house, at least on the ground floor, is notably not particularly orderly (see Casa del Sacello Iliaco and the Casa dei Quadretti Teatrali). It is obviously difficult to provide a commencement date for these activities or the apparent change of occupancy at least of the rear of the house (Ling 1997:150); however, it must have been after the introduction of the Fourth-Style decoration, if Ling's dating of the wall painting is correct. It seems improbable that the occupant who converted the entertainment part of the house into a workshop or bric-a-brac shop would create and paint rooms upstairs and paint the lower rooms in the front of the house. The coarse plastering of the west wall of room 07 appears to be the type of refurbishing that might more appropriately be associated to this occupancy.

Three possible late phases of decoration can be proposed for this house: the Third Style of rooms 08 and 09, the Fourth Style of rooms 02, 04, 05 and the rooms above, and the coarse plastering of the front hall and one wall of room 07. At least the first two were probably related to occupancies before the final one. Thus, either the house went through a second adaptation after the earthquake of AD 62 and after it had been partially redecorated in the Fourth Style, or the Fourth Style in this house predates the AD 62 earthquake.

John Ward-Perkins and Amanda Claridge's claim (1980: No.88) that this house had ceased to be a residence after AD 62 represents an anachronistic perspective that workshops and residences in Pompeii would have been separate establishments, as in much of the industrialized world. The discovery of two skeletons in room 9 and cooking material in the kitchen suggest it was indeed lived in (see Allison n.d.).

* The Casa del Fabbro is part of more detailed study that has been carried out since this present study (Ling 1997, 2004; Painter 2001; Allison n.d.).

** I have discussed this implement with David Dungworth (Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield). I agree with him that it makes an unlikely soldering iron (compare Gaitzsch 1980:127-32). Professor William Manning has suugested (pers. comm. conversation in 2001) it was a chisel for cutting hot metal.