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Casa di Julius Polybius

Form of house

This house was relatively large, covering c. 700 m2 and belonging to Wallace-Hadrill's Quartile 4 (1994:81). It has two entranceways from the north side of the Via dell'Abbondanza, leading to two separate front hall areas and two distinct parts of the house. Only the east side connected directly to the garden and to larger rooms at the back. The upper story appears to have consisted of three sections: an area along the street front, with windows onto the street; an area around halls N and O; and possibly a third one along the north side of the garden (de Franciscis 1988:26, 19).

Excavation reports

Unpublished: GdSc A,VI,6 (May 1912﹣March 1929): 76﹣98; Oliva Auricchio.

Published: Della Corte 1913:28, 30, 55﹣64, 142; Spinazzola 1953:317 ff; Giordano 1974; Castiglione Morelli del Franco 1982, 1983; Ragozzino 1987﹣88; de Franciscis 1988:14﹣34.

Excavation recording

The first recorded excavations of this house were carried out in January and February of 1913 (GdSc A,VI,6:76﹣98). They were concentrated mainly on the façade through to areas C and A. Further excavations were carried out by de Franciscis between November 1966 and the end of 1978 (Oliva Auricchio; de Franciscis 1988:15).

The reports of Maria Oliva Auricchio indicate that even in the most recent excavations in Pompeii, site restoration concerns have frequently overridden archaeological considerations. Much of the wall plaster and masonry structure was restored without careful documentation. Nevertheless, Oliva Auricchio's reports give noticeable attention to stratigraphy and fragmentary material, providing information for this house that is either missing or extremely scant in earlier reports from other houses: for example, the depth of finds from the modern ground level. In many cases, however, it is still difficult to ascertain the precise find spots unless the pavement level of the room is also given.*

Interpretation of whole house

The two adjacent entranceways from the street, leading to seemingly separate parts of the house (de Franciscis 1988:26), make this house one of the more complex in the sample. It has been thought to have originally belonged to an old patrician Pompeian family of the gens Iulia (Spinazzola 1953:317) but to have been in the hands of one of their freedmen at the time of the eruption (de Franciscis 1988:30). The seal of C. Julius Phillippus found in garden CC and graffito with his name in hall N have been used to suggest he may have been the last resident and that he had been a freedman of C. Julius Polybius, also a freedman (Jashemski 1979a:26; Pesando 1997:137). Nella Castiglione Morelli di Franco (1982:799) suggested the two may have been related. Both may have been recorded in electoral graffiti immediately outside the house (Spinazzola 1953:317; de Franciscis 1988:18) and in other epigraphical material found elsewhere in Pompeii (Della Corte 1965:275 no. 562 and 347 no. 751; Mouritsen 1988:139; de Franciscis 1988:30). Such possible evidence for house ownership should be used with caution (Allison 2001b: 64-66). Castiglione Morelli di Franco argued that money found with skeleton 2 in room HH and in cupboard IV in the ambulatory indicated the very scant treasure of the family at the moment of the eruption (Castiglione Morelli di Franco 1982:790). She attributed this either to straitened circumstances during the post-AD 62 restoration work or post-eruption looting.

According to de Franciscis (1988:27), the two lararia in halls N and O underlined the dual purpose of the house, a view taken up by Pesando (1997:138-41). It is by no means certain there had been a lararium in hall O, as de Franciscis himself seemed aware. De Franciscis also argued (1988:32) that the earthquake of AD 62 had necessitated stabilizing and redecorating work to the house, work which had been still in progress in AD 79, but that the house had continued to be occupied (see also Kockel 1986:520; Leach 1993:24). De Franciscis' identification and dating of the Third-Style decoration is problematic, particularly for room EE, which would have to be dated c. AD 60 to have been incomplete in AD 62, but had been dated c. AD 50 by Bastet's chronology (Bastet and de Vos 1979:16). Similarly unfinished Third-Style decoration, which de Franciscis had previously called the Fourth Style, is found on the jambs outside this room, in the ambulatories of garden CC. It also seems that de Franciscis identified the decoration in many rooms as in the Third Style, which could be identified as complete Fourth-Style decoration (for example, rooms S, U, I, GG, and HH) or whose decoration is unidentifiable (for example, room Y) and that he identified incomplete decoration as the Fourth Style to fit his chronology, where all completed decoration needed to have been dated prior to the AD 62 earthquake.

Many of the rooms in the front house and around hall O, which had once been lavishly decorated, mainly in the First and Second Styles but some in the Third or Fourth (for example, room Y), appear to have been subsequently downgraded, covered with coarse white plaster, and used for commercial/industrial activities. The rooms along the east side of hall O had been converted for storage, predominantly for amphorae and their contents. Rooms in this area that had good quality Fourth-Style decoration and had not been subsequently coarsely plastered (that is, rooms S, U, and I) appear to have been empty at the time of the eruption. At the same time much building material had been found in this area, in area A, and rooms Y, TT, C, and B. This implies that de Franciscis may have been correct about the house having undergone refurbishing, but it also implies that the refurbishing had not been to produce coarsely plastered rooms and cobbled halls for commercial/industrial activity and that it had occurred after some of the painted rooms had already been decorated in the Fourth Style.

A lot of fragmentary material, particularly ceramic and glass but notably a lack of bronze, was found in upper levels of the deposit. It is unclear whether this had been material left by intruders after they had removed valuables or the equipment of the upper-story rooms. Room SS' seems to have had material in situ but the lack of information on precise locations for other finds in other upper levels of the deposit points toward disturbance. The fragmentary state of the finds is problematic for a study of patterning, not only because the lack of bronze material is suggestive of post-eruption disturbance but also because comparable material had been not generally recorded from other houses. Nevertheless, the general impression is that these rooms had largely been given over to storage, possibly commercial. Although there seems to be evidence of rooms in the upper story across the north side of the house, particularly above rooms GG and HH, there is no evidence of access to them from this house.

Domestic activities seem to have been largely restricted to the garden area of the house although they were possibly also carried out in the vicinity of hall N. They seem somewhat haphazard with luxury furniture against unfinished wall decoration, sockets made into the decoration, rustic beds in finely decorated rooms, and agricultural storage despite a lack of tools. These living conditions appear to represent a change of plan post-dating the decoration of this area, which is mostly in the Fourth Style. Therefore, either all the Fourth-Style decoration in the house had been pre-AD 62 or this house had suffered further disruptions to its occupancy after that earthquake. The suggestion that the house had been occupied by a freedman may approach an explanation for this industrial/commercial and somewhat makeshift occupancy.

*The database and analysis of finds from this house are based on Oliva Auricchio's original notebooks. Finds from the earlier excavations of the façade are not included in the database. Publications of the finds from the later excavations do not always provide precise provenances (for example, Castiglione Morelli di Franco [1982, 1983] does not discriminate between pavement level and finds in the volcanic deposit); it is therefore difficult to use them to coordinate the objects held in the Pompeian storeroom with those inventoried by Oliva Auricchio. From Castiglione Morelli di Franco's study of the lamps (1983) it is apparent that many of the pieces that were recorded by Oliva Auricchio purely as ceramic fragments have later been positively identified as lamp fragments. It is hoped that the further work of Castiglione Morelli di Franco and others will result in published identifications and precise provenances of other pieces from this house.

In June 1997 I carried out a final checking of all the pavements and decoration in the rooms in this sample. It was not possible to check all the pavements in this particular house at this time because it was in the process of being restored.