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Casa della Ara Massima

Form of house

This house had two entrances on the west side of the street between Insula VI 16 and the unexcavated Insula V 6. It had a ground-floor area of c. 200 m2, thus belonging to Wallace-Hadrill's Quartile 3 (1994:81). This is the only house in this sample that did not have a garden. The front hall therefore had side rooms, but the side opposite the entrance was of a more contracted form than the other houses in this sample.

Excavation reports

Unpublished: GdSc A,VI,4 (Nov. 1899﹣Oct 1904):189﹣252 passim; A,VI,5 (Nov. 1904﹣April 1912):33﹣36.

Published: Sogliano 1908:63﹣84; Stemmer 1992.*

Excavation recording

This house was excavated between October 1903 and October 1904, with further excavation in the street in October 1905. The standard of excavation and recording is comparable to that of the previous house, with little attention paid to the volcanic deposit but some paid to organic remains.

Interpretation of whole house

The excavators noted (GdSc A,VI,4:189) that the volcanic deposit in the area outside the entrance to this house had previously been disturbed. No observable evidence of disturbance in the form of breaches in the walls exists inside the house today, but the finds in the upper levels of the deposit in the front hall suggest some post-eruption intrusion. The majority of finds in this house are from rooms E, F, and G. Room E is furbished as a storeroom and had apparently been used as such during the final occupancy of the house. However, rooms F and G, which had been lavishly furbished with Fourth-Style decoration and subsequently repaired, had also been used for storage, not only of domestic material but possibly also commercial/industrial and salvaged material- large quantity of lamps, marble tables, and fishing equipment having been found here. Ludwig Curtius (1972:117) dated the Fourth-Style decoration of this house after AD 62. However, Stemmer noted (Kockel 1986:498; Stemmer 1992:42) that unless there had been a second earthquake, the decoration in rooms F and G must have been executed before AD 62 and subsequently repaired. He argued that the decoration in room H and the lararium paintings on the north wall of the front hall were also before AD 62 (Fröhlich 1991:78; Stemmer 1992:42), because the decoration had been repaired and the paintings were of the same type of plaster. Whether or not the original Fourth-Style decoration dated before AD 62, the rooms appear to have been downgraded subsequent to the repair of that decoration. This situation hints at more than one disruption after the house was initially decorated in the Fourth Style and possibly an ongoing deterioration in living conditions.

The lack of skeletal remains might support an argument for the house having been abandoned before the eruption, but foodstuffs were still stored here at the time of the eruption. The evidence is tenuous, but one might conclude that the last occupancy, probably that at the time of the eruption, was not in the form intended either by the Fourth-Style decoration or by its repair.

* Since this study was completed Bernard Sigges has studied the finds from this house (2002).