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Casa del Menandro

Form of house

In its final somewhat irregular form, this large house occupied over three-quarters of Insula I 10 and had a ground-floor area of c. 1800 m2. It belongs to Wallace-Hadrill's Quartile 4 (1994:81) and has a standard front-hall/garden plan at its core. Its main entrance is to the north onto the street between Insulae I 6 and I 10 and leads into the house's central axis. There are two further entranceways from the street on the east side between Insula I 10 and I 19.

Excavation reports

Unpublished: GdSc A,VI,6 (May 1912﹣March 1929):451﹣590 passim; A,VI,7 (April 1929﹣December 1935):56﹣235 passim.

Published: Maiuri 1933.

Excavation recording

The Casa del Menandro was excavated between November 1926 and June 1932. The excavation reports of the 1920s and 1930s often recorded the stae of the volcanic deposit; whether it had been disturbed or consisted of stratified ash and lapilli; whether finds were related to an upper floor; and at what level above the pavement finds were made. Given that the excavators considered this large and reportely "noble" house important, they were probably even more careful in excavating and recording here than they were with houses they considered less significant.*

Nevertheless, Amedeo Maiuri has published only the finds from this house that he considered spectacular. In addition, the Giornali degli Scavi serve to demonstrate that some objects were inaccurately provenanced in the inventories, and that Maiuri often published these incorrect provenances. They also indicate that many discoveries that were smaller in size, of less artistic merit, or from less interesting rooms were left out of the inventories and therefore by Maiuri. Many of the finds, particularly the skeletons, seem to have been moved to a display area after excavation, adding to the interpretative nature of the published recording. Maiuri also confused some of the room numbering, which sometimes changed as excavation proceeded. This is particularly so for rooms numbered 16 and 21 in the Giornali degli Scavi. Because these room numbers seem to have changed during the excavation, it has been difficult to allocate all finds to specific rooms.**

Interpretation of whole house

Della Corte (1965: Nos. 592﹣93) identified the owner of this house as Q. POPPAEUS SABINUS on the bases of a seal found in room 43, a graffito in entranceway a naming a "QUINTUS," two others in room 19 bearing the cognomen "SABINUS," and three more of the same cognomen outside the house (see also Pesando 1997:53). Ling rightly saw any connection between the graffiti, the bronze seal, and the owner of the house as circumstantial (1997:142﹣44).

The garden area had utilitarian storage in room 21, which contrasted with the remains of luxury furnishings in room 18, known to have had damaged decoration. A mixture of utilitarian and luxury storage was found in garden c and in underground rooms A and B. Dating all this activity uniformly to a final occupancy of the house seems inappropriate. Room 18 and perhaps its furniture had probably already been abandoned prior to the eruption. It is likely that parts of the former entertainment area had been downgraded after the restoration of the bath suite had been abandoned. The rudimentary altar in area 25 might also have been part of this downgrading. If so, this was intended to be a relatively continuing situation. The presence of building materials in area 23 indicates that this downgrading happened after its Fourth-Style decoration. The silver deposit in room B had been closed in AD 78 at the earliest. The depositor was possibly residing in the house at some stage during the last two years of Pompeii. The evidently neat storage of this treasure argues against it having been hastily assembled during the final eruption (see Painter 2001:12-13). It could be argued that at least some of the material had been packed in the chest before being placed below the bath suite. Whether this particular storage represents activity during the final eruption, the accompanying compluvium tiles, sundial, and other more utilitarian items, were probably not put into storage at this time. This area had been made into a storage space, with a rough breach for an entrance, at some stage after room 48 had been decorated in the Fourth Style, subsequently damaged, and the repair work abandoned.

It has also been argued that the area of courtyard 34 seemed no longer to have functioned efficiently as a stable yard at the time of the eruption, and that it had been converted into a storage area for amphorae, possibly with their contents and maybe even in commercial quantities. The eastern part of the house, as well as areas of the upper story, may have been separate from the rest of the house. It has also been demonstrated that the occupancy of the area of hall 41 represented a change of plan from the phase in which it had been added to the Casa del Menandro complex, during or before which room 43 had been decorated in the Fourth Style. Therefore, this house was most probably not under single occupancy in AD 79.

Maiuri argued that at the time of the eruption the whole house was being refurbished in the Fourth Style as a result of damage caused by the AD 62 earthquake. However, he had difficulty explaining the presence of the Fourth-Style fragments in the fill of rooms C and D under the bath suite. Ling originally solved this problem by arguing that much of the Fourth-Style decoration dated from before the AD 62 earthquake (Ling 1983a:49-53). Such an argument, however, implies that the house was largely unaffected by that reportedly devastating event (Tacitus, Ann. 15, 22). Some of this decoration is still in a remarkably good state of preservation today, yet is supposed to have suffered in at least one major earthquake and a volcanic eruption. No criteria other than the presence of these fragments in the fill have been used to date the paintings to before AD 62.† Ling has since proposed (1997:83-91) that ongoing seismic activity may have been responsible for further damage to wall paintings that he now argues were executed after AD 62.The finds of plaster fragments presumably mean that room D was walled up while debris was still lying around the house. Why would the occupants wall up the heating system of the bath complex before the restoration was completed and construct a seemingly provisional storage space beneath it? They may have seen little reason to continue these lavish repairs and have resorted to rather makeshift storage arrangements during seismic activity between the AD 62 earthquake and the final eruption.

In areas such as the bath suite and hall 41, more than one disruption or change of living conditions seems to have occurred in this house during the last decades of the city. The AD 62 earthquake cannot be used to explain all these changes. Trying to tie in apparent damage and altered spatial function to a particular seismic phase is unwise without more reliable dating criteria (compare Ling 1995).

*The importance of this house as an elite dwelling is perhaps exemplified by the lunch party held in Room 18 (Pompeii photo archive negatives A/234-236) when Mussolini visited Pompeii in 1940.

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

†See Ling 1983a:52.