Information concerning the rooms in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Jump to:
Entranceway 01
Front hall 02
Room 03
Room 04
Room 05
Room 06
Room 07
Garden 08
Room 09
Room 10
Area I 11,7
Upper Levels

Entranceway 01 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This entranceway (figure D.18) led from the south side of the Via dell'Abbondanza to front hall 02. The wall decoration was in the Fourth Style, consisting of a black socle divided into compartments and a predominantly yellow central zone with fields separated by candelabra and surrounded by ornamental borders. Medallions in the side fields contained female heads (Descoeudres and Sear 1987: Figs. 34﹣35; Armitt 1993:238). A graffito, "VENITE AMANTES," had been scratched into the central zone of the decoration of the east wall. The pavement at the north end of the entranceway was of rough mortar over an earlier layer of gray mortar (Armitt 1993:238).

Condition of volcanic deposit:

The house door was blocked after the lapilli had been deposited in this entranceway. This blockingwas no doubt part of the strategy to shore up the side of the street during the excavation of the Via dell'Abbondanza but before the house itself was excavated.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

No finds were reported.

Interpretations of room:

The socle zone of the wall decoration appears unfinished, having a top surface of coarse pink plaster. The medallions in the central zone of the west wall was also incomplete. The graffito scratched into the decoration may show disrespect for the paintings (see Descoeudres and Sear 1987:36) but also that they might have remained unfinished for some time prior to the final eruption.


Front hall 02 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This front hall was entered from the north through entranceway 01 (figure D.19). Rooms 04, 05, and 06 opened off its east side; room 03 off the northwest corner; area I 11,7 off the northeast corner; and room 07 off the south side. The south and east walls and the southeast jamb to room 07 were furbished with coarse grayish plaster. The central water-catchment pool (impluvium) had a cocciopesto base decorated with pieces of colored marble (Armitt 1993:238). No remains of any pavement, however, were reported in the front hall itself.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

More than 2 m above the floor is a large breach in the west wall.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

This front hall had a central water-catchment pool (impluvium). To its south were three plastered masonry supports painted yellow with a red border between white lines. While some of the fittings in the southeast corner might have been door fittings, they included thirty-two bone hinges (at least two of them 105 mm in length) and a number of pieces of bone decoration, indicating that the piece of furniture in this corner was a cupboard, rather than an arca (strongbox) as the excavators believed (GdSc 1954 April:23; Armitt 1993:240). This cupboard contained most of the vessels found in the front hall. They included eight bronze vessels, mainly jugs and plates but also a forma di pasticceria and a large covered basin; numerous glass bottles (mostly small ones) and jars; a bronze lantern; a bronze calamaio; a bronze compass; a small bronze mirror, bronze tweezers, and a bronze cover for a pumice stone, possibly for toilet activities; two bronze seals in the form of finger-rings, one with the name "C. POPPAEI IDRUS" and the other with "CISSUS PITHIUS COMMUNIS"; other gold, bronze, glass, and semi-precious stone jewelry; a colored marble egg; nine bone dice, twenty glass counters, and four bronze knucklebones, which were probably gaming items; two boar's teeth; leg irons; and twenty-one bronze, fourteen silver, and seven gold coins. A large bronze jug with silver decoration and another thirty-three bronze coins could also have come from this cupboard.

Bronze hinges, handles, and bosses as well as thirty bone hinges and bone furniture ornaments reported from the southwest corner of this hall in front of room 07 indicate that another cupboard stood in this area. The bosses, with a diameter of up to 75 m, may have been parts of ring handles. From this cupboard were recorded two bronze lamp-stands; a small bronze container with compartments and the lid of another; a bronze surgical or toilet instrument (from the description this was possibly similar to a spoon-probe: see Crummy 1983:60.); an oval bone spoon; a bone knife handle; two iron strigils connected with a ring, probably bathing equipment; a compass; three pieces of sculpture consisting of a marble statuette of Venus in a gold bikini (figure D.20), a small glass figurine of a swan, and a terra-cotta statuette of a winged cupid; fragments of glass and rock crystal jewelry; possibly a whetstone; a bronze horse bit; a shell; and one coin.* Other finds from the east side of the front hall included a bronze calderotto, an iron lamp-stand, and a strigil. The excavators recorded finds from an arca in the northeast corner (GdSc 1954:146, 3rd May). As Melinda Armitt concluded (correspondence with author), however, this must in fact have been the southeast corner cupboard.

*Armitt (correspondence with author) believed that these contents were from a cupboard under the stairs in room 07. Her reasons were the lack of mention by the recorders of a container in the southwest corner of this front hall and the likelihood that they confused the locations. As she has pointed out, the Relazione del mese di gennaio 1954 sull'attivita degli scavi di Pompei reports that the statue of Venus was found in the tablinum (that is, room 07). The large quantity of fittings recorded here, however, compared with those from the understair cupboards in front hall b of the Casa dei Ceii and room 10 in the Casa del Menandro, for example, suggest rather that there was a freestanding cupboard in this corner. These finds were reported three months after the excavation of the understair cupboard in room 07. I, therefore, find Armitt's argument unconvincing and the location as documented in the original Giornali degli Scavi the most reliable. Michele George's assumption of confusion (1998:87) is based on unfamiliarity with the excavation reports and a lack of understanding of the house plan; a provenance in room 07 would mean in the understair cupboard, where the statue of a hermaphrodite was found.

Interpretations of room:

This front hall has been referred to as the atrium (for example, Armitt 1993:237). The three masonry supports behind the impluvium was possibly for a table with a statue behind it. According to the Giornali degli Scavi, this hall's decoration was even more incomplete than that in the entranceway. The painted decoration corresponds to and was therefore probably contemporary with that in entranceway 01, room 07, and garden 08 (see Armitt 1993:239). The two cupboards identified here contained mainly a mixture of domestic equipment. But the cupboard in the southeast corner also held a number of pieces of jewelry, valuable coins, and what have been identified as leg irons, leading Armitt to conclude that the house had been abandoned rapidly (1993:240). The cupboard in the southwest corner held sizable statuary and a horse bit. Perhaps the inclusion of the jewelry and the statuary was the result of hoarding during the final eruption. The statuette of Venus was, however, lacking an arm at the time of excavation. This statuette could conceivably have been stored away after it had been damaged. The horse bit and leg irons had probably not been put into storage during the eruption. These items might represent habitual domestic storage. That they were found together with broken statuar, however, suggests they may have been stored following a disruption, possibly prior to the final eruption..

Why the walls of this front hall were coarsely plastered and yet the supports beside the impluvium were painted contemporaneously with the incomplete but defaced decoration in entranceway 01 is difficult to explain. The placing or replacing of furniture against this coarse plaster suggests either that this was the intended furbishing or that the decorative program had been abandoned, presumably after the painting of entranceway 01 and the supports. The formal display quality of the central supports was probably not part of the same refurbishing phase as the coarse plastered walls. Thus, as in entranceway 01, the front hall appears to be an example of downgrading after the Fourth-Style decoration.


Room 03 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This was a small, narrow room in the northwest corner of the front hall and entered from the latter through a small doorway in its south side. The surface of a previous wall covering had been roughened to take new plaster. The pavement may have been mortar or lavapesta.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

No loose finds were recorded from this room. It had a recess in the east wall, but it is difficult to assess its original size because the northeast corner of this room has been restored in modern times.

Interpretations of room:

According to the excavators (GdSc April 1954:143) and Armitt (1993:239), this room was incompletely refurbished at the time of the eruption. They recorded that no evidence exists that new decorating had been started. Perhaps this room was being altered and thus not in use at the time of the eruption. Because of the recess, Armitt identified it as a cubiculum (1993:238).


Room 04 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This room was on the east side of front hall 02 and was entered from the latter through a narrow doorway in the center of the west wall. The walls were decorated in the Fourth Style, consisting of a red socle zone with geometric designs and white central and upper zones with large mythological panels (one depicting Pyramus and Thisbe), floating figures, fantastic architecture, and grotesque motifs. The pavement consisted of large fragments of stone mixed with gray mortar (Armitt 1993:238).

Condition of volcanic deposit:

Breaches in the north and south walls of this room suggest post-eruption disturbance.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

No loose finds were recorded from this room. A T-shaped iron object (length: 0.2 m), perhaps the remains of a piece of furniture, had adhered to the east wall near the southeast corner.

Interpretations of room:

According to Armitt (1993:238), this room had been converted from an "ala into a room proper" probably after the AD 62 earthquake, and the pavement had been unfinished. She argued (1993:239) that the decoration was of an earlier phase of the Fourth Style than the rest of the paintings in this house but seems to have based this conclusion on unsubstantiated stylistic criteria. If indeed this room had been converted, the lack of reported finds here hints at its subsequent abandonment.


Room 05 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This small, narrow room on the east side of front hall 02 was entered from there through a narrow doorway in the center of the west wall. It was decorated in a simple Fourth Style consisting of a yellow socle zone with cursorily drawn plants and white central and upper zones delineated into panels with red and yellow lines. These panels contained vignettes of birds. The pavement was of lime mortar and cocciopesto.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

As in room 04, breaches in the north and south walls demonstrate that this room might have been disturbed.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

Two recesses in the east ends of the north and south walls created an east wall 2.33 m long. No loose finds were recorded.

Interpretations of room:

According to Armitt (1993:238), this was a cubiculum. The length of the east wall is unnecessarily long for one bed but inadequate for two, or for one bed and a second piece of furniture. These recesses might not, therefore, have been intended for beds.


Room 06 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This room opened off the east side of front hall 02 and was entered either through a narrow doorway in the center of the hall's west wall or from area I 11,7 through a narrow doorway in the west end of its north wall. The walls of this room were covered with a coarse gray plaster (Armitt 1993:239) similar to that in front hall 02. There seems to have been no pavement.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

The south wall of this room appears to have been penetrated after the eruption.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

No finds were reported.

Interpretations of room:

The excavators referred to this room as a cubiculum, although Armitt stated that its function is unknown (Armitt 1993:238). She seemed uncertain whether the wall decoration was unfinished or simply that of a coarsely plastered storeroom. The walls of storerooms were more usually covered with white or pink plaster; the gray plaster she described was more normally the base for a fine plaster and painted decoration. The similarity between the coarse plaster on the walls of this room and that in the front hall could indicate a similar function or state of incompletion.


Room 07 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This room was to the south of front hall 02. It was open for most of its north side onto front hall 02. To the south it had a doorway and window onto garden 08. The decoration of the south wall and the area under the stairway along the west wall was similar to that of the entranceway (figure D.21). This consisted of a red socle zone and yellow central zone with fields delineated by white ornamental bands and containing a medallion with a female head and a figured panel depicting Dionysus and a silenus (Armitt 1993:239). Above the stairs in the northwest corner was coarse white plaster. This room had a cocciopesto pavement decorated with scattered black and white tesserae.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

Underneath a stairway along the west wall was a cupboard. Several amphorae were found in this cupboard, and two bronze locks, and a bronze buckle. Two bronze coins were probably also from here. A wooden box or small chest was reported on the floor on the east side of this room. Twenty-one bone hinges (three described as large), bronze bosses, bronze nails, and a lock with attached chains were also found on the floor. These fittings indicate a chest, cupboard, or both in this room. In the same location were found a bronze bucket, a bronze jar, and a marble statuette of a hermaphrodite, which could have been from one of these containers. Other unlocated finds included five glass square-bottomed vases or flasks.

Interpretations of room:

This room has been called a tablinum (Descoeudres and Sear 1987:34; Armitt 1993:239). While the amphorae under the stairs could have been part of normal household storage, the statuette might not normally have been kept in such a location. Perhaps it was moved here during the final eruption. Considering the evidence of statuary stored in the cupboard in the southwest corner of front hall 02, however, it could have been put here earlier.


Garden 08 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This area to the south of room 07 was entered from the latter by a doorway in the northeast corner. Rooms 09 and 10 were entered from its east side. The decoration on the south and west walls of this garden consisted of Fourth-Style garden scenes with a light-colored socle containing sphinxes and a central zone with trees, flowers, and birds, a large female figure holding a basin, and further fountain basins supported by the sphinxes in the socle zone. The north wall had also been furbished with plaster. The pavement was probably of lime mortar.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

The southeast corner of the garden had a niche. A terra-cotta puteal was found over a cistern head in the southwest corner. A sundial was reportedly from this garden (Gibbs 1976:141 No. 1025; PPP I:145; Kockel 1986:474), although the excavators did not mention it.

Interpretations of room:

The paintings decorating the south and west walls are contemporary with the painting under the niche in the southeast corner. The painting inside the niche appears to be earlier. A doorway in the west wall is apparently blocked, underneath the painted plaster (Armitt 1993:238). The doorway leading from the southeast corner of the garden to room 09 was apparently blocked in modern times to prohibit access to this house from the street.


Room 09 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This room was in the southeast corner of the house and was entered from garden 08 through a narrow door in the west wall. The walls were furbished with plaster. The pavement was probably cocciopesto.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

Most of the south wall of this room has been destroyed.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

A bench stood along the south wall, a latrine in the southeast corner, and a niche or window in the northeast corner of the north wall. No loose finds can be definitively assigned to this room, but Armitt (correspondence with author) believed that five bronze vessels (one a cooking pot), a bronze stand, a bronze container, a ceramic askos, and a glass cup reported from a cubiculum to the "southwest [sic]" of room 07 had probably been from this room.*

*These objects were inventoried and no doubt excavated in September 1961, some years after the rest of the house was excavated.

Interpretations of room:

Along with the south wall, much of the bench is also now destroyed. The fixtures are sufficiently preserved, however, to indicate that this room must have been the kitchen (see Armitt 1993:238). Because the provenance is uncertain, the above finds cannot be used as evidence that the kitchen was functioning at the time of the eruption.


Room 10 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This was the largest closed room in the house. It was in the southeast area and was entered from the east side of garden 08, through a doorway in the south end of the west wall. It also had a window in the north end of the east wall. The walls were painted in the Fourth Style. This decoration consisted of a red socle zone with dolphins and sea creatures. The central and upper zones had a white background with fantastic architecture, standing figures, and ornamental motifs. The central panels depicted Artemis with Actaeon and the Judgment of Paris. The side fields of the central zone was yellow with ornamental borders and floating cupids. The pavement was of large fragments of stone mixed with a gray mortar (Armitt 1993:238).

Condition of volcanic deposit:

The north wall has a breach corresponding to those in rooms 04, 05, and 06. Much of the south wall consisted of modern reconstruction.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

The finds from this room included three guardispigoli, a bronze hinge and two lock plates, one with a key, possibly from a chest or cupboard; two glass flasks and a glass cup; a bronze cooking pot; bronze scales; two bronze buckles; bronze, glass and rock crystal jewelry; glass-paste and stone counters; and a coin. The association of guardispigoli with chest fittings suggests that they had been furniture fittings, although their precise function is unclear.

Interpretations of room:

This room has been called a cenatorium or biclinium (Descoeudres and Sear 1987:35) and a triclinium (Armitt 1993:239). The finds do not seem to be what one might expect in a functioning dining room, as this room was reputed to be. While most of the finds appear to be glass containers, dress, and ornaments or related to leisure activities, more utilitarian scales and a cooking pot are a curious addition. The whole assemblage seems inappropriate for a dining room. One might therefore conclude that either it was not a dining room, or that it was not used as one prior to the final eruption and presumably after it was decorated in the Fourth Style. According to Armitt (1993:238), the pavement had been left unfinished.


Area I 11,7 in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

This area was to the east of entranceway 01 and was entered directly from the Via dell'Abbondanza through a wide doorway in its north wall. A narrower doorway in the southwest corner of this area led to front hall 02, and another in the center of the south wall led to room 06. It was decorated in the Fourth Style with alternating red and yellow panels with ornamental borders above a dark red socle zone.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

The volcanic deposit in this area was reportedly already disturbed before the recorded excavation (GdSc 1954:127, Jan. 26).

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

This room had a podium in the southeast corner (figure D.22), which may have had two steps on its west side (GdSc 1954:142, April 14). The west wall contained a square niche (GdSc 1954:140, April 9), and a large piece of broken tile was found in the northeast corner (Armitt 1993:238). According to Armitt (correspondence with author, 1990), three terra-cotta roof tiles, inventoried on 1 December 1963 as from House I 11,7, were from this room.* If so, it is not clear whether they had been part of the structure or stored here.

*Armitt's argument is possibly based on the presence of one of these tiles in the house, as observed in 1989.

Interpretations of room:

This room was assumed to have been a shop (GdSc 1954:127, Jan. 26). Armitt identified the tile in the northeast corner as part of a shelf. The lack of finds implies that this shop contained no merchandise and might not have been open for business at the time of the eruption. It is possible that any finds could have been removed during previous excavations, but the complete lack of them is noteworthy. The structure in the southeast corner has been thought to have been a stairway (F. Pirson, conversation with author); however, it is not the usual shape. The wall painting continuing behind the podium implies that it was not a stairway.


Upper Levels in Casa della Venere in Bikini

Description of room:

A stairway in room 07 indicates an upper floor, at least in this area of the house. If there was indeed a stairway in area I 11,7 then this would imply upper story rooms across the front of the house.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

Two skeletons, one with a collection of bronze objects in a bag, were found above the front of the house, c. 4 m above the pavement. The objects in the bag included a small cylindrical container with three instruments and a piece of slate and a rectangular casket with compartments containing substances. Whether these finds were associated with this house, however, is uncertain. A few fragmentary finds were reported from the upper levels of the volcanic deposit but cannot definitively be assigned to upper rooms. These included the foot of a bronze lebes, a bronze hinge, a clay lamp, and a bronze ring.

On 5 March 1955 a number of finds were reported as being from this house, but no room location was given. These consisted of two bronze casseruole, a glass flask, two small ceramic cups and a pot, a bronze knife handle, a bronze stadera, bronze hinges, a bronze lock plate, a bronze guardispigolo, two bronze buckles, a terra-cotta medallion, a ceramic ink pot, and four coins.

Interpretations of room:

Descoeudres provided no reasons for his belief that the stairway in room 07 led to a cenaculum (Descoeudres and Sear 1987:34). No evidence was found for the location or character of upper-level rooms in this house.