Information concerning the rooms in Casa della Ara Massima

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Entranceway A
Front hall B
Room H
Room F
Room G
Room C
Room D
Room E
Room N
Room I
Room K
Room L
Room M
Upper Levels

Entranceway A in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

This was the main entrance to the house led from the street to front hall B. The walls were decorated with a high red socle (height 1.55 m) divided into quadrants with black lines and with white plaster above (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 66﹣67). The pavement was in coarse cocciopesto.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

There was a fixed masonry seat to the north of the entrance (figure D.160). No loose finds were reported.

Interpretations of room:

Klaus Stemmer observed (1992:41) that the plaster in this entranceway was similar to that on the east wall of the front hall and had been repaired.


Front hall B in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

This covered front hall with an impluvium was entered from entranceway A on its east side. Rooms H, F, and G opened off its south side; rooms C, D, and E off its west side; I and K off its north side; and and N off its east side. The decoration of the east and south walls consisted of a high red socle (height: 1.5 m) with coarse white plaster above. The northwest corner had a black painted socle (the same height as that on the east wall) with coarse white plaster above. The west wall above the entrances to rooms D and E had Fourth-Style decoration, consisting of a yellow paneled socle zone, red central zone with floral volutes and candelabra, and an upper zone of an architectural façade with a yellow-framed central landscape panel with openings with figures and further larger figures in the side fields (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 78, 80) (figure D.161). The pavement was mainly in coarse cocciopesto.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

The central water-catchment pool (impluvium) was furbished in coarse cocciopesto (Stemmer 1992:Fig. 75). The north wall of the front hall between rooms I and K had a lararium painting (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 70-73) (figure D.162). Towards the east end was a square niche (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 73-74). Near this wall was found a bronze krater. A marble block was fixed into the west wall above the entrance to room D, 2.65 m above the floor (Stemmer 1992:Fig. 76). According to Stemmer (pers. comm.), this may have been used to support a statue. An iron hoe was found beside the impluvium and a pile of marble dust in the northwest corner.

Interpretations of room:

The variety of wall decoration in this front hall is curious. Stemmer noted (1992:18) that there were at least three plastering phases here. The excavators believed (Sogliano 1908:63) that the front hall was in the process of being repaired at the time of the eruption. Stemmer argued (1992:41) that the coarse plastered walls had a terminus ante quem provided by a graffito referring to Nero's month name. However, such dating is not necessarily reliable (see Wallace Hadrill 1986:433). According to Fröhlich (1991:78), the lararium painting is in the Fourth Style and contemporary with the plastering of the niche. Stemmer observed that this was older than the Fourth-Style decoration on the west wall (Kockel 1986:498). He dated the former before AD 62 (Stemmer 1992:43) and the latter probably after AD 62 (Stemmer 1992:42, 50). It is difficult to imagine the circumstances in which a large lararium painting would have been added to the north wall, and then the west wall furbished with painted decoration but the other walls left simply plastered. As has been shown, a number of front halls had a rudimentary wall decoration in their last decorative phase; this could be the case here. What is particularly noteworthy is that this last phase is of two different types and that similar wall furbishing in the entranceway had been repaired. An iron hoe seems an unusual find for a front hall and perhaps implies utilitarian use.


Room H in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

Room H in the southeast corner of front hall B was entered from it through a narrow doorway in the north end of the west wall. The walls were decorated in the Fourth Style, consisting of a black socle zone with plants, a central zone of alternating red and yellow fields with ornamental borders and vignettes of animals and birds and separated by black bands with yellow candelabra, and a white compartmentalized upper zone with animals and decorative elements (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 94-109). The pavement was in calcestuzzo ornamented with scattered white tesserae.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

Most of the east wall of this room consists of modern restoration.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

No finds were reported.

Interpretations of room:

This room has been identified as a cubiculum (Sogliano 1908:82). Stemmer concluded (1992:42) that its Fourth-Style decoration had been repaired after AD 62. Despite this painted repair, unlike rooms F and G, the complete dearth of finds hints that this room had not been reoccupied. The variation in type of repair in these three rooms suggests that they were perhaps not all contemporary.


Room F in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

This relatively large room on the south side of front hall B was entered from it through a large opening that constituted most of the north wall of this room. The east and west walls were decorated in the Fourth Style, consisting of a black socle zone with plants and birds; a central zone with red side fields with ornamental borders and medallions, yellow central fields, central panels of Adriane sleeping and Endymion and Selene, and separated with white openings; and a yellow upper zone with fantastic architecture and ornamental elements (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 120-25). The south wall had the remains of painted plaster in the southeast corner (Stemmer 1992:Fig. 118). The pavement was coarse cocciopesto, as in the front hall.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

Near the threshold of this room were found three small bronze disks attached to a wooden disk with bronze lamina. It is conceivable that this had been part of a container similar to that found in room B of the Casa del Menandro, which might have been a barrel. Other finds included two iron feet with ivory decoration, possibly from a bed or seat; five guardispigoli, reportedly from a chest; fifteen glass flasks; three glass cups; a small glass vase; a glass aryballos; a ceramic cup; a ceramic jar; a bronze jar; a set of bronze scales with bronze plates; a bronze lantern; twenty ceramic lamps; bronze tweezers; a bone hairpin; a small amber figure, probably an amulet; 103 glass beads, possibly from one or more necklaces; and part of what may have been a gold earring.

Interpretations of room:

This room has been identified as a triclinium by Antonio Sogliano (Sogliano1908:74) but as a tablinum by Stemmer (1992:23). Stemmer (1992:42) dated its wall decoration to before the AD 62 earthquake. Sogliano (1908:71) believed that the painting on the south wall had been destroyed and Stemmer argued (1992:42) that it had been coarsely repaired after the AD 62 earthquake. The large number of glass jars and ceramic lamps imply that this room had been used for storage during its final occupancy. This was probably domestic storage that included toilet items and is comparable to that in room 14 in the Casa dell'Efebo. While the large number of lamps is notable, it is difficult to assess whether or not they were for domestic use in this house. The iron feet indicate that this room was used either for sleeping, dining, or for the storage of salvaged material. The assemblage represents a variety of domestic activities, not all seemingly commensurate with the assumed function of this decorated room. The lamps could conceivably suggest utilitarian storage or hoarding, which implies that the room had been downgraded after it had been decorated in the Fourth Style and then repaired.


Room G in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

This large room in the southwest corner of the front hall was entered from it through a narrow doorway in the east end of the north wall. The walls were decorated in the Fourth Style, consisting of a dark red socle zone with birds, plants, and ornamental bands; a yellow central field with central panels (Mars and Venus, Heracles, Ariadne and Dionysus, Selene, and Endymion) and side fields with medallions separated by architecture; and a yellow upper zone with architectural elements (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 154-67). The pavement was in coarse cocciopesto.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

In the southeast corner of this room was a small masonry structure, possibly a provisional stairway (Stemmer 1992:27, Fig. 169). To the west side of the entrance was found a marble table (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 243-244). Near it were found a bronze lock and key, possibly from a small casket; two other fragmentary bronze locks; a bronze casseruola; a bronze ladle; two small glass bottles; a glass flask, another glass vase; two amphora bases containing honey; a bronze netting needle; a set of bronze scales; a large pyramidal lead weight; 120 fish-hooks; glass fragments (up to 0.17 m in length); two ceramic lamps; and a silver coin. Other finds included an iron key, a bronze lock, a ceramic pan, a ceramic jug, a small glass amphora, a glass flask, a ceramic lamp, and two bronze coins.

Interpretations of room:

Stemmer (1992:26) identified this room as a triclinium. The south wall had been repaired after its Fourth-Style decoration, which Stemmer dated (1992:42) before AD 62. The assemblage to the west of the doorway covers a variety of domestic activities, although the large quantity of fish-hooks, netting needle, and large weight suggest the inclusion of occupational or industrial storage. A netting needle was also found in room E. A marble table is an uncommon find for an internal room. Such furniture found in internal rooms in other houses would appear to have been stored away, perhaps during a disruption, or salvaged (see hall 41 in the Casa del Menandro). In general, this room seems to have been repaired, possibly downgraded, and a stairway added after it had received its Fourth-Style decoration and was then used for varied storage.


Room C in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

Room C was a relatively small narrow room on the west side of front hall B and was entered from it through a narrow doorway in the center of the east wall. The walls were covered with coarse gray plaster. The pavement was of beaten earth (Stemmer 1992:31).

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

The north and south walls of this room had evidence of wooden shelving. The finds included an amphora, a rustic ceramic jug, and a fine-ware cup.

Interpretations of room:

This room had evidently been used for storage. The limited finds imply that the storage was utilitarian domestic in character.


Room D in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

This room in the center of the west side of front hall B opened onto the latter for all of its east side. The walls were decorated in the Fourth Style, consisting of an imitation marble socle zone and a central zone of candelabra, floral volutes, animals and a central panel with Narcissus on a white ground with red borders (Sogliano 1908:Fig. 2; Stemmer 1992:Figs. 188-204). The pavement was coarse cocciopesto, as in front hall B.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

No finds were reported.

Interpretations of room:

This area has been identified as a tablinum (Sogliano 1908:64) or pseudo-tablinum (Stemmer 1992:31). Stemmer (1992:31) dated the wall decoration before the AD 62 earthquake on the basis of the plastering technique and stylistic analysis.


Room E in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

This small room on the west side of front hall B was entered from it through an opening in the center of the east wall. The walls were covered with white plaster. The pavement was in calcestruzzo (opus caementium).

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

This room had two rows of shelves along the west wall (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 211-13). The loose finds included an amphora base containing honey; a coarse ceramic lid; a ceramic jar containing a black substance; two small glass basins and one ceramic one; a glass flask; a glass cup; a ceramic bowl; three bronze needles, one reportedly for netting; a lead container; a marble vase, reportedly painted; two ceramic lamps; and a bronze lock, a boss, and a ring handle, all probably from a wooden container.

Interpretations of room:

The finds suggest that this room had been used for domestic storage including that of foodstuffs during the final occupancy of the house.


Room N in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

Room N in the northeast corner of front hall B was entered from the latter through a narrow doorway in the south end of the west wall. It is now accessible from the street through a narrow doorway at the north end of the east wall, where there may once have been a stairway leading to the upper floor. The decoration on all walls consisted of a high pink plaster socle (height: 1.4 m) with white plaster above. The pavement was of beaten earth.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

The walls of this room are poorly preserved, particularly the east wall.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

A wooden stairway had reportedly led from the street to the upper floor along the north wall. Near the entrance were found a ceramic jug, a circular two-handled bronze basin, a bronze cooking pot, a bronze jug, a bronze casseruola, and possibly a large decorated bronze krater.

Interpretations of room:

The finds were all large vessels seemingly for cooking, pouring, and washing. As such, they were probably mostly kitchen apparatus. No kitchen bench was identifiable in this house, but this room would not seem a likely candidate for such a feature. It might have served for kitchen storage. Room K seems a more suitable candidate for the kitchen proper.


Room I in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

Room I in the northwest corner of the front hall was the largest closed room in the house. It was entered from the front hall through a narrow doorway in the east end of the south wall. The walls were decorated with a high red socle with white plaster above (Stemmer 1992:Figs. 215, 217). The pavement was probably in calcestruzzo with a square of cocciopesto towards the center of the room (c. 1 m from the west and east walls and c. 2 m from the north and south walls).

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

A marble fragment from a table (possibly the head of Dionysus) was found in this room.*

* The plan (Sogliano 1908) indicates a tripartite structure along the north wall, and Stemmer suggested a central motif in the pavement (1992:Figs. 40-42).

Interpretations of room:

The wall furbishing suggests that this room had a fairly utilitarian function. It is difficult to draw conclusions from one fragmentary find, but this table fragment recalls the possible salvaging noted in rooms F and G and in other houses.


Room K in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

Room K on the north side of front hall B was entered from it through a small doorway in the southeast corner. Another narrow doorway in the south end of the east wall provided access to room L. The walls were plastered, and the pavement was in calcestruzzo (Stemmer 1992:35).

Condition of volcanic deposit:

This room is poorly preserved.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

A circular masonry structure stood in the southwest corner against the west wall (Stemmer 1992:Fig. 221). The excavators called it a puteal (Sogliano 1908:83). No loose finds were reported.

Interpretations of room:

Stemmer suggested (1992:35) that the structure in the southwest corner had been a cistern that was not in use during the final phase of occupation. He also found evidence of blackened plaster on the north wall and suggested that there had been a hearth there. He therefore identified this room as a culina.


Room L in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

This small room was entered either from room K through a narrow entrance in the south end of the west wall or from room M through a narrow doorway in the west end of the north wall. The south and west walls had been plastered. The pavement was in calcestruzzo as room K.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

The walls of this room are poorly preserved.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

A latrine stood in the southeast corner with a downpipe from the upper floor, and the northeast corner had a drain (Sogliano 1908:83; Stemmer 1992:Fig. 236). A large bronze basin reportedly for washing was found in this room.

Interpretations of room:

The bronze basin might have been associated with the drain and latrine.


Room M in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

Room M was a large room in the northeast corner of the house. It was accessible from room L through a narrow doorway in the middle of the south wall or from the street through a wide doorway in its east wall. The walls were furbished with fine plaster, and the pavement was of calcestruzzo, as rooms L and K.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

This area is poorly preserved.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

No finds were reported.

Interpretations of room:

Room M has been identified as a shop (Sogliano 1908:83; Stemmer 1992:36).


Upper Levels in Casa della Ara Massima

Description of room:

Evidence of an upper story would be provided by a stairway in room N, although Pirson disputes this (1996:253), and by another in room G.

Condition of volcanic deposit:

No stratigraphic information.

Summary of Finds and Fixtures Distribution:

Above entranceway A were found three bronze rings, a bronze buckle, an ivory die, and three bronze coins. Above the entrance to room G were found an elliptical wooden board with ten bronze bosses and a bronze handle and thirty bone hinges from a large cupboard or chest. In the southwest corner of front hall B, 4 m above the floor, were found a bronze statuette, a small semicircular bronze handle, two bronze vases, a bronze cup, four bronze supports, probably from lamp-stands; a double-spouted bronze lamp (Sogliano 1908:Fig. 3), a bronze lantern, and a small cylindrical bronze container. In the street in front of room M, and possibly disturbed from this house, were found bronze tweezers, parts of bronze scales, three pieces of bone mounted in silver and bronze, two ceramic lamps, four bronze rings, a ceramic jar, and a ceramic jug. In the street in front of room N were found: a bronze circle, one small bronze hinge, a bronze padella, a bronze vase, two ceramic vases, a ceramic pot, a ceramic vase containing fish bones, two glass-paste beads, and two bronze coins. Unlocated finds included three fragments from iron furniture feet, a small glass amphora, a bronze lock plate, and a bronze coin.

Interpretations of room:

The finds in the entranceway to the house were small, easily lost objects that may have fallen from an upper floor. Those above the entrance to room G were from pieces of furniture and appear to have been part of a cupboard or chest in a room above room G. The finds above the southwest corner of the front hall were mainly concerned with lighting, reminiscent of the finds in room F. They were all of bronze, many fragmentary, suggesting that they were salvaged material. The considerable height of their find spot above the floor suggests that they were in a disturbed volcanic deposit, but their uniformity of function suggests that they had also constituted an assemblage prior to the eruption. With the exception of a few apparently luxury pieces, the finds in the street in front of room N were similar in character to those found inside this room and were perhaps removed here during post-eruption disturbance. Thus, most of the finds in the upper levels of the volcanic deposit appear to have been disturbed material. There had been an upper story to this house but its contents are not discernible