Posts Tagged With: Wall Paintings

I Predict a Riot

Earlier this week I had the great privilege to spend an hour in a room full of engaged and enthusiastic Year 9 students talking about Pompeian graffiti. These students are studying for a GCSE in Classical Civilsation after school as part of The Iris Project at Cheney School. During the paper, in which I was introducing them to various aspects of graffiti and dipinti and the ways historians use these inscriptions, I was asked a question that rather took me by surprise. It wasn’t about graffiti, but about a wall painting that I was using to illustrate an event in Pompeii’s history which is related to a number of graffiti.

amphitheater_fresco_by_kerrybush-d6xo2k8

This painting, found in the House of Anicetus, ( I.iii.23 ) famously depicts the riot that took place in the amphitheatre in AD 59. We know this is a real event because Tacitus tells us about it:

Tacitus Annals 14.17
‘At around the same time, there arose from a trifling beginning a terrible bloodbath among the inhabitants of the colonies of Nuceria and Pompeii at a gladiatorial show given by Livineius Regulus, whose expulsion from the senate I have recorded previously. Inter-town rivalry led to abuse, then stone-throwing, then the drawing of weapons. The Pompeians in whose town the show was being given came off the better. Therefore many of the Nucerians were carried to Rome having lost limbs, and many were bereaved of parents and children. The emperor instructed the senate to investigate; they passed it to the consuls. When their findings returned to the senators, the Pompeians were barred from holding any such gathering for ten years. Illegal associations in the town were dissolved, Livineius and the others who had instigated the trouble were exiled.’

In addition, there are a number of graffiti that illustrate the kind of animosity between neighbouring towns that may have contributed to, or resulted from, the event that Tacitus describes.

CIL IV 2183
Puteolanis Feliciter / omnibus Nuc{h}erinis / felicia et uncu(m) Pompeianis / Petecusanis.
Good fortune to the Puteolans; good luck to all Nucerians; the executioner’s hook to Pompeians.’

CIL IV 1329
Nucerinis / infelicia.
‘Ill luck to the Nucerians.’

One even accompanies a drawing depicting a gladiator holding a palm of victory:

glad

CIL IV 1293
Campani victoria una / cum Nucerinis peristis.
Campanians, in our victory you perished with the Nucerians.’

The question that was asked, however, related not to the graffiti but to the painting itself, or more to the point, how unusual it was to have a painting in one’s house that depicted such violence. On most occasions when I have come across a reference to this painting in a scholarly work, if the oddness of it is mentioned at all, it is done in a very offhand way of wondering why someone would wish to commemorate such an event (even if the Pompeians were considered the victors). I have never come across a comparison to other wall paintings in terms of the nature of the violence illustrated. In the moment when the question was asked, I was racking my brain for a similar scene – and I couldn’t think of a single one. The closest may be the Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun, which depicts a military battle. Still, as detailed as it is in regards to fallen men and distressed looking horses, it does not depict seemingly dead bodies still on the ground as we can see in the painting from Anicetus’s house. The very nature of gladiatorial combat is a gruesome and bloody sport to which Romans were largely accustomed, but sitting in an arena watching a contest which may result in spilled blood (but, contrary to popular belief, rarely death) is quite a different thing than displaying images of the dead or dying on the wall of your house.

The question, as raised by this student, made me think about the painting in a different way, and really wonder about the mindset of the person who had it commissioned. (I am now extremely curious to see if I can find anything comparable on the wall of a Roman house. If anyone has any examples – do let me know.)  This has been on my mind for a number of days, not just because of the nature of the question, but because of who asked it. It was a timely (and to be honest, necessary) reminder that for as much as I know and continue to learn about the ancient world, there is always a new and interesting way to think about things. More to the point, it is more often than not our students who point us in a different direction, and that our research, without our students, is lacking something essential.

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Graffiti or Art?

Graffiti has a completely different connotation in the modern consciousness than it appears to have had in the ancient world. Despite common admonitions against defacing a structure, particularly a tomb, in some Latin inscriptions, the prevalence of graffiti and dipinti on the city walls of a place like Pompeii or Herculaneum suggests this was largely ignored. That urge to simply write your name in a surface, which I have discussed before, evolves over time, eventually becoming the spray painted tag that was, in the seventies and eighties, seen as the blight of urban landscapes worldwide.

The practice of spray painting graffiti has also evolved, from the simple act of tagging to elaborate street art. This came to my attention in two ways recently, and made me think again about the concept of graffiti and the way it intersects with art, subversive art though it may be. A few weeks ago I was at the Godiva Festival in Coventry, where there were a number of local artists creating a temporary mural. This mural, however, was not painted with brushes, but with spray cans.

20160702_151654.jpg    20160702_151754.jpg
In the last week, I’ve again come across a sanctioned act of street art that usually would be considered vandalism. In promoting the new Star Trek film, the wall of a building in Clerkenwell has been covered with images of the actors, using the same method of spray painting.

13719686_1041100062664883_6895285799633115194_o (1)

 

star trek 1

As part of the promotion, at completion of the mural, the actor Idris Elba turned up, and, in true graffiti style, added his tag to the painting.

idris

For obvious reasons (I think), I found this intriguing as a process. In essence, the idea of recording your presence as an act of writing has come full circle in this one image. The technique of modern graffiti and tagging (spray paint) is used to create an image, a (for lack of a better way to describe it) proper painting, and then is signed, not by the artists, but by one of the people depicted.

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Black Friday

In the U.S., today, the Friday after Thanksgiving, is commonly known as Black Friday – a retailers dream (or nightmare) – as it is the day that traditionally kicks of the Christmas shopping season. It has become so ubiquitous a term, it began to appear in advertisements for sales here in the U.K. last year, and this year, has begun more than a week in advance of the day itself (and let’s not even discuss the number of emails I’ve had today from various shops). Whilst the last decade or so has shown a dramatic shift to shopping online rather than actually leaving the house, in the past, both recent and distant, shopping, for foodstuffs at the very least, was virtually a daily activity.

Shopping for various goods – pots, clothing, shoes, food items – is part of a lively scene depicted in a wall painting that shows the Forum. Found in the Praedia of Julia Felix (II.iv), this is often used as an illustration of the activities of daily life in Pompeii.

Fresco_from_the_House_of_Julia_Felix,_Pompeii_depicting_scenes_from_the_Forum_market

Fresco_JuliaFelix2

It is not clear if this painting represents a nundina (market day) or just an average day. It is believed that the large regional market days would have been held in or around the amphitheatre, which is a significantly bigger space. There are a series of painted inscriptions that seem to demarcate areas for particular stall holders in arcades of the amphitheatre, such as this example:

CIL IV 1096
Permissu / aedilium Cn(aeus) / Aninius Fortu/natus occ(u)p(avit).
‘By permission of the aediles Gnaeus Aninius Fortunatus occupies (this space).’

The market was a regional one, moving from town to town on set days. A text from a shop (III.iv.1) provides the calendar:

CIL IV 8863
Dies / Sat(urni) / Sol(is) / Lun(ae) / Mar(tis) / Merc(urii) / Iov(is) / Ven(eris) // Nundinae / Pompeis / Nuceria / Atilla / Nola / Cumis / Put<e>olis / Roma / Capua // X[VIIII] / X[VIII] / X[VII] / XV[I] / XV / XIV / XIII / X[II] / XI / X / VIIII // VIII / VII / VI / [V] / [I]V / [I]II / II / pr(idie) / K(alendae) / Non(ae) / VII / VI // Non(ae) / VIIII // VIII / VII / VI / V / IV / III / pri(die) / Idus // I / II / III / IV / V / VI / VII / VIII / VIIII / X / XI / XII / XIII / XIV / XV / XVI / XVII / XVIII / XVIIII / XX / XXI / XXII / XXIII / XXIIII / XXV / XXVI / XXVII / XXVIII // XXVIIII / XXX.
Day                 Markets
Saturn             Pompeii, Nuceria
Sun                 Atella, Cumae, Nola
Moon               Cumae
Mars                Puteoli
Mercury           Rome
Jove                Capua
Venus

Whether the person who scratched this into the wall was using this as a personal or commercial reminder is unclear. Information about the purchase and sale of goods, including slightly fluctuating prices depending on the day, is detailed in an inscription (IX.vii.24–5). Found in the atrium of a inn, attached to a bar next door, this graffito was clearly the inventory list of the owner/operator.

CIL IV 5380
VIII Idus casium I / pane(m) VIII / oleum III / vinum III / VII Idus / pane(m) VIII / oleum V / cepas V / pultarium I / pane(m) puero II / vinum II / VI Idus pane(m) VIII / puero pane(m) IV / halica III / V Idus / vinum domatori |(denarius) / pane(m) VIII vinum II casium II / IV Idus / Hxeres |(denarius) pane(m) II / femininum VIII / tri<t>icum |(denarius) I / bubella(m) I palmas I / thus I casium II / botellum I / casium molle(m) IV / oleum VII / Servato / montana |(denarius) I / oleum |(denarius) I VIIII / pane(m) IV casium IV / porrum I / pro patella I / sittule(m) VIIII / inltynium I / III Idus pane(m) II / pane(m) puero II / pri(die) Idus / puero pane(m) II / pane(m) cibar(em) II / oleum V / halica(m) III / domato[ri] pisciculum II.
‘7 days before the Ides cheese 1, bread 8,oil 3, wine 3.
6 days before the Ides bread 8, olive 5,  onion 5, cooking pot 1,  bread for slaves 2, wine 2.
5 days before the Ides, bread 8, bread for slaves 4, porridge 3.
4 days before the Ides, (unknown type of wine) 1 denarius, bread 8, wine 2, cheese 2.
3 days before the Ides [?] bread 2, female? 8, wheat 1 denarius, beef? 1, dates 1, incense 1, cheese 2, small sausage 1, soft cheese 4, oil 7.
For Servatus [unknown item], oil 1 denarius, 8 bread 4, cheese 4.
Leek 1, for a small plate 1, [two unknown items].
2 days before the Ides, bread 2,  bread for slaves 2.
1 day before the Ides, bread for slaves 2, plain bread 2, leek 1.
On the Ides plain bread 2, oil 5, porridge 3, whitebait 2.’

Besides functioning as accommodation for the night, the various taberna and thermopolium found in abundance in Pompeii such as this one served both hot and cold food. The counter tops, such as the one located in this building, are more often than not the identifying feature of such services.

image004

Their prevalence in Pompeii, as established by Steven Ellis, and still part of ongoing fieldwork by the Pompeii Food & Drink Project, has led to the conclusion that many of the city’s residents may have been getting their hot meals from such facilities, and did little cooking at home. That bread was a daily purchase has long been established: the large number of mills and bakeries in the city is well documented (thirty-three is the current tally). Selling bread is, in fact, commemorated in another wall painting, this one found in the (understandably named) House of the Baker (VI.iii.3).

breadshop

There is additional evidence bread was sold from temporary stalls around the city, and not just for personal consumption. Two graffiti from the Temple of Apollo inform us that man named Pudens and Verecunnus were selling libarius, bread used in sacrifice (CIL IV 1768, 2769). The sale of other food items, particularly wine and garum, the fermented fish sauce so popular in Roman cooking, can be found on the amphorae recovered in excavation. These were typically marked with abbreviated texts indicating the name of the producer or owner, the origin, and contents of the jar.

CIL IV 9406
G(ari) f(los) scombr(i) / Scauri / ex officina Scauri / ab Martiale Aug(usti) l(iberto).
Scaurus’ finest mackerel sauce from Scaurus’ workshop by Martial, imperial freedman.

Garum manufactured by the Umbricius family was a particularly popular item both locally and elsewhere: approximately 23% of the jars containing fish sauce that have survived antiquity come from the Pompeian factory. The tituli picti are even commemorated in a mosaic in the Umbricii house (VII.vi.16).

Evidence for the buying and selling of other items that don’t necessarily survive as objects, such as textiles and luxury items like jewellery, can be found in some of the tablets of Iucundus as well as other graffiti. Items were either auctioned off or, occasionally, used as surety for borrowing funds. One example of this is recorded in a graffito in which a woman, who seems to be acting  much like a modern pawnbroker, offers a loan in exchange for a pair of earrings:

CIL IV 8203
Idibus Iuli(i)s / inaures pos(i)tas ad Faustilla(m) / pro |(denariis) II usura(e) deduxit aeris a(ssem) / ex sum(ma?) XXX.
’15 July. Earrings deposited with Faustilla. Per two denarii she took as usury one copper as. From a total (?) 30.

Fortunately for the Pompeians, it seems they didn’t go in for the insanity of modern special sales, but went about their shopping, whether daily necessities or luxury items, with little fuss. Like most pre-industrial societies, for the majority of people, shopping was based on current necessity, and was done in moderation. Perhaps this changed in times of crisis, particularly when there were shortages of grain, when riots and fighting are recorded in Rome. Last I checked, however, there was no shortage of giant tellies or iPads. Maybe we should follow the ancient example and make this Friday a little less black.

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