Reconstruction of the peristylium of the House of Vettii at the Boboli Gardens in Florence

Reconstruction of the peristylium of the House of Vettii at the Boboli Gardens in Florence

Campaign slogans and two signet rings tell us that the House of Vettii was owned by Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva, two wealthy freedmen, who were part of a subculture in which labour was a source of pride and identity, rather than shame, as it was among the elite. This house was reconstructed and redecorated after the earthquake in 62 AD, when many wealthy citizens left Pompeii.

plan of the house of the Vettii, Pompeii

plan of the house of the Vettii, Pompeii

The peristyle was laid out symmetrically for an elaborate water display. It had basins and fountains where carved heads spat water into basins, and other sculpture, both marble ones of Bacchus and satyrs and Paris carrying a lamb and three bronzes of cupids, each holding a goose and a bunch of grapes. The statues were connected to lead piping and spouted water. There are 14 jets of water.


view from the atrium to the garden with roses, violets, and hyacinths.

Scholars generally agree that former slaves, or freedmen, Aulus Vettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus were residents of the house and socially prominent. A. Vettius Conviva appears as a witness in a famous preserved set of business tablets buried in the earthquake of 62 CE; by this time, Conviva was a free man, since he is identified in them with the praenomen, nomen and cognomen characteristic of free males. Restitutus was commonly, if not exclusively, a slave name. When he was freed, the praenomen (first name) and nomen (family name) of his former master would have been added, and thus A. Vettius Restitutus was in all likelihood also a freedman. Their shared praenomen and nomen indicate that they may have been owned by the same person and subsequently freed. They may have been brothers, or they may have been fellow slaves (colliberti), who often formed economic and social partnerships, or they may have been father and son. Another alternative is that Restitutus was Conviva’s ex-slave – his name would be the same whether he was freed by Conviva himself or by Conviva’s former master.

The transition out of slavery into freedom was predictably complex. Among slaves with specialised and marketable skills, manumission was not uncommon; slaves either saved the money to purchase themselves or were freed by their owner in a will or for varied purposes during the owner’s lifetime. Within the Roman legal system, someone freed by a citizen became a citizen. Freedmen were thereby able to marry and produce legitimate children, make contracts and wills, vote, take legal action and own property. Freedmen were forbidden from joining the Roman military and holding most political and religious offices. An important exception was two cults created by the first emperor Augustus, including the priesthood of the Augustales which A. Vettius Conviva held. Vettius Conviva, whose unusual name, Conviva, is related to the Latin term for a banquet, convivium may have been assigned tasks at his master’s table. The five rooms of this home suitable for banqueting may reflect an attempt to create a positive spin on his identification with the banquet; Conviva transformed himself from ‘serving wench’ to ‘host extraordinaire’.

 images of cupids making wine which makes historians think that the Vettii relatives made their money by selling wine.

The House of Vettii had many murals, including this one of cupids making wine. Many of the walls were painted in red and gold, the colours of Pompeii.

The House of the Vettii was excavated between 1894 and 1896 revealing a lavish display of richly decorated rooms and a wealth of statuary.

Pompeii was a large Roman town in the Italian region of Campania which was completely buried in volcanic ash following the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. The town was excavated in the 19th and 20th century CE and due to its excellent state of preservation it has given an invaluable insight into the Roman world and may lay claim to being the richest archaeological site in the world in terms of the sheer volume of data available to scholars.

In the early 1970s it was discovered that an area of Pompeii once contained a large vineyard. The project was geared to discovering what vegetation might have existed before Vesuvius erupted. After some digging a discovery was made that the cavities left in the soil by long decayed plant roots belonged to vines. Previously, there had been little concrete evidence of the presence of vineyards in ancient Rome. Once scientists knew about the existence of vineyards they were increasingly curious about the methods ancient Romans used to control the plants. The only sources that they could turn to are from ancient writings from individuals such as Pliny, who gives six methods. The House of the Vettii became a useful source in proving that Pompeians were aware of such methods.

From the imprints of vine roots left in the soil, archaeologists have discovered that it was common to grow vines amongst other trees. Trees identified in the vineyard of the Villa Regina include peach, figs, olives and almonds.