Pompeii Slave Room Gives Rare Window Into a ‘Precarious Reality’

In the ruins of Pompeii, a tiny room paints a rarely seen portrait of the daily life of slaves.

Archaeologists at the Pompeii Archaeological Park in Torre Annunziata, Italy unearthed the immaculately preserved room. Located in the Pompeiian suburb of Civita Giuliana, it holds many rare finds, despite the efforts of grave robbers.

The discovery, called the “slave room”, introduces a unique perspective to the famous archaeological site. Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the Park’s General Director, pointed out that slaves typically lived and died in anonymity. Therefore, elite social classes constitute most of the official archeological record.

But the new find, announced on November 6, promises rare insights into the lives of the lowest Roman social class.

“This is a window into the precarious reality of people who seldom appear in historical sources and…who as a result risk remaining invisible in the great accounts,” Zuchtriegel said.

Contents of the Pompeii slave room’

The Pompeii slave room measures a scant 16 square metres. Zuchtriegel referred to it as a “closet,” situated between a stable and a carport-like structure for a chariot. Previous excavations in the stable have uncovered the remains of three horses.

pompeii slave room

Overhead view of the site, showing the slave room at the middle right. Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

 

A chariot shaft, preserved in vivid detail by the ash that coated the city when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., rests against one of the beds. The room also holds amphorae, ordinary ceramic pots used for personal storage, and a chamber pot.

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Chariot shaft. Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

pompeii slave room

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

 

The beds themselves are simple cots of a variety Zuchtriegel called “little-known.” One is noticeably small, suggesting that the residents could have been a family with a child.

pompeii slave room

The “child’s” bed. Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

The dig, Pompeii, and grave robbers

Archaeological teams have only begun to work in the room, but we know that the inhabitants both slept and worked here. “It was certainly a precarious life in these conditions,” said Zuchtriegel.

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Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

 

Nunzio Fragliasso, Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Torre Annunziata, credited the discovery to a collaboration between Park management and the state. He added that the search continues for a “second cart” but didn’t elaborate further.

Mount Vesuvius buried but did not destroy Pompeii in 4-6 metres of ash and pumice when it erupted in 79 A.D. Archaeological efforts have revealed everything from the remains of citizens preserved in their final moments to graffiti written in Vulgar Latin.

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Photo: BlackMac/Shutterstock

 

For years, illegal prospectors and grave robbers have plundered the Villa of Civita Giuliana, the northern suburb that holds the slave room. Following a 2017 investigation, excavations at Civita Guiliana have yielded a steady stream of new discoveries. Illegal tunneling has caused an estimated two million euros in damage to the site, and the Pompeii slave room is thought to be affected.

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Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

 

“An excavation borne of the need to protect and safeguard archaeological heritage…allows us to add another piece to our knowledge of the ancient world,” said Massimo Osanna, Director General of Italian Museums (which oversees the Pompeii Archaeological Park).

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents' evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.


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