A Restored House Reveals The Wealth — And Lust — Of Doomed Pompeii

A restored and reopened Pompeii residence showcases the wealth and decadence of its doomed Roman owners — as well as their erotic tastes.

Historians believe that the ornate house, known as Casa dei Vettii, was owned by two freed slaves in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. That, of course, was before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, which killed the city’s residents and buried the buildings beneath a mountain of ash.

Researchers think the Casa dei Vettii was constructed in the second century BC. It has recently reopened to tourists after about 20 years of complex restoration work.

casa de vettii

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD buried the Casa dei Vettii under a thick blanket of ash for centuries. Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii


The results of that intensive work, however, seem self-evident when looking at the photos of the restored Pompeiian home. While the walls and courtyards clearly belong to a home from a bygone era, it’s still hard to believe the Casa dei Vettii was built 2,000 years ago — much less buried by volcanic dust.

From the opulent and erotic frescoes to a well-endowed statue, the Casa dei Vettii looks well worth a visit the next time you swing by Pompeii.

In fact, the director of Pompeii Archaeological Park, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, told The Guardian that he considers the house “absolutely astonishing.” If a visitor only visits one house in the Pompeii park, it should be this one, he said.

“This is the house which tells the story of Roman society,” Zuchtriegel said in the story. “On the one hand, you have the artwork, paintings, and statues. On the other, you have the social story [of the freed slaves]. The house is one of the relatively few in Pompeii for which we have the names of the owners.”

sex fresco

The house, which sports this erotic fresco, may also have incorporated a brothel. Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii


The house of freed slaves

The Casa dei Vettii was owned by Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva. After achieving freedom from slavery, they ultimately became wealthy wine merchants.

Some historians had theorized that the pair were brothers. However, it’s more likely the pair met while enslaved under the same master, named Aulus Vettius, Zuchtriegel told The Guardian.

“If they were from the same family, the first two names would have been different and they would have the same surname,” he said. “It was uncommon to have biological siblings who were slaves and then set free because family ties were cut with slavery…It’s more likely that they were buddies during their time as slaves.”

priapus statue

One of the well-endowed statues in the house’s garden. Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii


Among freed slaves, the name Restitutus, meaning “given back,” wasn’t uncommon, according to Zuchtriegel.

It also wasn’t uncommon for Romans to free their slaves, including in ancient Pompeii. Given the elegant home, which includes a garden with statues and a fountain, the two former slaves did quite well for themselves.


The restored home reopens after years of flooding and thefts in search of artifacts. Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii


That’s likely why the entrance of the home includes one of its most impressive frescoes. The fresco shows the god of fertility and abundance, Priapus, with a large penis balanced on a scale next to a bag of money.

Historians believe the artwork symbolizes the wealth accumulated by the house’s owners.

Even two millennia later, the Romans are still teaching us the meaning of ostentatious.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.