'Enslaved' 2-bed room from 2000 years ago found near Pompeii

Among the discoveries were ancient rats trying to escape Mount Vesuvius' eruption.
Sade Agard
Pompeii: A room for enslaved people during one of Europe's deadliest volcanic eruptions.
Pompeii: A room for enslaved people during one of Europe's deadliest volcanic eruptions.

Pompeii Sites 

Archaeologists have uncovered a small room designated for enslaved individuals at the Roman villa of Civita Giuliana, according to a new study detailed in Pompeii Sites on August 20. 

Located around 600 meters (2000 ft) to the north of the ancient city of Pompeii, the area was engulfed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago.

Various pieces of furniture were unearthed, including two beds—one with a mattress—two small cabinets, and numerous jars. 

Significantly, the discovery offers insights into the societal position of enslaved individuals in the ancient past.

What happened in AD 79?

"These details once again underline the conditions of precarity and poor hygiene in which the lower echelons of society lived during that time," said Italy's culture ministry in a statement.

In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted unexpectedly, claiming the lives of thousands residing beneath one of Europe's largest volcanoes. This eruption buried the city under a dense ash layer, effectively preserving its inhabitants and structures.

Various objects like wooden furniture, textiles, and even the remains of those who fell victim to the AD 79 eruption were enveloped by the pyroclastic surge. 

'Enslaved' 2-bed room from 2000 years ago found near Pompeii
The Last Day of Pompeii. Painting by Karl Brullov, 1830–1833.

As this surge solidified and organic matter decomposed, voids were created in the ash. Researchers employ plaster casts to fill these voids, exposing the original shapes.

In this latest study, a closer examination of ceramic vessels and jars revealed at least three rodents were present in the room.

Two tiny mice were found inside a jar, and a rat within a jug. The rat was positioned beneath one of the beds and seemed to have attempted an escape before succumbing to the eruption's pyroclastic flow.

Rats but no chains

These details once again emphasize the challenging and unsanitary conditions endured by the most marginalized members of society during that era.

Interestingly, no signs of grates, locks, or chains used to confine the room's occupants were found. 

"It seems that control was primarily exerted through the internal organisation of servitude, rather than physical barriers and restraints," explained Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

He pointed out that what becomes apparent here is the hierarchical system of servitude designed to discourage escape and resistance.

Owners employed privileges, such as limited family formation, to tie certain enslaved people closer to the villa, even though legal safeguards were absent.

"I hope this work will soon lead to the return to the Pompeian community and to the wider public," said Massimo Osanna, the Director General of Museums. 

"An archaeological area of great importance that tells another piece of the biography of people, from different social classes, who lived 2000 years ago."

The research was published in the e-journal Pompeii Sites on August 20 and can be found here.