The position of the insula with a frontage on the main road (Via Consolare) undoubtedly influenced some of the activities that went on within the various properties. At the time of the eruption there were not only four bars but also an establishment interpreted as an Inn by the side of the gate.
The earliest occupation is poorly understood. The sequence starts effectively within the second century BC when the original Casa del Chirurgo was built. This was followed by the property that was to become the nucleus of the Casa delle Vestali which, by the time of the eruption, had become one of the largest and most luxurious houses in Pompeii. During the second century BC much of the rest of the insula was given over to industrial activities that required large tanks.
Plan of Pompeii showing the location of the insula by the Porta Ercolano
The siege of Pompeii in 89 BC during the Social Wars clearly had a major impact on the insula. The area of the Inn, for example, laid derelict for much of the first century BC only being redeveloped in the Augustan period. First the area was a blacksmith’s smithy and it was not until the middle part of the first century that the Inn, its bar and its outdoor dining room of the Triclinium was developed. The Shrine was an even later development, probably being built after the period of earthquakes in the AD 60s that damaged large parts of Pompeii.
The only areas that seem to have maintained the same function throughout the history of the Insula were the two big houses and the area at the tip of the insula where there was first a public well and later a public fountain after the building of the aquaduct during the Augustan period brought piped water to the town. This area was clearly the focus of neighbourhood cults from an early period. The 1995-2006 excavations produced a large body of material that allowed this to be explored. This is considered here.
Detailed information about the phasing of the insula and the history of the individual plots is available on the Archaeological Data Service. The phasing used in this site is explained below
A note on the phasing used
All of the plots in the insula had their own phasing so to allow comparison between the plots for purposes of studying the small finds and vessel glass a series of seven master phases were defined. In the pages of this website, you will find the date of the contexts labelled in this way. If you read the book on which the site is based you will often find closer dating given.
Pre-Sulla – this includes the material from contexts that clearly relate to occupation prior to the Sullan siege of 89 BC. Some caution has to be exercised over some of the contexts currently phased to this period as they might be later.
First century BC – this extends from the Sullan siege destruction and overlaps in its terminal date with the early years of the next category.
Augusto-Tiberian – effectively this runs from the final decade of the first century BC to the middle years of Tiberius (AD 20s). Much of the material was probably deposited within the last decade of the first century BC and the first decade of the following century.
Tiberian-Neronian – this belongs to the later Tiberian period and closes with the earthquake, conventionally placed in c. AD 62.
Augusto-Neronian – this covers the contexts where the relatively fine division between the two previous ones cannot be made.
Post-AD 62 – this includes the contexts associated with the rebuilding necessitated by earthquake damage which should possibly be seen as covering several years of the AD 60s. It also includes occupation deposits running up to the eruption.
Modern – this can be taken as a proxy for the eruption level of AD 79. Whilst the original Bourbon excavators may not have been quite so single-minded in searching for statues, wall paintings and other valuable items to grace the royal collections, as has sometimes been asserted, it is clear that less decorative items were discarded or overlooked on site. This is the only explanation that accounts for items such as complete or near complete glass unguent bottles having been found in levels with modern material in the insula.
The Bourbon Excavations
The excavations in the eighteenth century are generally referred to as the Bourbon excavations as they were carried out on the orders of the king whose family name was Bourbon. The aim was to acquire works of art that would grace the royal collections. It is clear that many artefacts of the sort considered here were found, but sadly few can now be identified within the collections of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli which is the successor of the royal museum. Even the bulk of the collection of surgical instruments found in 1771 which gave the Casa del Chirurgo its name are now lost amongst the mass of material that only has a provenance of 'from the Vesuvian sites'.
The great Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli gathered together all of the records from the early excavations and published them as Pompeinarvm Antiquitatum Historia (PAH). The accounts of Insula VI.1 occur in volume 1 published in 1860. In these it is sometimes possible to identify items. Of particular interest is what was once a spectacular bronze stemmed vessel found in the Inn Bar in 1783. The handles formed as depictions of fighting barbarians with flowing moustaches.
The elaborate bronze vessel found in pieces within the Inn Bar in December 1784 and published by Giovambatistia Finati in Volume 8 of the Museo Borbonico in 1833.
The lead loomweight found in a mid first century AD context in the Shrine (Catalogue no. 7.27), (Photo: Mike Baxter)
At the time VI.1 was being excavated originally, the volumes of the Antichità di Ercolano were slowly being produced. This was a work showing what was being found in the excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii and was written for private circulation by the king. Some of the wall painting found in the houses within insula VI.1 feature in the volumes, but at that time there was not much interest in the small finds and vessel glass of the type studied here. There is, however, a picture of a silver mount depicting two cupids playing the tibia and dancing. This was found in the Casa del Chirurgo in April 1771 and is recorded in the same entry of PAH that describes the famous find of surgical instruments. It was published in the sixth volume of the Antichità di Ercolano in 1771. It is tucked into the end of page 284, no doubt a late addition to the book.
Appendix 1 on the Archaeological Data Service provides all the information about the early excavations in VI.1, together with a summary of how they progressed.
One meticulous description of a group of lead loomweights found in what was described as the courtyard of the Casa del Chirurgo in January 1771 allows them to be identified as a type that seems only to occur at Pompeii. They were decorated in low relief on either side with the message EME HABEBIS which translates as Buy! You shall have. One Italian scholar suggests this was some form of Pompeian joke. The recent excavations found another example in the neighbouring plot known as the Shrine.
The silver mount from the Casa del Chirurgo found in 1771 as depicted in the Antichità di Ercolano.
Several finds of clay tobacco pipes bring us very close to the original excavators or possibly the early tourists.
Unfortunately I’ve not found any literature on clay pipes in the Bay of Naples so it has been difficult to date the ones that were found closely.
Contents copyright H.E.M. Cool and M.J. Baxter 2016