Recent excavation work in Pompeii by archaeologist Gabriel Zuchtriegel and his team has uncovered a room interpreted as a sacrarium, whose walls are decorated with allegorical figures representing the seasons of the year and agricultural and pastoral activities.

The discovery of this sacrarium should be understood in the broader context of the social and cultural evolution of the first century B.C. During this period, the urban elite had begun to lose touch with the agricultural world, a fact reflected in the literature of the time, such as Virgil’s “Georgics”.

Written in the 30s B.C., this poem celebrates an era of renewal under Augustus’s rule but also reveals a nostalgia for an idealized rural past. The decorations of the sacrarium, with their allegorical figures, are a visual echo of this literary nostalgia.

View of the sacrarium from the outside.
View of the sacrarium from the outside. Credit: Parco archeologico di Pompei

The sacrarium, discovered in Insula 10, is decorated in the Pompeian style known as the Fourth Style, characterized by its vivid colors and detailed figures.

The walls of this room feature a blue background, on which female figures personifying the seasons and two allegories of agriculture and shepherding stand out, decorations that suggest a symbolic connection with rural activities, although the practical use of the space appears to have been more prosaic.

Despite its rich decoration, the sacrarium was not an exclusively religious space. Before the eruption of Vesuvius, the room had been transformed into a storage area for amphoras and construction materials, indicating that even at its peak, its sacred function was not its only purpose.

One of the paintings in the sacrarium
One of the paintings in the sacrarium. Credit: Parco archeologico di Pompei

This duality of use distinguishes the sacraria from the lararia, which maintained a central function in family rituals due to their direct connection with the power of the pater familias.

The sacrarium is located in the southern portion of a large domus, which has revealed multiple rooms decorated in the Second and Third Styles. This complex includes a thermal neighborhood still under excavation and a large hall opening onto a central courtyard.

The arrangement of the spaces suggests a sophisticated design intended to integrate domestic life with private rituality. The wall decorations and architectural elements, such as the niches in the walls, demonstrate meticulous planning aimed at creating a sacred environment.

One of the female figures, allegories of the seasons
One of the female figures, allegories of the seasons. Credit: Parco archeologico di Pompei

The excavations in Insula 10 have been meticulous, revealing not only the architectural remains but also the stratigraphy of the site. The archaeologists have identified various phases of occupation and use of the space, from its original construction to later alterations and additions.

Recent work has brought to light the existence of an upper floor, previously unknown, connected through an opening in the south wall to another room. This discovery adds a new dimension to the understanding of the structure and use of space in the domus.

The sacrarium in Regio IX finds parallels with other similar sites in Pompeii and Herculaneum. For example, the House of the Vestals and the House of the Vintner have similar architectural and decorative features, suggesting a shared tradition in the design of these private cult spaces.

Allegories of the seasons flank niches of the sacrarium found in Pompeii
Allegories of the seasons flank niches of the sacrarium found in Pompeii. Credit: Parco archeologico di Pompei

These comparisons help contextualize the sacrarium within a broader practice of the time, providing a reference framework for future research.


Sources

Parco archeologico di Pompei | Gabriel Zuchtriegel, Chiara Assunta Corbino, et al., L’età della nostalgia: il sacrario nella Regio IX, insula 10 di Pompei. E-Journal Scavi di Pompei 15


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