August 4, 2003: Excavating a Pompeian Inn
By excavating an entire city block, we're able to chart the developing urban relationships between neighboring buildings over time. We can also experience all that Pompeii has to offer, from the streets and fortification walls that frame our city block, to the private houses, shops, industries, religious precincts, and other public spaces. Our excavation of these buildings is helping us unravel the complexities of how an ancient city operated.
We're now in our fourth and final season of excavating an inn found at the north end of our insula just inside the Herculaneum Gate. The inn seems typical of those that played an important role in the commercial operation of the city. Several small rooms flanked the large central courtyard (complete with a large fountain) and would have provided accommodation to weary travelers arriving in Pompeii. Traders, merchants, business people, and other itinerants would have stayed at this inn. Eighteenth-century excavations in the inn's stable revealed two skeletons of mules alongside remains of cart wheels, evidence that some guests arrived by mule-drawn cart. As well as a bed for the night, the inn provided meals. The attached food-and-drink outlet catered not only to famished guests, but also to passersby as they entered or departed the city. Inns like this one were located at the main entrances to Pompeii.
The picture we can draw of this inn during its final use helps us understand how such establishments operated in Pompeii. But what can our excavations and study of the standing remains tell us about its own unique history?
Gary Devore, the field director for the inn and its adjacent properties, is responsible for interpreting the overall development of the inn and its social and spatial relationships with its neighbouring buildings. "Our excavations have uncovered a fascinating history for the inn and the surrounding properties," says Gary. "Our 2003 field-school students are now discovering the final pieces in the puzzle. We can now demonstrate how the whole group of buildings functioned and developed over several generations of occupation."
|Gary Devore in front of an inn near the Herculaneum Gate (Photo by Jennifer Stephens)
One of the more unusual and recent chapters in the history of the inn involved the Second World War. In 1943, Allied forces dropped 163 bombs over Pompeii, believing the site to be a storage shelter for artillery. The result was a catastrophe for Pompeian archaeology with scores of buildings across the city destroyed.
In spite of the bomb damage, we've been able to learn much about the final layout of the inn and its neighbours. Open doorways and common walls indicate some of these spatial relationships. Jennifer Wehby (University of Georgia) has recently unearthed a threshold between the inn and the Casa del Triclinio, an outdoor dining area complete with a masonry couch, large water channel, and several niches for the worship of household gods. This important discovery shows these buildings were in some association in A.D. 79 and that the inn had at least a second story of rooms above it, perhaps to accommodate more guests or to house the family that managed the inn.
There was access to an adjacent bar on the street in this final phase of the inn. Shelley Sinclair (Syracuse University) and Tim Webb (University of Michigan) have been excavating in the bar to understand the development of this union between the two properties. By excavating along the common wall between the buildings, we hope to learn the sequence in which the two properties became associated as a large commercial complex.
Before this period, some sections of the bar and the street-side of the inn had operated as a blacksmith's workshop and possibly even earlier as a fish-processing area. The fish industry was represented by a number of plaster-lined tanks, one which still retained hundreds of small fish bones and scales. These buildings and their tanks were destroyed when the Roman general Sulla laid siege to the city during the 89 B.C. Social Wars. The area was largely rebuilt in the mid-first century B.C., when the possible fish-processing activities were replaced by a blacksmith's workshop. This metal working continued until the turn of the millennium, when the properties were converted into a single commercial enterprise.
|The history of the Inn is not entirely told through Roman military sieges and Allied bombing attacks, sometimes a more personal image of the property is conjured. Through careful screening of each archaeological deposit, we've been able to recover artifacts like this precious gemstone, or intaglio. The stone would have decorated an item of jewelry, most likely the inset of a gold ring. A closer examination of its incised decoration revealed an elegantly crafted Nike figure, the winged goddess of victory. (Photo by Jennifer Stephens)
Stay tuned for our next update on excavations at the House of the Surgeon.