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Oplontis‎ > ‎

Villa of L. Crassius Tertius

Description of the Villa

The Villa of L. Crassius Tertius was discovered by chance in 1974, approximately 250m east of the Villa of Poppaea, during the construction of a school. The title 'villa' is a bit of a misnomer as the property appears to be more industrial in nature, in all probability connected to the wine trade, as testified by the large number of amphorae (over 400) found in the peristyle and ground floor rooms.
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The building appears to date from the end of the second century BC as evidenced by the use of Nocera tufa columns which are typical of that period.  Brick repairs to the peristyle and the extensive use of opus reticulatum, both typical of the construction methods used in nearby Pompeii after the earthquake of AD62, lend credence to the suggestion that the property was renovated in the years leading up to the eruption of AD79.
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The most important find in the storage rooms, however, was the discovery of 54 human skeletons. The victims were of all ages and had presumably gathered in this room to escape from the eruption but had been overcome by the hot gas and poisonous fumes of the first pyroclastic flow that hit the 'villa'. The skeletons have been the subject of forensic analysis and the results have added considerably to our knowledge of their everyday health and well being.
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Because the skeletons were found in two distinct groups, some scholars have attempted to distinguish the skeletons in terms of social status. The group at the back of the room was found with little or no possessions at all while the other group, found near the entrance, died with money, gold and jewellery (a necklace is pictured opposite). One of these skeletons was discovered with almost 10,000 sesterces, a considerable sum of money and someone's very substantial life savings. A group of middle class citizens with their slaves or a band of thieves who had done some looting on their way out of Pompeii to Oplontis? It is impossible to say.
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The 'villa' is built on two levels ranged around a monumental peristyle (b) composed of a double order of doric columns constructed in tufa from nearby Nocera. The area (d) in the centre of the peristyle was crudely paved. The main entrance to the peristyle seems to have been at (a) on its eastern side. During the excavations more than seventy rooms, on both ground and first floor levels, were cleared.

On the ground floor the rooms which open off all four sides of the peristyle are barrel vaulted, but there is little in the way of surviving decoration, the walls generally having been simply coated with a layer of course white plaster. In the north east corner of the courtyard are the remains of a wooden flight of stairs (c) to the upper floor.

The rooms on the upper floor retain some fourth style decoration mostly incorporating coloured fields with carpet borders. Exposed under one area of fourth style decoration are fragments of an earlier second style Nilotic painting.

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A strongbox (pictured lower left) containing over 200 coins together with a collection of gold and silver jewellery was found
in the peristyle. The wooden framework of the box, which may have fallen from the first floor, is covered with iron sheets, and is inscribed “Pythonymos, Pytheas, and Nikokrates, the workers of Herakleides, made [this].” The items of jewellery, an example of which is pictured below, include a bronze seal ring bearing the inscription L.CRAS.TERT. It is on the basis of this seal that the 'villa' acquired its name.
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On the south side of the property eight storage rooms (e - l) (pictured opposite) open onto what may have been a large portico (m). In one of the rooms several cubic metres of plant material were found, apparently having fallen from the upper floor where it had been stored.

After microscopic analysis of the remains the material was identified as hay that had been collected from a vineyard. In another room were found the carbonized remains of walnuts and pomegranates.

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Infectious diseases leave tell-tale marks and lines in the enamel of children's teeth. Many of the skeletons in the cellar show these; a visual history, if you like, of the illnesses these people had survived. The remains of two of the children, aged between 10 and 12 years, show what were almost certainly the signs of congenital syphilis according to
Dr Fabian Kanz, the anthropologist from Vienna who examined the bones. If this is correct, then it completely contradicts the long held belief that the disease was brought back to Europe from the New World in the 15th Century. The fact that these children survived so long also tells us something about the level of family care and support for the sick in the Roman world.
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