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House of the Surgeon

Description of the House (Reg VI, Ins 1, 10, 23)

The House of the Surgeon, or Casa del Chirurgo, is situated on the east side of the Via Consolare about 50 metres inside the Herculaneum Gate. The house, which is named after the wide range of surgical instruments found in one of the rooms, dates from the Samnite period and retains many of the features of a typical Italic house, free from the Hellenistic features that became fashionable in the 2nd century BC.

The facade and the walls of the atrium are built of large hewn blocks of Sarno limestone (visible in the photo below) while the other interior walls are of limestone framework.

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The fauces (A) leads directly from the street into the Tuscan atrium (B) (pictured right) at the sides of which are cubicula (C) and two alae (E). At the rear of the atrium facing the entrance is the tablinum (F) which leads through to a colonnade (I) opening onto the a small garden (J). At one time the garden had a greater length; the room (L) at its southern end is a later addition, as is the small room (K) to the north west. The roof of the colonnade was carried by square limestone pillars, one of which has been preserved in its original form.

The rectangular room (H) to the right of the tablinum was originally square like its counterpart (G) but was at some time extended to the south (area hatched yellow and green on the plan) to create a large winter triclinium. Room (G), with open access to the colonnade, was probably the summer triclinium.

The room (D) at the left of the entrance was a shop, at least in later times. The corresponding room (C') on the other side was retained for domestic use.

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The surgical instruments found in the house formed part of a toolkit (pictured left) which was incredibly similar to that still in use during the late nineteenth century. Roman surgical instruments included forceps, scalpels, catheters and even arrow extractors. The fresco (lower left) shows the Iapyx removing an arrow head from the thigh of Aeneas (from the House of Siricus (Reg VII, Ins I, 25, 47).
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The plan of the house conforms to the simple Italic style, before the addition of the peristyle.
The measurements of the rooms are according to the Oscan standard, the atrium being about 30 by 35 Oscan feet. (The measurements of buildings in the Roman period conform to the scale of the Roman foot, while the dimensions of structures preceeding the Roman colony in most cases reduce to the scale of the Oscan or old Italic foot. The Roman foot measured 296mm while the Oscan foot was considerably shorter at 275mm).
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Sometime in the 2nd century BC, the atrium, which up till then had no opening in the roof, was modified to provide more light to the interior, by adding a compluvium and accompanying impluvium.
The remainder of the house, however, was left more or less as it was, making the house the earliest example of an Italic style dwelling found so far in Campania.
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The shop (M) and back room (N) as well as the kitchen (O) and adjoining rooms at the rear were a later addition (coloured green on the plan). Over these rooms was a second storey reached by stairs (Q) leading from the colonnade.
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Sometime in the 1st century AD the house was redecorated in the fourth style, but little of this decoration remains today. The best of the decoration can be found in the garden room (L) (pictured left and below). The decoration consists of red and yellow panels above a lower red frieze with small central scenes on three walls. The best preserved of these is of a young woman painting a herm of Dionysus (pictured left), now in the Naples Museum.
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