Many objects discovered during excavation of the city were perfectly preserved. Some display incredible beauty, craftsmanship and ritual, while others are useful tools and items of similar design to those we use today.
15 of the 250 objects from the exhibition are featured below.
Location: Large Palaestra, Pompeii
This victim of Vesuvius was discovered during excavations at the southern walkway of Pompeii’s Large Palaestra, or athletics ground. When he died the man was wearing boots and a hooded cloak. He had covered his mouth with the edges of the cloak as the toxic fumes and volcanic ash overcame him.
Location: Probably a noble home e.g. House of the Vettii, Pompeii
Pompeii lamps — whether bronze or the more common terracotta — gave light by the simple method of burning a cloth wick soaked in olive oil. The head of the oracle god Jupiter Ammon sits on top of one candelabrum. The other is decorated with leaves.
SAP No: 3244a, 2187, 11354
Location: Probably a formal garden e.g. House of the Faun, Pompeii
With water trickling from a hole in the eagle’s mouth, this statue would have formed a fountain in a private garden. An eagle triumphing over a snake was associated with the god Jupiter and victory.
SAP No: 20388
Location: House of Orpheus, Pompeii
This dog was left chained to a post to guard the House of Orpheus when the occupants fled. The bronze studs around its neck are all that remains of a collar. As the pumice fall-out deepened, the dog climbed higher — until eventually it ran out of chain and was suffocated.
Location: Necropolis of Nuceria Gate, Pompeii
This delicate glass funerary urn was found buried in a grave and protected by a casing of terracotta. There were bones inside as well as a bronze coin — payment for transport to the Underworld. Urns of this style were in common use between the first and second centuries AD.
SAP No: 59769
Location: Villa B, Oplontis
These earrings, looking somewhat like miniature sea urchins, were another popular style.
SAP No: 72966
Location: Villa of Poppaea, Oplontis
Venus, in mythology, sprang from the foam of the sea. Being reliant on the sea for its prosperity, Pompeii adopted her as its divine protectress and her temple overlooked the river and bay. Throughout the town the goddess was evoked in shrines, painted images, even graffiti. This statue stood in the gardens of a grand villa near Pompeii.
SAP No: 71252
Material: Original iron and bronze fittings and wood reconstruction
Location: House of Julius Polybius, Pompeii
Only the metal fittings survived, but from other items found nearby, we know that this was a chest for storing medications and medical instruments.
SAP No: 22297
Material: Painted plaster
Location: House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii
This large fresco covered the entire back wall of an outdoor dining room, creating the illusion of a lush garden populated with birds. The central niche may have framed a fountain. Pompeii’s climate favoured outdoor living and people sometimes dined in their gardens. A covered path along the garden’s perimeter allowed people to walk in the shade during the heat of the day. An abundant supply of water, fed by a complex system of aqueducts, gave rise to garden fountains, pools and canals. These enabled many types of plants to thrive — flowers, shrubs, fruit and nut trees, and vines.
SAP No: 59467
Location: House of Loreius Tiburtinus, Pompeii
This is typical of statues that adorned Pompeii gardens. Perhaps they mimicked the imperial hunting parks, stocked with many kinds of animals, for the sport of high-ranking Romans. Or perhaps they recalled the hunts (venationes) staged at Pompeii’s amphitheatre.
SAP No: 2929
Location: Possibly House of the Surgeon, Pompeii
A slender bronze sleeve held this set of five medical instruments including a probe or lance, an ear drill and two squared needles.
SAP No: 11286 - 11286a-e
Material: Gold with glass paste eyes
Location: River Sarno, Muregine
Inside, this armband is inscribed: DOMINUS ANCILLAE SUAE ‘From the master to his slave’. The value of the gift, and the inscription, suggest an intimate relationship between a Roman master and his slave girl. Sex between a master and slave was not considered a scandal, but a common domestic occurrence.
SAP No: 81580
Material: Plaster copy from carbonised original
Location: A bakery, Pompeii
Pompeians ate bread with most meals — with fruit at breakfast, at lunch and dinner dipped in olive oil or used to sop up sauces and stews. It was hard bread, made from coarse flour. The poor couldn’t afford raised, yeasty loaves like this one; they ate unleavened bread, similar to pita bread. This carbonised loaf, found in an oven at Pompeii, must have been left untended when Vesuvius erupted.
Material: Bronze and silver
Location: Quadriporticus of the Theatres, Pompeii
A hoplomachus fought with a lance, a long dagger and a small shield like this one. Encircled by laurel wreaths for victory, the medallion in the centre bears the head of the legendary Gorgon, Medusa, whose look is said to have turned men into stone.
SAP No: 5669
Material: Lead and bronze
Location: Probably a house with running water e.g. House of Pansa, Pompeii
Pompeii’s water was carried through a network of lead pipes; junctions, spouts and taps were made of bronze.
SAP No: 17022