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CHAPTER FOURTEEN. Religion in the House

Annemarie Kaufmann-Heinimann

Subject Religion
Classics » Ancient Religion
Ancient History » Roman History

Key-Topics cults, domestic space, sources

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405129435.2007.00016.x


Religion, amazingly to the modern eye, was present everywhere in the Roman house. For some media – namely sculpture – we can fall back upon information given by ancient writers like Pliny the Elder or Cicero, whereas there is hardly any commentary by a contemporary author which might help us to understand the underlying meaning of the myths painted on the walls of Pompeian houses or displayed on mosaic floors of the later empire. Our best source of archaeological information for getting an insight into a multitude of media, all present together, is the house interiors in the cities buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in ad 79. There a large quantity of the original furnishings has been preserved. If for instance we look at the small House of the Ara Massima in Pompeii (VI 16.15–17) ( Stemmer 1992 ), owned by people of the lower middle class, the mass of religious and mythological motifs is baffling: Narcissus and the couples of Bacchus and Ariadne, Luna and Endymion, Mars and Venus represented in the wall paintings of the dwelling rooms, the Lares and the Genius painted on the lararium wall, Eros depicted on the handles of two bronze vessels, a sphinx used as a table foot. Evidence from other houses, such as lampstands, fountains, decorated couches, and garden sculpture, adds to the picture – not to mention small items like jewelry, often decorated with religious subjects. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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