Pompeii was a vibrant Roman city. It was buried beneath tons of volcanic debris and ash after Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. The disaster brought to an abrupt end the era in Pompeii. However, it also preserved a piece of roman life at the time. The buildings, bodies, artifacts, and arts that have been eternally frozen provide a unique window to Pompeii classical world. After the site of the city was rediscovered in the middle of the 18th century, archaeologists have frequented the site to unravel the culture of the town inhabitants. Observing the images of classical Pompeii in the book "Working with Primary Sources" and reading the book "Historians' Voices" description of the images such as A Pompeii Banquet, Terentius Neo and his wife, a domestic shrine, mystery religion: the cult of Dionysus, and scenes in a Pompeii Traven; this paper will analyze why these images shed light on the gender and class dynamics of this second wave roman city.
The image of the Pompeii banquet portrayal indicates that the city had many people of different social standing. People of the upper classes are seen in the couches while slaves are or people of the low social class are not on the couch. The painting shows the banquet together with dinners were a significant part of the roman life in the city of Pompeii. The guests’ mostly roman citizens are seen in the couches being served drinks and meals by the slaves emphasizing the class hierarchy. The slaves are depicted as smaller in size implying that they are people of low classes. These parties seemed like a chance for the wealthy elites to show their prestige to their visitors.
The painting of Terentius and his reveals classical Pompeii class dynamics by the objects they are holding. The wife is holding a tablet and a stylus, while neo holds a scroll, which implies that both women of the upper social class were literate that is could read and write. As such, during this time only people from the rich Roman families were educated. In the image, the wife is represented in the foreground implying that it is probable that they were partners since the leadership system was patriarchal and women were viewed as men playthings to be possessed and owned. Thus, this depiction of Terentius's wife was uncommon during the period since men were superior to women. The couple is dressed white yoga and a red tunic which was a symbol of Roman citizens. In truth, being literate and their portrayal as equal partners imply that they were from rich families. Nonetheless, the wife is not named in the image which implies that despite her education and social status she is under control of her husband through marriage. Indeed, women in classical Rome could not vote or hold political office. And as a result of this limited role in the public, they were frequently not mentioned in roman history as men. The control of women was passed from the father to the husband.
The domestic shrine painting sheds light on the gender roles of the classical Pompeii society. The image depicts the households' shrines by the Pompeiians to their gods and was in different shapes and sizes and found in most Pompeian residencies. In the image the shrine imitates the form of a temple and several; dancing lares would raise drinking horns, positioned within either side of the genius. The genius is believed to represent the spirit of the male head of the household dressed in a toga and carrying pout sacrifices. Thus, making sacrifices was the role of the men in the Pompeii society. Slaves and women would not participate in making sacrifices rituals.
The mystery religion: the cult of Dionysus image depicts the initiation of a woman into the cult. Therefore, the image portrays that to become a member of women of the deity Bacchus, women devotees needed certain rites. This image suggests that women were members of religious cults implying that they were turning to religion to exercise the power that they often lacked. Therefore, the painting depicts that Pompeian women had a significant place in the religious life of the empire. Nevertheless, men played many more roles in the Roman Empire in comparison to women.
The scenes in a Pompeii Traven show images of women who worked in brothels. Women were not shown any empathy by those people of the upper class or outside their class. Disdain violence was at the worst, and the attitude portrayed towards the slaves' indifference. Thus, women who worked in these taverns and inns were fulfilled a utilitarian role for the pleasure of men and nothing else. The images imply that sex work was not illegal. Therefore, these women worked under the control of men.
In this light, the images and texts indicate that Pompeii class dynamics included the upper, middle, and lower classes. The lower class consisted of the slaves who served their masters well and are depicted to be lesser in scale in the Pompeii images. Men of the upper class were rich and often threw banquets and dinners for their visitors to show off their prestige. Also, men controlled women. The women had no political power but were important in religious ceremonies and cults. Further, they were loyal to their husband, chaste, and modest, and participated in dinner parties. Nonetheless, slaves were the lowest social class and only served the need of their masters and had no possessions.
In conclusion, the Pompeii scenes depicted in the images portray the gender roles of both women and men and the class dynamics of the Romans during the classical period. The social structure of the society was hierarchical, the affluent occupied the highest social standing of the senatorial elite, local elite, freemen, and women, while the slaves were the lower class and were treated with contempt. Further, the patriarchal society of the time ensured that women even the most educated and upper classes were subjects to men and were required to do domestic work and ensure happiness for their husbands.
Rampolla, Mary Lynn. A pocket guide to writing in history. Macmillan, 2012.
Strayer, Robert W., and Eric Nelson. Ways of the World: A Brief Global History with Sources. Bedford/St. Martin's, A Macmillan Education Imprint, 2016.
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