Insula VI.I Pompeii - its glass and small finds

Items associated with the household form a very large part of the assemblage. They can be divided between vessels and furniture, and a selection of fittings from the latter are considered here.  Amongst the other material there is an interesting range of furniture mounts and inlays. The fragments of glass opus sectile panels are of particular interest for the light they throw upon the Casa delle Vestali.

 

A large part of the copper alloy assemblage consisted of studs and nails. Their sizes and shapes ranged from small delicate studs that would have been suitable for attaching leather or cloth coverings to chests and other items of furniture, to nails of a size that would have been suitable for structural timber-work. Here we look at two varieties. The first is a very numerous family of composite studs and mounts. The studs were formed by having a head with a core of lead alloy covered by copper alloy sheet with an iron shank inserted in the lead alloy head. Frequently mounts that showed no sign of shanks were also found, here the lead alloy must have been soldered direct to the backing. This sort of mount and stud is seen on the large strong boxes that have sometimes been found on the Vesuvian sites. One which was displayed in the Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition in London in 2013 had over 1,000 such mounts and studs which would explain the large numbers found. These fittings were found throughout the stratified sequence and were certainly in use in Pompeii prior to the Sullan siege of 89 BC.

Composite fitting od copper alloy over lead from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Head of stud showing copper alloy covering over lead alloy core and void where the iron shank has corroded away. Found in an Augusto-Tiberian context in the Inn. (Catalogue no. 4.101).

Composite fitting od copper alloy over lead from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Composite fitting od copper alloy over lead from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
copper alloy nail with moulded underside for use wth lead sheet from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
copper alloy nail with moulded underside for use wth lead sheet from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Nails with moulded undersides for use with lead. Above an example with the shank broken off from the Inn.  Left a complete example from the Bar of Acisculus. Both found in Augusto-Tiberian contests. (Catalogue nos. 127-8) (Photo: Mike Baxter).

Mount with lead alloy interior from an unphased context in the Bar of Acisculus. (Catalogue no. 4.115). (Photo: Mike Baxter).

Another very specialised nail found in much smaller quantities had a wide flat head and relatively short shank. The underside of the head had a moulded pattern, generally of ribs forming quadrants with pellets between. From the luxurious ships built for the Emperor Caligula and sunk in Lake Nemi we know that nails like these were used in boat building to fasten lead sheets to the hull. Lead is a soft metal and the large heads with their moulded undersides could be hammered in securely to ensure a waterproof seal. One of the nails from VI.1 came from a pipe trench associated with lead pipes for the water supply. Possibly, in the case of those found in the insula, they were being used in plumbing. Within the VI.1 assemblage they first appear in Augustan levelling deposits.

Inlays

A significant part of the small finds assemblage consisted of items that are best interpreted as inlays from furniture.  Quite what the item of furniture was is frequently unknown as, even when a group are found together, possibly indicating the disposal of a decorated element, there is no way of assessing their original arrangement. Many must have been chance losses incorporated into rubbish deposits long before the piece of furniture itself was disposed of. These fragments do challenge us to think more about the interior decoration of the houses the people of Pompeii lived in.

 

There is one case where the shape of the piece immediately identifies the type of the furniture it decorated. This is a bone mount in the shape of of the head and neck of a wading bird. This came from the fulcrum of a couch. It retains three small perforations for the pegs that would have fixed it in place, so in a strict sense this is a mount rather than an inlay. Couch decorations like this are known as early as the second century BC at Taranto, and it is likely that some were still decorating couches in use at the time of the eruption.

A couch reconstructed from elements probably found in Rome, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Note the inlaid curved fulcrums at either end. The coloured elements are made of glass.(Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan 1917).

Bone inlay from fulcrum of Roman couch from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman ivory couch decorated with glass inlays

Bone fulcrum mount from an Augusto-Tiberian context in the sidewalk of the Vicolo Narciso (Catalogue no. 6.41). (Photo: Hilary Cool)

Bone marquetry inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Bone inlays from an Augusto-Neronian context in the Bar of Acisculus. (Catalogue no. 6.50).

Bone marquetry inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Bone inlays from a Tiberian Neronian context in the Workshop.  (Catalogue no. 6.51).

Bone marquetry inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Bone inlay from an Augusto-Tiberian context in the Casa delle Vestali. (Catalogue no. 6.56).

Small pieces of shaped bone showing no obvious means of attachment are inlays in the strict sense in that they were probably glued in place. They occurred in a variety of shapes both figurative and geometric. These are most probably elements from pieces of furniture decorated by the marquetry technique. The shapes of the pieces suggest that they were being used to build up figured scenes and geometric ones. Some pieces, for example, resemble column capitals (see cat. no. 6.56 on the left) suggesting vistas within architectural settings. Probably they would have been used with elements in different materials such as wood to provide colour contrasts. None of the VI.1 examples showed any signs of deliberate staining, but it might be interesting in the future for other excavation teams to not to wash pieces like this when recovered before carefully examining them for the possibility that they had been coloured originally.

 

These small pieces were found widely within the insula in contexts dating from the first century BC onwards.  They suggest marquetry was a common technique on the furniture in Campanian sites, something that has not been appreciated before.

Two pieces of glass from the Casa delle Vestali are mosaic inlays. They would have been manufactured by arranging differently coloured canes of glass so the ends of the bundle showed the desired pattern. The bundle of canes was then heated until they fused. The thick bundle of hot glass could then be stretched to diminish the diameter and produce a long rod through which the pattern ran. When cold this rod could be cut into slices  producing multiple pieces with the same decoration. The pattern on the Casa delle Vestali ones would have been ideal to produce an inlaid pattern in which palmettes and shells alternated.

Roman mosaic glass inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman mosaic glass inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii

Glass inlays (Catalogue nos. 6.78-9) from unphased contexts in the Casa delle Vestali

It is probably that there was also considerable use of copper alloy inlays and mounts as the assemblage includes fragments that appear to be part of shaped plates. The most complete one is shown to the left. It would probably have formed the background for decorative mounts as two perforations remain. It would have been at least 150mm long. It  came from an Augusto-Tiberian context in the Casa delle Vestali. (Catalogue no. 6.72).

(Photo: Hilary Cool)

Glass Opus Sectile

The assemblage also included elements of opus sectile floors which consisted of stone and other materials cut into large pieces and fitted together to form geometric or figurative scenes. Glass could be used but was generally very rare and only present in very luxurious houses. The Casa delle Vestali was one such house as the floor in the triclinium of the Narciso Atrium originally had a floor with glass opus sectile elements. The glass panels from the VI.1 excavations included an example from the levelling layers for the AD 20s redevelopment suggesting that the previous house had also been luxuriously floored. The glass for the panels was made in the same way that contemporary window glass was made and then grozed  to shape.

Opus sectile element in glass from Insual VI.1 Pompeii

Part of an emerald green glass opus sectile panel from a floor. Found in the levelling work prior to the redevelopment of the Casa delle Vestali in the AD 20s. (Catalogue no. 6.85).

Contents copyright H.E.M. Cool and M.J. Baxter 2016

 

Composite fitting od copper alloy over lead from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Composite fitting od copper alloy over lead from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Composite fitting od copper alloy over lead from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
copper alloy nail with moulded underside for use wth lead sheet from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
copper alloy nail with moulded underside for use wth lead sheet from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Bone inlay from fulcrum of Roman couch from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman ivory couch decorated with glass inlays
Bone marquetry inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Bone marquetry inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Bone marquetry inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman mosaic glass inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Roman mosaic glass inlay from Insula VI.1 Pompeii
Opus sectile element in glass from Insual VI.1 Pompeii