Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero

The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii

Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero

Lucius Crassius Tertius

Seal ring

Some scholars have proposed that Lucius Crassius Tertius was the owner or manager of Oplontis B. Even if he was not, the small image of a wine vessel on the back of his stamp seal ring strongly suggests that he was involved in the wine trade. He may have collected wine from merchants or nearby producers and readied it at Oplontis B for transport by sea. If so, he would have been roughly the equivalent of a modern négociant, who deals primarily with the finished product that he then sells as his own.

Tertius may also have been involved in importing, as a few non-local amphorae, such as examples from Crete and Spain that were found at Oplontis B, imply. It is tempting to imagine that at the time of the eruption the facility was awaiting the arrival of a ship carrying a new supply of foreign wine to be distributed locally. The same ship would have taken on board the local Vesuvian wine for sale abroad.



Ten-pound Weight

Weights were vital for the commercial operations at Oplontis B, since they were used to ensure the accurate measurements of goods bought and sold. The weights, of different sizes, were used with a balance, though the balance from Oplontis B has not been found. Weights found in Oplontis B range from a half-pound to between 110 and 120 pounds. The five-pound and two-pound (quinipondium and dupondium) weights are inscribed with the Roman numerals V and II to indicate their measurements. Traces remain of an iron handle that was attached to the upper surface of the ten-pound (decapondium) weight, along with the lead used to solder it in place.


Bronze Pot (Olla) Containing Pine Pitch

Bronze Pot Containing Pine Pitch

Commercial Activities

Commercial activities

Objects used for commercial activities

The objects shown here were used for commercial activities carried on at Oplontis B. Standardized weights were a regular feature of Roman trade. Agricultural products found at Oplontis B that might have been sold by weight include pomegranates, other fruits, and a variety of nuts, carbonized remains of which have survived.

The wine trade involved the daily activity of washing, drying, waterproofing, and labeling the large jars used for shipping (amphorae). Excavators discovered a small ceramic amphora almost entirely filled with black, gelatinous pitch as well as two bronze jugs with remains of the pitch that workers had heated for coating the insides of the jars to waterproof before refilling them. After washing the jars and applying pitch to their interiors, workers stacked the jars to dry before they were filled. (The archival image to the right shows a stack of jars as they were found by the excavators.) Workers also painted labels onto the shoulders and necks of the jars to identify their contents and owners. The clay jar on the right contained paint.

Along with hundreds of well-preserved amphorae, excavators unearthed fragmentary necks of jars with their original corks in them. This suggests that the bottling process was interrupted by the eruption. In several cases the point at the bottom of one amphora (its spike or toe) was stuck into the cork in the neck of another amphora. Storing upside down would have kept the corks wet, just as modern collectors keep wine corks wet by storing the bottles on their side.

The large number of wine jars found at Oplontis B clearly indicates that a significant volume of wine was being prepared for transport. To put this in a modern perspective, if we calculate the average capacity of a Dressel 2-4 amphora as 25 liters, then the estimated 1,200 amphorae found at Oplontis B had a capacity of 30,000 liters of wine, the equivalent of 40,000 of the standard 750 milliliter bottles used in modern wine making, or 3,333 cases of wine, each containing 12 bottles.

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