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

Plan of Oplontis B

Plan of Oplontis B

Ground floor of the commercial-residential center, Oplontis B. The skeletons of 54 people were found in Room 10, which faced the sea. Hundreds of shipping jars for wine were found in the central courtyard where they were being filled when the eruption occurred.



Restored strongbox

A strongbox was required to secure the proceeds and records of all Roman commercial operations.

On the lid of the strongbox, two dogs face each other. Near their heads are two small rectangular bases, on one of which a bronze duck perches—the second duck is missing. In the center of the lid, a female head emerges from a tondo (circle). The feet of the chest are decorated with two griffins in relief facing a crater (wine vessel). In the middle of the front of the chest is a square panel inlaid with a silver and copper head of Silenus, a follower of the god Bacchus (Dionysus). Above that panel is a bronze lion’s head with a ring in its mouth between two bronze busts of cupids. Above the lion an inlaid Greek inscription reads:

	“Pythonymos, Pytheas, and Nikokrates,
	the workers of Heracleides made this.”

	Πυθώνυμος Πυθέας Νικοκράτης
	οἱ Ἡρακλείδου ἄνδριοι ἐπιόουν

The strongbox has a complicated locking mechanism. The dog and duck sculptures on the lid hid the bolt that was used to close the chest. To open it, one first had to pull out the female tondo, which covered the keyhole. Internal bolts were then moved by pulling the lion’s head and rotating the cupid’s head.


Commerce and Wealth at Oplontis B


Restored strongbox from Oplontis B

Oplontis B (also known as Villa B “of Lucius Crassius Tertius”) was a small settlement consisting of townhouses, apartments, and a warehouse facility located just north of Pompeii on the coast of the Bay of Naples. Founded in the second century BC, it remained an active commercial and residential center until the eruption of Vesuvius destroyed it in AD 79. The warehouse centered on an impressive courtyard surrounded by a two-story stone colonnade with commercial spaces on the ground floor and apartments above. It is the only complex of its type known from this region. Although landlocked today, Oplontis B was situated on the ancient coast about two meters above sea level and probably included a dock or mooring place.

Italian excavations began in 1974, when the site was accidentally discovered during the construction of a gymnasium for a local middle school. In addition to unearthing a variety of buildings, the excavators found approximately 1,200 shipping jars (amphorae), industrial and household items, and the skeletons of 54 adults and children who died in the eruption while awaiting rescue by sea, several of them still wearing or holding their precious possessions.

One particularly striking artifact is the elaborately inlaid strongbox. Since a strongbox was required equipment for all Roman business establishments, we can speculate that it would have held the proceeds of the commercial activities carried on at the site.

The architecture, artifacts, and skeletons from this settlement have much to tell us about the people of Oplontis B as exporters and consumers of goods within local and Mediterranean trade networks in the Roman world and as ordinary Romans who lived, worked, and died there during the first century AD.

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