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 Villa A

Plan of Villa A

Model of Villa A

Model of Villa A

Roofline Ornament

Roofline ornament

Decorative antefixes like these were used to cover the ends of roof tiles along the edge of the roof. They were mold-made and originally colorfully painted.

The goddess represented here displays a number of attributes that makes her difficult to identify—including a crescent moon and schematic wings above her head, goat horns, and dolphins on either side of her. Though several of these attributes refer to the Egyptian goddess Isis, some of them refer to other deities as well.


Villa A "of Poppaea"


Villa A

Villa A was a sprawling complex with extensive gardens, opulently appointed living quarters for the owners, and utilitarian areas for slaves. It was built during the late Republican period around 50 BC and was greatly expanded during the early Imperial period around the time of the Emperor Nero, who ruled Rome from AD 54 to 68. It may once have belonged to Nero’s second wife, Poppaea, whose family was prominent in Pompeii.

To date, nearly 100 rooms, accounting for a little more than half of the villa, have been excavated. Villa A is well known for its impressive wall paintings, sculptures, marble floors and columns, gardens with fountains, and other luxurious appointments, such as a 60-meter swimming pool. The villa’s carefully orchestrated paintings, sculptures, gardens, and architecture asserted the power and prestige of the owners and created a dynamic visual setting in which to entertain social and political peers.

The architecture and décor of Villa A also inform us about the social structure of the villa community. Along with its elite quarters, the villa contains a service courtyard and corridors where household slaves—who maintained the villas and made possible the life of luxury their owners enjoyed—once carried out many of their daily tasks.

Villa A was ideally situated between the sea and the vine-covered slopes of Mount Vesuvius. We can now only imagine the breathtaking views that were seen by all of the villa’s residents and guests.

Painting of a Marine Landscape

Painting of a marine landscape

This fragmentary painting was originally part of a larger mural. Its original location in Villa A is unknown, but it resembles the landscapes that decorate porticus 40.

The painting resembles so-called “impressionistic” landscapes found in houses throughout Pompeii and in villas in the surrounding region. In the left foreground is a dome-shaped island with two buildings on it. A figure with a long, pointed shadow approaches from the left. Two other figures to the right of the buildings seem to approach a fisherman holding a long pole that extends into the water. The water connects with a smaller island to his right.

This form of landscape painting gained popularity during the last years of the Roman Republic and the first decades of the Empire. Many examples portray elaborate structures, some of which may be grand luxury villas like the ones that were built during this period. Equally popular were scenes of rustic shrines in the countryside that recall the Roman ideology that revered a life centered in nature, in the case of this painting from Villa A, life along the seashore.

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