Monday, June 30, 2014

What Did the House of Vibus Look Like?

DID YOU KNOW?  In Ancient Rome, poor and lower middle class Romans lived in crowded, dirty and mostly rundown rental apartments, known as insulae. These would be multi-level apartment blocks built as high and tightly together as possible. In these apartments entire families (grandparents, parents, children) might all be crowded into one room, without running water. They had to haul their water in from public facilities. People cooked meals in crowded quarters, but most insulae did not have kitchens so people ate meals at pubs and bars, inns, and food stalls.  Many of these flats were made of wood, so fire was always a hazard. The uppermost floors were the least desirable and the cheapest to rent. These were the smallest apartments and did not have heating, running water or lavatories. Occupants had to use Rome’s system of public restrooms (latrinae).  Although it was prohibited, residents would dump trash and human excrement out the windows onto the streets and alleys.

BUT ~ the homes of the elite classes in Ancient Rome were constructed with elaborate marble decorations, inlaid marble paneling, door jambs and columns as well as expensive paintings and frescoes.  Wealthy homeowners lived in buildings with few exterior windows. Glass windows weren't readily available: glass production was in its infancy. Wealthy Roman citizens lived in large homes separated into two parts, and linked together through the tablinum or study or by a small passageway.

In my novel, The Merchant’s Daughter, The House of Vibus is one such home (domus). Although for most Roman households the two kinds of housing were intermingled in the city and not segregated into separate neighborhoods, Vibus had a country estate (villa urbana). He preferred living in the cooler hills and away from the city of Naples (Neapolis). It was grand, but laid out in a typical Roman fashion.

English: A Pompeian Interior Luigi Bazzani 188...
English: A Pompeian Interior Luigi Bazzani 1882 oil on panel Dahesh Museum of Art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
VESTIBULUM: The vestibulum was the main entryway hall. It is usually only seen in grander structures. Many urban homes had shops or rental space directly off the streets with the front door between. This would create a security by keeping the main portion of the home off the street. In Vibus’ home there was no need for a shop or rental space, the entryway and family living quarters were still separated by a vestibulum.

ATRIUM: The atrium was the most important part of the house, where guests and dependents (clients) were greeted. The atrium was open in the center, surrounded at least in part by high-ceilinged porticoes.  Here there were only sparse furnishings to give the effect of a large space. In the center was a square roof opening called the compluvium in which rainwater could come, draining inwards from the slanted tiled roof. Directly below the compluvium was the impluvium (which was basically a drain pool, a shallow rectangular sunken portion of the Atrium to gather rainwater, which drained into an underground cistern.) In Vibus' home the pool was lined with marble, around which was a floor of small mosaic.

PERISTYLIUM/INNER COURTYARD: Just beyond the atrium was the peristylium. It was an open courtyard within the house. The columns surrounding the garden supported a shady roofed portico. The inner walls were embellished with elaborate wall paintings. The courtyard contained flowers and shrubs, fountains, benches, sculptures and fish ponds. The House of Vibus had this traditional courtyard, but his home also contained a non-traditional garden in the back of his home because of the amount of land he owned. He and the family often sat at the back garden to enjoy open view to the hills toward the mounts of Somma and Vesuvius. He also purposed this back garden to enjoy the cooler breezes off the Bay of Naples during the warm summers.

TABLINUM (OFFICE):  Between the atrium and the inner courtyard was the tablinum a sort of office. Here Quintus Vibus would receive his clients for the morning salutatio. From this vantage point he is able to command the house and all his business dealings.

TRICLINIUM: The Triclinium is a Roman dining room. The area had three couches (klinai) on three sides of a low square table. Diners would recline on these surfaces in a semi-recumbent position. They would eat leaning up on their elbow. The fourth side of the table was left free to allow service to the table. Middle class and elite Roman houses usually had at least two triclinia; it's not unusual to find four or more. The main Triclinium in Vibus' house had elaborate decorations. It was decorated with perspective scenes and central paintings of Dionysus, Venus, and still lifes of food. Although the tradition of reclining on couches for dinner parties was standard, a casual meal was taken at a table with chairs, the way we do today.

CULINA: The culina was a kitchen in a Roman house. It was dark and gloomy and smoke filled the room because there was no chimney. This is where slaves prepared food for their masters and guests in Roman times.

registered and copyrighted 2014 Tina Concetta Marzocca
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Quintus Vibus looked around the table. All eyes were on Seth, eager to hear his news. Vibus knew this would not be good news. He thought he’d better hear it first then make his decisions and inform the family and staff in his own way. The children were frightened enough as it was.

“Meet me in the Atrium … no, not the Atrium,” he thought better of it realizing the open atrium would be filled with falling ash and stench from the noxious cloud, “… in the study. Send for Felix. He’s probably in the kitchen eating with the others.”

Vibus waved Seth out and turned to meet the eyes at the table. They all looked disappointed, but he still thought it best not to speak in front of the children or the Assas who were tending the feeding of the younger children. His son, Marcellus, was just shy of his twelfth birthday. He was still a boy. It would be four years before he’d be considered a man. Perhaps it was time to begin his training for manhood.

“Come Aelia, I need you to be there. We will have plans and preparations to make.” Aelia appeared to be relieved to be part of the discussion. Vibus turned to his son. “Marcellus, we are in a crisis and I need my son to learn what it is to be a man. This is your time. Make me proud.”

Marcellus almost leapt from his seat. “I will father, I promise.”

They walked through the atrium to get to the study. They were amazed at how much ash had fallen through the opening in the roof. There was a small pool of water in the middle of the atrium directly under the opening. It was swaying from the rolling movement of the earth, matted and covered in black pumice and ash. The thunderous noises from the mountain had been muted while they were inside the triclinium, but now it echoed and roared shaking the foundations of the building. The group gathered quickly in the study, shutting the door to keep the horrible smells at bay.

“Seth, what say you?” Vibus was anxious to hear the news from the forum.

Seth relayed the alarming news. “The eruption blast has spewed forth massive amounts of ash, pumice and earth toward the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. So enormous was the blast that day turned to night and caused violent tremors in the cities. Great buildings and temples have fallen. In Herculaneum the people have fled to the beaches but the sea is filled with floating banks of pumice. The ships could not get near the shore nor could any ships leave the harbor. The southern winds have blown most of the ash and pumice into Pompeii and it is burying the city. Some have escaped by sea. Many are making their way to Stabia, but the messenger fears that Stabia is also in the path of destruction. The heavens are raining fire and earth. It is accumulating at an alarming speed and force. Roofs are collapsing because of the weight and buildings are on fire. People are being buried where they stand. There is panic and chaos in the streets along with many dead and injured. The messenger was barely able to make his way north along the coast to Neapolis. He is begging for rescue missions. There will be no other messengers behind him. The roads are gone; there is no passage in many places.”

Pompeii, a Short Story including five bonus chapters of The Merchant's Daughter is now available in Paperback as well as Kindle versions. 

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

What the Heck is a Lunula?

DID YOU KNOW??? – In ancient Rome children were given amulets (worn as lockets) to wear. About nine days after their birth, a baby boy was given a bulla (which was often a phallic shape) and a baby girl was given a lunula  (often in the shape of a half moon) which she would wear until the eve of her marriage.  A boy would wear a bulla until he became a Roman citizen at the age of 16.  Although his bulla would be carefully saved and brought out on some important occasions (like becoming a general) to keep him safe against forces of evil and jealousy, a girl's would be destroyed at the time of her marriage along with her childhood things. It was then she would stop wearing child’s clothes and start wearing women’s Roman dress.  These amulets were made of different substances depending on the wealth of the family (a wealthy child would have one made of gold), but all children wore one to protect them from evil forces.

This is why Tullia’s lunula was so important. Her mother had carefully planned and calculated which particular herbs, flowers, oils and incantations would be needed to go into Tullia's locket to protect her. When the man on the dock tried to snatch her gold lunula it would have meant much more to her than just the theft of a gold locket. He was taking from her the protection her mother was so careful to endow to her. For this reason she stepped up and demanded that the commander find her stolen lunula snatched by the thief (and the would be kidnapper). It is also important to note that this was why the herbs the old crone on the dock gave Tullia to add to her lunula, was so significant.

(5 Chapter Bonus at the end of Pompeii, A Short Story)

The craggy-faced crone beamed a huge, frightening smile. Most of her teeth were missing and the few that clung to the jagged gumline were stained and yellow.

“Ah, Sibylla, you have come to see me?” The old crone pointed at Tullia with a long, crooked finger.

Tullia didn’t answer her. She merely shook her head, no, and took a step backward.

“Don’t be afraid my child, I knew you would come. I have something for your lunula.”

Tullia was wary, but curious. She automatically touched the crescent shaped amulet around her neck. Satisfied that her lunula was safely there, she gave a silent sigh. She’s had the golden amulet around her neck since she was a baby, as was the custom. It warded off evil and was filled with herbs and flowers anointed in sacred oils chosen specially by her mother. She wore it around her neck, always. It hung on a necklace made of twisted Roman glass beads from Cotta Glass, her father’s business.

“My mother filled my lunula.” Tullia was curious and took a small step toward the old woman.

“Yes, your mother is Sibylla too. Like you. Like me.”  The old crone gave a soft little cackle. “Come child, take this. Your mother wants you to have it. It will protect you from the fire rain.”

“The fire rain?” Tullia’s curiosity was now piqued. “You know about the fire rain?” The girl stepped closer to the old woman.

“We know, child, we see. Your mother saw. She sent you here. She is your greatest protector. Take this Sibylla. “She handed the tiny bundle of herbs, bound with twigs and doused in a familiar scent, to Tullia who now approached the woman with more confidence.”

“What do I do with it?”  Tullia looked at the bundle in the palm of her hand, touching it lightly with the fingers of her other hand. She turned her gaze back toward the woman awaiting an answer to her question. The old crone didn’t seem so ugly or scary any more. She just looked like an old woman.

“The crescent moon will rise at mid-morning tomorrow. You must do it then. Not before mid-morning and not after the sun is high in sky. “

“Do what?”

“Invoke a prayer to the maiden goddess Diana. It is she who guards you. It is she whom your mother has called on to protect you. You must call on her out of reverence for her favors. You must ask for her help yourself, in the name of your mother. The goddess awaits your petition.”  She emphasized this statement with a slight back and forth wave of her wrist; right hand raised toward the heavens with middle and forefingers raised to the gods.

“What do I say?”  Tullia asked.

“You will know what to say. Speak from your heart and the goddess will hear you.”

“Tullia!” Phoebe’s shout was anxious and distraught.

Tullia turned to see Phoebe adjusting the belt on Marius’ tunic. She then picked him up into her arms and walked as quickly as she could over to where Tullia and the old woman were talking. Tullia knew she had better get back to Assa. She turned to the woman to thank her.

“Don’t forget, at two hours before meridies. When the sun is at midday, it’s too late. Too early and your prayer will be weakened.” Those were the last words the woman said.

Tullia swung around to run back toward Phoebe who was still shouting her name. Just as she turned away from the old woman a man rushed out from the edge of a group cheering the successful lighting of a huge bonfire. People in colorful costumes were dancing, whooping and shouting around the blazing fire on the dock. No one paid attention as the lone man stepped away from the celebration. He had been watching Tullia and the old lady.

A five chapter preview of THE MERCHANT'S DAUGHTER is available at the end of the story POMPEII: A Short Story by Tina Concetta Marzocca