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Archaeologists discover evidence of Greek culture in Pompeii

Archeologists excavate the tomb at Porta Sarno in the archeological park of Pompeii
Archaeologists in Pompeii have discovered a burial site that references theater performances in Greek and Latin, the first direct evidence of plays performed in the languages in the ancient city. Director of Pompeii Archaeological Park, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, said the discovery “tells us something about the cultural atmosphere” of the time period.

Italy’s archeological park of Pompeii has offered up another remarkable discovery, this time in the form of an ancient tomb with mummified human remains. The funerary inscription on a marble slab is particularly noteworthy as includes the first proof of Greek culture in the ancient city, confirming hypotheses about the dynamic multicultural climate in Pompeii.

The monumental tomb was unearthed at the necropolis of Porta Sarno, in an area of the archeological site not currently accessible to the public. The tomb structure, which dates to the final decades before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius engulfed the city in ash, has traces of paint preserved on the façade depicting green plants on a blue background. Researchers have identified it as the burial place of Marcus Venerius Secundio, a public slave and custodian of the Temple of Venus. After being freed, he achieved a certain social and economic standing, as evidenced by the stately tomb.

The tomb contains an extraordinarily well preserved skeleton and an inscription offering an insight ... 

Archeologists say the tomb contains “one of the best-preserved skeletons ever found in the ancient city.” Not only is the body remarkably intact — with hair and an ear still visible — but the mode of burial is unusual. During the Roman period at Pompeii, funeral rites usually involved cremation, while only young children were buried. Analysis of the bones found in the burial chamber estimate Marcus Venerius Secundio was over 60 years of age. “The characteristics of the funerary chamber, which consisted of a hermetically sealed room, created conditions that allowed for the exceptional state of preservation in which the skeleton was found,” the archeological park wrote in a statement.

Inside the grave, archaeologists also found two glass bottles called unguentaria and numerous fragments of what appears to be fabric, which could provide answers about the uncommon burial method. “We still need to understand whether the partial mummification of the deceased is due to intentional treatment or not”, explains Professor Llorenç Alapont of the University of Valencia which collaborated with the park on the excavation. “Analysis of the fabric could provide further information on this. From the sources we know that certain textiles such as asbestos were used in embalming.”

Still more compelling is the reference to Greek culture in the tomb inscription. The epigraph states that Marcus Venerius Secundio “gave Greek and Latin ludi for the duration of four days”. Ludi graeci were theater performances in Greek language. “It is the first clear evidence of performances at Pompeii in the Greek language, which had previously been hypothesised on the basis of indirect indicators,” says the Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, Gabriel Zuchtriegel. “Here we have another tessera of a large mosaic, namely the multi-ethnic Pompeii of the early Imperial Age, where Greek, the then lingua franca of the eastern Mediterranean, is indicated alongside Latin. That performances in Greek were organised is evidence of the lively and open cultural climate which characterised ancient Pompeii.”

Archeologists found traces of hair and an ear still visible on the skeleton.

The tomb discovery is another step in an ongoing process to enrich our understanding of life in the ancient city of Pompeii. “Even for those like me, who have been specialised in funerary archaeology for some time, the extraordinary wealth of information offered by this tomb, from the inscription to the burials, the osteological finds and the painted façade, is exceptional,” comments Professor Llorenç Alapont, “which confirms the importance of adopting an interdisciplinary approach, such as that conducted by the University of Valencia and the Archaeological Park during this project”.

The tomb inscription mentions performances in Greek language. 


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