chapter  37
22 Pages

THE TOMBS AT POMPEII

BySarah Cormack

The narrative presented by the tombs at Pompeii is in many ways unique. Unlikeother necropoleis that may represent decades or centuries of use, transformation, and accumulation of debris before gradual abandonment, the tombs at Pompeii present a snapshot of how the necropolis looked at a particular moment in time. As Vesuvius erupted, some of the inhabitants of Pompeii fled out of the city along the streets lined with tombs. Some of them sought shelter in the entrances or inner chambers of the monumental tombs, finding, inadvertently, their own final resting places. These victims were obviously not the occupants for whom the tombs were intended; due, however, to the unique archaeological circumstances at Pompeii, archaeologists and epigraphists can reconstruct a great deal concerning the identity of the original tomb occupants, and the way in which the tomb environment conveyed various messages concerning, for example, social status, family or political connections. The purpose here is to present the sorts of evidence that the tombs preserve, and to interpret that evidence in the framework of the broader social environment at Pompeii. After a brief discussion of the locations and typology of the Pompeian tombs, we shall turn to the evidence for their functions and usage, their decorative schemes and the implications of this decoration, and the contribution of the epitaph towards the creation of an individual or group identity. Finally, observations will be offered regarding whether the tombs can be viewed as a mirror of society (as attested in the urban evidence), or whether they constitute an idealised, utopian space.1