A Pompeii Visit
On a recent trip in the Mediterranean, I was told by a reputable person that the reason there are no large animals in North Africa, and a good chunk of the Middle East, is because the Romans destroyed so many of them for use in their gladiatorial games that many species never recovered. I remember learning about the great architectural and engineering achievements of the Romans but this little known fact left me astonished and even a bit angry. Our tour of Pompeii threw the behaviour of the Romans into high relief. Our tour guide, a Napoli woman with a PhD in ancient architecture, repeated over and over again that these people were warriors. They imitated the Greeks and admired their philosophical and artistic achievements, which is why there are two extant amphitheatres in this ‘frozen in time’ city, but their passion was for the gladiatorial games. Pompeii was discovered in 1748 and completely changed our understanding of history. It was the first time that ancient everyday people and their activities could be studied, analysed and appreciated. We suddenly could find out what food people ate in Pompeii, how slaves were treated, how hygiene and bathing were approached and how the political life of the city was played out. But what was most significant to me was the lack of everyday objects in Pompeii; those things that bring a place to life and make it breathe. Virtually everything that survived that was beautiful or artistic, sculpture, paintings, jewellery, is now in a museum in another part of Italy. The everyday objects such as crockery and cutlery are in a museum near the archaeological site. Though we were visiting during October, the weather was fine with gorgeous views of Vesuvius beyond the Forum. And this meant the crowds were out in force, with the Chinese tourists, in particular, eager to take pictures of the plaster cast remains of victims of the 79 A.D.eruption. Everyone on our trip was keen to see the mosaic picture recreation of a canine with the first ever warning from ancient times bearing the inscription ‘Beware of Dog’. Yes, the Romans were very much like you and me.