When reading about history, it’s easy to forget about the ordinary person on the street. That is, unless you are looking at Pompeii. The perfectly preserved Roman ruin contains so much evidence of normal people doing the things we still do every day that it reveals a past not so different from our present.
Consider that famous fresco of the man and woman. They’re probably recently married. The man is holding a rolled up parchment – it bears striking resemblance to a graduation picture such as we will have at the end of university. It looks just like a family photo you might have on your mantelpiece.
There are also wine jars that have been found that bear the pun Vesuvinum, combining the word Vesuvius with vinum, for wine. Kind of like KP peanut’s slogan, ‘pure snacktivity’. You almost expect the wine jar to have a Sainsbury’s basics-esque slogan: ‘Not as good as Rome’s, still tops off a meal!’
The house of a trading company has written on the floor at the entrance ‘Salve, Lucru’, translating to ‘welcome, money’. Businesses seem to have had a lot more self-deprecating humour about them than they do today. I doubt Primark would write on its floor, ‘welcome, cheap child labour’.
On the exterior of the House of Menander, there is graffiti that reads ‘Satura was here on September 3rd’. It’s such a stereotypically youthful thing to do, and still goes on all the time today. Have a look on the web for the slightly ruder, brothel-related snippets.
When you read about things like ‘peasants’ and ‘slaves’, they can mash together in your mind as an indistinguishable mass. Pompeii provides a fantastic eyeglass on the individual’s life in the Roman Empire, and it turns out that we had a lot in common all along.