Sunday, August 23, 2020

Staged royal discoveries in Pompeii

 I'm continuing to translate portions of the Pompeianarum antiquitatum historia and have become increasingly skeptical of finds made in front of royal patrons in Pompeii. I have read months of records dated to 1813 where excavators are working on the amphitheater, a basilica, and a house "behind" the House of Actaeon which I think is really the gardens at the rear of the House of Actaeon complex. The excavators have previously assumed the rooms around the fresco of Actaeon is the "House" of Actaeon when in reality it was a later addition to the central complex of what is now known as the House of Sallust.

Anyway, month after month the excavators report nothing but hauling away donkey carts full of volcanic material. Most rooms are almost empty with the exception of the occasional broken vase or fragments of hinges. Then the Queen shows up, and I assume this is Queen Caroline Bonaparte, Queen of Naples and Sicily at the time. Conveniently, the Queen "discovers" several pieces of bronze, which served as a seal for a door, a beautiful silver vase with "delicately decorated handle and foot" with an historical bas relief, three plates and other pieces of silver as well as two candelabra and a kitchen vase with an elliptical shape. Then the excavator says he will send them back to M.S. This would indicate the items were previously in storage and being returned to storage. Whether they originated at the site and were uncovered in earlier excavations in 1806-1807 or just items selected from storage regardless of find site is unclear. I have already translated the reports from 1806-1807 but don't remember anything silver being uncovered. I'll review those reports again to be sure.

19th century woodcut print of Pompeii excavations (PD)

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