Tragic Remains of Master and His Slave Found in Pompeii

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a master and his slave from Pompeii, victims of the cataclysmic volcanic eruption that destroyed the city. They were found in the heart of the ruins of Pompeii and they are offering new insights into life in the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD.

The ruins at Pompeii itself are perhaps one of the best-known archaeological parks in the world. Archaeologists are still making discoveries at the site not far from Naples, Italy. Experts were working in a large villa, that was once the home of a member of the Pompeian elite when they came across the remains. The ruins of this villa are located in the Civita Giuliana, where important finds have previously been made. Archaeologists found the remains of two males in a cellar or underground chamber beneath the villa.

The cause of death for these unfortunate people who died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD is also the reason why archaeologists find remains in such good condition. ( Parco Archeologico di Pompei )

New Human Remains at Pompeii: Are They of a Master and Slave?

The remains discovered are of two inhabitants of ancient Pompeii who perished in 79 AD when Mount Vesuvius exploded and engulfed the city with hot ash, pumice and pyroclastic flows. The Guardian quotes Massimo Osanna, the director of the Pompeii archaeological park, as saying that the discoveries are “truly exceptional.” The two preserved bodies found in the villa were that of an older and a younger male, and both had been entombed in ash. The older man was aged between 30 and 40, and the younger man was in his early twenties.

Further investigations showed that the older man had traces of a woolen cloak tucked under his neck. The young man still had the traces of a simple tunic that he wore on that fateful day in 79 AD. A study of the remains showed that his vertebrae were crushed and worn out. Given his age this would suggest that he had been engaged in hard physical work. This may indicate that he was a slave, as slaves were typically involved in backbreaking labor, and that the older man may have been his master.

The slave and his master discovered in a villa on the outskirts of Pompeii must have died a gruesome and excruciating death, as can be seen in the way they are clenching their feet and hands. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei)

The slave and his master discovered in a villa on the outskirts of Pompeii must have died a gruesome and excruciating death, as can be seen in the way they are clenching their feet and hands. ( Parco Archeologico di Pompei )

Excruciating Death by Thermal Shock

The remains of the two men are exceptionally well preserved. They were found near some stables in the villa. Sky News reports Massimo Osanna as saying that “these two victims were perhaps seeking refuge when they were swept away by the pyroclastic current at about 9 in the morning.” They must have died horribly and in agony. Reuters also quotes Osanna as saying that  the men probably died because of thermal shock, as “demonstrated by their clenched feet and hands.”

The terrible manner of their death is also the reason why their bodies have been preserved for almost 2,000 years. The pyroclastic flow burned away all the soft tissues such as their skin and muscle, but their bones and teeth were preserved. The voids or empty spaces left by their soft tissues have been filled with plaster by the archaeologists.

The Guardian quotes officials at the Park as saying that “further digging over the coming months might reveal where the men were heading and determine the roles they played in the elegant villa.” This could throw more light on the ordinary lives of the inhabitants of the city in the 1 st century AD and the relationship between slaves and their owners.

The discovery of a master and slave is only the latest in a series of finds that has transformed our understanding of Pompeii. In 2018 the remains of women and children were found in a villa. In the same year, the mysterious remains of a headless man was found beneath a huge stone. Another discovery according to The Guardian indicates that “ Vesuvius erupted in October 79 AD , and not in August of that year as previously thought.”

Preserving the Ancient City of Pompeii

Pompeii was a city of some 13,000 people before it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, along with the towns of Herculaneum. It was buried beneath ash and pumice and lost for many centuries. It was only excavated during the mid-18 th century and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist destination which attracts four million people every year.

Archaeologists have gradually revealed an entire city, with buildings, villas, that are adorned with frescoes and mosaics. Graffiti found here has also shown the evolution of everyday Latin as spoken by people, and even one of the earliest references to Christianity outside the Bible. The discovery of the master and slave are among the 1,500 victims of the volcano that has been uncovered in Pompeii and its hinterland so far.

Reuters quotes the Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini as saying that the finds “underlined Pompeii’s status as an ‘incredible place for research and study’.” While there are still discoveries being made at Pompeii, the main focus has shifted to preserving what remains in the ancient city and this mammoth task is proving to be a major technical and financial challenge for Italian authorities .

Top image: The casts of two men, believed to be a master and his young slave, have been unearthed in the excavation of a villa outside Pompeii. Source: Parco Archeologico di Pompei

By Ed Whelan

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