Living Like a King: Re-Contextualizing Hellenistic Palatial DÉcor in the House of the Faun at Pompeii

Alexis M. Christensen

Florida State University

The aim of this paper is to place the House of the Faun (VI.12.2-5) at Pompeii within the larger context of elite palatial architecture of the second century BCE Mediterranean, through an examination of its mosaic floor decorations within their architectural setting, in order to establish both the nature and the extent of cultural influence from eastern Hellenistic kingdoms on the domestic constructs of the contemporary "consuetudo italica."

The second century BCE was a cultural watershed in which Italic traditions were irrevocably transformed by the burgeoning influx of eastern Hellenistic koine into Italic centers due to Roman conquest and acquisition of Hellenistic kingdoms and to the expansion of trade routes across the Mediterranean facilitated by Italic populations.  This transformation is well illustrated by contemporary houses at Pompeii which exhibit new, Hellenistic features such as peristyles and floor mosaics that are representative of Hellenistic palaces.  The addition of new, elaborately decorated spaces, centered on the peristyle, provided new opportunities for social interactions within the household and with visitors and created a new social focal point within a house.  Although peristyle suites tend to be located deep within houses, the patterns of mosaic and pavement use suggest that both inhabitants and visitors would have been directed into these spaces, passing through the more traditional atrium suite.  This combination of factors indicates that in Hellenistic Pompeii, and perhaps throughout Italy, there was a desire for, or perhaps a need for additional "public" space in private houses, implying that there were additional occasions for social interaction in domestic contexts.

Using the House of the Faun as a test case, I will argue that the introduction of both peristyles and mosaics into Pompeian houses was a conscious imitation of palatial architecture.  Furthermore, the combined adoption of these architectural and decorative features was not purely aesthetic or ergonomic – they were not simply new environments for traditional activities – but rather it was the correlate of borrowed, Hellenistic social constructs as well.


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