The statue of Proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus, standing in the square near the suburban baths in Herculeneum.
The big rectangular enclosure preceding the entrance of the suburban Thermae is occupied, in the middle, by Marco Nonio Balbo's altar-cenotaph, erected in the early Augustan age in the place where his body had been cremated and his ashes collected. The loricate statue of M. Nonio Balbo, set up by his freedman Nonius Volusianus. stood on the marble base behind the altar.
Marco Nonio Balbo was an eminent character of the Augustan age.
A native of Nuceria, but resident at Herculaneum, he was praetor and proconsul of the province of Crete and Cyrene, tribune of the people in 32 b.C. and partisan of Octavian. Due to his munificence towards the town of Herculaneum (his epigraphs on walls, on the doors of the town as well as inside the basilica are well-known), he was appointed patron and when he died he was given extraordinary honours, summarized in the long inscription on the gravestone situated in the middle of the terrace adjoining the Suburban Thermae.
The city was literally invaded by his statues, erected in the most representative places. There are in fact at least ten inscriptions referred to the statues set up in his honour.
On the contrary, the statues which have effectively made it to the present are fewer. They are preserved at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, since they had been found in the period of the Bourbon excavations.
The loricate statue is the only one preserved at Herculaneum.
This is another richly decorated house, and the well preserved wall mosaics are striking for their rich colours.
Its name derives from the glass paste wall mosaic depicting Neptune and Amphitrite, which adorns the east wall of the room.
On the north side is a nymphaeum, with niches for statues surrounded by art, also covered with a glass paste mosaic. Here you can see dogs chasing deer that is topped with a frieze of marble theatrical masks. Above this niche area is the tank that fed the fountain.
The house has the standard layout of fauces, atrium, tablinum and garden. The fauces opens off the east side of Cardo IV. On its north side is a small service room.
The fauces leads directly to a large atrium, which has a marble lined impluvium at its centre. The atrium, which has rooms off all but its northern side, has lost most of its fourth style decoration, with only a few plaster remnants to hint at what must have been.
At the rear of the atrium is a relatively small tablinum. Some of the fourth style decoration still survives consisting of red and yellow panels above a lower red frieze. The room has a fine white mosaic floor bordered with a simple black band. The tablinum overlooks a beautifully decorated court to the rear with a nymphaeum and mosaic decoration on the walls.
In the north west corner of the atrium is what's left of the household lararium. In it were found two marble slabs painted with red lines, one of which bore the artist's signature: Alexander of Athens painted this.
The house, also known as the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, lies to the north of the House of the Carbonised Furniture on Cardo IV.
The owner of the house must also have owned the connecting wine shop at No.6, which opens directly onto the street and has the original storage jars. The shop has survived almost intact and is the best preserved example of a shop in the region.
The carbonised wooden fittings are still in place. There are shelves for amphorae, the balustrade of the balcony and, behind the counter, a partition with two grills.
This place gets its name from a rather graphic sculpture that depicts a deer being savaged by dogs.
However, there are more sculptures in the house as well as some frescoes though the sculptures are all copies, the originals being located in a more secure museum environment, the same as some of the best mosaics.
The House of the Deer opens off the west side of Cardo V. The house is one of the most luxurious waterfront dwellings so far discovered in Herculaneum and is believed to have belonged to Q. Granius Verus by virtue of the find of a loaf of bread bearing his stamp.
Built around the time of Claudius, it can be divided into two sections: the entrance, with its testudinate atrium and associated suite of rooms, and the panoramic terrace, joined by a garden surrounded by a windowed cryptoporticus.
This is the dining room which opens up onto the garden rectangle. It is decorated with red bands on a black background. Beyond this room is a long hallway that leads to the kitchen and latrine. Having a kitchen is a sign that this home was owned by the wealthy.
In his letter to Tacitus the emotion of the event becomes clear as Pliny describes it happening;
"A black and terrible cloud, rent by snaking bursts of fire, gaped open in huge flashes of flames; it was like lightning, but far more extensive,
Soon afterwards, the cloud lowered towards the earth and covered the sea, then my mother began to beg me to try to escape as best I could. Ashes were already falling, but not yet thickly.
When night fell, not one such as when there is no moon or the sky is cloudy, but a night like being in a closed place with the lights out. One could hear the wailing of women, the crying of children, the shouting of men; they called each other, some their parents, others their children, still others their mates, trying to recognize each other by their voices. Some lamented their own fate, others the fate of their loved ones. There were even those who out of their fear of death prayed for death. It lightened a little; it seemed to us not daylight but a sign of approaching fire. But the fire stopped some distance away; darkness came on again, again ashes, thick and heavy. We got up repeatedly to shake these off; otherwise we would have been buried and crushed by the weight.
At last that fog thinned and dissipated in a kind of smoke or mist; soon there was real daylight; the sun even shone, though wanly, as when there is an eclipse. Our still trembling eyes found everything changed, buried by a deep blanket of ashes as if it had snowed.
Fear prevailed, since the earthquake tremors went on, and many, out of their senses, were mocking their own woes and others' by awful predictions. But we, even though we had escaped some perils and expected others, we did not think even of going away until we should have news of my uncle."
Sadly, his uncle, Pliny the Elder, perished in the holocaust.
When a skeleton was discovered on its upper floor, one of only a few found in the main part of the town because an evacuation had taken place, then this house had a name.
It actually consists of three smaller houses that, combined, give an elongated shape.
Of particular interest is the relatively well-preserved mosaic lararium, found in a small courtyard and protected these days by a metal grate.
The lararium was a shrine to the guardian spirits of the Roman household. Family members performed daily rituals at this shrine to guarantee the protection of these domestic spirits, the most significant of which were the lares (hence the name). The shrine would most likely have held statuettes of these spirits, who were usually depicted as two young men in dancing postures, holding drinking horns.
One of the things I found fascinating both here and at Pompeii were the places you could buy food.
These include a number of thermapolia or taverns and clearly are a window into what was happening in everyday life.
The custom was to have two meals at home with the main meal being dinner, eaten at around 4.00 , which consisted of starters based on eggs and olives, then going on to meat and stuffed fish and finally a sweet and fruit.
At dawn a breakfast of bread and cheese or vegetables was consumed, or simply whatever was left over from dinner, so unlike the shot of coffee today. During the day people would not have lunch, as we would, but instead would rely on snacks bought from the numerous taverns. These could include flat bread, fried fish, eggs, olives, sausages and also sweetmeats and fruit.
A front room faced onto the road with a brick counter decorated with marble or terracotta slabs, into which were sunk the dolia (jars) containing the goods. Behind this a back room was located where you could sit to eat the simple meal you’d purchased.
The evolution of "fast food" means we eat different things today but the principals are still the same. I remember eating food at a place in Turkey with a young worker and it was so similar to what I saw here except you ate in a front room.
Herculaneum (beside and beneath modern Italian Ercolano) was an ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic pyroclastic flows in 79 AD in the region of Campania in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius.
Along with Pompeii, Stabiae and Oplontis, it was buried during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and, though Pompeii is the most famous, Herculaneum was more ostentatious. Vesuvius started erupting on August 24, 79 C.E., which buried the town with superheated pyroclastic material that has since solidified into volcanic tuff (or tufa).
It also became famous as the source of the first Roman skeletal and physical remains available for study that were located by science, as the Romans almost universally cremated their dead. Since the discovery of bones in 1981, some 300 skeletons have been found, mostly along the sea shore in boat sheds — the town itself having been effectively evacuated. Herculaneum was a smaller town with a wealthier population than Pompeii at the time of the destruction.
I still vividly remember walking down the poverty ridden back streets of Ercolano to get to the site. Lack of community pride was clearly evident, so much a contrast to Herculaneum in its heyday.
The site, in comparison to Pompeii, is not large, and the average tourist will be able to see the bulk of it in a few hours.
I recall leaning over the balcony that overlooks the site and thinking it extraordinary just how much volcanic ash had been dumped on the site. Imagining how so much soil could be transported in the atmosphere beggared my imagination and made me appreciate just how much work had gone into unearthing what we see today (which is less than two thirds).
This is a seriously impressive, and very large, room which was originally part of a temple to the Emperor Augustus. You can still see many of its original wooden beams, charred and blackened and now held in place by modern reconstruction.
There are four massive columns (you can still see some of their painted decoration) and the whole room is oriented towards the still-magnificent 1st century frescoes which cover a sort of 'apse'...clearly the focal point of ceremonies.
Don't miss exploring this house.
Not only does it have the beautiful courtyard which gave it its name, unusual in that it has steps up to a balcony, but it also has lovely mosaic flooring.
This is where you will find the skeletons of three young people who dies, two men and a woman. Look closely and you will see that one of the men is holding the woman close, his hand behind her head. I found this a very moving reminder of the reality of Herculaneum..it is not just a sterile museum exhibit or Disney attraction. It was a real town with real people who suffered a terrible disaster.
Once a luxury villa standing above the ancient shoreline, this house would have been in one of Herculaneum's prime positions. It's dining room (decorated in black) would have had beautiful views across the courtyard and out over the sea.
Although you cannot enter most of the rooms you can see them from the courtyard...and the corridor which runs around that courtyard has wonderful examples of small, intricately-detailed wall-paintings. Sadly, I noticed a deterioration in their quality even since my first visit in 2008. It seems to me that the site is increasingly unstable, with more cracks appearing in the plaster and building structures.
Look in this house for those still-life paintings, for the multi-coloured mosaic 'carpet' in the dining room, for the little decorative details painted onto the wall frescoes....and consider how wealthy its owner must have been.
Herculaneum is not a vast site, and if it's crowded you simply won't 'feel' the place as you might otherwise.
So do try to get there as early as you can. The site opens at 0830 throughout the year, and groups tend to arrive from a bit later in the morning (although I've noticed, this time, that some are up and moving before 10am).
Allow yourself enough time to explore properly. Although the site is not huge its many buildings are close together and you will have access to the majority of them. Almost all deserve close examination: you will miss much fascinating detail if you merely glace through doorways. Three hours is a good length of time for Herculaneum, I think.
The House Of The Mosaic Atrium is one of the finest houses in what might be called the panoramic district of the city. it would have had a comanding view of the coast and the gulf beyond. The house derives it's name from the decoration of the floor of it's atrium, consisting of a mosaic with a simple geometric design of black and white squares. A striking and unusual feature of the house is that the the living quarters do not face onto the atrium and tablinum but are arranged at right angles to them, and arrangement determind both by the space available and by the panoramic views that would have been enjoyed of the towns southern escarpment,
A portico in which many carbonized remains of wooden looms were preserved leads into the area of the garden onto whic faces 4 small bedrooms and an exedra adorned with decorations.