Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Brothels of Pompeii: Part 2

VII 13
In Part 1 of this series I described one of the larger and "nicer" cribs in Pompeii. Today I'll take a look at a group of three that are among the best preserved of the extant cellae. The first two are "twins" located at VII 13, 15 and VII 13, 16. They're the two doors just above the big "13" on the map. The third is VII 13, 19 just west of the first two. (Part 3 describes a crib that might not be a crib and a huge crib that may have been the most luxurious of all.)

VII 13, 15 VII 13, 16 VII 13, 19

All three doorways open onto a narrow alley called Vico Dei Scheletri. The immediate area is not the sort of place one would like to wander late at night. To the west the blank rear wall of The Eumachia complex looms over the street. To the north, only a single small doorway breaks the south wall of VII 10 and to the east the next crossroads is completely devoid of doorway.

However, the south side of this insula opens on the Via Del Abbondanza a street that is often described as the main commercial and ceremonial strip of Pompeii. Not surprisingly, the entrances to several shops as well as the two large houses lie here. As others have noted, this stretch of road is remarkable for its lack of hospitality businesses.

The twin cribs (left and center above) appear to have been created created from a pre-existing space at the rear of the Casa di Ganymede (main entrance at VII 13, 4), perhaps a store room or doorkeeper’s quarters. There appears to be a bricked up door in the west wall that once provided access to VII 13, 16 (and perhaps 15 if both cellae were originally created from a single larger room) from the house. As was the case with VII 4, 42, it appears that the owner of a large house apparently had no qualms about building and furnishing cellae meretriciae at his own back door.

The beds in these cribs are oriented at right angles to the doors and project beyond the door frame, making them potentially visible from the street (a characteristic shared with VII 13, 19). Both are well preserved, though the south-east corner of VII 13, 16 has collapsed.

Neither bed extends to the full depth of its crib, resulting in a small open space (56 cm and 70 cm respectively) at the foot of each bed. This feature is shared with at least one of the cribs in the Purpose-Built Brothel. Neither bed supports a masonry “pillow” (as do those in the Purpose-Built Brothel and VII 13, 19) but both are surfaced with scraps of terra cotta that somewhat resembles the re-cycled marble surfacing of counter tops common in Pompeii. Recent research indicates that much of the reuse of marble in sub-elite settings post-dates the earthquake of 62, suggesting a construction (or at least re-decorating) date for these cribs no earlier than that if this surface treatment can be shown to be in imitation of the marble type. In addition, the use of brick to close the doorway visible in VII 13, 16 suggests a similarly late date for their construction.

In addition to their rather unusual beds, these cribs also feature the best-preserved decoration outside the Purpose-Built Brothel. Both are decorated with painted stucco or plaster in two registers. The lower register, extending to a height of approximately 1.67 m consists of a cream colored base divided into simple panels by horizontal and vertical red stripes. The sharp division between the cream and black registers and the presence of a series of small circular holes at the top of the cream register (now filled) suggest some sort of low “drop” ceiling once hung in these cribs.

VII 13, 15 Faded Painting
Some of the lower panels contain the remains of paintings in red and yellow. The upper register is black or dark grey and extends to the top of the remaining walls. VII 13, 16 is reported to have had a painting of a quadruped with phallic front feet. This creature is no longer evident in VII 13, 16. However, it is possible that the yellow painting on the south wall of VII 13, 15 is the phallic quadruped.

It has been reasonably assumed that the beds of the cribs were covered with some sort of mattress or cushion when in use. In this case, however, the practice would conceal the decorative surfaces of these beds, defeating the purpose behind their decoration. In addition to the obvious erotic uses of the open space at the foot of the beds, it is possible the area was used to display the cushions or blankets before use, thus also displaying the decorated beds. Alternatively, the wood chest of unknown size reported among the finds in VII 13, 15 may have provided a storage space for the padding. In either case, it takes little imagination to grasp the erotic performance value of raising the bedding from its chest or display stand and spreading it on the bed.

In addition to their rather well preserved decorations, these cribs are also the only source of small finds among the sites we'll examine:

VII 13, 15
Phallic Amulet
Wood chest

VII 13, 16
Dwarf with ‘bossa’ in hand riding on phallic horse all with hooks for bells
Bronze statuette with ithyphallic centaur
Phallus with ears and wings
Ithyphallic griffin with bells

Further, adjacent to these cribs at VII 13, 14 (the rear entrance to the House of L. Caecilius Communis, main entrance at VII 13, 8) were found CIL IV.2028 (“LIBANIS FELLAT”) and a large carved phallus.

VII 13, 19 Bed
The crib at VII 13, 19 is build into the back of a small taberna at the north east corner of the insula. The shop apparently had a sign referring to Apollo and Daphnis. The crib is not as well preserved as the previous pair but was evidently decorated in a similar style. The bed is the only one in this survey to preserve a facing of stucco or plaster over the internal masonry, in this case, painted red. A masonry “pillow” is present as well, a feature missing from the other cribs we've seen so far, though typical of the cellae in the Purpose-Built Brothel.

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