In Pompeji, a garden in a large ancient villa that housed incredible pictures of the River Nile, secrets could be found of the impact of ancient Egypt on the early Roman Empire.
Comprehensive sketches in the Casa dell’Efebo, one of the largest houses in the city before it was mostly destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, show a series of Nilotic murals with crocodiles, hippopotamuses, lotuses, and short-statured men fighting with wild beasts.
Caitlin Barrett from the Department of Classics at Cornell University said the drawings give the house a more cosmopolitan feel and outline how the Romans took a strong interest in ancient Egyptian culture such as religion.
Barrett told the IBTUK: ‘The paintings from the Casa dell’ Efebo were created after Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, but several generations after Augustus’ initial conquest of Egypt.
‘Some researchers have turned to explanations emphasizing religion: maybe paintings of Egyptian landscapes have to do with an interest in Egyptian gods.
‘Others have interpreted these paintings as political statements: maybe this is about celebrating the conquest of Egypt. I suggest that instead of trying to apply a one-size-fits-all explanation, we should look at the context and individual choices.’
While representations of sexual activity, music, and alcohol consumption are often central to these paintings.
The research was compiled in the American Journal of Archaeology and also asserts that artifacts found around the garden of the house and the structure’s elaborate architecture such as water installations mimics the diverse nature of the Roman Empire.
Barrett continued: ‘In this particular assemblage, rather than solely trying to make some kind of statement about Isiac rituals or Roman politics, the owner of this house seems to be asserting a cosmopolitan identity as a citizen of the Empire.
‘In Pompeian houses at this time, when people are representing faraway lands in domestic art, they are also trying to figure out what it means to them to be participants in the Roman Empire.’
The study says the paintings of the Nile in the Pompeian house provided the inhabitants with an opportunity to engage with shifting local and imperial Roman identities and to recreate a microcosm of the world they lived in.
‘People sometimes imagine phenomena like globalization to be creations of the modern world. In fact, if you look at the Roman Empire there are lots of parallels for some of the cross-cultural interactions that are also very much part of our own contemporary world’, the researcher concluded.