From Thu Jun 15 16:42:28 2000
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2000 22:37:30 -0500 (CDT)
From: Mark Graffis <>
Subject: How Pompeii's upper class lorded it over the masses
Article: 98406
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

New book suggests that the rich used subsidized wine and sex, not just bread and circuses, to placate the ‘little people’

By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, Wednesday 14 June 2000

Rome—The ancient Roman city of Pompeii seethed with massive economic inequality and resentment, which plutocrats tried to quell with subsidized sex, wine and gladiatorial spectacles for the masses, a new book says.

Daily life was blighted not by rumbles from Vesuvius, but by yawning income gaps. The upper class was so rich that it could spend more on one banquet than a senior imperial bureaucrat would earn in a year, according to Antonio Varone, author of Pompeii: The Mysteries of a Buried City.

Citing documents recently found on the site, Mr. Varone, the former director of excavations at Pompeii, painted a picture of a city riven by inequality. There was an extraordinarily well-off class that really enjoyed itself . . . and a huge part of the population that lived in poverty, that struggled with daily life.

Those on the bread line whose resentment risked turning violent were placated with subsidized prostitution and wine. The powerful wanted them to remain tranquil.

Also, entry to the amphitheatre to watch chariot races and combat between gladiators and animals was free.

Mr. Varone says he found evidence of the way the spectacles were financed and the number of gladiators who took part. Inequality existed in most ancient Roman towns, but Pompeii appears to have been extreme—possibly because it was a vacation resort where rich outsiders acquired second homes.

The city was laid out in a grid pattern, with the rich taking whole blocks for themselves. Last month, during the widening of a highway, the remains of Villa Moregine, a luxury hotel and restaurant complex, was discovered just outside of town.

Built on the River Sarno with views of the bay of Naples, Villa Moregine is believed to have been intended for visiting businessmen. It had marble and bronze fixtures, thermal baths and a sophisticated plumbing system that recycled kitchen and laundry water for central heating.

Private dining rooms each had couches for diners, a small fountain and wall paintings. Slabs of cut marble were stacked in a corner, which suggests that work on the building was continuing when Pompeii was buried by volcanic ash and mud from Vesuvius in August of AD 79.

Subsidizing games was regarded as a duty for wealthy citizens across the empire, but Pompeii was unusual if entrance was totally free, says Michael Whitby, a professor of classics at the University of Warwick in England. There is no doubt they went in for conspicuous consumption in the bay of Naples. It was the Riviera for the elite.

Mr. Varone says recently recovered written testimonies reveal that an earthquake jolted Pompeii just days before Vesuvius erupted, obliging historians to revise their accounts of the ensuing rescue operations. Money could have been decisive in determining who survived.

The wealthy would have had a second house to run to, they would have had mules and carts to pack their belongings, they would have had jewels and other portable valuables, Prof. Whitby said. The poor would have been slower. If their livelihood was a fast-food joint, a shop or a small field, it would have taken longer to pack up and escape.