Villa of the Papyri

Villa of the Papyri

The Villa of the Papyri is a private house in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum (current commune of

Ground plan and works of art

The villa's front stretched for more than 250 meters parallel to the coastline. It was also surrounded by a garden closed off by porticoes, but with an ample stretch of vegetable gardens, vineyards and woods down to a little harbor. Sited a few hundred metres from the nearest house in Herculaneum, Piso's home had four levels disposed in a series of terraces on the sloping site and was one of the most luxurious houses in all of Herculaneum and Pompeii. The Villa of the Papyri also housed a large collection of eighty sculptures of magnificent quality, many of them now conserved in the rooms of the large bronzes at the Naples National Archaeological Museum. ]

The villa remains faithful in its general layout to the fundamental structural and architectural scheme of the suburban villa in the country around Pompeii. The atrium functioned as an entrance hall and a means of communication with the various parts of the house. The entrance opened with a columned portico on the sea side. Around the bowl of the atrium impluvium were eleven fountain statues depicting Satyrs pouring water from a pitcher and Amorini pouring water from the mouth of a dolphin. Other statues and busts were found in the corners around the atrium walls. ]

The first peristyle had ten columns on each side and a swimming bath in the center. In this enclosure were found the bronze herma of Doryphorus, a replica of Polykleitos' athlete, and the herma of an Amazon made by Apollonios son of Archias of Athens.Stewart, Andrew. "Greek Sculpture". Yale University Press (1990).] The large second peristyle could be reached by passing through a large tablinum in which, under a propylaeum, was the archaic statue of Athena Promachos. A collection of bronze busts were in the interior of the tablinum. These included the head of Scipio Africanus. ]

The real living and reception quarters are grouped around the porticoes and terraces so that the sun's light and view of the countryside and sea can be more directly enjoyed by the home's occupants and guests. In the living quarters, bath installations were brought to light and the library of rolled and carbonized papyri placed inside wooden "capsae", some of them on ordinary wooden shelves and around the walls and some on the two sides of a set of shelves in the middle of the room. ]

The lands included a large area of covered and uncovered gardens for walks in the shade or in the warmth of the sun. The gardens included a gallery of works of art consisting of statues, busts, hermae and small marble and bronze statues. These were laid out between columns amidst the open part of the garden and on the edges of the large swimming bath. ]

Epicureanism and the library

Calpurnius Piso established a library of a mainly philosophical character. It is believed that the library was collected and selected by Piso's family friend and client, the Epicurean Philodemus of Gàdara. ] Followers of Epicurus studied the teachings of this moral and natural philosopher. This philosophy taught that man is mortal, that the cosmos is the result of accident, that there is no providential god, and that the criterion of a good life is pleasure. Philodemus' connections with Piso brought him an opportunity of influencing the young students of Greek literature and philosophy who gathered around him at Herculaneum and Naples. Much of his work was discovered in about a thousand payrus rolls in the philosophical library recovered at Herculaneum. Although his prose work is detailed in the strung-out, non-periodic style typical of Hellenistic Greek prose before the revival of the Attic style after Cicero, Philodemus surpassed the average literary standard to which most epicureans aspired. Philodemus succeeded in influencing the most learned and distinguished Romans of his age. None of his prose work was known until the rolls of papyri were discovered among the ruins of the Villa of the Papyri. ]

At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, the valuable library was packed in cases ready to be moved to safety when it was overtaken by pyroclastic flow; the eruption eventually deposited some 20-25 m of volcanic ash over the site, charring the scrolls but preserving them— the only surviving library of Antiquity— as the ash hardened to form tuff. ]


There is still 2,800 m² left to be excavated of this "villa suburbana", the most luxurious in the resort of Herculaneum. Beneath the excavated area, new excavations in the 1990s revealed two previously undiscovered floors to the villa, which was built in a series of terraces overlooking the sea.

The reason that the remainder of the site has not been excavated is that the Italian government is practicing a policy of conservation and not excavation, and is more interested in protecting what has already been uncovered. [See Conservation issues of Pompeii and Herculaneum.] David Woodley Packard, who has funded conservation work at Herculaneum through his Packard Humanities Institute, has said that he is likely to be able to fund excavation of the Villa of the Papyri when the authorities agree to it; but no work will be permitted on the site until the completion of a feasibility report, which has been in preparation for some years. The first part of the report has emerged in 2008 but includes no timetable or cost since the decision for further excavation is a political one [] .

Using [ multi-spectral imaging,] a new technique that was developed in the early 1990s it is possible to read the burned papyri. With multi-spectral imaging, many pictures of the illegible papyri are taken using different filters in the infrared or in the ultraviolet range, finely tuned to capture certain wavelengths of light. Thus, the optimum spectral portion can be found for distinguishing ink from paper on the blackened papyrus surface. Non-destructive CT scans will, it is hoped, provide breakthroughs in reading the fragile unopened scrolls without destroying them in the process.

J. Paul Getty Museum

The original "Getty Villa", part of the J. Paul Getty Museum complex at Pacific Palisades, California is a free replication of the Villa of the Papyri, as it was published in "Le Antichità di Ercolano". This museum building was constructed in the early 1970s by the architectural firm of Langdon and Wilson. Architectural consultant Norman Neuerburg and Getty's curator of antiquities Jiri Frel worked closely with J. Paul Getty to develop the interior and exterior details. Since the Villa of the Papyri was buried by the eruption and much of it remains unexcavated, Neuerburg based many of the villa's architectural and landscaping details on elements from other ancient Roman houses in the towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. "The Getty". 2005. J. Paul Getty Museum. 11 May 2007]

With the move of the Museum to the Getty Center, the "Getty Villa" as it is now called, was renovated; it reopened on January 28, 2006.

In modern literature

Several scenes in Robert Harris' bestselling novel Pompeii are set in the Villa of the Papyri, just before the eruption engulfed it. The villa is mentioned as belonging to Roman aristocrat Pedius Cascus and his wife Rectina. (Pliny the Younger mentions Rectina, whom he calls the wife of Tascius, in Letter 16 of book VI of his Letters.) At the start of the eruption Rectina prepares to have the library evacuated and sends urgent word to her old friend, Pliny the Elder, who commands the Roman Navy at Misenum on the other side of the Bay of Naples. Pliny immediately sets out in a warship, and gets in sight of the villa, but the eruption prevents him from landing and taking off Rectina and her library - which is thus left for modern archaeologists to find.

ee also

* Oxyrhynchus


External links

* [ The Friends of Herculaneum Society]
* [ Philodemus Project website]
* [ Roman Herculaneum website]
* [,,2087-1482342,00.html "Millionaire to fund dig for lost Roman library"] , "The Sunday Times" (London) February 13, 2005
* [ American Society of Mechanical Engineers: Henry Baumgartner, "New light on ancient scrolls" 2002]
* [ J. Paul Getty Museum]

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