House of the Vetti and House of the Fawn

Compare and contrast two Pompeian houses. What do they each tell us about the status of their owners? Within Pompeii, the size and decorative aspects of someone’s home explained a lot about their monetary wealth and what sort of social status they upheld. People who had money and good social status would decorate their homes with High Greek culture for example myths and mosaics of Greek heroes. Whereas people from a lower class, tended to use less grandeur within the decorative style of their homes.

The houses that I shall be comparing are House of the Fawn and House of the Vettii.

I shall be looking at the decor found within the houses and they way that it was displayed to determine the social, political and economical status of their owners. Some say that the decor within House of the Vettii is fairly fresh and new whereas the decor within House of the Fawn can date back as much as two centuries.

During the 1st and 2nd Century, Pompeii started to construct an interesting amount of houses that were exceptionally lavish. These houses represented high status homes. These houses were The House of Etruscan Column, The House of Clay Moulds and The House of the Fawn.

These houses are characterised by “atrium” courtyards and quite simply replaced the homes that had been constructed in the 3rd and 4th Century as they had been poorly built. The House of the Fawn gained its name from the bronze statue of the dancing fawn.

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This was found on the lip of the Impluvium, which was a basin for collecting rainwater. Fawns were spirits of the woodland which the Romans associated with Pan and Stayrs and the followers of the Greek God Dionysos. This explains that the family were educated to know about Greek myth showing “High Greek Culture” and “Roman Cultural Capital. The House of the Fawn represented the elitist in Pompeii. The owners, which are unknown, would have been the political and monetary elite in Pompeii, and it is suggested that Publius Cornelius Sulla, leader of the Roman Colony in 80 BC owned it but it has also been noticed that when in excavation an inscription bearing the name cognomen Saturninus was found. Cognomen was a nickname in Rome, which eventually turned into a family name.

This suggested that the house was owned by the gens Satria. Whereas the owners of the house of the Vettii, Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva, were freedmen. The house of the Fawn was excavated between 1830-1832. The house itself s in excellent condition and the structure dates to the Samnite period. It is an insight on how the richer families in Pompeii showed off their extravagant living with intricate architecture to lavish furnishings. The house was divided into five parts these were the Tuscan Atrium, The Tetra Style Atrium, Service Rooms and Corridors, an Ionic Peristyle and Doric Peristyle and finally rooms that led off from the main room. This house in particular shows the financial position that the family had achieved by the end of the 1st Century AD.

The house takes up an entire insula and is thirty one thousand square foot in size and is the largest house in Pompeii. Luckily the main structure of the house has remained in good condition. The floor plan of the building shows that only one third of the house was used for living space, whereas the other two thirds were taken up by two peristyle courtyards which were so elaborate that they show off the families wealth and “desire for luxury and conspicuous space. ” 1 This house is rare because it is one of the few in Pompeii that has separate servant quarters to the main living quarters in the home.

The servant quarters are situated around a small Atrium, which is to the east of the main Atrium. This was decorated in the third style and had been renovated a few years before the eruption of Vesuvius occurred in 79 AD. The main part of the house is decorated in first style stucco, much of it copying marble revetment. The first style has also been known as incrustation style it has been dated between one hundred and fifty to ninety BC. First style wall painting copies temple architecture from the use of coloured marble blocks, even the plaster was moulded and then painted to resemble the marble effect of such temples.

Doorframes and pediments would have also been included in the marble detailing. One scholar has said “ The house has been preserved as a kind of museum to the past influence and power of an important Pompeian family” 2. In the Exedra a mosaic is shown. The House of the Fawn was stripped of its elaborate mosaics and then permanent damage was committed to these mosaics when the allied bombings happened in 1943. The House of the Fawn adorns the most famous mosaic in Pompeii, – The Alexander mosaic, it is thought that this mosaic is a copy of a painting painted by Greek painter Philoxenos of Eretria, shortly after the battle was fought.

The mosaic shows Alexander in battle with the King of Persia, Darius the third, during the campaigns in Asia. Alexander is shown on the left and Darius on the right. The Alexander mosaic shows the moment of battle with soldiers fighting around the two kings. This mosaic measured two hundred and fifteen square feet and is “ a work of epic proportions in fine Opus Vermiculatum ”3. It was thought that the mosaic was commissioned to commemorate the role of an ancestor of the owner of the house in the battle itself.

In the Ala is a floor mosaic depicting a Satyr and a Nymph showing high Greek culture. This room would have been used as a waiting room for people to take part in business meetings and dealings. Due to the owners having land they would have had many people coming to them to do business. This erotic scene would relax both parties who were taking part in business transactions therefore making it a prime place within the household to do business. This mosaic has high culture and shows that the family were “Roman Cultural Capital. Other floor mosaics within the household complemented the Alexander mosaic. These mosaics showed nilotic scenes and theatrical masks, which refers to ethic groups in Africa, emphasizing the families Cultural Capital. Other mosaics in the house include “Marine Fauna”, Ducks on the Nile, A Winged Demon on A Tiger, A Satyr and Nymph, which was, displayed in the Ala and a Cat Killing a Duck. Also in the Exedra images showing paintings portraying exotic animals from across the globe were displayed.

This wall painting shows images of snakes, hippopotami, crocodiles, peacocks and ducks. During the time of the eruption of Vesuvius, people from higher classes would have travelled to North Africa to see these animals, having this wall painting in your home would exert your enlightening knowledge of travel. When the house was excavated in the eighteen hundreds numerous skeletons were found, one in particular was that of a woman, she was found wearing gold bracelets (in the shape of serpents) some earrings and a ring which bore the inscription “Cassia. ” This inscription could have mean that a woman from the Cassia family married into the family that owned the house and lived there.

Vast amounts of gold, silver and bronze coins were also found in the Atrium. Having more than one door meant that your house was a lot grander than other houses, The House of the Fawn, may have had two Atria, one which would have been the main entrance and then one which would have been used as a trade entrance which would have looked out on to the side streets. It has been suggested that the old money families set the bar for the old style of decor, yet this is hard to imagine because the under privileged lower classes thoroughly destroyed what the rich so adoringly preserved.

This house shows nothing but wealth and elegance and like others from Roman aristocracy the family at this house had a private bathing system or balneum installed within their home. This was situated in the domestic wing, which was to the right of the entrance, alongside the kitchen area. A large furnace heated the bathing system. The house also had beautiful Peristyle gardens. The second of these gardens was created into a stage in which people would perform recitals of poetry, mime performances and perform pantomimes. The House of the Vettii was first excavated in 1894-1895 and was the first house to be fully restored in Pompeii.

It remains one of Pompeii’s most visited homes, due to the beautiful gardens, frescoes and mosaics. The gardens original ornaments were replaces by replicas recently. The House of the Vettii belonged to Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva who were considered to be slaves and were now freedmen. The house was believed to have been built shortly after the conquests of Pompeii. This house is one of the most picturesque and interesting homes that Pompeii has to offer; The House of the Vettii is mainly decorated in the fourth style it is an intricate style of art work.

It’s a combination of the two styles that came before it. The architectural work of the style was not as solid as the second or as flimsy as the third. These were intricate scenes painted within the panels. Garlands, which were ornamental motifs, became more elaborate than the previous styles. More decorative figures and images were shown as well. These were either floating in the panels or perched on the architectural features. Eighty percent of Pompeii’s homes were decorated in this style. Mythological scenes and figures were found in the peristyle.

Although The House of The Vettii is strongly associated with new money where as the House of the fawn is strongly associated with cultural capital of Pompeii. It was recently refurbished after the earthquake in 63AD. The House of the Vettii was originally two houses. It was combined in First Century BC. In Aulus Vettius Restitutus’s entrance of his home is the wall of Priapus and his enormous phallus this is in fourth style decoration, this is a common figure, which represents fertility; this figure would also be used to warn off evil spirits.

This also means good money, which relates to their commerce. Aulus Vettius Restitutus increased the opulence of his home by adding a second story wall with painted Ionic columns, which added to the already standing Tuscan style atrium. The rooms, which are adjacent to the atrium, depict lavish wall paintings of mythological scenes, as the owners were freedmen having high Greek culture would have perceived them to be of a higher status than they were.

The wall paintings from this house that are particularly well known are that of Dirce, Daedalus and the Wooden Bull, Ariadne abandoned by Theseus, Hercules Strangling the Serpent and Pentheus Torn Apart by the Baccantes. These are shown on red backgrounds and the paintings are integrated into mock panels. The frieze, which runs around the rooms, shows images of Cupid on different activities such as target practice, with garlands of flowers, manufacturing cloth, celebrating sacred rites and gathering grapes. This frieze shows excellent craftsmanship and is highly intricate in its decorative pattern.

Images of Psyche and other mythological scenes are shown on the fascia, which is lower down. Here Psyche is depicted with garlands of flowers, similar to that of the images of Cupid. It is obvious to the viewer that the mythological images were highly important for representing your social status, in other rooms of the home pictures showing “Daedalus and Pasiphae” and “Ixion being Tortured” were visible. Upstairs in the house are the servant’s quarters although these were ornately decorated they were nothing in comparison to that one House of the Fawn.

The images on the wall show domestic life within Pompeii. We would therefore expect to see images that represent a modern setting or modest paintings “mater familias. ” When excavating these rooms a harness was found, meaning the chances that they had stables were quite certain. The household had a large lararium in which a figure of a man stood carrying a libation dish and an incense box, surrounding him were the household Lares who were dressed in tunics with drinking horns and wine buckets. Mosaics are also predominantly visible in the atrium.

Guests would have walked across the beautiful mosaics to get to other rooms within the household. Within the house, an important architectural feature of the house is the way in which the service areas are marginalised. The House of the Vettii separates the service area but it is accessible through the atrium. Here lies an additional courtyard, which is dominated by the painting of the Lares. This room then leads to some badly decorated bedrooms and storerooms. The house is located on a back street of Pompeii and was believed to be opposite a bar.

It is built around two centres, which are open to the sky; a dim atrium, which led to a vestibule, would have given visitors access to the street. Perpendicular to the entrance lays a peristyle of fluted Doric columns, which were surrounded by a richly decorated portico. The Peristyle within the household is boarded by three reception rooms, the largest of these rooms, is the room that has all the Cupids on the walls. It has an annex that runs alongside the room of the Cupids, which has two rooms adjoining the smaller one.

This room is thought to have been the cubiculum, which was only available to get to from a smaller courtyard. The annex is also known as a Gynaecium. It has been suggested that this would have been used as an area for women. The House of the Vettii when excavated, gold signet rings were found. These rings which were found have been linked to the two Vettii brother who were thought to be wine merchants, with one of them probably owning The House of the Vettii. The approach to the excavation has been applauded as a new approach to the archaeological records of Pompeii.

Some of the household artefacts that have been uncovered have actually been restored to the original context within the household rather than be placed in the museum of Naples. The idea was that modern visitors to the town would see what the house would have looked like before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD In Pompeii architecture and landscapes became very popular all the way down to the fourth style. Examples of this can be found in the House of the Vettii, which shows “Villa Imitation” in the form of a sculptural garden.

The gardens in The House of the Vettii are the most famous symmetrically laid out formal gardens with incorporated marble basins, fountains and statuettes. Twelve marble and bronze statues were found in the garden these statues were fountainheads. These sprayed water into basins that were situated within the garden. In conclusion to this from the evidence that has been discovered it is obvious that the owners of the House of the Fawn had more cultural capital than that of the house of the Vettii.

The owners in the House of the Vettii displayed lots of images together so that it was cluttered. Whereas the walls in The House of the Fawn were ornately decorated showing that old money was apparent here. The social status between the two homes was very apparent, although both houses have elements of high Greek culture; it is obvious that the owners of The House of the Fawn would have been more educated as they had mosaics of Alexander where as there are only wall paintings of Cupid and Psyche among others which many people would have displayed. The house of the fawn has the most beautiful decor and gardens, the fact that it has a stage would show that literary sources would have been read here. The house of the Vettii although the owners were once freedmen they do not have the same cultural education that the owners of the house of the fawn do.


  1. The Complete Pompeii- J Berry- 2007- London Pompeii – Zanker – 1995 – Germany Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum – Wallace Hadril – 1994-
  2. London Roman Pompeii – Lawrence – 1994 – London Urban Society in Roman Italy – Cornell and Lomas – 1995 – London

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House of the Vetti and House of the Fawn. (2019, Jun 20). Retrieved from

House of the Vetti and House of the Fawn
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