The remains of a former guardian slave of the temple of Venus emerged: a semi-mummified and extraordinarily well preserved skeleton
“This newly found friend of ours, the freedman Marcus Venerius Secundio, is a very interesting character: well integrated into the Pompeian society of the years immediately preceding the eruption of 79 AD because he appears in the archive of waxed tablets of the banker Cecilio Giocondo owner of the domus of via Vesuvio, very cultured because he mastered the Greek culture and language, so rich that he could afford a valuable burial. And so refined and cosmopolitan, even in death, to put aside the typically Roman cremation and choose the burial instead. And maybe who knows, but we will find out only after the analyzes, even the embalming … ».
Gabriel Zuchtriegel, German archaeologist naturalized Italian, born in 1981, has been director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii since February 2021 after having directed Paestum since 2015. And he is touching almost every day what the Minister of Culture, Dario Franceschini declared yesterday: or that “Pompeii never ceases to amaze and is confirmed an international model of research and new excavations ». The latest news concerns precisely the freedman Marcus Venerius Secundio, probably buried at the end of the 1960s (therefore well before the eruption of ’79) in the current area of the necropolis of Porta Sarno. The discovery took place during an excavation campaign of the Archaeological Park with the European University of Valencia coordinated, for the university, by Professor Llorenç Alapont of the Department of Prehistory and Archeology. The Pompeii Park has lined up an all-female team: the archaeologist Luana Toniolo, the restorer Teresa Argento, the anthropologist Valeria Amoretti.
The elegant and imposing sepulcher preserves traces of painting (images of green plants on a blue background). But the real news concerns him, Marcus, his body and the inscription that appears on the marble slab. The freedman did not choose cremation, today we would speak of cremation, but the burial that usually, in the Roman area, was reserved only for dead young children.
But Marcus was about 60. The skeleton is among the best preserved among those that emerged in Pompeii and the remains show traces of mummification. Zuchtriegel further explains: «The remains of black and gray hair are clearly visible, even the portion of an ear». Llorenç Alapont refers to scientific analyzes to understand if and how Marcus, buried in a small cell of 1.6 x 2.4 meters behind the main facade, was embalmed. And why, instead, in the beautiful glass container there are the ashes of this Novia Amabilis and in a second other remains always incinerated. The great archaeologist Andrea Carandini explains: «The cremation is typically Roman. But just look at the nearby and very varied Greek world, especially the universe of the Hellenistic rulers, to find famous burials. We have splendid examples of Hellenistic royal sarcophagi from the 3rd and 2nd centuries. And then there is the famous chapter of the body of Alexander the Great, preserved for so long that it was visited by Augustus who paid him homage by placing a golden crown. A rare case of burial in the Roman area, the one found in Pompeii, but certainly not within the perimeter of Greek and therefore Mediterranean culture, in the broadest conception ». This opens a door to a mystery: was Marcus connected to that world?
And here we come to the inscription, very well preserved and legible. Marcus had become Augustale, or a member of the college of priests dedicated to the cult of the deified emperors (the other degrees of priesthood were closed to freed ex-slaves, but not to their children). Not only that, but he was also a guardian of the temple of Venus, protector of the city: in short, a character “in sight” in the life of Pompeii. And then, so we read, “he gave Greek and Latin ludi for the duration of four days”. “To give” meant to finance from one’s own pocket, giving the evenings to the public as a form of munificence. So, shows in Greek: another more than relevant discovery to focus on cosmopolitan Pompeii. Zuchtriegel again: “The Roman educated class mastered that language well, just think of Seneca, Cicero, Pliny: for intellectuals it was a bit like French in 1700 Europe. Until now we had only indirect indicators of play Greeks in Pompeii. Today there is a certain document. It is proof of the climate that reigned in the city, certainly open and multicultural ».
But here is a further element of interest, another piece in the ever-changing Pompeian mosaic: a freedman like Marcus had risen so much on the social ladder that he understood the social importance of attracting the Pompeii elite by proposing (and understanding their language) play greeks. Marcus was a former “public slave” who therefore did not belong to a single, private citizen but to the entire city of Pompeii and was presumably used in administrative duties, as a state employee, we would say today, trained at the expense of city finance. Then, explains Zuchtriegel, there was the liberation (on the epigraph appears just “lib”, freeman). Act that in practice took place towards the age of thirty: «As happened to the freedmen of private citizens, he kept track of who had freed him in his own name. The first denomination of Pompeii as a Roman colony was Cornelia Venera Pompeiana. Hence Marcus Venerius Secundio ». Now the skeleton is in the applied research laboratory for analysis and procedures for adequate conservation. Professor Alapont says: “Even for those who, like me, have been dealing with funerary archeology for some time, the extraordinary wealth of data offered by this tomb, from the inscription to the burials, to the osteological finds and to the painted facade, is exceptional and confirms the ‘importance of adopting an interdisciplinary approach as we have done here ». Marcus’s life is still to be discovered: however, starting from his death.
August 17, 2021 (change August 17, 2021 | 19:07)