The Capitoline Triad, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva were gods associated with the Roman State and worshiped in civic temples called Capitolia (fig.1). After paying due allegiance, citizens were then free to worship any number of indigenous or imported gods in public and private sanctuaries, temples, shrines and in-house sacraria (figs.2-4). In-house worship was also directed towards placating and seeking the support of ancestor spirits and the tutelary deities that were thought to protect the house. The many thousands of amulets and portable deity sculptures found throughout the Roman world, suggests that worshiping the gods was not always confined to locations such as temples and sanctuaries, but that carrying and wearing fetish objects was very much the norm. Lyttelton and Forman succinctly summarise Roman attitudes to fetish beliefs in The Romans – Their Gods and Their Beliefs. “The everyday world of the Romans was populated by a multitude of divine spirits, envisaged more or less as intermediate between men and the powerful gods of heaven and the underworld. It is easy to underestimate the importance of the supernatural world in the thoughts and apprehensions of the Romans; their lives were overshadowed by the apparently inexplicable elements in the world around them. These they tried constantly to control by prayers, sacrifices and magic.” (Lyttelton & Forman 1984:31)

The City, the Domus and Virtual 'Supernatural' Realities

In many ways the Roman house was like a micro-version of the Roman city. Its inward facing open interior and windowless exterior gave it a fortress-like appearance that replicated a city protected by high walls. Its atrium mirrored the forum in the sense that they were both places in which to conduct public business and worship. In-house shrines and walled gardens mirrored the temples and sanctuaries located within the city walls and apotropaic images placed in or near house entrances mirrored the pomerium, the consecrated protective space around the city perimeter.

The house as a micro-version of the city developed even more dynamic strategies for its protection and this chapter examines the thesis that wall-paintings were amongst the most visible of these. Simply put, the thesis proposes that the wall-paintings were created in order to dissolve the architectural boundaries of the house and replace them with virtual-reality worlds in which gods, heroes and idealised nature added a cathartic and apotropaic dimension to an already physically secure space. Their ubiquity throughout the distant regions of the Empire, also indicates that they were indispensable emblems of Roman identity in an otherwise hostile world. In the wake of military conquest, domestically located wall-paintings provided the much needed cultural markers required to support colonial ambitions. In Pompeii, for example, in-house representations of gods, heroes, sanctuaries, temples, sacro-idyllic landscapes and paradise gardens increased substantially, following Roman’s successful war against the Campanian alliance in 80BC.

At the same time Pompeii also appears to have acquired an increasingly Roman identity, in which legionnaires were given property and Roman citizenship was made more accessible. This new Roman identity may also have included the adoption of increasingly pictorial forms of Roman wall-painting, since it was about this time that First Style marble replication gave way to Second Style virtual-realities. Coincidence, perhaps, but the dates that most observers attach to Second Style painting suggests that it appeared in Pompeii shortly after Sulla’s successful campaign. On the other hand it is equally possible that these sophisticated forms of perspectival painting developed in Magna Graecia and migrated north with Roman colonisation.

 

The House as Sanctuary
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