Monday, December 25, 2023

Something About Pompeian Political Ads

Or something about voting and hot air.
The ancient town of Pompeii is best remembered for being destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  John Bellairs told the fanciful story of the supposed Saint Floradora in his first book, Saint Fidgeta and Other Parodies (1966), who was a victim of the deadly blast.

According to Bellairs's mock-scholarly account, the name Floradora came from extant lettered tiles found in the city's ruins. However, others thought the tiles were part of a longer inscription that read "Flavivs Orgvlvs Adorat Pvellam" (Flavius the Proud adores a girl). Hilarity - and confusion - ensued.

Remembering this plot point from Bellairs's book was helpful when I recently read ​archaeologists excavating Pompeii unearthed an inscription encouraging voters to elect a specific candidate to political office. And no, the name wasn't Patricius Paulusen. ArtNet reports archaeologists found new inscriptions inviting voters to elect a man named Aulus Rustius Verus to office. The discovery was made in the Regio IX area, where elaborate food-themed frescos were discovered in another home earlier this year:
“I beseech you to make Aulus Rustius a true aedile, worthy of the state,” reads part of the inscription as translated from Latin. The Latin text was deciphered despite missing letters and abbreviations.

Sounds familiar. 

Verus was running for the office of aedile, an elected office in the Roman Empire who had powers to maintain public buildings and infrastructure, regulate public festivals and enforce public order.

Archaeologists and historians have already established that Verus would go on to hold the higher office of duumvir—a position he held jointly with a man named Giulio Polibio. Verus’s precise outcome is not known but it’s possible he died when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

Normally, such political ads were written on the outside of buildings, but the inscriptions were found inside a room containing the lararium, or household shrine. The home believed to have belonged to either a friend or a Verus freedman, a class of former slaves who remained in a socially obligated patronage with their former master.

The researchers suggest that the presence of the inscriptions in the home, which housed a bakery and was going under renovation at the time of the volcanic eruption, shows an example of the campaign practice of organizing events and dinners in the homes of the candidates and their friends.

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