Indoor Political Movement Suggested by Election Inscriptions Found in Pompeii
Mount Vesuvius really keeps on giving, historically speaking. New excavations have uncovered political graffiti and fascinating electoral inscriptions along Via Nola, one of the longest streets in Pompeii. Approximately 2,000 years old and similar to today’s political posters and election pamphlets, these inscriptions adorn the walls of the room where the family’s sacred altar, the lararium, once stood.
The inscriptions on the wall seem to refer to a candidate named Aulus Rustius Verus, who was actively campaigning. Experts say that Verus may have adopted the strategy of offering bread as an incentive to win votes.
According to a press statement from the Pompeii Archaeological Park, Verus and his loyal supporters may have been victims of the great eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The Pompeii Archaeological Park describes the inscription as “the equivalent of an ancient election poster or postcard.”
Voting for Jesus: an Ancient Practice
The ancient practice of exchanging votes for favors seems to have already existed at the time, as detailed in the Pompeii Archaeological Park’s online scholarly journal, the Pompeii Excavation Electronic Journal. The excavations also uncovered evidence of a final offering at a domestic altar, perhaps shortly before the great eruption.
It was customary for such inscriptions to be written prominently on the exterior walls of buildings. This allowed citizens to see the names and qualifications of candidates for various offices, highlighting how political campaigning and patronage were woven into the daily lives of Pompeian residents, even within their homes.
The archaeologists offer a satisfactory explanation for the presence of election propaganda in the house. The custom of hosting meetings and dinners inside the residences of candidates and their associates was widespread as a strategic means of publicizing election campaigns, Archeo News reports. This practice, not dissimilar to modern politicians’ campaigning and fundraising, allowed them to engage more intimately and persuasively with potential voters.
In the present instance, these inscriptions powerfully illustrate that the aforementioned Aulus Rustius Verus was elected as a councilor (aedile) to oversee public works in ancient Rome. This prominent figure appears in other inscriptions and is well known in Pompeii. In the 70s of the first century A.D., he held the highest official position in the city, the duovili.
In Roman times, the duovili were elected administrators in pairs, who cooperated and advised each other, overseeing the public, political, and administrative affairs of the city. Aulus Rustius Verus shared this prestige with Giulio Polybius, who lived in a magnificent mansion in Via Plenty. Thus, the recently discovered inscription, which predates his assumption of this office, likely played a role in the success of Aulus Rustius Verus’s campaign.
Baker’s Presence Bread for the Vote
According to El País, the house appears to have been the home of an ardent supporter of Aulus Rustius, perhaps his freedman or close friend. The house also has something unusual. There is a bakery with a large oven, next to which the bodies of three unfortunate victims (two women and a child) were found. They probably died when the attic collapsed early in the volcanic eruption.
Maria Chiara Scapaticcio, professor of Latin at the Università Federico II in Naples, Italy, and co-author of the study, explains that “the presence of bakers suggests, simply put, a very straightforward political practice of buying bread for votes.” She explains that legislators and bakers were often known to collaborate across the boundaries of legality. She points out that Aulus Rustius Verus was keenly aware that the key to winning the hearts and minds of voters lies in their stomachs, since “voters live on bread more than anything else,” as he said during his campaign for the Upper House.
As if to confirm this, the initials “A.R.V.” were found on a volcanic stone near the entrance hall, which was being renovated at the time of the eruption. This discovery suggests that Aulus Rustius Verus may have directly financed the operation of the bakery for economic and political motives, Scapaticcio noted.
Finally, the remains of a votive offering decorated with two stucco snakes, which appears to have been dedicated shortly before the catastrophic eruption, were found on the altar of the Great Lararium. Analysis revealed that the ritual consisted of burning figs and dates in front of the altar and placing an intact egg directly on the stone altar of the lararium, which was then covered with tiles.
Gabriel Zuktriegel, director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park, concluded:
To my knowledge, this is the first archaeological site in the world to practice such scientific transparency. I am convinced that the opportunities offered by digital technology will make Pompeii an international model for a new type of data accessibility. The future of archaeology is here.”
Source: Indoor Political Movement Suggested by Election Inscriptions Found in Pompeii