Cities of Vesuvius

- Syllabus Content -

Influence of Greek and Egyptian cultures: art, architecture, religion

Egyptian: "The Cult of Isis" pp.155-157.
Greek: "The Cult of Dionysus/Bacchus" pp.157-159; & Chapter 10.

  • What are Hellenic and Hellenistic cultures?
  • What Greek and Egyptian influences are shown in art from Pompeii and Herculaneum?
  • What architectural features are influenced by Greek styles.
  • What evidence is there for Greek and Egyptian influence in religious practices?

Greek influences came directly from the Greek colonies in southern Italy which were established c. 7th Century BC.
Hellenistic influences came through trade and settlement as Rome expanded its territory with conquests of the Hellenistic East from 2nd Century BC onwards. Rome gained control of Egypt under Augustus.


Mau – wall paintings

Mau divided Pompeian art into four chronological styles. The following examples are the pictorial examples he used to illustrate each style in his book.

“Apparently the system which we find at Pompeii originated in the period following the death of Alexander the Great, and received its impulse of development from the contact of Greece with the orient.”

Use the examples and the information on pp.48-50 of your text to answer these questions:
  • What are the dates of each style?
  • Describe the features of each style.
  • What Greek and Hellenistic influences are there in Pompeian art?

First Style: Incrustation – originated in Alexandria in 3rd C. BC – plaster is painted to represent stone or marble. Examples: atrium of House of Sallust, House of the Faun.

Atrium of House of Sallust showing First Style artwork

Second Style: Architectural. Examples: Villa of the Mysteries; House of the Labyrinth; House of the Silver Wedding.

Third Style: Ornate. Examples: House of Spurius Mesor (VII.3.29 – example used by Mau); House of the Centenary (room 41); House of M. Lucretius Fronto; House of L. Caecilius Jucundus.

House of M. Lucretius Fronto

Fourth Style: Intricate. Examples: House of the Vettii; House of the Menander.

House of the Vettii - Fourth Style

Greek and Egyptian influences:
  • Greek architectural motifs in the wall decorations
  • Frescoes of Greek mythological scenes (sometimes copied from Greek originals): Hercules in College of the Augustales (Herculaneum); “Jason meeting King Pelias” from the House of the Golden Cupids (Pompeii); “The Sacrifice of Iphigenia” from House of the Tragic Poet (Pompeii)
  • Hellenistic style of artwork – categorised by Mau into the four Pompeian styles.



Images of Hercules
  • Image of Hercules (4th C BC) in Triangular Forum
  • Bronze statuette of Hercules in Temple of Isis.
  • Images of Hercules in a public fountain, in houses, in a wine shop.
  • Statue of Hercules mingens in the peristyle of the House of the Deer (right). This is a Roman satirical representation of the Greek hero.

Images of Greek gods e.g. statue of Apollo in the temple of Apollo and several frescoes and a statuette of Apollo in the House of Apollo. Also in this house is a fresco showing Achilles recognised by Ulysses.


Greek and Egyptian influences in wall and floor mosaics: “Achilles being recognised by Ulysses” from House of Apollo (Pompeii)
The House of the Faun has both Greek and Egyptian influenced floor mosaics:
Greek: flowers and fruit with tragic masks; Dionysus as a child framed in theatrical masks; erotic satyr and nymph mosaic
Egyptian: Alexander mosaic; a Nile scene
At threshold of atrium - two tragic masks, flowers, fruit

Dionysus as a child framed in theatrical masks

Erotic satyr and nymph mosaic

Alexander mosaic

A Nile scene


Greek influences and traditions in many buildings:
  • peristyle garden in houses
  • large houses laid out like Hellenistic palaces
  • a stoa (colonnaded portico) as in the Forum
  • use of Greek column orders (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) in public and private buildings
  • Large and Small Theatres in Pompeii (including the Quadriporticus with its Doric colonnade)
  • Palaestra of Pompeii in a Hellenistic style
  • Doric Temple in Triangular Forum of Greek style


Greek gods and goddesses (or Roman adaptations) worshipped publicly – temples; and privately – the Cult of Dionysus/Bacchus (Villa of the Mysteries); representations of Gods in many houses (Venus in the Seashell)


Egyptian (Hellenistic) influence: publicly through Cult of Isis – and Temple of Isis; privately in household shrines to Isis and Egyptian statues (e.g., House of Loreius Tibertinus and Villa of Julia Felix)

The House of the Faun