Cities of Vesuvius

- Syllabus Content -

Religion: temples, household gods, foreign cults, tombs

See “Private Worship and Observances” pp.159-60

  • What were household gods?
  • What is a lararium?
  • What are the features of a lararium?
  • Where was a lararium situated in the house?
(See Figure 9.10 on p.160 for features of a Lararium and household worship.)

Household Gods

These are the things that are commonly found in a household shrine:
Lares - protectors of the household. There are usually depicted as a pair of dancing youths in short tunics with a drinking horn in the shape of an animal's head in one hand and either a wine bucket or a patera (dish).
Penates – protectors of the stores
Genius – guardian spirits of the family
Bacchus (the god of wine) and Mercury (messenger of the god Jupiter and god of commerce) were also added to some lararia.
Snake and altar – agathodemon (snake) was shown rearing its head or wrapping itself around the altar which was said to bring fertility to the family

Lararium - House of the Vettii

Lararium - House of the Vettii

  • Lararia are shrines to the gods of the household, and are found in different shapes and forms in many Pompeian houses, ranging from simple wall-paintings to large and elaborate shrines.
  • The picture above which was found in the House of the Vettii, shows us a shrine in the form of a temple.
  • Columns support a pediment (which is the triangular shape on top of the picture), and frame a central painting.
  • Two dancing lares (guardians of the family, who protect the household from external threats) hold raised drinking horns.
  • They are positioned on either side of the genius (who represents the spirit of the male head of the household), who is dressed in a toga and making a sacrifice.
  • Beneath them all is a serpent. Snakes are often depicted in lararia, and were considered guardian spirits of the family.

Thermopolium of L. Vetutius Placidus
Genius (centre) with lares on either side
On the left is Bacchus and on the right is Mercury
Peristyle of the House of the Golden Cupids

Different types of lararia

  • A niche found in the walls of poorer homes with figures painted in black
  • Aedicule which is a mini temple set on a podium lined with expensive materials such as marble
  • A wall that is made to look like an aedicule (but is 2D) with the household gods also painted. (This painting technique is called trompe l'oeil ["trick the eye"].)

Herm_of_Caecilius_Jucundus.jpgWorships and offerings
  • Rituals performed by the paterfamilias (the head of the family) who was the chief priest
  • Regular daily offerings and monthly celebrations were carried out, using an offering of wreath, portions of a meal (eg. Fruits and eggs) and crumbs left on the floor
  • Sometimes on a special occasion a lamb was also sacrificed

Right is a herm of L. Caecilius Jucundus. Inscribed on the herm is: "To the genius of our Lucius. Felix, freedman (set this up)".