Cities of Vesuvius

- Syllabus Content -

Everyday life: leisure activities, food and dining, clothing, health, baths, water supply and sanitation

Leisure Activities

"Visiting the Baths" p.131; "Attending the Theatre" p.135; "Developing the Body and Playing Sport" p.139; "Enjoying the Spectacle of the Amphitheatre" p.140; "Gambling and Prostitution" p.145.

Leisure activities included bathing, going to theatrical performances in the theatre and gladiatorial games in the amphitheatre, and exercising in the large palaestra or a palaestra attached to a baths complex.

Bathing: Go to the Baths page.
Going to the Theatre: Go to the Theatres page.
Developing the body and playing sport: Go to the Palaestra page.
Enjoying the spectacle of the amphitheatre: Go to the Amphitheatre page.

There is a range of evidence for other leisure activities: painting, playing or listening to music, gambling and games, and prostitution.


Women are shown painting in frescoes. The first is from the house of the Surgeon in Pompeii, the second from an unrecorded location in Pompeii. Both paintings are in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.


Music was for religious ceremonies and theatrical performances and games. It was also a leisure activity as shown in the following frescoes.

From an unknown location in Pompeii, the fresco above shows a woman, surrounded by other young women, sitting on a couch, with a harp on her right and a kithara on her lap.


The fresco above comes from the Palaestra at Herculaneum. Two musicians at the left play a double flute and a lyre for a seated woman who appears perhaps to be keeping time.

There are a range of musical instruments from Pompeii on display in the National Archaeological Museum. Below are pan pipes, a flute, systra and cymbals.


The NAM has some objects for games on display. Below are dice, game pieces in the shape of chickens, and bones.

A fresco from an unrecorded location in Herculaneum (excavated in 1746), shows a mythological scene with a group of women playing bones.


Gambling and drinking

There are many cauponae and tabernae in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Frescoes and graffiti record the pleasures of drinking and gambling.

Graffiti: "Set out the wine and dice. To hell with him who cares for the morrow."

A fresco from the Caupona of Salvius (below left) shows two seated men. One calls to the serving woman, “Here!”, and the other says, “It’s mine.” The second fresco from the same location shows two men gambling.


Prostitution appears to have been widespread in Pompeii and Herculaneum. There is only only building in Pompeii identified specifically as a brothel, though there is much graffiti which suggests that upstairs rooms of shops were used for the purpose. Frescoes in the Suburban Baths show scenes of services which may have been available there for a price.

Graffito from the rear entrance vestibule of the House of Menander: “At Nuceria, look for Novellia Primigenia near the Roman gate in the prostitutes’ district.” (CIL IV 8356)
Graffiti of a more lewd nature (evidence of prostitution) can be found here.

Prostitution was legal and taxed. (23 April: prostitutes' holiday!)

There was no stigma attached to visiting a brothel for men. Prostitutes were stigmatised: "lupa" = "she-wolves"; "lupanar" = "brothel".
Prostitutes were usually foreign.

The famous lupanar in Pompeii (VII, 12, 18) has five rooms and a small latrine on the ground floor and five more rooms upstairs. "This is the only building known to us which existed specifically for this trade. All the other places of prostitution were either single rooms opening off the street or rooms on the upper floor of an existing house." (Pompeii: Guide to the Site)

A queue at the brothel
Inside the brothel