DIY was all the rage in Pompeii

IF ROME wasn't built in a day, the residents of Pompeii were even more methodical about their city's construction. New excavations of the ruins of the southern Italian city, destroyed by volcano in AD79, suggest that Pompeii man was the original DIY enthusiast.

Far from indulging in wine, women and song, it appears that the average resident of Pompeii was, in fact, a house-proud, toga-clad version of New Man. Devoted to pouring his hard-earned savings into his house, he would expand his kitchen, build that loft extension - and even buy up the house next door. Remains uncovered recently suggest that home improvements were in progress right up to the point when Mount Vesuvius blew its top.

The findings, established by a team of Anglo-American archaeologists from several universities, are based on excavations at a property known as the House of Vestals. The owner is believed to have been a wealthy politician or merchant. A major earthquake several years earlier, which had damaged many buildings in the port, had not deterred him - presumably it was easier to get buildings and contents insurance in those days.

The archaeologists found six major phases of building work at the house, with several minor alterations in between. According to Fiona Robertson, a PhD student at Bradford University who took part in the excavations, the owner was clearly a DIY enthusiast who, if alive today, would happily spend his weekends driving between the garden centre and B&Q or Homebase. "A Roman ramp, which was uncovered at the back of the house, looks just like the sort of thing used to push wheelbarrows up nowadays," she said. "Rooms at the back of the house were clearly in the process of being renovated."

In an all-too-familiar tale, the owner had to replace and improve DIY attempts made by his predecessors up to 180 years before. "Around 100BC the house was expanded into neighbouring properties and early in the first century AD more money was poured in to carry out home improvements," she said. "They converted a kitchen into a living room or play room, added an extension, did some re-pointing and built a swimming pool in the garden - much the sort of thing people do today."

And did Pompeii man live amid the dust and debris or move out during the building work, giving free rein to the builders, only to blow his top, Vesuvius style, when the revised bill was wildly over the original estimate? The answer lies in the remains of snails in the house.

Snails are sensitive to small changes in temperature and preferred the open, damp conditions when the builders were in to the warmer atmosphere created when the family was at home. "As you go down different levels of excavations if you find no more than a few snails, it's reasonable to assume the family was living in the house at the time," Miss Robertson said. "But if you find a healthy population, there's a strong possibility the family had moved out while the builders were in." Romans were scrupulous with their house cleaning, explained Miss Robertson. "If they had lived in the house during the excavations they would have been cleaning up and sweeping away fungus and damp - the snails wouldn't have liked that."

The citizens of Pompeii were keen on DIY because houses were great status symbols. "Open space was at a premium," she said. "The Romans used their houses to do their entertaining. They would have fountains and mosaics in them depicting gardens to make them look bigger than they were. "This particular family had clearly come into a lot of money. They were building a swimming pool and other extensive work at the same time."

Experts think the people of Pompeii were so keen on DIY because the changing role of the port led to new roles for the buildings. "Pompeii was originally a sea-side resort and then became an important frontier town," said Miss Robertson. "As the empire expanded the frontier went further south and Pompeii became a far more attractive place to live as wealthy merchants funded lots of development."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine