Recovering evidence for a the temple grove in the sanctuary of Venus is our primary research focus, but the excavations have shed light also on the chronology and development of the sanctuary, the landscaping of and alterations to the temple precinct, and the role of the sanctuary in expressing Pompeii’s political and religious identity.
Excavations were conducted in 1998, 2004 and 2006, with two study seasons in 2006 and 2007. In order to build the sanctuary on the natural slope of land, masses of building debris, rubbish and soil were brought in and deposited to create a level terrace for the new temple and its surrounding porticoes. The foundations of the buildings cut through and were inserted into the temple terrace deposits. Pottery, artefacts, stratigraphy and historical considerations suggest that the temple is a creation of the Roman colonists around the mid-first century B.C.
In our investigations, clear evidence for plantings has been retrieved, demonstrating that the landscaping of the sanctuary courtyard as a sacred grove was contemporaneous with the building of the temple and its surrounding porticoes. It is one of the earliest temple groves in the Roman world for which there is archaeological evidence. Planting pits for trees, some of them still with terracotta planting pots in situ, were dug into the temple terrace construction deposits.
The grove consisted of a row of trees and/or shrubs planted parallel to the colonnades on the north, west and east sides of the sanctuary. The design is that of a formal planting of trees surrounded by a porticus triplex. Located on a vast artificial terrace in the south-west corner of the town, the sanctuary with its temple, porticoes and landscaped courtyard stood as a conspicuous monument and ideological symbol of Roman Pompeii, “Venus’ dwelling” (Martial, Epigrams 4.44.5).
In its second phase in the early first century A.D., the temple and porticoes were refurbished using Luna marble as decoration. For some reason, the sacred grove went out of use then or was abandoned, and the sanctuary courtyard paved with mortar. The bases of votive monuments and traces of alterations to the water management of the sanctuary in the Augustan period indicate that the site remained an important cult centre.
The earthquake of A.D. 62 and perhaps further tremors in subsequent years destroyed all the buildings. The debris in the precinct had been cleared and building work on the foundations of a new temple and porticoes had made considerable progress, however, before the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Some parts of the Luna marble superstructure of the second phase temple were being recycled for this last building, and different types of coloured limestone imported from the eastern Mediterranean and northern Italy were being cut and worked on site. The sanctuary was never finished, nor was its sacred grove replanted, because of the final catastrophe.
- Maureen Carroll - University of Sheffield
- Oliver Jessop - University of Sheffield
- Jerneja Kobe - University of Sheffield
- Giuseppe Montana - Dipartimento di Chimica e Fisica della Terra ed Applicazioni alle Georisorse e ai Rischi Naturali (C.F.T.A), Università di Palermo
- Andrew Chamberlain - University of Sheffield
- Sarah Viner - University of Sheffield
- Glynis Jones - University of Sheffield
- Myles McCallum - Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, NS, Canada
- Robyn Veal - University of Sydney
- University of Sheffield
- Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust
- The British Academy
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