Paintings of ancient Egypt in Pompeii garden show just how cosmopolitan the Romans were

The garden of a large ancient villa in Pompeii was home to stunning paintings depicting the Nile river flowing among green, lush landscapes. These artworks could shed light on the way the Romans viewed the ancient Egyptian culture, and how they integrated it into their own.

In a study now published online in the American Journal of Archaeology, researcher Caitlin Barrett shows that these “Nilotic scenes” give the Pompeian house a more cosmopolitan feel. They transform it into a microcosm of the Roman civilisation – which at the time had spread all around the Mediterranean, all the way to Egypt.

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“Nilotic paintings are one manifestation of a broader phenomenon in Roman culture: a strong interest in things Egyptian. There has been a lot of debate in recent years about why exactly that was. The paintings from the Casa dell’Efebo were created after Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, but several generations after Augustus’ initial conquest of Egypt”, Barrett, from the Department of Classics at Cornell University, told IBTimes UK.

“Some researchers have turned to explanations emphasising religion: maybe paintings of Egyptian landscapes have to do with an interest in Egyptian gods. Others have interpreted these paintings as political statements: maybe this is about celebrating the conquest of Egypt. I suggest that instead of trying to apply a one-size-fits-all explanation, we should look at context and individual choices”.

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The Nile river in Casa dell’Efebo

Casa dell’Efebo was among the largest houses in Pompeii. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79, burying the city under suffocating clouds of black ash, the house appeared to have been under renovation.

Many of its walls were covered with elegant paintings representing popular Roman mythological and religious themes. Outside in the…

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