House of Julia Felix

Coordinates: 40°45′6.74″N 14°29′35.84″E / 40.7518722°N 14.4932889°E / 40.7518722; 14.4932889

A wall painting from the House of Julia Felix

The House of Julia Felix is a large Roman villa in the ruined city of Pompeii. It was the residence of Julia Felix, who converted portions of it to apartments after a major earthquake in 62 AD, a precursor to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE that destroyed the city. Archaeological excavations began in 1755 and continue to this day. As the residence of multiple family units, it is an invaluable resource for providing insights into the daily lives of the people of Pompeii.


The so-called "Venus in a bikini", from the house of Julia Felix, Pompeii, Italy actually depicts her Greek counterpart Aphrodite as she is about to untie her sandal, with a small Eros squating beneath her left arm, 1st-century AD [1]

Julia Felix was a Roman woman who resided in the city of Pompeii. Julia Felix was a very wealthy property owner who inherited her money from her family. She owned a grand villa that took up an entire block in the city of Pompeii and it is documented by researchers as being well furnished and decorated until it was damaged in the major earthquake of 62 AD. After the earthquake Julia rented out her property to residents of Pompeii who may have lost their homes and transformed parts of her villa into public baths, shops, taverns, and apartments. Renting out her villa helped her earn extra income and establish herself as a property owner, business woman, and public figure in Pompeii.[2]

"Felix" is a Roman cognomen meaning "The Fortunate One" was an epithet of the dictator L. Cornelius Sulla and his descendants in the Republican period.[3] In the Imperial period it was a name involving luck as well as one of the most common cognomina and slave names.[3]


The homes of the wealthy in Pompeii were built around courtyards that were rectangular in shape into which the main rooms opened. These homes had enclosed gardens and private water supply.[4] Through the tufa period in Roman history, Pompeians used relief stucco work to add something extra to the architecture, marble dust for luminosity, and used paints with rich colors.[5]

Portrait of a Pompeian couple inside the home of Julia Felix. (Portrait of Paquius Proculo)

Inside the villa

Inside their villas, Pompeians chose many different ways to express themselves. Some Pompeians would copy Greek paintings and others would choose a theme of love or fertility, but most chose landscapes. Those found in Pompeii were of local scenes, villas from along the coast, or woodland and hills. When one owner in Pompeii lost part of his garden to a new room, he created the lost garden on the walls of the room.[4]

The art inside the villa of Julia Felix is also very interesting. Her villa contains a unique series of paintings depicting daily life in the Pompeian Forum, including market stalls, an open-air school, conversation, and a beggar receiving alms from a lady with her maid. Julia Felix was descendant of the Julii, who were Imperial freedmen, which could have influenced her choice in artwork of the middle-class life.[6]


Since the excavations of Pompeii, much has been revealed about the villa of Julia Felix. As early as 1755 many sections belonging to the villa were uncovered when the city of Pompeii was excavated. A complex taberna (tavern), luxurious baths, and richly decorated formal garden dining rooms were revealed in the first excavation. Between the years 1912-1935 an unknown shrine and the façade along the Via dell’Abbondanza of the building was uncovered,[7] but when the entire building was excavated, two Roman statues were found as well.[8]

Between the years 1998-1999 some of the most important discoveries were made by excavators. A trench found behind the caldarium dated back as early as the Augustan period. The caldarium revealed a drain that conducted water from the hypocaust floor, that conducted heat for a bath or room in a Roman home. A nymphaeum or grotto of nymphs with a waterstair fountain and triclinium was also discovered which was a modification put in after the earthquake of 62 A.D.[9]


  1. Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Napoli). "so-called Venus in a bikini." Accessed 3 October 2016.
    "The statuette portrays Aphrodite on the point of untying the laces of the sandal on her left foot, under which a small Eros squats, touching the sole of her shoe with his right hand. The Goddess is leaning with her left arm (the hand is missing) against a figure of Priapus standing, naked and bearded, positioned on a small cylindrical altar while, next to her left thigh, there is a tree trunk over which the garment of the Goddess is folded. Aphrodite, almost completely naked, wears only a sort of costume, consisting of a corset held up by two pairs of straps and two short sleeves on the upper part of her arm, from which a long chain leads to her hips and forms a star-shaped motif at the level of her navel. The 'bikini', for which the statuette is famous, is obtained by the masterly use of the technique of gilding, also employed on her groin, in the pendant necklace and in the armilla on Aphrodite’s right wrist, as well as on Priapus’ phallus. Traces of the red paint are evident on the tree trunk, on the short curly hair gathered back in a bun and on the lips of the Goddess, as well as on the heads of Priapus and the Eros. Aphrodite’s eyes are made of glass paste, while the presence of holes at the level of the ear-lobes suggest the existence of precious metal ear-rings which have since been lost. An interesting insight into the female ornaments of Roman times, the statuette, probably imported from the area of Alexandria, reproduces with a few modifications the statuary type of Aphrodite untying her sandal, known from copies in bronze and terracotta."
    For extensive research and a bibliography on the subject, see: de Franciscis 1963, p. 78, tav. XCI; Kraus 1973, nn. 270-271, pp. 194-195; Pompei 1973, n. 132; Pompeji 1973, n. 199, pp. 142 e 144; Pompeji 1974, n. 281, pp. 148-149; Pompeii A.D. 79 1976, p. 83 e n. 218; Pompeii A.D. 79 1978, I, n. 208, pp. 64-65, II, n. 208, p. 189; Döhl, Zanker 1979, p. 202, tav. Va; Pompeii A.D. 79 1980, p. 79 e n. 198; Pompeya 1981, n. 198, p. 107; Pompeii lives 1984, fig. 10, p. 46; Collezioni Museo 1989, I, 2, n. 254, pp. 146-147; PPM II, 1990, n. 7, p. 532; Armitt 1993, p. 240; Vésuve 1995, n. 53, pp. 162-163; Vulkan 1995, n. 53, pp. 162-163; LIMC VIII, 1, 1997, p. 210, s.v. Venus, n. 182; LIMC VIII, 2, 1997, p. 144; LIMC VIII, 1, 1997, p. 1031, s.v. Priapos, n. 15; LIMC VIII, 2, 1997, p. 680; Romana Pictura 1998, n. 153, p. 317 e tav. a p. 245; Cantarella 1999, p. 128; De Caro 1999, pp. 100-101; De Caro 2000, p. 46 e tav. a p. 62; Pompeii 2000, n. 1, p. 62.
  2. Fowler, Robin (2006-05-01). "Independent Women of Pompeii". Retrieved 2007-05-08.
  3. 1 2 Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World, Volume 5, Brill Academic Publishers, 2004.
  4. 1 2 Drummond, Andrew (1993). The World of the Romans. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 132.
  5. "Pompeii". The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Princeton University Press. 1976.
  6. Silberberg-Peirce, Susan (1993). "The Muse Restored: Images of Women in Roman Painting". Woman's Art Journal. 14 (2): 28–36 [p. 29]. doi:10.2307/1358447.
  7. Parslow, Christopher Charles (1988). "The 89th General Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America". American Journal of Archaeology. 92 (2): 229–284 [p. 281]. doi:10.2307/505632.
  8. Parslow, Christopher Charles (1989). "The 90th General Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America". American Journal of Archaeology. 93 (2): 243–284 [p. 278]. doi:10.2307/505093.
  9. Parslow, Christopher (2001). "The 102nd Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America". American Journal of Archaeology. 105 (2): 245–311 [p. 261]. doi:10.2307/507273.
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