The Fascinating History of Pompeian Pottery: From Humble Beginnings to Cultural Treasure

Pompeii is an ancient city located near Naples in Italy. It was founded in the 6th century BCE by the Osci people, and it soon became a prosperous trading center due to its strategic location near the Bay of Naples. Pompeii was also known for its pottery, which was highly prized throughout the Roman Empire. Pompeian pottery is a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of ancient potters. From its early days as simple vessels for storing food and water, to its golden age as a center for fine ceramics, Pompeian pottery reflects the evolving tastes and technologies of ancient Rome. In this article, we will explore the history of pottery in Pompeii, from its early beginnings to its decline and eventual rediscovery.

The Early Days of Pompeian Pottery

The production of pottery in Pompeii can be traced back to the 7th century BCE, when the city was still under the control of the Osci people. The early pottery produced in Pompeii was simple and utilitarian, consisting of vessels for storing food and water. These early pieces were made by hand and fired in open pits, which gave them a distinctive reddish-brown color. These pieces were not highly decorated.

As Pompeii grew and prospered, so did its pottery industry. By the 3rd century BCE, the city had become an important center for the production of fine ceramics. Pompeian potters were known for their skill in creating intricate designs and patterns, and their pieces were highly sought after throughout the Mediterranean.

The Roman Influence on Pompeian Pottery

The Roman period saw a significant change in Pompeian pottery. In 80 BCE, Pompeii became a Roman colony, and its pottery industry began to evolve in new and exciting ways. Roman potters brought with them new techniques and styles, including the use of a potter’s wheel, which allowed for greater precision and consistency in the creation of pottery.

During the Roman period, Pompeian potters also began to experiment with new forms and shapes, such as amphorae, which were used for storing and transporting wine, and kraters, which were used for mixing wine and water at banquets. These vessels were often decorated with scenes from mythology or daily life, and they were prized for their beauty and craftsmanship.

The production of fine ceramics became more widespread, and potters began experimenting with new forms and shapes. Amphorae, used for storing and transporting wine, and kraters, used for mixing wine and water at banquets, were particularly popular.

The Decline of Pompeian Pottery

The pottery industry in Pompeii continued to thrive throughout the Roman period, but by the 3rd century CE, it began to decline. This was due in part to the economic and political instability of the Roman Empire, which led to a decrease in demand for luxury goods like pottery.

In addition, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE had a devastating impact on the city of Pompeii. The volcanic ash and pumice that buried the city also destroyed many of its buildings and workshops, including its pottery kilns. As a result, the production of pottery in Pompeii came to a halt, and the industry never fully recovered.

The Rediscovery of Pompeian Pottery

Despite the decline of its pottery industry, Pompeii remains an important source of knowledge about ancient ceramics. The city’s ruins have yielded a treasure trove of pottery fragments, many of which have been carefully reconstructed and studied by archaeologists.

These fragments provide valuable insights into the techniques, styles, and designs of ancient Pompeian pottery. They also offer a glimpse into the daily lives and cultural practices of the people who lived in Pompeii, from their dining habits to their religious beliefs.

Today, Pompeian pottery is highly prized by collectors and scholars alike. It is considered a testament to the skill and artistry of ancient potters, as well as a window into the rich history and culture of one of the world’s most fascinating ancient cities.

Economy of Pompeian Pottery

The pottery industry played a significant role in the economy of Pompeii. The production of ceramics provided employment opportunities for potters, as well as for those involved in the transportation and sale of pottery. The city’s strategic location near the Bay of Naples also made it an important trading center, and Pompeian pottery was exported throughout the Roman Empire.

Pompeian Pottery Today

Today, Pompeian pottery remains an important part of Italy’s cultural heritage. The fragments that have been recovered from the city’s ruins are carefully preserved and studied by archaeologists and historians. Many of the reconstructed pieces are on display in museums and galleries around the world, allowing visitors to appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of ancient Pompeian pottery.

In addition to its historical significance, Pompeian pottery continues to inspire modern artisans and designers. The techniques and styles of ancient pottery are often incorporated into contemporary ceramics, creating a bridge between the past and the present.

Present Day Stories of Pompeian Pottery

Recently, a team of Italian archaeologists uncovered a trove of 2,000-year-old pottery in Pompeii. The discovery was made in the House of the Garden, a large villa on the outskirts of the city. The pottery was found in a room that was likely used as a workshop or storage area for the villa’s wealthy owner.

The pieces that were uncovered included bowls, plates, and jars, many of which were decorated with intricate patterns and designs. The discovery provides new insights into the production of ceramics in Pompeii, as well as the daily life of the city’s residents.

Another recent discovery was made in 2018, when a group of archaeologists uncovered a fresco in Pompeii that depicts an erotic scene. The fresco, which was found in a bedroom of a villa, shows a woman performing oral sex on a man who is reclining on a couch. The scene is believed to be a representation of the Roman god of love, Cupid, and his mortal lover, Psyche.

While the erotic nature of the fresco caused some controversy, it also provided a valuable glimpse into the sexual practices and attitudes of ancient Pompeii.


The history of Pompeian pottery is a rich and fascinating story that reflects the creativity, innovation, and cultural exchange of ancient Rome. The decline of its pottery industry was a sad chapter in the city’s history, but the fragments that have been recovered provide valuable insights into the techniques, styles, and designs of ancient ceramics.

Today, Pompeian pottery remains an important part of Italy’s cultural heritage, inspiring modern artisans and designers and continuing to provide new discoveries and insights into the daily life of ancient Pompeii.

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