Publius Paquius Proculus
It was common in Pompeii to use the walls of houses and shops lining the town’s busy roadways as billboards for advertisements-especially at election time. Signwriters were paid to daub these election notices, which advertised the candidates, showed who supported them and often announced who had won. Many of the notices from the last years of Pompeii still survive and give us valuable information about the types of people running for election- and who succeeded in being elected.
One of the last batches of candidates for political office was Publius Paquius Proculus. “Thalamus, his client elects Publius Paquius Proculus duumvir with judicial power,” announced graffiti from the said Thalamus, painted on the street wall near the entrance of the House of Paquius Proculus. It seems Thalamus was not the only one who supported Proculus for graffiti on the wall of the amphitheater tells us that: “All Pompeians have elected Publius P Proculus duumvir with judicial power, worthy of public office.”
Paquius Proculus had to have money to enter politics. It may have been from trade- but we cannot say for sure. In fact, Paquius Proculus is a lesson in the care needed when recreating the life stories of Pompeian people. He was initially thought to be a baker, because of another of his election notices, daubed on a house in region VII, an area between the Via Stabiana and the forum. The house, which was attached to a bakery, included a portrait of the baker and his wife. Due to the graffiti, early archaeologists assumed the house, and so the picture belonged to Proculus. However, graffiti within the building later identified it and the portrait as actually belonging to a Terentius Neo.
However he made his money, the House of Paquius Proculus on the Via dell’ Abbondanza is generally agreed to be the Proculus residence. It was an impressive residence with an expansive peristyle garden and entertainment suite. However, there was just one problem: its main reception area was rather small- a clear indication that the house hadn’t been built for a politician. For the atrium was the place that important men received their clients- and it had to reflect the importance of the master of the house.
Proculus’s atrium took up the entire width of the front of the house, and it was apparent no other rooms surrounded it. It made the house look small, diminishing Proculus in the eyes of his clients- not good for a leading politician. So, Proculus overcame the problem like every good politician throughout the ages: by lying. He redecorated the atrium and had door-shaped niches inserted into the atrium walls, to create the illusion of more rooms and corridors running off from the atrium. This fakery made his house looks more substantial than it was, allowing it to live up to its owner’s social aspirations.
Roman custom barred women from taking part directly in politics. However, they were not without power and influence, as our next Pompeian shows.