10 People from Pompeii and Herculaneum Whose Lives Can Be Revived

Garum mosaic from the villa of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus. Picture credit: Claus Ableiter. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported . Wikimedia commons.

Aulus Umbricius Scarus

 Aulus Umbricius Scarus was no freedman. His trio of names suggests he was a Roman freeborn citizen, a fact that is confirmed by a family tomb epitaph, which confirms he was of the Menenian voting tribe. However, it does seem that Aulus was a new man; one whose fortune was newly made- and in trade to boot. For Aulus Umbricius Scarus was Pompeii’s foremost producer of garum or fish sauce. Over fifty urcei- the small, one-handled containers used for the condiment have been found in Pompeii bearing Scarus’s stamp. It is estimated that around 30% of Campania’s fish sauce came from his factories, which were known to export as far as the south of France.

Scarus made a fortune from his business, as can be seen in his house. Unlike the homes of some of Pompeii’s citizens there is no doubting whose it belongs to. The house overlooks what was the coastline. Set over three stories, it was extremely luxurious with a colonnaded garden, its own bath suite and no less than three atria. It is the décor in one of these atria that advertises the identity of the owner. For the mosaic around the room’s impluvium was adorned with four larger than life black and white urcei, each inscribed with Scarus’s name and advertising the excellence of his garum.

Each mosaic urcei boasted of the merits of a particular brand of Scarus’s fish sauce. Two related to lower grade garum while the other two boasted about Scarus’s liquamen- the highest-grade of the sauce. “The flower of Scarus’s mackerel garum from the factory of Scarus, ” announced the lettering. It may have seemed rather crass to use your home to advertise your business so blatantly- certainly to some of Pompeii’s elite. However, it also made good sense. After all, the atrium was where Scarus would meet his business associates. May as well let the décor do some of the talking for him.

In fact, Scarus’s urcei mosaics showed he was proud of his achievements, whatever the Pompeian elite might think. However that did not mean that he did not want better for the next generation. While there is no evidence that Scarus himself courted public life, he certainly used his wealth to launch his son’s political career. Sadly, the young Scarus predeceased his father. However, the epitaph on his tomb reveals that while alive, he did his father proud.

“ To Aulus Umbricius Scarus, son of Aulus, of the Menenian tribe, duumvir with judicial power.” The plaque begins, “The town councilors voted for him a site for his monument, 2000 sesterces for his funeral and an equestrian statue to be set up in the forum. His father Scarus dedicated this to his son.” Setting up monuments and paying for the funeral did not just honor the dead Scarus junior. It was also a way of courting the wealthy and still living Scarus senior. Aulus Umbricius Scarus may not have had political ambitions of his own. However, the city of Pompeii could still use his cash- newly minted or not.

Our last Pompeian was similarly unashamed of their life in trade.