House of the Faun

Coordinates: 40°45′4.5″N 14°29′4.5″E / 40.751250°N 14.484583°E / 40.751250; 14.484583
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
House of the Faun
Casa del Fauno
Front view of the house
General information
LocationPompeii, Roman Empire
Construction started180 BC
Copy of the Dancing Faun

The House of the Faun (Italian: Casa del Fauno), constructed in the 2nd century BC during the Samnite period (180 BC),[1] was a grand Hellenistic palace that was framed by peristyle in Pompeii, Italy. The historical significance in this impressive estate is found in the many great pieces of art that were well preserved from the ash of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. It is one of the most luxurious aristocratic houses from the Roman Republic, and reflects this period better than most archaeological evidence found even in Rome itself.[2]

Houses of the higher class[edit]

The House of the Faun, along with the House of Pansa and the House of the Silver Wedding represent the higher class of the Roman houses of the Republic.[3] More than 190 years after its excavation, the craftsmanship and quality of materials have been found to be exceptional, even amongst the other noble houses in Pompeii.[3] There is evidence, most notably in the eastern walls of the tetrastyle atrium, that after the AD 62 Pompeii earthquake, the House of the Faun was rebuilt and repaired, as revealed by excavation beneath the floor of the house;[3] yet, the building was only used again until AD 79, when it was ultimately rendered unusable by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Although the eruption was devastating, the layers of ash covering the city preserved artworks, like the mosaics, which would have otherwise been likely destroyed or severely decayed due to the passage of time.

Faun statue[edit]

The bronze statue of a dancing faun (actually a satyr, since the lower body is that of a man) is what the House of the Faun is named after. In the centre of the atrium there is a white limestone impluvium, a basin for collecting water. The statue was found on October 26 of 1830 near one side of the impluvium and a small fountain in the center.[4] The original statue is currently located in the National Archaeological Museum (Museo Archeologico Nazionale) in Naples, thus the statue seen today in the house’s ruins is a copy.[5] Fauns are spirits of untamed woodland; they are typically depicted as half human and half goat. Literate and Hellenized Romans often connected their depictions of fauns with Pan and Greek satyrs, who were the wild followers of the Greek god of wine and drama, Dionysus. It is purely a decorative sculpture of high order: "the pose is light and graceful," Sir Kenneth Clark observed.[6]

Inscriptions and their familial associations[edit]

Archaeologists discovered an inscription bearing the cognomen Saturninus, suggesting that the dwelling was owned by the important gens, or clan, Satria; a ring bearing the family name Cassius was also found, indicating that someone of the Cassii family married into the gens Satria and lived in the House of the Faun.[7]


The Alexander Mosaic, showing Alexander at left. A copy is displayed in the House of the Faun, where the original was found.
The Nilotic scene mosaic depicts exotic animals in the Nile.

The House of the Faun was initially excavated in 1830 by the German archaeological institute.

Five bodies were found in the house including one woman and three boys.[8]

The most notable of the artworks found in the House of the Faun is the Alexander Mosaic; a reconstructed version of the mosaic can be seen today, but it was originally removed from the floor where it was found and placed in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.[9] In the 1830s when it was first discovered, the mosaic was thought to represent a battle scene depicted in the Iliad, but architectural historians have found the mosaic actually depicts the Battle of Issus in 333 BC between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia, which took place about 150 years before the House of the Faun was constructed.[10] This mosaic may be inspired by or copied from a Greek painting finished in the late fourth century BC,[2] probably by the artist Philoxenus of Eretria.[11] Unlike most Pompeian pavements of the late second and early first centuries, this mosaic is made of tesserae, and not the more common opus signinum, or other kinds of stone chips set in mortar.[12]

The Alexander Mosaic is complemented by other floor mosaics with Nilotic scenes and theatrical masks.[2] Other notable works of art from the House of Faun include an erotic Satyr and Nymph and the fish mosaic, a piece closely resembling other mosaics in Pompeii.[2]

Building plan of the House of the Faun
Building plan

Architectural design[edit]

The House of the Faun was the largest and most expensive residence found in Pompeii, and today it is one of the most visited of the ruins. The house occupies an entire city block or insula, and the interior covers about 3,000 square meters, which is nearly 32,300 square feet.[13] The house is based upon two magnificent colonnaded gardens or peristyles, one Ionic and the other Doric. It also has two atriums, the Tuscan and the peristyle atrium.[3] The focus of the decoration of the house, the Alexander mosaic, is placed on the central visual axis between the first and second peristyles, in a room referred to as an exedra. Mosaics on the floors of the peristyles evoke the flora and fauna of the Nile. The wall frescoes above these pavements are the largest surviving example of the false marble panelling characteristic of the First Pompeian Style.[14]

Several historians (such as M. Bergmann, F. Guidobaldi, J.J. Thomas, A.-M. Guimier-Sorbets) have pointed out that the decorational scheme of the house's second phase shows clear links to Egypt and specifically to Ptolemaic Alexandria. The mosaics include typically Alexandrian/Egyptian iconography and motifs or appear to follow Alexandrian types.[15][16] They also make liberal use of faience, which was somewhat rare outside of Egypt at the time. Some of the paint work in the house mimics types of Egyptian stone that were not yet known on the Italian peninsula and the illusionistic stucco facade in the house's vestibule echoes Alexandrian architecture. Bergmann has suggested that even the bronze satyr which gave the house its name may have been created in Alexandria or by Alexandrian artists. Both Guidobaldi and Guimier-Sorbets conclude that Alexandrian workshops were responsible for at least parts of the decorational scheme of the second phase (such as the mosaic, opus sectile and paint work).[15]

Like many ancient Roman houses, the House of the Faun had tabernae, or storefront shops, and a highly sophisticated building plan, which details the many rooms. The entryway of the House of the Faun is decorated by red and white stone that read out the Latin message “HAVE”, which can be translated to “Hail to you!”.[14] The fact that this mosaic is not in the local languages, Oscan and Samnian, has caused debate between historians on whether it was put into place before the Roman colonization of Pompeii in 80 BCE or if the owners had "pretensions of Latin glory."[17]

Like other wealthy aristocrats of the Roman Republic, the owners of the House of the Faun installed a private bath system, or balneum, in the house. The baths were located in the domestic wing to the right of the entrance, and it along with the kitchen was heated by a large furnace.[3] The servants’ quarters were dark and cramped, and there was not much furniture.[18] The house features beautiful peristyle gardens, the second of which was created as a stage to host recitations, mimes, and pantomimes. Additionally, the house contained an entrance passage, a number of bedrooms (cubicula), dining rooms (triclinia) for both the summer and winter, a reception room (oecus), and an office (tablinum).[3]

Tourist attraction[edit]

In the present day, visitors can still explore the remains of the House of the Faun in modern Pompeii, along Via di Nola. Although most of the original artworks have been relocated to the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, the most famous pieces, like the Dancing Faun and the Alexander Mosaic, have been recreated to give tourists a clearer picture of what the house was originally like.[19] Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, one of Pompeii's past archaeological superintendents, explained, "I want visitors to have the impression that they are entering the same luxurious house in which the ancient Pompeian owners lived before it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79."[19]



  1. ^ Cambridge Ancient History. [New] ed. London: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
  2. ^ a b c d Grant, Michael; Kitzinger, Rachel (1988). Civilization of the ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome. New York: Scribner's. ISBN 0-684-17594-0.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Dwyer, Eugene J. (2001). "The Unified Plan of the House of the Faun". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 60 (3): 328–343. doi:10.2307/991759. JSTOR 991759.
  4. ^ a b Zahn, Wilhelm Johann Karl (February 1831). "Ultime scoperte di Pompei ed Ercolano. Lettera del prof. Guglielmo Zahn al prof. Gerhard". Bullettino dell'Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica (in Italian). Rome: Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica: 19, 25. Retrieved 1 May 2023. Il 26 ottobre si scoprì nell'atrio, e propriamente vicino all'impluvio, una figura di bronzo… ...nel mezzo è l'impluvio con una piccola fontana. Su di uno de' suoi lati si è rinvenuto un simulacro di bronzo.
  5. ^ Donovan, Matt (2012). "House of the Faun, Pompeii". Agni (76): 26–33. JSTOR 23621338. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  6. ^ Clark, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form 1956:263 (illustrated fig. 145).
  7. ^ Gordon, Mary L. (1927). "The Ordo of Pompeii". Journal of Roman Studies. 17: 165–183. doi:10.2307/296132. JSTOR 296132.
  8. ^ G. Luongo et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 126 (2003) p195
  9. ^ Hirst, K. "House of the Faun at Pompeii - Pompeii's Richest Residence". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  10. ^ Hirst, K. "House of the Faun at Pompeii - Pompeii's Richest Residence". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  11. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History xxxv. 10.36§ 22.
  12. ^ Westgate, Ruth (2000). "Pavimenta Atque Emblemata Vermiculata: Regional Styles in Hellenistic Mosaic and the First Mosaics At Pompeii". American Journal of Archaeology. 104 (2): 255–275. doi:10.2307/507451. JSTOR 507451. S2CID 194101486.
  13. ^ Hirst
  14. ^ a b "Perseus Digital Library".
  15. ^ a b Guimier-Sorbets, Anne-Marie (1 October 2021). The Mosaics of Alexandria: Pavements of Greek and Roman Egypt. Cairo, New York: American University in Cairo Press. pp. 194–197. ISBN 978-1649030740.
  16. ^ Thomas, Joshua J. (June 2022). "The Ptolemy Painting? Alexander's "right-hand man" and the origins of the Alexander Mosaic". Journal of Roman Archaeology. 35 (1): 306–321. doi:10.1017/S1047759421000532. ISSN 1047-7594.
  17. ^ Hirst, K. "House of the Faun at Pompeii - Pompeii's Richest Residence". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 30 November 2017.
  18. ^ Stillwell, Richard; MacDonald, William Lloyd; McAllister, Marian Holland (1976). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691035420.
  19. ^ a b Merola, Marco (2006). "Alexander, Piece by Piece". Archaeology. 59 (1).

External links[edit]

40°45′4.5″N 14°29′4.5″E / 40.751250°N 14.484583°E / 40.751250; 14.484583