House of the Bicentary (Casa
bicentennial house was found in 1938 and 200 years after the start
of the Herculaneum excavations, hence the name of the structure.
This is probably one of the most interesting buildings in the city,
as it is probably the world's first Christian prayer house or
In the wall of one of the rooms on the second floor
there is a cruciform recess, where a wooden cross apparently hung.
Nail marks are still visible in the wall. Also on both sides there
are traces of metal buttonholes on which wooden shutters were hung.
That is, most of the time the cross was not visible and these doors
were opened only during prayers. The very location of this room
suggests that the guards did not enter here. It was a small closet,
hidden from the eyes of a stranger.
In principle, this is
not difficult. Although the Romans treated different religions and
cults quite liberally, but certain limits still existed. You could
pray to anyone and anywhere, but the recognition of the supremacy of
the Roman gods was mandatory. That is, you could worship Mithras or
Osiris, but Jupiter was more important. When visiting a Roman
family, the etiquette of the time was to bring several gifts: for
the owner of the house, his wife, his children, and of course one
gift for the genius or deity of the house. If a person refused to
bring a gift to a genius, it was not just an insult to the deity, it
was a challenge that could bring grief to the family of the God who
lived there. The same principles existed throughout the Roman
Empire. Those religions that did not recognize the Roman gods were
considered hostile simply because the Roman gods could turn against
the Romans for being soft on heretics.
Residents who profess
Judaism were given some relief. They were allowed to pray, but they
were not allowed to get close to them. To make friends with a Jew
was to incur the wrath of the gods or of one's own patron genius.
Therefore, European anti-Semitism has its roots far beyond the
borders of Christianity. But while it was possible to compromise
with the Jews for the sake of peace in the Empire, Christianity was
no longer treated with ceremony. The new religion had no strict
ethnic boundaries. New ideas attracted many Romans and turned them
away from the old Roman gods. That is why the relatively liberal
Roman society was so harsh with representatives of the new (later
world) religion: they burned them at the stake, threw them to be
eaten by animals in the arenas of the amphitheatres, and generally
found clever ways to destroy the Christians. Truth as history has
shown without much success.
28 13 From there we cast off and arrived at Rhegium, and after
one day a south wind sprang up and on the second day we came to
Puteoli. 14 There we found some brothers and were invited to stay
with them seven days. And in this way we came to Rome.
The bicentennial house was discovered by Amadeo
Maiuiri, and named after the bicentennial celebration that was
celebrated in the same year to commemorate the beginning of the
excavation of Herculaneum. The house belonged to Gaius Petronius
Stephanus and was one of the best private houses in Herculaneum. The
guy Petri the Stephanus did not manage to live up to the eruption.
However, his wife Calatoria apparently lived to see the death of
The entrance to the house is located on the
South side of Decumanus street, located between the shops. The lobby
(a) leads to a large atrium, with a marble floor, an impluvium, and
several rooms on all four sides. The walls are covered with frescoes
of the fourth architectural style on a red background.
far end of the atrium, there are several cubicles (C), one of which
was enclosed by a simple wooden partition (pictured on the left). In
the northeast, the atrium also gives direct access to the back room
of the store (e), and in the Southeast corner there is a door that
leads to the large triclinium (g). The walls of the Tablinum are
covered with frescoes in the fourth style with three large red
panels, surmounted by a frieze of tiny cupids on the facing East and
West walls. The Central panel of each wall contains mythological
scenes, one of which depicts Daedalus and Pasiphae, and the other
Venus and Mars. The tablinum is decorated with a mosaic floor in the
style of opus etesselatum: a geometric pattern with black and white
marble tiles, with a Central mosaic panel (pictured on the right).
South of the Tablinum is the peristalum (h), surrounded by a
colonnade with a Central garden (I). A staircase (J) in the
Northwest corner of the peristyle leads to more modest rooms on the
second floor, which was probably rented out. A white stucco panel
with a cruciform cavity was found on the far wall of one of these
apartments. Archaeologist Maiuri suggested that it was intended to
hold a wooden cross, which would make it the oldest known Christian
symbol. Beneath it was a low, wooden Cabinet, probably used as a
lararium, that is, to store religious objects. A more recent
interpretation suggests that the cavity was simply used to support a
wooden Cabinet. However, such methods of strengthening the Cabinet
to the wall were not found anywhere in Herculaneum or Pompeii.
Also in the bicentennial House, several papyri were found with
records of the opening of a long legal battle over the claim of a
girl, Justa, who was born in the house. The girl claimed to be
Freeborn, but this fact was disputed by Stephanus ' widow,
Calatoria. The claims were made in 75-76 and the court did not have
time to give its opinion during the eruption. It is surprising that
a woman with such capabilities (judging by the house) could not
solve the situation for a girl for so long. This stroke says a lot
about the judicial system in Ancient Rome.