Pompeii thieves claim relics are cursed

Tourists who have stolen relics from Pompeii often send back their loot, with some claiming the artefacts are cursed, according to the site's archaeological superintendent Massimo Osanna.

Pompeii thieves claim relics are cursed
Thieving tourists frequently send back stolen items from Pompeii after being cursed or racked by guilt. Photo: Carlo Herman/AFP
In recent years, the site has received around a hundred packages returning stolen relics, which are often accompanied by letters explaining that the items have brought the thieves nothing but bad luck.

“They write that the stolen pieces have brought them nothing but trouble,” Osanna told Corriere Della Sera.
“They say they can trace back all their family troubles to their theft at Pompeii.”
But sometimes they just regret the theft and feel guilty, added Osanna, who had a stolen mosaic tile – stolen in the 1970s – sent back to him by an English woman a few days ago.
The white tile was still in excellent condition and had been taken from the site by the woman's parents while they were on holiday.

But after they died, the woman inherited the tile and felt it was time to do the right thing.

“Please don't judge them too harshly,” she wrote in her letter. “They were different times.”
Now, Osanna is thinking about creating an exhibition of the returned artefacts and letters to tell the story behind some of the stolen pieces.

Ironically the letters, not the relics, could be the star of the show.

“It's not that the stolen pieces are highly interesting or valuable – it's more the letters. For this reason I'd like to do an exhibition to show how we were and how we are.”

Osanna's announcement comes after four French tourists were charged with aggravated theft after being caught red-handed trying to make off with pieces of Pompeii's famous frescoes.
The four tourists, three brothers and a sister, were visiting the archaeological site on Monday after their Mediterranean cruise had stopped in the port of Naples, La Repubblica reported.
American visitors spotted the group inside the Forum baths picking chips of plaster off a fresco and reported them to site security, who called the police.

Beware the curse! A fresco inside the Forum baths at Pompeii. Photo: Steve James/Flickr

Police searched their rucksacks and found pieces of fragments from frescoes.
The group was charged with aggravated theft and now staff at the site are working to establish which of the painstakingly restored and expertly curated 2,000-year-old frescoes the pieces belong to, so they can be put back in their rightful place. 

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Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find

Pompeii archaeologists said Saturday they have unearthed the remains of a "slave room" in an exceptionally rare find at a Roman villa destroyed by Mount Vesuvius' eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.

Archaeologists in Pompeii who discovered a room which likely housed slaves. 
Archaeologists said the newly-discovered room in Pompeii likely housed slaves charged with maintaining chariots.  Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The little room with three beds, a ceramic pot and a wooden chest was discovered during a dig at the Villa of Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa just a few hundred metres from the rest of the ancient city.

An almost intact ornate Roman chariot was discovered here at the start of this year, and archaeologists said Saturday that the room likely housed slaves charged with maintaining and prepping the chariot.

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“This is a window into the precarious reality of people who rarely appear in historical sources, written almost exclusively by men belonging to the elite,” said Pompeii’s director general Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The “unique testimony” into how “the weakest in the ancient society lived… is certainly one of the most exciting discoveries in my life as an archaeologist,” he said in a press release.

Pompeii was buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing those who hadn’t managed to leave the city in time. They were either crushed by collapsing buildings or killed by thermal shock.

The 16-square metre (170-square feet) room was a cross between a bedroom and a storeroom: as well as three beds – one of which was child sized – there were eight amphorae, stashed in a corner.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The wooden chest held metal and fabric objects that seem to be part of the harnesses of the chariot horses, and a chariot shaft was found resting on one of the beds.

The remains of three horses were found in a stable in a dig earlier this year.

“The room grants us a rare insight into the daily reality of slaves, thanks to the exceptional state of preservation of the room,” the Pompeii archaeological park said.

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Image: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

Experts had been able to make plaster casts of the beds and other objects in perishable materials which left their imprint in the cinerite — the rock made of volcanic ash — that covered them, it said.

The beds were made of several roughly worked wooden planks, which could be adjusted according to the height of the person who used them.

The webbed bases of the beds were made of ropes, covered by blankets.

While two were around 1.7 metres long, one measured just 1.4 metres, and may therefore have belonged to a child.

The archaeological park said the three slaves may have been a family.

Archaeologists found several personal objects under the beds, including amphorae for private things, ceramic jugs and what might be a chamber pot.

The room was lit by a small upper window, and there are no traces or wall decorations, just a mark believed to have been left by a lantern hung on a wall.

“This incredible new discovery at Pompeii demonstrates that today the archaeological site has become not only one of the most desirable visitor destinations in the world, but also a place where research is carried out and new and experimental technologies are employed,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.

“Thanks to this important new discovery, our knowledge of the daily life of ancient Pompeians has been enriched, particularly of that element of society about which little is known even today. Pompeii is a model of study that is unique in the world.”

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The excavation is part of a programme launched in 2017 aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.

The Villa of Civita Giuliana had been the target of systematic looting for years. There was evidence some of the “archaeological heritage” in this so-called Slave Room had also been lost to looters, the park said.

Damage by grave robbers in the villa had been estimated so far at almost two million euros ($2.3 million), it added.