House of the Surgeon

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The House of the Surgeon is part of the ancient city of Pompeii and currently survives as an upstanding ruin to a height of up to 4m. It is situated at one of the highest points inside the city walls, 40m from the Porto Ercolano, the Herculaneum Gate, along one of the oldest streets in the city, the Via Consolare.[1]

Its central core is considered to be a classic atrium house, with most rooms opening onto a large room with an impluvium catching the water draining through a gap in the roof. It was initially built around the start of the 2nd century BC and had a colonnade on both the east and south sides. At this point it looked out over what was probably still a relatively sparsely populated city.

In the Augustan period the house changed from an outward-looking structure to one that was completely enclosed, the development of the city probably robbing the house of much of its views to the south and east. A garden was added in an attempt to replace these views and the commercial/industrial units at the front were created. This phase introduced the main elements of the house as it stood in 79 AD. Its basic structure then changed little until the earthquake of 62 AD, after which it appears to have declined to such an extent that by the time of the eruption of Vesuvius it resembled a building site in some areas with props supporting the atrium roof and rooms given over to the mixing of plaster, presumably for the renovation of the house.[2]

The house has been modified since its initial excavation in 1771 by the destructive effects of the weather, the conservation efforts of the site staff and the demands involved with being a modern tourist attraction. The erosion of the wall plaster coupled with the theft of certain decorative elements of plaster in 1792 have resulted in a house consisting mainly of bare walls and doorways. The destruction of most of the evidence for the upper floor by the pyroclastic surges of the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius combines with the lack of decoration or furnishing to present the modern visitor with an impression of the house that would have seemed very different to that of the pre-79 AD occupant.


  1. Coarelli, F. 2002 'Urban development', in F. Coarelli (ed), Pompeii, New York: Riverside Book Company. pg 29.
  2. Robinson, D., Anderson, M.A. and Jones, R.F.J. (forthcoming) New light on the House of the Surgeon in Pompeii (VI.i. 10).

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Creative Commons Attribution This article incorporates text from a publication under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence: P.S.Murgatroyd 2008 'Appropriate Levels of Detail in 3-D Visualisation: the House of the Surgeon, Pompeii', Internet Archaeology 23. DOI:10.11141/ia.23.3.