The news of the discovery of the sensational tomb of Marcus Venerius Secundio went around the world, since, for the first time a partially mummified skeleton was discovered in Pompeii in a burial chamber. Something very rare for this ancient Roman city because it was destroyed by the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in the year 79, so the bodies of the adults used to be cremated.
An inscription was also discovered on a marble slab confirming that the theaters of Pompeii would also have been recited in Greek, at least in the last decades before the eruption. But the surprises have not stopped there. The investigations directed by the Valencian archaeologist and anthropologist Llorenç Alapont in the Porta Sano necropolis, Pompeii, has found an urn with more than six liters of a dark reddish liquid that could be the oldest wine known so far, as explained by Alapont himself, in a recent conference organized by the Alavés Institute of Archeology (IAA) and collected by Sergio Carracedo in El Correo.
The container with the reddish liquid was found in another tomb of the family pantheon that housed the ashes of Novia Amabilis, the wife of Marcus Venerius Secundio, along with those of three children aged 6, 8 and 10, probably his children. There, underground and covered by two double-sided tiles, the archaeologists found a metal box and inside, an exceptional glass urn that denotes high luxury.
“What is most interesting” for Alapont, is that the urn “appeared completely filled with more than 6 liters of a dark, reddish pain liquid, which is already being analyzed in the laboratories of the University of Valencia and which we hope will be confirm soon that it is wine”. “If it is found It would be the first time that it is confirmed that wine is preserved in this state and it would be the oldest found in history, a wine over 2,000 years old”assures the specialist.
To date, it is believed that the oldest wine in the world is in the tomb of a Roman nobleman, in a glass bottle dated around 325 AD near the German city of Speyer.
For now, the first laboratory tests carried out in Valenciaunder the direction of Gianni Gallelo, reveal that the liquid found in Pompeii contains tannins, just like wine. The experts are comparing the sample with current wines to see how much it resembles and how much it differs from a current wine. ”Sediments had been found that could be wine, but never the wine itself in a liquid state. We are facing something new that must be 100% confirmed,” said Alapont. “No one will dare to try it”, commented during the talk at the IAA in a relaxed tone, because almost 2,000 years later the liquid “It smells really bad and it doesn’t look good.”
Marcus Venerius Secundio had been a freedman who took the surname of the city of Pompeii, colony Veneria, and guardian of the temple of the goddess Venus, the most important deity of the city. In an inscription these data are recorded, as well as that he enjoyed a certain social and economic status since he was an Augustale, a member of the college of priests dedicated to the imperial cult, and that he “sponsored four days of Greek and Latin shows”.
Much information is known about this character because his name appears on some wax tablets found in the house of the baquero Cecilio Iucundo, one of the richest people in Pompeii. He is recorded as a witness to some transactions with two similar names, which makes experts think that he was a slave with enough reputation to appear as a witness and that he changed his name once freed. As custodian of the temple of Venus, he helped make the offerings and would surely receive large tips that would contribute to his freedom.
Due to another inscription that was found, the researchers contemplate the possibility that perhaps it was Nero himself who granted him his freedom. In it you can read that Nero visited the temple of Venus in Pompeii after the earthquake of the year 62 and donated many gold coins. “Nero had a predilection for Pompeii and probably knew Marco Venerio. We have to consider the hypothesis that Nero was the one who granted him freedom,” Alapont said at the conference.
Perhaps Marcus Venerius sought to imitate Nero by sponsoring the games (a coin from 65 AD celebrating the Neronian games, the Neronia, has been found in the tomb) and even his unusual embalming may have been inspired by the Roman emperor. “Nero decided to bury and embalm the body of his wife Poppea in the manner of the Egyptian Greek kings (…) Marcus Venerius tried to do the same,” said Alapont before clarifying that the practice of burial and embalming was very rare in the Roman Empire. “Few people could afford it and it was a sign of distinction.”
In this way he managed Marco Venerio partially preserve his body, which was found partially mummified, with his head covered with graying hair. It still has an ear, cartilage and part of the intestines that are being analyzed and will provide more information about life in Pompeii.
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