A couple fleeing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The woman had valuable jewelry with her. Her bracelet tells the story of an impossible love.

The dead of Pompeii touch us because they were taken from life so suddenly and they tell their story over the millennia. Like the limping man who was crushed by rubble. The lovers who still embraced in death. Or the baker Terentius Neo and his clever and self-confident wife, reminiscent of a modern, equal couple of today. And a find tells the story of a forbidden love. A man and woman tried to flee a hotel for travelers before the outbreak. They died together in the streets as the couple they couldn’t be in real life. A bag containing the woman’s most valuable possession was found with them. She had gold jewelry with her, including a delicious bracelet in the shape of a snake. The circlet weighs almost a pound and the snake has diamond eyes. Together they had almost a kilogram of gold with them, the woman must have been very rich. But the really special thing is the inscription inside. There it says: “Dominus suae ancillae” – roughly: from a master for his slave girl. A forbidden love.

The province was freer

This was not untypical for Pompeii. The place and the neighboring towns were a summer resort for the Roman upper class. In Rome itself, rigid moral laws were propagated and enforced. Augustus banished his own daughter Julia to a barren island because of her immoral lifestyle. Her lovers were executed. It didn’t even help Julia that her husband Tiberius stood up for her and forgave her. Marriage or even open concubinage with a slave would have been unthinkable in Rome. Even as a freedman, the Lord could not have married her.

What status the woman with the circlet actually had at the moment of death cannot be said. She may have been released and stayed with her master voluntarily. It is also possible that she remained in slave status. Also typical are variants that stipulated in the will to give freedom to particularly deserving slaves. In any case, she was a wealthy woman. The value of the jewelry alone exceeded the possessions of many Romans.

United in death

Another impossible love was discovered in Pompeii. However, this couple died well before the volcanic eruption and were buried in the Porta Nocera necropolis in front of the city. The complex consists of the tomb of the head of the family, the patrician Quintus Verauis. His son Gaius is buried next to it and there is the tomb of VeraniaQI Ciara. She was a slave set free by the son of Gaius. The very closeness of their resting place next to that of their former master suggests an unusually close relationship. But Ciara’s grave is empty. Her ashes were buried with those of Gaius. An unmistakable sign that they were lovers who wanted to be united in death. Behind them was the remains of a teenager. It can be assumed that it is her son.