Villa of the Papyri

Villa of the Papyri
Restored Villa of the Papyri.
Plan of Herculaneum and the location of the Villa

The Villa of the Papyri (Italian: Villa dei Papiri, also known as Villa dei Pisoni) is named after its unique library of papyri (or scrolls), but is also one of the most luxurious houses in all of Herculaneum and in the Roman world.[1] Its luxury is shown by its exquisite architecture and by the very large number of outstanding works of art discovered, including frescoes, bronzes and marble sculpture[2] which constitute the largest collection of Greek and Roman sculptures ever discovered in a single context.[3]

It is located in the current comune of Ercolano, southern Italy. It was situated on the ancient coastline below the volcano Vesuvius with nothing to obstruct the view of the sea. It was perhaps owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus.[4][5] Barker 1908 suggested Philodemus was owner of the Villa of the Papyri Library.[6]

In AD 79, the eruption of Vesuvius covered all of Herculaneum with some 30 m of volcanic ash. Herculaneum was first excavated in the years between 1750 and 1765 by Karl Weber by means of underground tunnels. The villa's name derives from the discovery of its library, the only surviving library from the Graeco-Roman world that exists in its entirety.[7] It contained over 1,800 papyrus scrolls, now carbonised by the heat of the eruption, the "Herculaneum papyri".

Most of the villa is still underground, but parts have been cleared of volcanic deposits. Many of the finds are displayed in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. The Getty Villa is a reproduction of the Villa of the Papyri.


Ground plan showing location of tunnels (in brown)
Statue of a drunken satyr from the Villa.
Statue of Aeschines from the Villa. Displayed at the National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

The villa is located a few hundred metres from the nearest house in Herculaneum. Although it now lies inland, before the October of A.D. 79, the structure occupied more than 250 metres (820 ft) of coastline along the Gulf of Naples. On the other sides it was surrounded by a closed garden, vineyards and woods. The villa had four levels beneath the main floor, arranged in terraces overlooking the sea.[8]It has recently been ascertained that the main floor was 16 m (52 ft) above sea level in antiquity.

The villa's layout is an expanded version of the traditional Campanian villa suburbana. One entered through the fauces and proceeded to the atrium, which functioned as an entrance hall and a means of communication with the various parts of the house. The entrance opened with a columned portico on the sea side.

After passing through the tablinum, one arrived at the first peristyle, made up of 10 columns on each side, with a swimming pool in the centre. In this area were found the bronze herm adapted from the Doryphorus of Polykleitosand the herm of an Amazon made by Apollonios son of Archias of Athens.[9] The large second peristyle could be reached by passing through a large tablinum in which, under a propylaeum, was the archaic statue of Athena Promachos. A collection of bronze busts were in the interior of the tablinum. These included the head of Scipio Africanus.[1]

Statue of dancers from the peristyle.

The living and reception quarters were grouped around the porticoes and terraces, giving occupants ample sunlight and a view of the countryside and sea. In the living quarters, bath installations were brought to light, and the library of rolled and carbonised papyri placed inside wooden capsae, some of them on ordinary wooden shelves and around the walls and some on the two sides of a set of shelves in the middle of the room.[1]

The grounds included a large area of covered and uncovered gardens for walks in the shade or in the warmth of the sun. The gardens included a gallery of busts, hermae and small marble and bronze statues. These were laid out between columns amid the open part of the garden and on the edges of the large swimming bath.[1]

Barker identified this sculpture as Mercury. However, it has also been identified as Seated Hermes.[10]
Bust of Ptolemy Apion.
Fresco from the Villa
Other Languages
беларуская: Віла Папірусаў
Bahasa Indonesia: Vila Papirus
português: Vila dos Papiros
slovenščina: Vila papirusov
српски / srpski: Вила папируса
українська: Вілла Папірусів