Pompeii: Its Life and Art

By August Mau; Francis W. Kelsey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
BEFORE 79

WHEN Pompeii was founded we do not know. It is more than likely that a site so well adapted for a city was occupied at an early date. The oldest building, the Doric temple in the Forum Triangulare, is of the style of the sixth century B.C.; we are safe in assuming that the city was then already in existence.1 The founders were Oscans. They belonged to a widely scattered branch of the Italic stock, whose language, closely related with the Latin, has been imperfectly recovered from a considerable number of inscriptions, so imperfectly that in each of the longer inscriptions there still remain words the meaning of which is obscure or doubtful. From this language the name of the city came; for pompe in Oscan meant 'five.' The word does not, however, appear in its simple form; we have only the adjective derived from it, pompaiians, 'Pompeian.' If we are right in assuming that the name appeared in Oscan, as it does in Latin, in the plural form, it was probably applied first to a gens, or clan, and thence to the city; the Latin equivalent of Pompeii would be Quintii. Pompeii was thus the city of the clan of the Pompeys, as Tarquinii was the city of the Tarquins, and Veii the city of the Veian clan. The name Pompeius was common in Pompeii down to the destruction of the city, and in other Campanian towns, notably Puteoli, to much later times.

In order to follow the course of events at Pompeii, it will be necessary to pass briefly in review the main points in the history of Campania. The Campanian Oscans, sprung from a

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1
It seems strange that traces of other buildings of the same period have not been discovered; but, on the other hand, it is far from probable that the temple was first erected, and that the city afterward grew up around it, for in that case the temple must have been placed further west, on the highest point of the elevation, overlooking the sea.

-8-

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