By JILL LAWLESS
LONDON — The British Museum plans to take visitors into the streets, salons and bedrooms of the ancient Roman world with a major exhibition about the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum announced Thursday.
The two cities beside the Bay of Naples were wiped out by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., but rich archaeological remains were buried beneath the ash.
Italian authorities are loaning some 250 objects for the exhibition, from mosaics and paintings to casts of bodies encased in ash and a child’s wooden crib, carbonized by high-temperature gases from the volcano. There are even the charred remains of figs and bread.
The show, which opens in March, will be the first about Pompeii in London for 40 years. Curator Paul Roberts said previous exhibitions had focused on buildings and public spaces, but this one aims to show how the cities’ residents lived.
“Domestic life is something we all share. We don’t all go to the baths, we don’t all go to the amphitheater — but we all have a home,” he said.
Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748 and today is one of the most-visited ancient sites in the world. Smaller Herculaneum is less well-known, and less fully excavated, because it was buried deeper, beneath as much as 80 feet (24 meters) of ash.
Roberts said the exhibition would show that the cities, frozen in time by the volcano, were in the midst of a “social revolution” in which former slaves could become wealthy and powerful, and women played an important role in society.
British Museum director Neil MacGregor said the exhibition also would showcase differences between bustling industrial Pompeii and its “sleeker, genteeler” neighbor.
McGregor said Pompeii and Herculaneum were important because they were “provincial cities that suddenly become immortalized … two not particularly distinguished or special places” that give an unparalleled glimpse at life in the ancient Roman civilization.
“These are not extraordinary cities,” added Roberts. “They die in an extraordinary way, but they are ordinary cities in Roman terms. That’s why they are so important, because we can look at them and say we have a pretty good idea what was going on in other Roman cities.”
The exhibition will run March 28 to Sept. 29, 2013.