The House of the Priestesses is part of the outer circle of the Hadrianic Garden Houses. It was excavated in the years 1938-1942 and 1969-1970. The building was destroyed in the last quarter of the third century, witness coins from the reigns of Gallienus (253-268) and Aurelianus (270-275). The ceiling of the ground floor and the upper stories had collapsed. Traces of fire are not reported, and the cause of the destruction seems to have been an earthquake. The ruins were not cleared in antiquity. However, windows and doors above the destruction layer of the late third century were blocked, probably in the fourth or fifth century, suggesting habitation. The building is famous for its painted decoration, on walls and ceilings, exceptionally well preserved. The paintings on the ceilings were applied on canes tied together with ropes and attached to a wooden support with iron nails (in Italian: "camera a canna").
The building is a medianum apartment. In the east facade are eight windows and, at the south end, a door leading to a corridor. In the west facade are seven windows, and here too is a door to the corridor. All openings in this facade were later blocked. In the windows were wooden frames for glass window-panes, witness imprints in the plaster. To the west of entrance-corridor 1 are kitchen 2 and internal staircase 3. Most other rooms open off medianum 5. The position of main room 6 - on the long side of the medianum - is atypical, as are the two round, brick columns in the entrance of this room. The room may have been two stories high, but this is not certain.
The paintings, on a red, brown or yellow background, have been dated to the years 130-140 AD. In the medianum are depictions of gorgoneia, dolphins, birds, and flowers. In room 4, a representative room, are paintings of columns, dancing male and female figures, a bird, dolphins and musical instruments. About one-third of the (collapsed) ceiling of room 4 has been preserved. Depicted are horses, priestesses, flowers, and heads (of winds?). These are vaguely dionysiac subjects, as are those in room 6. In a hole a chain was fastened for suspending a lamp. On the floor of this room is a geometric black-and-white mosaic. The ceiling of room 6 had also collapsed, but has been preserved almost entirely. The painting imitates a cross-vault. Depicted are hippocamps, satyrs, maenads, a centaur, flowers, birds, cornucopiae, the skin of a sacrificial animal, muses, priestesses, mythological animals, theatrical masks, vessels with fruit, a poet (?), Dionysos and Ariadne (?), and the young Dionysos (?). On the walls of this room are columns, dancing figures, vessels with flowers, hippocamps, and cornucopiae. On the floor is a simple black-and-white mosaic. Room 7 too had a painted ceiling.
In room 4 (wall A) a graffito from the later second AD with the date July 21 was found. It was probably written with a stilus, on red plaster:
A woman named Lucceia Primitiva promises that she will thank a deity, Fortuna Taurianensis, when she and those who are dear to her will be in good health, after a danger which is mentioned in the first, mutilated line. It is unlikely that this Fortuna is the protective deity of Taurianum, a town in the south of Italy. More likely there is a relation with the cognomen Taurianus, that is documented in the Serapeum (III,XVII,4).
Plan of the house.
2001, fig. 1.