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Regio IV - Insula VII - Caupona di Alexander e Helix (IV,VII,4)

In the first century AD the Porta Marina was razed to the ground. To the east a shop with a backroom was built in the Antonine period (opus latericium). Here a bar was installed in the late-Severan period (210-235 AD), called Bar of Alexander and Helix after the names of figures on the floor mosaic.

The main entrance was from the Decumanus, from the north-west. This entrance can today not be used, because the street has been reconstructed at an older, lower level. There are secondary entrances in the north-east and south-west wall. The latter one led to a tower of the former city gate. In the centre of the room is a basin with a shelf at one end, suggesting that it was a fountain. In the north corner is the bar counter with a double basin. The top of the counter has disappeared. Behind the counter are a focus (hearth) and three stepped shelves. In the west corner is an unidentified structure, perhaps a small shrine. These structures have a marble revetment.

Plan of the bar. Hermansen 1982, fig. 109.

On the floor is a black-and-white mosaic, made when the bar was installed. It was placed on top of a black-and-white geometric mosaic. To the south-east of the bar counter are two grotesque, dancing figures. One has a large phallus. In their hands are sticks. The scene is based on Egyptian examples. In front of the door to the backroom is Venus holding a mirror, accompanied by a winged amorino who is holding her girdle. The theme and location suggest that the backroom of the bar was used for prostitution. To the south-west of the central basin are two pancratiasts (boxers-wrestlers). Between them is a palm branch, the symbol of victory. To their right is a chalice. Their names are above their heads:


C.P. Jones has suggested an identification of the athletes. Aurelius Helix fought during the reign of Heliogabalus (218-222 AD) and was the greatest pancratiast of his day. Alexander may well be Gaius Perelius Aurelius Alexander, documented in an inscription from the same period. He became head of the association of athletes in Rome.


The bar seen from the south-west. The bar counter is at the far left.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The bar seen from the north-east. The doorway led to a tower of the former city gate.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Alexander and Helix. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The chalice next to Alexander and Helix. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Grotesque dancing figures. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Venus and amorino. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

[jthb - 19-Mar-2006]