Students will calculate the cost of pigments and paint found in the houses in Pompeii, Italy. After studying the frescoes, students will convert the cost from ancient Roman prices to contemporary
National Core Art Standards
National Core Math Standards
6-8, Math or Latin
One class period
Examine the murals found at the Villa of the Mysteries. Provide students with as much background as necessary, from the listed website or from the following:
The elaborate wall paintings found inside houses in Pompeii had to suit a variety of budgets. For instance, the cost of the pigments used for Pompeian wall painting varied greatly. White and most reds were among the least expensive colors available. In extraordinary cases, like the great frieze at the Villa of the Mysteries, the common, inexpensive red was replaced by one of the most expensive and light-sensitive pigments available: cinnabar. The price of cinnabar was limited by law to 70 denarii. This pigment had to be protected from sunlight with special application of heated wax and oil.
Using the information provided below, complete the calculations.
There were 4 asses to 1 sestertius and 4 sestertii to 1 denarius.
The price of paint per sextarius
Paraetonium white cost 8 1/3 denarii.
Red ocher cost from 8 asses to 2 denarii.
Cinnabar (red) was limited by law to 70 denarii.
Yellow ocher cost from 6 asses to 2 denarii.
Vestoria blue cost 11 denarii
Egyptian blue was 8 denarii.
Linear Measure (very approximately rounded off)
digitus = .7 in
uncia = 1 in
palmus = 3 in
pes = 12 in
palmipes = 14.5 in
cubitus = 17.5 in
1 uncia = 1 1/2 digitus
1 palmus = 3 uncia
1 pes = 4 palmus
1 palmipes = 1 1/4 pes
1 cubitus = 1 1/5 palmipes
Volumetric Measure(very approximately rounded off)
sextarius = 0.6 liter
congius = 3.3 liter
modius = 8.8 liter
amphora = 26.3 liter
1 congius = 6 sextarii
1 modius = 3 congius
1 amphora = 3 modii
*Note on units of measurement: Pliny talks about the price of pigments by pound (or at least a funny symbol which is taken to be a pound). One pound is approximately .45 liters (or .12 gallons). If we round up generously, we can call this a sextarius (a sextarius being about .6 liters). If one gallon covers approximately 400 square feet, .12 gallons, or our rounded off sextarius, would cover approximately 50 sq ft, or 50 square pes.