Sea God, see God | Visiting the House of Neptune in Herculaneum

Herculaneum TicketsHouse of Neptune

The association between Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius goes way back to 79 AD, where the fateful eruption of the volcano smothered this town under pyroclastic material. 

While this event was tragic, no doubt, it led to the unintended consequence of preserving houses, mosaics and other artifacts remarkably under volcanic debris. Among these ruins was discovered the House of Neptune, a relatively small yet ornately decorated dwelling that’s believed to be owned by a sea merchant. It is best known for the mosaic depicting Neptune, the Roman sea god and his sea-nymph wife, Amphitrite.

Read on to know what makes visiting this house stand out from others in Herculaneum.

House of Neptune: Quick facts

Herculaneum Archaeological Site, ancient Roman town, italy
  • Official name: House of Neptune / Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite
  • Architectural style: Roman (1st century AD)
  • Function: Roman residential villa; now an archaeological site offering insights into ancient Roman life and art.
  • Notable features: Garden paintings, triclinium, mosaic of Neptune and Amphitrite

Features of the House of Neptune

Herculaneum, House of Neptune and Amphitrite, Campania, Italy

Compared to other houses in Herculaneum, the House of Neptune was not very big in size. Besides a shop and a couple of rooms, the most interesting aspect of the house is the open-air courtyard. The dining room adjacent to the courtyard is also small, and has red walls. Frescoes that adorned its insides are now in the Archeological Museum of Naples. The dining room and a few other rooms were connected to a mid-sized atrium.

One noteworthy feature of the atrium is the presence of a shrine in a corner, called a lararium. Some remnants of the lararium are now part of the Naples Archeological Museum. The few rooms in the second floor of the house also contain inscriptions and paintings that reflect the taste and of the owner and the lives of its occupants.

Artistic significance of the House of Neptune

The presence of the mosaic featuring the sea-god Neptune and his wife Amphitrite suggest the owner's inclination and respect for mythological themes and motifs. This is consistent with the general themes found in frescoes and mosaics of the time.

It is also likely that the general blue color scheme followed in the courtyard, along with the use of scalloped designs, seashells, etc. hint at the seafaring background of the house owner; he was probably a merchant who made profits from his maritime business. Hence, the decor of the house may be his way of expressing gratitude to the sea gods for keeping watch over him.

The shop in the House of Neptune

One of the best preserved shops in antiquity, the shop (outside the House of Neptune and facing the street) likely served food and wine. The amphorae, or jars used to store wine, oil, etc. are still remarkably preserved. It also had a niche that is assumed to be a stove that could heat up customers’ food. The shop also had a door that connected it to the main house. It is unclear whether the owner of the house himself ran the shop, or whether it was leased to someone else on their property.

The carbonization of wood led to the preservation of lofts and a sliding lattice door inside the shop. It also preserved food remains of chickpeas and fava beans.

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Frequently asked questions about the House of Neptune in Herculaneum

Can I access the House of Neptune with Herculaneum tickets?

Yes, your Herculaneum tickets grant entry to the House of Neptune. You don’t need to purchase separate tickets to enter the residence.

When was the House of Neptune built and how was it discovered?

The House of Neptune, or Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite as it's known in Italian, was unearthed in the latter half of the 18th century during the Bourbon excavations. Its construction dates back to the 1st century CE.

What parts of the House of Neptune can I see if I visit?

Visitors today can access the shop, the atrium and the courtyard, and view the stunning mosaics inside. 

Is the House of Neptune the biggest house in Herculaneum?

Despite not being as large as residences like the Villa of the Papyri, the Samnite House or the House of the Deer, the House of Neptune remains one of the most visited attractions within Herculaneum. This is largely because of its expertly preserved frescoes and mosaics in the courtyard.

How many rooms and storeys does the House of Neptune have?

The House of Neptune is a two-storeyed, relatively small-sized villa. It had several rooms surrounding the atrium, a tablinum or reception area that overlooked the courtyard, and a couple of rooms on the floor above.

Who was the owner of the House of Neptune?

While the exact identity of the owner is not clear, it is believed that they were a merchant or business person who made their living out of maritime trade. As an alternate source of income, they might have also rented out the space for the shop before the house.

Why has the shop outside the House of Neptune garnered so much attention?

The shop outside the House of Neptune is one of the very few houses in ancient Rome that has well-preserved organic remains including wood and food. Other structures include a wine pots, a stove and food jars.