A horse with military-style tack has been unearthed in stables attached to a villa on the outskirts of the Roman city of Pompeii, buried in AD 79 by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
The villa and its outbuildings were uncovered in the northern area outside the walls of the official archaeological site of Pompeii, which is near present-day Naples in Italy.
The work was undertaken because of concerns over the illicit activity around the archaeological sites outside the walls of the Pompeii Archaeological Park.
The excavations brought to light a series of service areas linked to a large suburban villa which officials described as exceptionally well preserved.
The stable area contained a horse so well preserved that a cast was able to be made.
Work in the stable has identified the remains of three horses in all – one largely intact and the partial remains of two, one of which was wearing military-type harness, including an iron bit. It may well have been fully tacked up, perhaps in the hope of its owner making a rapid departure.
Further elements recovered, included four horns formed by a wooden structure and elaborate bronze plates, appear to have belonged to a Roman saddle. There were other ornamental elements and traces of plant fibers that suggest the presence of a cloth or cape on the horse. There was also evidence the horse was carrying a pack or bag of some description.
Saddles of this type were used in the Roman world from the first century AD and, in particular, in the military.
It is probable that some of the missing tack may have been stolen by grave robbers, according to officials.
One of the horses appeared to have been tied in a stall when it died in the eruption.
The finds lend weight to the assessment that the property was an exceptional estate. The villa’s rooms were richly frescoed and well furnished. There were sumptuous sloping terraces overlooking the Gulf of Naples and Capri.
It is possible the property belonged to a high-ranking Roman military officer.
The area was excavated in the early 1900s but later re-buried. Archaeologists never fulled investigated the villa and its surrounds at the time.
The Pompeii Archaeological Park has allocated funding which will allow its expansion into the area by buying the land, with plans to eventually open the site to the public.
The study of the saddle was undertaken by archaeologist Domenico Camardo, while the field research was undertaken by archaeologist Paola Serenella Scala.