Pompeii Lakshmi

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Pompeii Lakshmi
Statuetta indiana di Lakshmi, avorio, da pompei, 1-50 dc ca., 149425, 02.JPG
An ivory statuette of Lakshmi (1st century CE) found in the ruins of Pompeii (destroyed in an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE)
Material ivory
Height 24.5 cm (9 12 in)
Discovered ca. 1930–1938
Present location Secret Museum, Naples
Identification 149425
The Pompeii Lakshmi, front and back.
Sides of the statuette.

The Pompeii Lakshmi is an Indian ivory statuette dated to 20-50 CE,[1] that was discovered in the ruins of Pompeii (79 CE) in the 1930s. Originally, it was thought that the statuette represented the goddess Lakshmi, a goddess of fertility, beauty and wealth, revered by Hindus and Jains.[2] However, the iconography reveals that the figure is more likely to depict a yakshi, a female tree spirit that represents fertility.

The figure is now in the Secret Museum in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.[3]


The statuette was discovered in a small house on Via dell'Abbondanza in the ruins of Pompeii, the house is now called "House of the Indian statuette".[2][4] The year of the discovery is variously given as between 1930 and 1935,[3] and in 1938.[2]

The statuette is nearly naked apart from her lavish jewels, she has two female attendants, one facing outward on each side, holding cosmetics containers.[2]

The existence of this statuette in Pompeii by 79 CE, when Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the city, testifies to the intensity of Indo-Roman trade relations during the 1st century CE,[2][4] this statuette has been dated by the Naples National Archaeological Museum as having been created in India in the first half of that century.[3]


The statuette before reconstitution.
The Kharosthi letter śi was inscribed on the base of the statuette.[5]

It was initially assumed that the statuette had been produced at Mathura, but it is now thought that its place of production was Bhokardan since two identical figurines were discovered there,[6] the statuette has a round hole in the top of its head. A number of theories have been propounded as to the purpose of the hole: one is that the statuette served as the handle of an object,[3] and another is that it formed one leg of a carved ivory tripod table from the kingdom of the Satavahanas.[7]

The Western Kshatrapas under king Nahapana invaded the Satavahana realm for 50 years between approximately 25 CE and 75 CE.[8] There is therefore a distinct possibility that the Pompeii Lakshmi was looted and sent to the West by the Western Satraps for purpose of trade, the Western Satraps are known from the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea to have had intense commercial contacts with the Roman Empire around that time.[9]

Kharosthi inscription[edit]

However, there is an inscription in Kharosthi on the Pompeii statuette (the letter śi, as the śi in Shiva),[5] which also suggests she might have originated from the northwestern region of India, around the area of Gandhara.[10] Since the Pompeii statuette was necessarily made sometime before 79 CE, if it was indeed manufactured in Gandhara, it would suggest that the Begram ivories are also of this early date, in the 1st century CE.[10]


In a case of cross-cultural pollination, the theme of the goddess attended by two child attendants, which can be seen in the case of the Pompeii Lakshmi, and is a rather rare occurrence in the depictions of Lakshmi or Yashis in Indian art, may itself have been derived from the iconography of Venus attended by cherubs holding cosmetics containers, which are well known in Greco-Roman art.[1] The Pompeii Lakshmi would therefore be a mixture of Indian and Classical art.[1]

An early relief from Sanchi Stupa No.2 with a broadly similar scene of Lakshmi with two child attendants may have served as the initial inspiration for the Pompeii Lakshmi, especially knowing that the Satavahanas were in control of Sanchi from 50 BCE onward.[1] It is thought that these early reliefs at Sanchi Stupa No.2 were made by craftsmen from the northwest, specifically from the Indo-Greek region of Gandhara, as the reliefs bear mason's marks in Kharoshthi, as opposed to the local Brahmi script.[11] The craftsmen were probably responsible for the foreign-looking motifs and figures that can be found on the railings of the stupa.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d An Indian Statuette from Pompeii, Mirella Levi D' Ancona, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 13, No. 3 (1950), pp. 166-180 [1]
  2. ^ a b c d e Beard, Mary (2010). Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town. Profile Books. p. 24. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Lakshmi". Museo Archeologico Napoli. Retrieved 4 February 2017. 
  4. ^ a b De Albentiis, Emidio; Foglia, Alfredo (2009). Secrets of Pompeii: Everyday Life in Ancient Rome. Getty Publications. p. 43. 
  5. ^ a b Statuetta eburnea di arte indiana a Pompei, Maiuri p.112
  6. ^ Dhavalikar, M. K. (1999). "Chapter 4: Maharashatra: Environmental and Historical Process". In Kulkarni, A. R.; Wagle, N. K. Region, Nationality and Religion. Popular Prakashan. p. 46. 
  7. ^ Butterworth, Alex; Laurence, Ray (2011). Pompeii. Hachette UK. p. 36. 
  8. ^ Higham, Charles (2014). Encyclopedia of Ancient Asian Civilizations. Infobase Publishing. p. 299. 
  9. ^ The Voyage around the Erythraean Sea, translation with commentary, Chap 41, 48 and 49
  10. ^ a b Afghanistan: Forging Civilizations Along the Silk Road, Joan Aruz, Elisabetta Valtz Fino, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012 p.75
  11. ^ a b An Encyclopaedia of Indian Archaeology, by Amalananda Ghosh, BRILL p.295