The House of Julia Felix

In this essay I will be discussing the life and legacy of Julia Felix. This includes her origins, her property, her many businesses, the landscape and amenities of her grounds, and her reputation during her lifetime.

Julia Felix was a prominent businesswoman in Pompeii. She owned the House of Julia Felix, a collection of housing, gardens, baths, and shops, from 62-79CE. Her prestigious property offered some of the finest amenities in her neighborhood of Pompeii. Her luxurious gardens and large baths are comparable to the villas belonging Roman elite during her time. Her property’s prime location near the amphitheater made it a prominent streetfront business within Pompeii. The wide variety of services provided on her property tell us that she was a savvy businesswoman who was able to corner markets and appeal to people of multiple classes. She was likely well respected by the business community of Pompeii and was able to hold her own over competitors engaging in the same business. Her life is very impressive for a woman who was likely born lower class and out of wedlock, however very little is known of her life. In fact, if it weren’t for a handful of inscriptions preserved on the walls of her property, we wouldn’t have known she existed at all! This begs the question, could a low class woman be respected as a business owner, and how?


Unlike the other prominent property-owning women in Pompeii, Julia Felix was not born into wealth. While there are competing theories of her early life, all scholars agree that she was born into a lower class. One inscription states that she was a “daughter of Spurius” meaning she was born out of wedlock. Christopher Parslow’s theory is that Julia Felix was originally from Rome and moved to Pompeii after the earthquake of 62CE. He points out that the architecture of her house can be dated back to the period after the earthquake (Parslow 37). Liisa Savunen connects the name “Julia” and says “most of the Julii in Pompeii were imperial freedmen and their descendants” (Savunen 57). Imperial freedmen were the emperor’s ex-slaves. Although academic reports differ on her position in life at birth, there is broad consensus that Julia Felix was born very low class, either poor or slave, which makes her rise to become a highly respected businesswoman all the more impressive and unique.


Often noted in the scholarly sources is just how luxurious and varied the amenities offered by Julia Felix were. These include a unique complex of shops, dining rooms, housing, baths, and gardens. All of this was located very close to the amphitheater, which would have drawn large crowds.

Of note in these amenities are the baths, which were the largest in this neighborhood of Pompeii, and included all the features of the largest Roman baths (Dobbins 218). One amenity was a laconium, which is a dry sweating room filled with hot air. This was alongside a frigidarium, a bath of unheated water, a tepidarium, which was pleasantly warmed, and a caldarium, which contained hot water. Another was the open-air natatio, a large swimming pool. The house of Julia Felix had the largest baths in this neighborhood of Pompeii, which likely means the wealthiest and most influential men in Pompeii would visit. A rental notice refers to it as “the Venus Bath fitted for the well-to-do” (Dillon 407), which implies their quality and the high status of its users.




Another fascinating part of the complex are the food and wine bars. There was a popina, an eating house that would serve simple foods as well as wine to lower class customers. Adjacent to that was a sprawling caupona, which is a tavern/ inn that provided a much wider variety of food and drink as well as lodging. This amenity was likely exclusive to higher class customers who could afford it. The dining rooms of the caupona recreated exotic and luxurious environments, including walls painted blue with scenes of the Nile delta and a ceiling designed with stone chips to simulate a rocky cavern (Dillon 406). The Nile delta fresco also included imagery of plants and animals from Egypt (Dobbins 220). As mentioned in lecture, Cleopatra ushered in an era of Roman interest in Egypt and Egyptian symbolism. The fresco of the Nile delta is likely part of this trend and would appeal to the Roman upper class patrons. These dining rooms also have well preserved masonry couches, which allowed diners to recline and appreciate the wonderful view: the garden.

Nile Fresco

Garden + Canal

The garden featured a canal with a marble border and a series of niches along its length. Crossing this canal centerpiece are several small bridges. Visitors could also enjoy the garden from a shaded pergola on either side. Water was a central theme of the garden because, in addition to the canal and the Nile fresco, the garden featured an artificial waterfall in the form of a water-stair fountain.

Dining Room + Waterfall

Dining Room

The appeal of a dining room that overlooked a garden was not unique to Pompeii, it was common of wealthy Roman villas with elaborately landscaped grounds (Dillon 407). Julia Felix’s creative design fit the luxury of a sprawling Roman villa into a city lot, and further emphasizes the fact that wealthy people would have visited her complex. “The sumptuousness of the architecture and the quality of the decoration indicate that the Praedia were intended to cater to a clientele limited to the upper echelons of Pompeian society. As in the grand thermae in Rome, patrons could linger here for hours, enjoying a bath or a meal, relaxing in the shade of a vine arbor, and perhaps even hearing a poetry recital, before heading off to their beloved games” (Dobbins 220).


Julia Felix was not the only female property owner in Pompeii. Others include Eumachia, who built a large building on prime real estate near the Forum and on the via dell’Abbondanza, and Mamia. Eumachia, unlike Julia Felix, was born into wealth. Her family was active in both the wool and wine trades, and her prominent building at the Forum is speculated to have been used for business meetings (Dillon 403). Additionally, the building has a water spigot on the southeast entrance along the via dell’Abbondanza, likely accessible to the public. Above the spigot is a depiction of Concord with a simple hairstyle and is depicted as “the imperial woman in the guise of the premier domestic virtue promoted by her husband” (Dillon 403). This is an interesting case where a woman is depicted as powerful and benevolent, providing water to the parched city of Pompeii. Perhaps Eumachia leveraged her position as a property owner and patron of buildings to promote this positive and powerful image of a woman.

All these women share a common fate, their lives are not recorded in the written record very well. And they are not alone, “Many more women made or sold goods on the streets or in markets, but their activities, carried out mostly on a subsistence level, were not considered worth mentioning in the written sources” (Dillon 412). These women owned property and engaged in business transactions, which is exactly the same as what many men did for a living. The reason is that the ancient written sources did not see these activities as beneficial to civic life.


Due to the circumstances of her birth, Julia Felix could not have attained the position of priestess or engaged in political life. Women in ancient Rome did have the ability to own property, but a unique set of circumstances was required for this to work. According to Dillon, “Roman women owned land and other kinds of property in their own names if they were independent of their fathers and husbands.” There were various other laws at play, including requiring women to have a legal guardian approve the transfer of property, but this law didn’t apply if the mother had three children. Due to the extremely limited primary written sources about Julia Felix, it is unknown if she had a husband. However, it is clear that if she did have a husband that he was not involved in her business and it was understood that she was the property owner. To be born out of wedlock, possibly to a former slave, and rise to become a prominent property-owning businesswoman in Ancient Rome is very impressive and her life should not be overlooked. Julia Felix was able to become respected by other business owners by being a competent businesswoman and being successful in her market.

A walkthrough tour of the House of Julia Felix


Women in the Bay of Naples: A companion to women in the ancient world by Sheila Dillon has a small chapter on Julia Felix and her property. This book also compares and contrasts Julia Felix with her female contemporaries. The Sacrarium of Isis in the Praedia of Julia Felix in Pompeii in Its Archaeological and Historical Contexts is a scholarly article by Christopher Parslow which contains theories on the origins and background of Julia Felix. Women in the Urban Texture of Pompeii by Liisa Savunan is a book which contains a competing theory of Julia Felix’s background.The World of Pompeii by John J. Dobbins goes into depth about the baths and frescoes of the House of Julia Felix.House of Julia Felix – AD79eruption is a website with many primary source photos of The House of Julia Felix.


Dobbins, John Joseph, and Pedar William. Foss. The World of Pompeii. Routledge, 2008.

“House of Julia Felix – AD79eruption.” Google Sites,

James, Sharon L., and Sheila Dillon. A Companion to Women in the Ancient World. Wiley Blackwell, 2015.

PARSLOW, CHRISTOPHER. “The Sacrarium of Isis in the Praedia of Julia Felix in Pompeii in Its Archaeological and Historical Contexts.” Studies in the History of Art, vol. 79, 2013, pp. 47–72., Accessed 28 Sept. 2020.

Savunen, Liisa. Women in the Urban Texture of Pompeii. University of Helsinki, 1997.

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