Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii

In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabia and Oplontis. Did you know that August 24th is generally thought to be the date of the eruption, but we don’t know for certain? It could be a little later in September or perhaps even in October—based on different kinds of evidence such as seasonal food recovered from the archaeological sites or calculating the changes in calendars. Despite the uncertainty regarding the date, what I find most remarkable about this catastrophic event (which occurred 1935 years ago) is that we have a written eye witness account of the eruption!

Pliny the Younger describes the eruption in letters to Tacitus, who had written to enquire about the death of young man’s uncle—Pliny the Elder, a famous Roman author and naturalist—on that fateful day. Pliny the Elder was also a navy fleet commander and, after receiving a missive from a friend at Stabia pleading for help, he launched galleys across the bay to rescue survivors. The young Pliny could only repeat what other members of the rescue party had told him about his uncle’s demise, for he was safe at Misenum. (Apparently, the older Pliny had asked his nephew if he wanted to join him on his expedition, but he had declined saying he had homework to do! You should think twice about procrastinating and not doing your homework—it might save your life!) You’ll find translations online.

For archaeologists, these rare catastrophic burials are an incredible time capsule that transport you back to a very precise moment in time. It’s the closest thing there is to time travel…

A photo of Pompei with a view of the Vesuvius in the background. (Taken during my recent trip to Italy.)

A photo of Pompei with a view of the Vesuvius in the background. (Taken during my recent trip to Italy.)

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One thought on “Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii

  1. What a fine picture of the mountain! Thank you for all these fine posts. Hope all is well in your part of the world, Gayle

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