The Ancient City of Pompeii: History & Major Facts

The Ancient City of Pompeii

How the city of Pompeii may have looked like before it was fatally destroyed.

From the shade the mountain provided, to the lives that blossomed from being a center of trade, to the huge building structures, Pompeii was a site to see. This article looks at the history and facts surrounding the rise and fall of the great and ancient city of Pompeii.

Pompeii History – Settlement in Campania

The region that became Pompeii was initially occupied by individuals on a scarp on the delta of River Sarno during the Bronze Age. This region and its neighboring areas had both fertile volcanic soil and good weather conditions that were very promising for farming. Olives and grapes were some of the plants the land favored.

The initial colonists were ignorant of the fact that the scarp they had discovered and were building on was molded from an old volcanic eruption. According to Servius, the name Pompeii stems from “pumpe”.  ‘Pumpe’, in turn, means a remembrance of Hercules’ triumph over the giants. The town Herculaneum, which was close to Pompeii, was also named after the myth of Hercules’ battle with the giants.

Read more about the Greek demigod Heracles (also known as Hercules) and his 12 famous labors.

Samnite Period and Roman Rule

By the 8th century BCE, the Greeks had settled in Campania. Etruscans also lived there till they lost to the Greeks and Syracusan in a clash that happened at Cumae in 474 BCE. After that, the individuals of Samnite, locals from the mountain, penetrated and took hold of power in that area. The Samnite fought among themselves in the 4th Century BCE which then led to wars. The wars were fought from 343 BCE to 290 BCE, thus commenced the influence of the Romans in the area. Rome had an eye for Pompeii and the town prospered.

By the second century BCE, they had begun the construction of huge buildings in the area. Pompeii had a detached mindset of their own when it came to the rule of the Romans due to its Samnite roots. After a Samnite insurrection in Pompeii, a Roman general, Sulla, managed to overcome it by beleaguering the city. In 80 BCE, Sulia established the colony of Venus there, migrating 4,000 to 5,000 soldiers to the town. With the town flourishing again, they initiated a local senate. Several infrastructural projects sprung up. For example, they built a new amphitheater (which could hold 5,000 spectators) and an odeon (ancient Greek and Roman buildings meant for singing and other performance arts), which could hold about 1,500 people.

A Flourishing Trade Center

Pompeii had become a crucial port on the Bay of Naples. Aceria, Nucerai, and Nola, which were colonies surrounding Pompeii, passed their produce through the town to be distributed all over the empire. Some of the imports were onions, fish sauce, walnuts, almonds, apricots, cabbages, and wool. The exports included silk, spices, foreign fruits, savage arena beasts, and sandalwood. Slaves were also traded for labor on farms and farm-related activities. The meals of citizens of Pompeii also included foods such as snails, beef, lemon, pork, beans, and oysters.

In terms of architecture, there was a wall surrounding Pompeii that had numerous gates. There were about three passageways that divided the traffic of vehicles and footers.


Mount Vesuvius Awakens

On February 5th, 62 CE, a monolithic seism occurred around the region of Mount Vesuvius. These were the first signs of the mountain awakening once again. The seism, which many historians today peg at 7.5 using the Richter scale, laid waste to the neighboring towns. Portions of Naples, which were 20 miles away were destroyed. Just a small number of structures avoided destruction at Pompeii. The walls of the city along with housings and temples broke down. Fires destroyed parts of the town and toxic gases released killed sheep in the neighboring rural areas.

It is believed that the number of deaths was in the thousands. The town’s water system was badly affected and the pipes below ground and water conduits were also damaged. A substantial number of inhabitants left the town. After all that, repairs were made in the town and life gradually set out towards the normal.

Prelude to the Devastating Eruption of 79 CE

The inhabitants seemed not to be alarmed, though seismal activities were ongoing for the next decade or so. Life and rebuilding from the cataclysm of 62 CE went on till 79 CE when unusual occurrences started happening in the high summer.

Dead fish drifted on the surface of water bodies. Wells along with springs unexplainably dried up and the slopes’ vines which were on Mount Vesuvius enigmatically drooped and died. The frequency of seismal activities skyrocketed even though it was not that powerful. Although some of the inhabitants had moved from the town, a large number of them seemed not to be concerned about the events that were developing. Unknowing to them, they were about to experience a cataclysmic event.

Volcanic Eruption – 79 CE

An enormous bang strongly indicated that magma built up over a millennium had, at last, surged through Vesuvius’ crater. According to the traditional date, it happened in the morning of August 24th 79 CE. However, there was an incomplete inscription which was found at the land site in 2018 CE that hinted it was mid-October the eruption occurred.

From the volcano, bawled fire along with smoke. At the time, it appeared as if the Mountain was just showing off innocent fireworks but by noon the eruption of Mount Vesuvius had began. A full cone of the mountain flew off due to the immense built-up pressure and explosion, and a mushroom-shaped cloud containing particles of pumice stones climbed to a level of 27 miles towards the sky. The explosion’s power is estimated to be a hundred thousand times more powerful than the atomic bombs that caused desolation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 CE.

Ash from the explosion begun pouring down on Pompeii. It was not heavy in weight but its density gave it such a nature that the place was overlaid in centimeters depth of ash within minutes. People attempted leaving the town and some also searched for refuge where it was available. Those who could not find any refuge urgently tried to stay above the continuously changing strata of volcanic substance.

Another enormous explosion sounded loudly in the atmosphere later that afternoon. It spread a pillar of ash that was 6 miles taller in height than the former cloud. The ash that rained contained stones which were heavier than that of the initial eruption. The volcanic substance that had completely enveloped the town was meters in depth at this point. Structures broke down due to the collected weight. People took refuge close to walls and beneath stairs for safety, some clinging to their beloved ones, whiles others had their most valued possessions in their grasp. The gigantic cloud that hovered above descended due to its weight at 11 pm. It knocked through the town in six desolating waves of hyper-heated ash with air that smothered and scorched all the inhabitants present. As ash continuously poured down, the city which was once vivacious was deeply immersed and eradicated from the planet.

Rediscovery and Archaeology

In 1755 CE, Pompeii was re-ascertained when the building of the Sarno Canal started. Local accounts of “the city” were established to have been true when a whole town beneath a couple meters of volcanic detritus was found. Pompeii then became a vital tourist site on the stylish Grand Tour for famed visitants such as Stendhal, Goethe, and Mozart.

Stendhal did well in capturing the unusual and strong impression to aid new visitants on having mental pictures of the past when he penned “…here you feel as if, just by being there, you know more about the place than any other scholar”.

Apart from architectural remnants, bookmen of Pompeii have had the opportunity to excavate some rare historical artifacts, an actual gem of data that gives them an unequaled perspective of the past. For instance, the number of bronze statues has hinted bookmen to discern that the material was usually employed in the art of the Romans than antecedently believed.

Data stemming from a rich source using skeletal remnants and plaster bandages of the deceased in the volcanic substance provide proof the citizens had bad teeth as an occurring issue. Tooth caries and abscesses caused by meals that were too sweetened were occurring issues along with tuberculosis. Malaria and brucellosis were also dominant. Some of the skeletal remnants of slaves, which were found still in chains in spite of the disaster, told a pitiful story of lingering inflammation of joints, undernourishment, and malformation triggered by overworking.

Reconstruction of the everyday life of the town people has been made possible through the rich accounts that are well kept at the place. These being 1,000s of election notifications and 100s of wax tablets, mostly related to monetary dealings. Amphorae labels, graffiti and tomb engravings were additional priceless sources. These sources are usually attainable to historians likewise their diversity. This gives an understanding into sectors of culture (bondsmen, the low class, females, and gladiators) frequently overlooked or inadequately tackled in customarily surviving writings like academic books and lawful documentations.

The distinctive archaeological proof obtained from Pompeii gives us the scarcest of chance; the opportunity to recreate the real views, expectations, misery, wittiness and even a similar normality of the inhabitants who existed in Pompeii back in the past.

Key Facts about Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius Eruption

  • The name, Pompeii, stems from “pumpe”, a form of memorial to honor Hercules’ triumph when he faced the giants.
  • Resulting from seismal activity and seaside vicissitudes, Pompeii currently stands 2 km inland, but would have been nearer the sea and Sarno’s mouth in the Roman era.
  • The number of inhabitants living in the town was projected to be between 10,000 and 12,000 with a third of the population being slaves.
  • The rich inhabitants were known to have had access to refined treats, like grey mullet livers and honey-roasted mice.
  • The explosion’s power is estimated to be a hundred thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb that caused razed Japanese cities – Hiroshima and Nagasaki- during the latter stages of World War II.
  • In 1755 CE, Pompeii was re-ascertained when the building of the Sarno Canal started. Pompeii then became a vital tourist site on the stylish Grand tour for famed visitants such as Stendhal, Goethe, and Mozart.
  • Data stemming from skeletal remnants and plaster bandages of the deceased in the volcanic substance revealed that the citizens had bad teeth as an occurring issue. Tooth caries and abscesses caused by meals that were too sweetened were occurring issues. Tuberculosis, malaria, and brucellosis were also dominant.
  • Prior to AD 79 eruption, Mount Vesuvius had three relatively larger eruptions. The biggest prehistorical one is generally considered as the Avellino eruption, which occurred around 1800 BCE.
  • Following the eruption in 79 CE, the Vesuvius has seen around about 50 eruptions. For example in the 1700s, historians believe that the mountain erupted a whopping six times. The 1800s saw it clock 8 eruptions.
  • In an eruption that most likely occurred in 1631, ash from Vesuvius moved all the way to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). That is a staggering 1,200 kilometers (750 mi).
  • Mount Vesuvius has been recognized by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) as one of the 16 Decade Volcanoes. The other 15 volcanoes are: Mauna Loa (Island of Hawaii), Rainier (U.S. State of Washington), Colima (Mexico), Santa María (Guatemala), Galeras (Columbia), Teide (the Canary Island, Spain), Nyiragongo (Democratic Republic of Congo), Etna (Sicily, Italy), Santorini (Greece), Sakurajima (Kyushu, Japan), Taal (The Philippines), Merapi (Indonesia), Ulawun (Papua New Guinea), Unzen (Japan), Avachinsky (Russia), and Koryaksky (Russia).

FAQs about the ancient City of Pompeii

We summarize the history behind this great ancient city in the following questions and answers:

What happened in AD 79?

On August 24, AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted, sending a massive cloud of volcanic gas, ash, and pumice into the atmosphere. This covered the city of Pompeii and its surrounding areas, killing its inhabitants and burying everything under several meters of ash and pumice.

Why is Pompeii so well-preserved?

The volcanic ash and pumice that covered Pompeii acted as a sealant, preserving buildings, artifacts, and even the bodies of those who died in the eruption. Over time, the organic materials decayed, leaving voids which, when filled with plaster, revealed the forms of the deceased, capturing their final moments.

Can I visit Pompeii today?

Yes, Pompeii is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations. Visitors can walk the ancient streets, visit homes, temples, theaters, and see the plaster casts of the victims.

What can be seen at the Pompeii archaeological site?

Visitors can see well-preserved Roman buildings, frescoes, mosaics, artifacts, and the famous plaster casts of the victims. The Forum, Temple of Apollo, and the Lupanar (brothel) are among the many notable structures.

How big was this ancient Roman City?

City of Pompeii

Pompeii covered about 66 hectares (163 acres) and had a population estimated at 11,000 to 12,000 people.

Were there any survivors of the eruption?

While the exact number is unknown, some people did manage to escape the initial phases of the eruption. However, many of those who stayed behind, hoping the danger would pass, perished.

How was Pompeii rediscovered?

Pompeii was gradually forgotten after the eruption. It wasn’t until 1748 that exploratory excavations began under the Spanish military engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. The site gained significant attention in the 19th and 20th centuries, leading to extensive archaeological work.

Is Mount Vesuvius still active?

Yes, Mount Vesuvius is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to its potential for explosive eruptions and its proximity to populated areas. It has erupted many times since AD 79 but has been relatively quiet since its last eruption in 1944.

What lessons have been learned from Pompeii’s preservation?

This ancient city offers invaluable insights into daily life, architecture, and art of ancient Rome. Additionally, its preservation highlights the powerful and unpredictable nature of volcanoes, underscoring the importance of monitoring and preparedness in volcanic regions.

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