Tag Archives: Pompeii

Pliny the Younger Describes the Eruption of Vesuvius – Letter #2

Pliny the Younger (a lawyer, writer, and civil administrator) wrote two letters to historian Cornelius Tacitus about the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The letters were written about twenty-five years after the actual eruption.  The letter is excerpted from Letters 6.20 by Pliny the Younger.

So the letter which you asked me to write on my uncle’s death has made you eager to hear about the terrors and hazards I had to face when left at Misenum, for I broke off at the beginning of this part of my story.  “Though my mind shrinks from remembering…I will begin.”

After my uncle’s departure I spent the rest of the day with my books, as this was my reason for staying behind.  Then I took a bath, dined, and then dozed fitfully for a while.  For several days past there had been earth tremors which were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania: but that night the shocks were so violent that everything felt as if it were not only shaken but overturned.  My mother hurried into my room and found me already getting up to wake her if she were still asleep.  We sat down in the forecourt of the house, between the buildings and the sea close by.  I don’t know whether I should call this courage or folly on my part (I was only seventeen at the time) but I called for a volume of Livy and went on reading as if I had nothing else to do.  I even went on with the extracts I had been making.  Up came a friend of my uncle’s who had just come from Spain to join him. When he saw us sitting there and me actually reading, he scolded us both—me for my foolhardiness and my mother for allowing it.  Nevertheless, I remained absorbed in my book.

By now it was dawn, but the light was still dim and faint.  The buildings round us were already tottering, and the open space we were in was too small for us not to be in real and imminent danger if the house collapsed.  This finally decided us to leave the town.  We were followed by a panic-stricken mob of people wanting to act on someone else’s decision in preference to their own (a point in which fear looks like prudence), who hurried us on our way by pressing hard behind in a dense crowd.  Once beyond the buildings we stopped, and there we had some extraordinary experiences which thoroughly alarmed us.  The carriages we had ordered to be brought out began to run in different directions though the ground was quite level, and would not remain stationary even when wedged with stones.  We also saw the sea sucked away and apparently forced back by the earthquake: at any rate it receded from the shore so that quantities of sea creatures were left stranded on dry sand.  On the landward side a fearful black cloud was rent by forked and quivering bursts of flame, and parted to reveal great tongues of fire, like flashes of lightning magnified in size.

At this point my uncle’s friend from Spain spoke up still more urgently: “If your brother, if your uncle is still alive, he will want you both to be saved; if he is dead, he would want you to survive him—why put off your escape?”  We replied that we would not think of considering our own safety as long as we were uncertain of his.  Without waiting any longer, our friend rushed off and hurried out of danger as fast as he could.

Soon afterwards the cloud sank down to earth and covered the sea; it had already blotted out Capri and hidden the promontory of Misenum from sight.  Then my mother implored, entreated and commanded me to escape the best I could—a young man might escape, whereas she was old and slow and could die in peace as long as she had not been the cause of my death too.  I refused to save myself without her, and grasping her hand forced her to quicken her pace.  She gave in reluctantly, blaming herself for delaying me.  Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly.  I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood.  “Let us leave the road while we can still see,” I said, “or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind.”  We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.  You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices.  People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying.  Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.  There were people, too, who added to the real perils by inventing fictitious dangers: some reported that part of Misenum had collapsed or another part was on fire, and though their tales were false they found others to believe them.  A gleam of light returned, but we took this to be a warning of the approaching flames rather than daylight.  However, the flames remained some distance off; then darkness came on once more and ashes began to fall again, this time in heavy showers.  We rose from time to time and shook them off, otherwise we should have been buried and crushed beneath their weight.  I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, had I not derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it.

At last the darkness thinned and dispersed into smoke or cloud; then there was genuine daylight, and the sun actually shone out, but yellowish as it is during an eclipse.  We were terrified to see everything changed, buried deep in ashes like snowdrifts.  We returned to Misenum where we attended to our physical needs as best we could, and then spent an anxious night alternating between hope and fear.  Fear predominated, for the earthquakes went on, and several hysterical individuals made their own and other people’s calamities seem ludicrous in comparison with their frightful predictions.  But even then, in spite of the dangers we had been through, and were still expecting, my mother and I had still no intention of leaving until we had news of my uncle.

Of course these details are not important enough for history, and you will read them without any idea of recording them; if they seem scarcely worth putting in a letter, you have only yourself to blame for asking them.

Tomorrow, Author Liz Fountain on Thursday Redux

Rita Bay – WEBPAGE & BLOG / FACEBOOK / PINTEREST / AMAZON

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The Eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD

Pompeii CityMount Vesuvius is one of a line of volcanos where two tectonic plates (African and Eurasian) collide. The others volcanos along the plate are either extinct or haven’t erupted variously in tens of thousands or hundreds of years. Vesuvius in the only volcano to have erupted on mainland Europe for several centuries.

Mount Vesuvius has erupted often. Though there have been several large eruptions, the famous eruption of 79 AD was the most destructive. Vesuvius has erupted every century or so and more but has not erupted since 1944. Some eruptions have been so large that they blanketed all of southern Europe.

The 79 AD eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum was described by Pliny (a Roman lawyer, author, and civil magistrate) in two letters to the historian Tacitus which have survived for almost two thousand years. Because of his thorough descriptions, the explosive eruption at Vesuvius is termed a “Plinian eruption.” According to Pliny, Vesuvius ejected a cloud of stones, ash and fumes about twenty miles high. The molten rock and pumice released was a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.

An estimated 16,000 people died due to pyroclastic flows which are fast-moving currents of hot gas and rock (1800+° F) which can flow downhill at speed up to 450 mph. Today, Because of its location and  explosive eruptions, Vesuvius is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. The area is the most densely populated volcanic region in the world with 3,000,000 people living in nearby Naples and the surrounding areas.

Tomorrow, One of Pliny’s Letters on the eruption of Vesuvius.

Rita Bay – WEBPAGE & BLOG / FACEBOOK / PINTEREST / AMAZON

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Friday Miscellany: Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD,  is located close to Naples, Italy. It has a large cone created by the eruption in 79 AD that is surrounded by a steep caldera which is a cauldron-like cavity created by the collapse of an earlier, higher structure – Monte Somma about 18,000 years ago.

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Vesuvius was formed as a result of the collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates. A chain a volcanos, most of which are underwater and extinct was formed when the African slid underneath the Eurasian plate. The mountain is composed of lava, volcanic ash, and pumice. Prior to 79 AD Vesuvius was a pastoral haven that was planted with vineyards that produced a popular wine shipped around the Roman world.

The slopes of the mountain are scarred by lava flows but are heavily vegetated, with scrub and forest at higher altitudes and vineyards lower down. Vesuvius is as an active volcano which last erupted in 1944 during World War II. , although its current activity produces little more than steam from vents at the bottom of the crater.

Sunday, Jamie Salisbury Visits an Author’s Desk

Rita Bay – WEBPAGE & BLOG / FACEBOOK / PINTEREST / AMAZON

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Prelude to a Dark, Dreadful Day in Pompeii

HeculaeneumunderothertownsArchaeological investigations constantly add to the body of knowledge about the dark days of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Two decades ago the story of the eruption of Vesuvius went that in August of 79 AD a quiet mountainside with vineyards growing on its slopes exploded killing an estimated 16,000 victims and burying two towns, several smaller communities, and much of the countryside under layers of ash and mud. Over time the names of the towns, even their existence, was lost to memory until they were rediscovered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

What is known for sure is that in February, 62 AD the area was rocked by an earthquake that caused massive destruction along the bay of Naples and in Pompeii. The city was undergoing restoration when the volcano erupted. Since six hundred sheep were reported to have died on the slopes of Vesuvius, the earthquake was likely associated with Vesuvius.

Family groupThe main (actually only) eyewitness reports that survive of the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction that followed are two letters from Pliny the Younger, a nephew of a prominent Admiral of the Roman fleet who died attempting to rescue survivors, written 25 years after the event. (They’ll have their own day later.) The actual date of the eruption has even been called into question. While August has long been the date attributed to the eruption, some experts claim that the cooler weather clothing the victims wore and the food in season – even some references in one of Pliny’s letters – indicate November 23rd as the correct date.

The residents of Pompeii, a busy trading town in Campania which was several centuries old, were originally believed to have been killed by suffocation from poisonous gases, experts now believe – based on the condition of the bodies (see pic of contorted limbs of  cast of family unit at display in British Museum)– that they died from the superheated temperatures. The town was buried under 13-20 feet of pumice and ash. More wealthy resort town of Herculaneum was initially inundated by a flow of superheated ash (pyroclastic flow) that buried the town under about 75 feet of pumice and ash that hardened into “tuff” and encased the town in an airtight shell that left the town remarkably preserved. It has revealed fewer of its secrets because it lies beneath to small towns. (See pics)

Tomorrow, A Visit from Author V.C. Locey

Rita Bay – WEBPAGE & BLOG / FACEBOOK / PINTEREST / AMAZON

 

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I Climbed Vesuvius … and Strolled the Streets of Pompeii

Pompeii CityWhen I lived in Italy, I walked the halls of dozens of museums across Europe, participated in archeological digs, lived in a convent for weeks while on an extended stay in Rome, and much more. Nothing, however, touched my soul like wandering the haunted streets of Pompeii with Vesuvius looming above threatening to rain destruction down upon the city and the surrounding area and its three million inhabitants once again.

While I’m on my final push to complete two stories before the end of August and tend some family business, I plan to feature the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii for the rest of August. I needed something that wouldn’t require huge amounts of research because I will be in a writing frenzy in which I clean the house, cook and freeze food, then close the door to my office to write. One of the advantages of being an empty-nester is warning the family to enter my office or disturb my writing only in case of major emergencies – like the house on fire or major health catastrophe.

For two years, I lived a couple of hours drive from the dead city of Pompeii and its vibrant neighbor, Naples.  Between my addiction to visiting the area and escorting guests who demanded guided tours, I visited Pompeii-Naples-Vesuvius more than a dozen times. Over the next three weeks, my posts will share some of the history and science of Vesuvius, the history and culture of Pompeii and Herculaeneum, and, finally, the cities’ destruction, re-discovery, and excavation.

Tomorrow, The Dark and Dreadful Day

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Aphrodite/Venus in a Bikini

Venus in Bikini Secret roomJsmThis is a seldom seen statue of Aphrodite in a “bikini.” Thought bikinis were recent inventions? No-no. This statue is considered too risqué to be on public display. Unusual considering some of the others we’ve seen. The statue was discovered in Pompeii. It is kept in the “Secret Room” in the Museum of Naples with limited access.

BTW, as you may have guessed by now, I spent a lot of time in Italy – four years to be exact. Pompeii was one of my favorite places to visit. Imagine a place sealed in stone for 2,000 years.

The Romans were not that concerned about nudity. Consequently, there were many risqué statues, frescoes, and mosaics. Some were so risqué they were covered with grates. Of course, a tip could get that grate open to some really revealing pics. Tomorrow, Elizabeth Fountain visits An Author’s Desk.

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A Pompeian Aphrodite

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This Venus who is the patroness of Pompeii  is from the workshop of Marcus Verecundus. The fresco features Venus/Aphrodite riding on the back of four elephants. Verecundus  was a fabric merchant and this and several other frescoes were on his shop front. Ancient political graffiti defaced some of the frescoes. Tomorrow,  Another Pompeii Venus.

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A Temple of Aphrodite/Venus

Temple of Venus

The Roman town of Pompeii which was buried by volcanic ash and pumice during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.  The Temple of Venus was one of the buildings buried for almost 2,000 years.     Tomorrow,  Venus in Pompeii.

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Aphrodite & Ares at Pompeii

F10_2Aphrodite& Ares PompeiiAphrodite, the Goddess of Love and  her lover, Ares, the God of War are pictured in this fresco in Pompeii, Italy. Aphrodite had many lovers and Ares was one of the long-term paramours. Aphrodite/ Venus was a frequent subject of the artists of the ancient world.

To produce a fresco, paint is applied to wet plaster that has been spread on a wall. While some examples of fresco survive the media itself is susceptible to deterioration over time, destruction by human hands,  and to external damage from weathering, floods, or earthquake.

Frescoes survive in Pompeii probably more often than any other site of the ancient world. In 79 AD  Pompeii, a small but wealthy town on the Mediterranean south of Naples, was buried under volcanic ash and rocks when Vesuvius erupted. Prior to the eruption the volcano was covered by trees, vineyards, villas, and pastureland and the populace was unaware that they were living on a time bomb. The eruption was totally unexpected and resulted in the death of many of the citizens and the preservation of much of Pompeii in a hardened ash and volcanic rock. Consequently, many frescoes – like the one here –  were preserved in all their magnificent colors.  Tomorrow, More Aphrodite.

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