- Education and Science»
- History & Archaeology»
The Last Day of Pompeii
The people had no idea
Mount Vesuvius sat near the city and its previous eruptions were the source of the fertile soils the people grew their crops in. The 6,500 foot volcano had erupted in the past, many times, but the people of Pompeii had no idea. The people knew nothing about volcanoes, or the destruction that lie ahead. As pumice stone and ash pelted the city, the people were too slow to react and the fate of the city sealed.
Since the eruption in AD 79, Mount Vesuvius has erupted approximately 28 times. Verifying some accounts remains impossible due to the lack of recorded history and the reliability of sources during the time.
History repeating itself appears in 1631. After more than 100-years of quiet, the people living at the base of Mount Vesuvius did not recognize it as a volcano. Trees had grown around the top of the mountain and it lacked a visible crater. However, the large eruption marked a period of more frequent volcanic activity from Vesuvius so its destructive nature remains in the minds of those living nearby.
Just another day
The citizens of Pompeii thought little of the small earthquakes on the morning of August 24 in the year 79. They had experienced many earthquakes in Rome and in the fertile region they now lived, 90-miles South. Workers went to the fields for a days work, while bakers kneaded dough and removed finished loaves from their wood heated ovens. It was just another day in their Pompeian lives until stone and ash began falling from the sky at around mid-day.
Across the bay
Pliny the Elder and his nephew watched the plume of ash and debris shoot 12-miles into the sky and then drift toward Herculaneum and Pompeii. From across the bay, they knew the people needed help and the Elder Pliny launched ships to begin evacuating the people who ran to the coast. Pliny the Younger, watched the horror and wrote an account preserving the next two days for eternity.
Confused, people filled the streets at the onset of pumice raining from the sky. Then the people tried to find cover as others fell to the ground from the force of the stones pelting them. Ash began covering their homes and the sky darkened as the sun's light succumb to ash. Ash filled every corner of the city and the people began suffocating as it filled their lungs.
The eruption begins
August 25, 79
At approximately 12:00 A.M. on August 25 of the year 79, Mount Vesuvius exploded, sending pyroclastic flows toward Pompeii at over 100 miles per hour. Those remaining in Pompeii died instantly from the toxic gases and heat. The volcano sent one more explosive wave of super heated liquified earth and rock to the city before quieting later that day. The entire city lay under thousands of tons of hardening lava and ash. Its people encased in the cooled lava flows and dried ash. Pliny the Elder died trying to evacuate people from the shoreline. He died from the toxic sulfuric gases the volcano emitted into the atmosphere.
The city and its residents became lost as time moved forward. Through time, water drainage ditches exposed parts of Pompeii and artwork found during excavations attributed to other periods.
The Roman people were well educated. Do you believe no one knew Mount Vesuvius was a volcano?
Mount Vesuvius today
Pompeii remained buried for 1,700 years. A Spanish survey engineer, Rocco Gioacchino de Alcubiere, was commissioned by King Charles III in 1748 to begin excavation in Pompeii. This primitive form of archaeology was more like looting than the preservation and study of cultures today.
The dig at Pompeii continues and is the longest, continuous, archaeological dig in history. Visiting Pompeii today takes guests back to August 24, AD 79. Buildings, streets and people entrapped in hard lava and ash remain just the way they stood before the eruption. Tables set for meals and bakeries with fresh loaves set out sit today as they have for centuries. The people entombed inside the hardened pyroclastic flows decomposed then turned to ash. By pouring plaster inside the empty tombs and allowing it to dry, a perfect reproduction of the person once inside appears.
Trapped in time
The plaster displays show these ancient people at the moment of death. Some residents huddled in groups and held one another through the tragedy. Other people lie dead, grasping their valuables in hopes no one would steal them. Families, along with their slaves, died together in dugout caves near the sea. Their faces etched with horror as they took their last breaths show people who had no idea they lived at the base of a volcano.
© 2013 Brenda Speegle