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The Destruction of Roman Pompeii

Updated on December 11, 2014

Life and Death in a Roman Town

You could read a thousand books to learn of Life in Ancient Rome - or you could look at the legacy of Pompeii. The houses and public buildings of Pompeii show us all too vividly what it was like to live, and to die, in a Roman town.

Pompeii was destroyed, completely buried, during a catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius which took over two long and terrifying days in the year 79.

The eruption buried Pompeii under 60 feet of ash and pumice, and it was lost for nearly 1,700 years before its accidental rediscovery in 1748.

Today Pompeii gives us an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire. It tells us about the people who once ruled the known world - they were just like us.

Map of Vesuvius and Pompeii

Pompeii was a Resort Town

Pompeii was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire.

It was a popular place to live, and used by wealthy citizens as a holiday resort. The nearby Bay of Naples and the River Sarnus provided a good transport system for exporting goods to other parts of the Empire. and trade flourished here.

What Pompeii also had was extremely fertile soil created by the volcano, less than ten kilometres from the city.

The Wrath of the Gods - An eyewitness account of the destruction

J.M.W. Turner. Vesuvius in Eruption. Watercolor and scraping out. 1817
J.M.W. Turner. Vesuvius in Eruption. Watercolor and scraping out. 1817

It all happened so fast!

On August 24, 79 , Mount Vesuvius literally blew its top, spewing tons of molten ash, pumice and sulphuric gas miles into the atmosphere.

The volcano awakened with unimaginable force and no real warning.

A firestorm of poisonous vapours and molten debris engulfed the surrounding area suffocating the people of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. Tons of falling debris filled the streets until nothing remained to be seen of the once thriving communities.

We have eye witness accounts

Thanks to eyewitness accounts, we know a great deal about what happened the day that Pompeii was destroyed. A 17-year-old, later known as Pliny the Younger, meticulously recorded what he observed from across the Bay of Naples.

The boy was living at Misenum with his uncle, Pliny the Elder, a celebrated military leader, scholar, and historian. Pliny the Elder attempted to rescue people by sea and the notes he dictated to his scribe in the midst of the mayhem can still be read today.

The second day of the Disaster - eye witness account

Pliny the Younger

Pliny describes the second day of the disaster

"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. 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.

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.."

Pompeii : A Novel

Pompeii: A Novel
Pompeii: A Novel

Pompeii : A Novel is fun, interesting, and thrilling.

Just keep looking over your shoulder at the mountain, because it's going to blow.


The Crater of Mount Vesuvius - Headquarters for Spartacus

Crater of Vesuvius today

When Spartacus led the slave rebellion of 73 BCE, he found the crater on top of Vesuvius to be a huge basin a mile across, densely wooded and filled with vines. It served as a secure camp for the rebels. They hid out in the Caldera and trained for the fight with the Roman Legions. .

The modern crater of Mount Vesuvius is a huge empty bowl. It looks peaceful enough now, but this could change any tick of the clock. The last eruption was 1944.

Vesuvius looms large over the ruins of Pompeii

Looking at Vesuvio from Pompei
Looking at Vesuvio from Pompei | Source

Terrific Acommodation in Pompei

I stayed at B and B Elena when in Pompei. I highly recommend Elena for the low-cost accommodation. Photo below.

B&B Elena
B&B Elena

Mount Vesuvius blows up in 1944 - Awesome footage of the eruption

How do they get footage like this? Close up and personal with molten lava advancing at the rate of 3 foot a minute. Huge lava clouds and pillars of fire, who was holding the camera?.

From newsreels of the time.

A frightening newsreel!

We saw this video at the Pompeii Exhibition - Frightening in 3D

A couple of excerpts from the 3D video at the exhibition.

I took my little granddaughter to see an exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. When we watched the video, she was fine, I was the one who panicked at the 3D effects.

Take the Quiz

Would you survive Pompeii?

We may think we're smarter than the people who lived in Pompeii in 79, but would you have survived the catastrophe?

Take the Pompeii Quiz and find out.

Pompeii Today

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The thermopolium, a hot food shopMosaic pavementMural. Dice PlayersBakers ovenTemple of Venus
The thermopolium, a hot food shop
The thermopolium, a hot food shop
Mosaic pavement
Mosaic pavement
Mural. Dice Players
Mural. Dice Players
Bakers oven
Bakers oven
Temple of Venus
Temple of Venus

© 2009 Susanna Duffy

Scratch a message in the scoria - Comments are always appreciated

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    • profile image

      RomeFan 4 years ago

      I have heard of the destruction of pompeii from our professor in college but I had not appreciated it much until I landed on your lens. The way you tell the pompeii destruction is totally enjoyable and informative. I love each bit of your lens. Magnificent.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 4 years ago from Canada

      I could not imagine living near a volcano. Knowing what we know today - I would move. The videos of Mt. Vesuvius and the Pompeii disaster are amazing.

    • profile image

      grannysage 5 years ago

      My dad would have been fascinated by those videos. He was rather strange because when he told me a bedtime story, it was always from one of the magazines he was reading. That is how I learned about the Abominable Snowman. He told me about Pompeii and showed me pictures from National Geographic. With my vivid imagination, I could easily feel the fear of the people as they were buried alive. It haunts me to this day.

    • profile image

      SandyPaw 5 years ago

      How very frightening to be near a volcanic eruption - especially Mt Vesuvius

    • nyclittleitaly profile image

      nyclittleitaly 6 years ago

      Pompeii is an amazing place

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 6 years ago

      Great article and I appreciate the link to the quiz on Pompeii. I think I will use this w/ my high schooler!

    • profile image

      Ghita1985 6 years ago

      Great Article! I love history, and this taught me a lot about the ancient Romans.

    • Demaw profile image

      Demaw 6 years ago

      When early historians read the account of Pliny the younger they thought he was exaggerating.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      History always fascinates me. Got to know some new facts today. Thanks for sharing.

    • Phillyfreeze profile image

      Ronald Tucker 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      Having read about the destruction of Pompeii many years ago in an indepthed article than ran in a National Geographic magazine, thousands were buried alive as they when about their daily activities...escavations showed many were dining, shopping, and relaxing in their homes.

      The accompanying photographs of the Bakers Oven, the Mosaic pavement, and the Thermoplium(serving hot foods) were testament of the lifestyle of Pompeii citizens 79 b.c.

      Such a tragic and cataclysmic event has been a source of books, films, and scholarly research for decades. An ancient luxury resort that met a horrific end.

    • atirial profile image

      atirial 7 years ago

      Pompeii is a fascinating subject. Thanks for the great lens.

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 7 years ago from California

      Oh, good! I'm hunting for other good volcano-related lenses, and for once, I don't have to check to make sure it's not plagiarized or regurgitated information! Thanks, Susanna! (Adding it to my Volcanoes lens in the "Historic Eruptions" section.)

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 8 years ago from USA

      This is such an interesting topic.