Mount Vesuvius is one of the most iconic volcanoes in our world. Situated in the Gulf of Naples, it is famous for its eruption in AD79 that buried the town of Pompeii, one of the most celebrated archaeological sites in the world.
The exact date of Vesuvius’ eruption has been hotly debated, with sources differing between August 24th and 25th. Pliny the Younger wrote vividly of the occurrence, claiming that it took place ‘in the early part of the night’. Seemingly, Pompeii must have been an unsuspecting victim to the thermo-tectonic activity; many inhabitants went about their daily routines unaware of the impending disaster that would befall the city.
As the eruption occurred, a devastating torrent of fiery dust, rock and ash filled the air around Pompeii. The ash was so hot and thick that much of it solidified into volcanic rock, burying the city and its people. Heat radiated from the emission of sulphuric gas, with many dying from extreme temperatures, termed as ‘pyroclastic surge’ by experts.
The violent volcanic activity placed an instantaneous halt to human life in the city. Livelihoods were abandoned and numerous buildings and monuments left tumbled and in ruin. Unlike its sister cities that were destroyed by the same phenomenon, however, the entirely preserved remains of Pompeii allowed archaeologists to chart an extensive chronology at the site due to the immense quantities of excavated physical evidence.
The crux of the archaeological breakthrough is understood to be the public’s insight into the intricate lives of Pompeii’s citizens. Consequently, we may now comprehend what luxurious houses were like, what religious activity was followed, and the prevailing social hierarchy which predated the onslaught. The site reveals evidence of human sacrifice for the protection of the people and offers a lucid account of the city’s relationship with the political machinery of Rome.
Strikingly, a 3D scan of a person found in Pompeii depicts the fatal positions of several inhabitants. The image has circulated widely, intriguing many with its grisly tale in circumstances genuinely unfathomable. According to geologists, Vesuvius erupted with a colossal power equivalent to twenty atomic bombs.
The challenge to the general public today is to comprehend the events of AD79 while paying tribute to the lives lost. Many of the bodies that were entombed were quickly forgotten and their identities remained unknown, which is a sad legacy of the disaster. One may legitimately challenge why such scenic places are built atop such potentially dangerous terrain, thus emphasising the power we as humans hold. Backed by astonishing research, Vesuvius’ eruption of AD1979 is remembered as both a lesson and a lasting memorial to Pompeii.
Impact on History
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius has had a deep impact on the way we view history today. As the town was destroyed, an account was simply frozen in time. This is evident in the buildings which were left standing, furniture that could be identified, and even human remains, imbuing archaeologists with a rare opportunity to practice their craft.
Interestingly, the eruption of Vesuvius meant the city was buried not by a natural disaster but rather a man-made one, thus ironically saving Pompeii from further destruction.The site was finally rediscovered in 1748 when a canal worker stumbled across an artefact in the town of Herculaneum, an event that can be seen to have enabled the ‘Rediscovery’ of Pompeii.
The artefacts, frescoes and other cultural objects discovered provided priceless insight into a society, in particular the thriving east-west trade during the second century. For the first time, modern-day scholars could trace the way the Roman Republic had become a major superpower and the way in which people had lived .
Although on the one hand, Vesuvius was responsible for burial and destruction, the preservation offered by the volcano enabled some level of transparency into the lives of the people of Pompeii. As we are aware of yet another eminent disaster, fuelled by global climate change, it is essential that society embraces the same level of diligence when it comes to simultaneously preserving and reflecting upon the consequences of our intensive carbon footprint.
Moreover, while the unfortunate incident clearly serves as a marker to how sustainable human life on the surface of this earth can be, it must be embraced that Vesuvius’ eruption actually stands as an example of how compellingly archaeology can uncover vivid scripts of the past.
Our knowledge of the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius and its negative impacts are quite widespread; however, in a macroeconomic context, the event is said to have disturbed the already fragile financial system of the Roman Republic.
Notably, the destruction of Pompeii affected the local and foreign businesses which led to a hiatus in trade within the Roman Empire. It was speculated that during the eruption much of the money and real estate within Pompeii had been lost and this significantly weakened the Imperial economy.
Contrarily, it has been suggested that increased international attention of the town was an opportunity to attract tourists and investors. Upon rediscovery, Cesaro Bourbon had actively sought to increase the economic growth with the influx of income. Moreover, the presence of dignitaries and celebrities led to international competitions to aesthetically enhance Pompeii. Subsequently, the Roman Empire saw a surge in employment opportunities, with a flourishing subsistence of education, recreation and the fine arts.
The addition of a hospitable atmosphere and the promotion of the World Heritage Site have been cited as direct benefits of Vesuvius’ eruption and its aftermath. The financial depletion of trade and the intensive damages may arguably give sight to the rising tourism sector and its various advantages. It has been postulated that between tourists and other general visitors, the city had benefited from an increase in economic expenditure, thus sustaining its economic development even during the height of financial crisis.
In the modern age, the vulnerability of cities to economic hardship is to be still noted. Although one may acknowledge the dire consequences of Vesuvius’ eruption, it must be remembered that cities and businesses are cyclical and their residents resilient. In this era, we must be ready to sustain businesses and promote sustainable development for the towns and cities that fall victim to natural disasters.
One of the most tragic aspects of the volcanic eruption in Pompeii was the many lives claimed. Estimates of the death toll range from 10,000 to 25,000, with many inhabitants failing to escape the terrifying depths of Mount Vesuvius.
The blast left many contorted in agonising poses, bodies encased in hardened ash, preserving a graphic memory of their final moments. Many were able to flee, while others stayed to protect their loved ones and were consequently unable to outrun the catastrophe. Severely intense heat also consumed homes and business sites, leaving citizens frozen in mid-action as they scrambled desperately to survive.
Pliny the Younger, who wrote graphic accounts of the eruption and its associated destruction, may in theory be considered the chief chronicler of the event. His notes consistently refer to the ‘greed’ of some of the people towards the riches of the city, claiming that they ‘excited the wrath of the gods’. This seems to imply that the eruption may have been an act of god, precipitated by the misdeeds of the citizens. Symbolically, it may be argued that the citizens of Pompeii were invariably aware of their destinies as a devastating fate befell them.
Today, many seminars, books and interpretative articles are dedicated to the disaster, yet still it remains a very difficult concept to imagine and fathom. Nonetheless, it should be noted that the terrible event provided a snapshot of life in Roman times, granting us a significant view into the lifestyles, beliefs and fashion of their time, an offer than no one could have expected.
The origin of the eruption to this day prompts much debate; however its effects are undeniable. Venice is yet to recover from the destruction, but it has long been the subject of protection, admiration and respect, earning its place as one of the most renowned archaeological sites in the world.
The Upkeep of Pompeii
The so-called ”buried city” of Pompeii is a prime example of conservation and has become a beacon of culture and inspiration, however in its early stages of discovery and excavation, the city posed significant threats to its welfare.
Due to the unprecedented access to the remains of a buried city, it was normal in the 18th and 19th centuries for dignitaries and private collections to promptly acquire works of art and other artefacts with markedly little consideration for the cultural meaning.
Continuous interest in the city saw concerning developments, such as the construction of a railway line through part of the city and the alteration of public buildings like the amphitheatre, offering little protection to the once-epic ruins. Moreover, unplanned attempts to easily excavate the luxury villas of the upper class saw areas of digging deep into the city centre and outside the outer walls, threatening to deplete it completely.
The introduction of the World Heritage Site from UNESCO has allowed for improved conservation standards. Through modern technology, a vast database of pictures and documents have been created and are now managed with the help of relevant authorities, thus making the conservation of Pompeii quite efficient.
Furthermore, digital imaging such as LiDAR scanning, break the boundaries of terrain and weather, allowing improvements to the structural security of the remains. Due to these and other various developments, architects and archaeologists are both relying upon multi-dimensional monitoring to preserve the city.
Finally, with the requirements of numerous international protocols, such as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, the process of conserving Pompeii is slowly becoming successful. Sites such as Pompeii and its unlucky sister cities must be seen as equally abstract and historical landmarks and remain in the annals of history as a thoughtful reminder.[/p>