Pompeii is an ancient city in modern-day Italy whose citizens were buried by the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Due to the pyroclastic flows of superheated ash, steam and gas that rolled down the volcano, the city was quickly buried and forgotten, preserving almost everything it contained. This phenomenon is what has made Pompeii such a vivid and popular archaeological site and popular tourist attraction.
In the first century AD, the city of Pompeii had a population of approximately 12,000 people. On August 24th 79 AD, the Vesuvius volcano erupted in one of the most violent eruptions in Roman history. Hot ash, rocks and pulverized pumice were launched into the air and descended onto the city, blocking out the Sun and plunging Pompeii into darkness. This ash preserved Pompeii and its inhabitants, in many cases preserving even their facial expressions whilst they died.
The preservation occurred because the eruption buried the city and it’s citizens quickly. This resulted in the accumulation of four to six meters of ash and pumice in some places. This layer completely covered everything, preventing the elements from destroying what was left behind. Without this layer, the hot and humid climate of this area would have quickly destroyed the remains. Nonetheless, it isn’t only the ash that preserved the bodies, it is also the fact that most of Pompeii citizens were located near their places of work when the volcanic eruption occurred.
What has since made Pompeii such a remarkable site was this combination of the heat, the humidity and the ash. The high temperatures of the ash baked and preserved the bodies like a hot oven, and the ash acted as an insulator that kept the bodies from decaying. The hot ash also reacted with the moisture in the air, solidifying everything it touched and creating casts of whatever it enveloped.
A major breakthrough in understanding how the bodies were preserved came when researchers studied Pompeii casts. They found that the upper body parts remains unreserved and showed no sign of decay but some organs showed signs of decay and hardening. This means that the bodies had been waxened by hot ash, a phenomenon not seen in other dried and mummified bodies. These discoveries made it clear that the remains of Pompeii had been preserved by a unique combination of processes.
This discovery gained international recognition and has made Pompeii a world-renowned archaeological site. It has enabled experts, archaeologists and historians to gain insights and understanding into the lifestyles, customs and people of ancient Rome, providing new and exciting evidence about an era that has fascinated generations.
Bedroom Culture of Pompeii
Under the ash, archaeologists uncovered that the citizens of Pompeii had an interesting bedroom culture. Wall graffiti and fresco paintings from many of the villas and houses reflected different points of view, thoughts and ideas on the intimate relationship between the sexes. In each fresco, the paintings depicted a woman reclining or a man and woman engaged in a romantic encounter which showed the inhabitants, including the men, valued intimacy.
It was also clear from these frescoes that the society was patriarchal with women often portrayed as loyal and obedient. For example, one fresco was of an older woman being scolded by a younger woman after she left her husband. This shows that, although citizens had an appreciation for intimacy, the relationship between husbands and wives was marked by loyalty and the control of men.
This bedroom culture was quite different from the way the Romans usually portrayed their women, as virtuous and loyal, and has led to a re-examination of the attitudes of Romans to sex and pornography. From the bedroom culture uncovered in these dwellings, it shows that the Pompeii citizens had a much more lax approach to sex than previously thought.
Recreation in Pompeii
The archaeologists also uncovered evidence that the citizens of Pompeii liked to have fun and enjoy life. Excavations of the forum have revealed that the citizens would occasionally indulge in gambling in the form of dice or board games. Other evidence suggests that the forum was also used for entertainment and sporting events, such as gladiator fights, wrestling matches, and chariot races.
The large amphitheater that was uncovered during the excavations was used for large-scale public spectacles such as theatrical performances, games, and fights. The theater was also used for banquets and other public gatherings, suggesting that the citizens of Pompeii were quite social and enjoyed coming together for events and entertainment.
This is also reflected in the number of public baths that were uncovered in the excavations of Pompeii. These were built for the wealthy citizens of the city who had access to hot public baths, as well as for the poorer citizens who only had access to the cold ones. The fact that the heat from the eruption had not been able to destroy these baths shows that they were an important part of the culture and everyday life of the citizens.
The artifacts discovered in these excavations also reveal something about the recreation value of the citizens. They had a taste for art, music and literature as evidenced by the numerous paintings, sculptures, musical instruments and scrolls found. This suggests that the citizens valued what gave them pleasure and were not averse to having fun.
Trade and Commerce
The excavations of the forum also revealed something about the commerce of the citizens. It was filled with shops and small businesses and it appears that the forum was a lively place filled with people bartering and buying goods.
Evidence also suggests that the citizens had well-organized trade with the outside world, importing goods such as wine, olive oil, honey, glass, pottery and other goods from Greece, Spain and North Africa. This suggests that the city was prosperous, able to afford to trade for goods with other cities.
The fact that multiple currencies were found in the forum also suggests that the citizens were well connected to the wider Roman empire. It is also possible that they engaged in commerce with other regions such as Egypt and Carthage.
The remains of the city also revealed something about the trade connections of the citizens. They had trading contacts with Greece, Libya, and the Nile delta, suggesting a diverse and well-connected trading network. This indicates a strong economy and an ability to conduct business both locally and abroad.
Death in Pompeii
The fatal nature of the Vesuvius eruption was a tragedy for the citizens of Pompeii. Of the 12,000 inhabitants of the city, many were killed as a result of the eruption, asphyxiating in the cloud of gas, ash, and volcanic particles that descended on the city. Due to the quickness of the eruption, many of the victims were caught unaware and did not have time to flee.
Due to the nature of the eruption, the remains of the victims were immediately imbued with a layer of ash, preserving them and leaving them perfectly intact. This has allowed archaeologists to study the remains and observe exactly how each person died. Some were found with fearful expressions still etched on their faces, and others were still in the same positions they were when they perished.
A study of the remains and artifacts uncovered has also revealed something about the life and death of these citizens. From the funerary objects and remains, it is believed that the people of Pompeii had a deep understanding of death and funerary practices. This is also reflected in the artwork and wall paintings in many of the houses, depicting scenes from the underworld and funerary rituals.
The discovery of the remains of the city and its citizens has been an emotional experience for many of the archaeologists and historians involved. There is something almost eerie about the city, and yet it has also opened up new avenues of understanding the past and provided a glimpse into the everyday lives of these ancient Roman citizens.
The discovery of Pompeii has also had a huge impact on the scientific world. It has enabled historians and archaeologists to gain new understanding into ancient history and gain insights into the way of life of the citizens of an era long forgotten.
Modern scanning techniques have allowed scientists to map out the entire city in detail, enabling them to gain a deeper understanding of the layout and structure of the city. This has provided new insights into urban planning and architecture, as well as allowing for the accurate reconstruction of the city. This has proved invaluable for researchers who seek to understand more about the culture of the city.
Pompeii has also enabled advances in the fields of biology and conservation. The remains of the bodies are still intact and in many cases, experts have been able to study and identify the remains of specific individuals, providing new insights into the population of the city.
The preservation of remains has also allowed experts to conduct experiments on the long-term effects of volcanic ash on the human body, enabling them to gain a better understanding of the effects of exposure to high temperatures and ash.
In conclusion, the discovery of Pompeii has provided new insights into the lives and times of the citizens of the city and allowed for much advancement in the scientific field. It is a site full of history and information that has captivated and inspired people around the world.