Pompeii Not the Only City Lost to Volcanic Ash
The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE is one of the most famous volcanic eruptions of all time. Reignited 2,000 years after the historic event, Pompeii’s destruction has become emblematic of the explosive consequences of volcanoes gone wild.
The city of Pompeii remains the most widely known casualty of Vesuvius’ eruption on that fateful day in 79CE. At the same time, however, there were other nearby cities and people threatened by the same eruption. Historians studied the physical remains of the region to gain some insight into life and practice in the surrounding cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, two of the most well known modern day remnants of Vesuvius’ fury.
Archaeologists uncovered evidence from the ground and from written sources revealing multiple cities were completely buried by the ash and mud flow from the eruption. Other cities and villages, such as Nuceria, were so heavily damaged as to be rendered obsolete. Even the now infamous Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were not the only cities destroyed. According to the hundreds of archaeological samples, the list of extinct cities also includes Stabiae, Oplonti, Resina, and Torre Annunziata.
The destruction wasn’t limited to populated towns. A nearby mountain chain, the Phlegraean Fields, is believed to have seen substantial destruction in the form of settlements, temples, and other archeological evidence scattered by the eruption – now lost to the depths of time. In all, evidence suggests that a huge swath of land around the volcano was decimated.
The destruction of the area’s cities was extreme, but the archaeological evidence considering the other affected locations is incomplete at best. Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption was an unprecedented tragedy, the worst in recorded history, and few survivors recounted details of the destruction beyond the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
From what historians can observe, it is evident that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people lost their lives in the disaster. In 79 CE, traditional methods for disseminating information were not as advanced as today, hence the reasons why the physical, archaeological record is incomplete.
Assessment of Damage
Amazingly, after centuries of research on the volcanic activity of Vesuvius, academic geologists and archaeologists have not yet been able to fully ascertain the extent of the disaster. Using the ancient records and modern dating methods, the evidence suggests that numerous cities and settlements were destroyed by both the original 79 CE eruption, as well as the subsequent 4th century CE event.
The historical evidence also alludes to many smaller settlements being destroyed, although the exact nature and populations of these locations remain unknown. Additionally, a number of structures, including the famous city of Pompeii, have been uncovered by the ash and mud flow from the eruption, but other cities and villages now lay undiscovered beneath the bare surface of the land that once housed those communities.
International Relief Efforts
The disaster that ensued from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius had a profound impact on the region, claiming the lives of more than 20,000 people and decimating the landscape below the mountain. In the aftermath of the tragedy, relief efforts from other Italian cities, as well as from other nations, poured in to help rebuild the region and re-home the bereaved.
Years after the eruption, Roman Emperor Titus sent delegates to survey the damage, ultimately providing the foundation for the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation in 1997. From there, archaeological excavations have been ongoing at a number of sites that were heavily affected by the eruption.
Equally significantly, Michelangelo excavated the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii in the mid-16th century. In this effort, he unearthed a wealth of paintings and art preserved by the ash of the eruption, providing invaluable insight into life in the city prior to its catastrophic end.
Influence of Vesuvius’ Eruption
The Mount Vesuvius eruption of 79 CE has been an important subject of discussion in academic circles for centuries. Due to the nature of the event and the extensive destruction it caused, the story of Pompeii and Vesuvius has become an international symbol of the power of natural disasters and the fragility of human life.
Today, the ruins of this ancient city serve as a reminder of the volatile nature of volcanoes, emphasizing the need for effective disaster management and risk assessment protocols in the face of continued volcanic activity.
Most importantly, the events that took place at Pompeii and the other cities destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius should serve as an example of how devastating the power of nature can be. While the eruption of 79 CE was studied extensively by modern archaeologists and geologists, very little is known about the other cities that were destroyed, sinking completely beneath the earth’s surface without a trace.
Contemporary Wariness of Volcanoes
The disaster at Mount Vesuvius’ site serves as a stark reminder of the power that volcanoes can wield. While research has made much progress in understanding how hazardous volcanoes can be, there is still a lack of knowledge regarding certain aspects of their behavior.
For example, the towering Aeolian Islands, located off the coast of Italy, have seen multiple felt earthquakes in 2020, raising fears of an imminent volcanic eruption. While the probability of any imminent eruption is still low, many countries further away are keeping an eye on the region, heightening safety protocols and issuing early warning notifications to the local population.
Still, the exact behavior and behavior of volcanoes remains murky, leaving researchers and the general public wondering whether we are adequately prepared and equipped to handle a disaster of the same magnitude as Mount Vesuvius’ in 79 CE.
Mount Vesuvius, Renewed Threat
Mount Vesuvius is now a giant, dormant threat looming over the southern Italian city of Naples, a warning of the potential for future disaster and destruction.
However, the volcano is far from silent. Since its last eruption in 1944, the volcano has experienced hundreds of earthquakes of magnitudes from 4 to 5 on the Richter scale, and scientists have recorded at least one deep-seated hydrothermal explosion as recently as 2005.
These geomorphic and seismic events serve to remind local residents, tourists, and researchers that the volcano is still active, even if the prospect of an eruption remains remote. To this day, the memory of Pompeii, and the other cities destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE lingers in the minds of their descendants and caution to the world.
Recording the Volcanic Impact
It is clear that the effects of the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius were far-reaching and long-term. Unfortunately, since the eruption was so devastating, much of the archaeological evidence of the event has been destroyed.
Nonetheless, a number of artifacts have been salvaged from the ruins over the years. These items include pottery, jewelry, coins, and furniture from Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae, and other settlements that were buried in the ash. Additionally, geological features, such as the mountain chains of the Phlegraean Fields, have been altered by the eruption, leaving a lingering impact that is visible to this day.
The remnants of Pompeii and the other cities have been studied extensively by archaeologists and geologists. The research conducted has enabled a much better understanding of the impact that Mount Vesuvius had on the region at the time, as well as its continued influence to this day.