The ancient Roman city of Pompeii, home to 20,000 citizens, was wiped off the face of the earth in 79 A.D after Mt Vesuvius erupted. It is a tragic tale of the loss of life, culture and history, seemingly wiped away in a single day. This article will explain the events that occured at the time, the damage done and the perspectives from experts.
The town of Pompeii was located near the active volcano Mt Vesuvius, in south-western Italy. The mountain had previously erupted several times, but the citizens of Pompeii seemingly chose to ignore the warnings of past eruptions and continued to build their society in the shadows of the volcano. During the evening of 25th August 79 A.D, Mt Vesuvius erupted, sending around 100,000 tons of rock, volcanic debris and ash into the sky. The eruption sent shock waves of Category 4 strength through the area, which led to buildings being cracked and destroyed. Contingent to the shock waves and explosions came a combination of pumice and rock fragments, collectively known as a pyroclastic flow which swept across the city of Pompeii, traveling at speeds of over 100 miles per hour and reaching temperatures of up to 600℃. The city was buried under around 6 metres of ash and rock, preserving the occupants and buildings for centuries to come.
In the wake of this tragic event, many archeologists and scientists have sought to gain an understanding of the damage that was done. Shortly after, it became apparent that the pyroclastic flow caused widespread thermal shock, burning and suffocating inhabitants of the city and providing the conditions for many buildings to collapse. Compounded to this were large waves of debris hurled from the eruption, which had a substantial force, bringing down parts of the city walls. In the aftermath, over 2000 inhabitants of the city were found dead in the ruins..
For the experts involved in the post-eruption studies, one of the most striking findings was the presence of molten rock, which had flowed through the streets, solidifying by the time it had come to rest. This rare phenomenon is known as lava flow and is one of the most destructive aspects of a volcanic eruption. On examining the power of this flow in detail, it was determined that it likely reached temperatures between 700-950℃, and caused multiple fires in the city — a fire that had lasted for over a day!.
At a glance, one can report with great accuracy the events that occured on that fateful day — but the human story behind it is something much more than a few statisticss. The citizens of Pompeii were supposedly caught unaware during the eruption, with evidence indicating that many of them were unable to leave due to the force of the pyroclastic flow and fast-moving lava — leaving the city in a state of chaos and destruction. For those that did manage to escape, the lava, ash and rock spread in all directions; an image that is all too familiar when one recalls the destruction of Pompeii.
What would have happened without the Eruption?
In the absence of the eruption, historians and archeologists can only speculate as to what may have happened to the city of Pompeii and its surrounding areas. Archeological evidence has suggested that the city was bustling with activity prior to the eruption, and had prosperous trading links throughout the Mediterranean. Given its location and the connected power of the Roman Empire, it’s likely the city would have continued to grow. In the study of Archaeological processes, this eruption gives an unprecedented insight into the lifestyle of the people and the structures of the city. However, the tragedy of the eruption left behind a tale of human suffering and an untimely and abrupt end for the city .
Impact on Society
Aside from the tragedy that befell those living within the city, the eruption of Mt Vesuvius had a ripple effect around the country. The event was documented across the world and in the days following the disaster, experts, scholars and historians had already formed opinions on the event and its implications. For many, the event was an example of divine intervention — a warning to those on Earth to stay right with god. For others, it was viewed as a crucial moment in the history books — an example of the power of nature, and of societal negligence.
The event has not been without its modern day implications either. News of the disaster brought attention to the other aforementioned active volcanoes in the region — Etna and Stromboli — and has helped to shape policy surrounding volcanic warning systems and early detection systems. It also serves as an educational resource for students in the field of earth sciences, as well as for anyone who wants to learn about the history of the disaster.
The Eruption of Mt Vesuvius
The eruption of Mt Vesuvius that destroyed the city of Pompeii had formidable power; with archaeological evidence suggesting that the city was quickly engulfed in a mixture of pumice, ash and rock fragments, creating thick and deep layers that suffocated inhabitants of the city. The pyroclastic flow traveled at incredible speeds over 100 miles per hour and reached temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius. This natural disaster also had an impact on the surrounding areas, with large shockwaves and lava wreaking havoc across the local area. To this day, the event of Pompeii still serves as a tragic reminder of the destructive nature of a volcanic eruption.
What can we learn from Pompeii?
The destruction of the city of Pompeii serves as a lesson to anyone living in the shadow of a volcano. Despite the warnings and with knowledge of the risk, the citizens of Pompeii continued to live nearby the mountain and it cost them dearly. This event should be seen as a reminder to us all that the power of nature should not be taken lightly — active volcanoes should be monitored and warnings should be heeded.
Archeologists have also learnt much from their studies of Pompeii. The power of the eruption created perfect preservation conditions, and to this day, much evidence remains that has since allowed experts to gain an insight into the daily life of the citizens. This provides valuable data and information on the lifestyle of the people and the technologies that they possessed.
Preservation of the Remains
The city of Pompeii, along with the other affected areas, has since become a tourist attraction, allowing thousands of people to learn about the destruction and history of the disaster. Much work has gone into preserving this area, with UNESCO awarding it World Heritage status. This designation serves an important purpose, not only to preserve the archaeological sites, but also to protect it from further destruction. The region continues to be monitored for any volcanic activity and seismic shifts, in part to protect visitors to the area, but allso to preserve the remains of this significant archaeological site.
Exploring the Ruined City
Today, visitors have the opportunity to explore the city of Pompeii and to gain an impression of the destruction caused by the event. In the eerie silence of the city, one can understand the force of the eruption and the power it brought. Many of the citizens were still preserved, giving visitors a glimpse into the real-life tragedy that happened that fateful day. Since the initial discovery of the site, for many centuries, archeologists have studied the remains to gain an insight into the lives of its people and to gain an understanding of this tragic event.
Excavation of Pompeii
Since the excavation of the city, much work has gone into improving the access to the remains, with a so-called ‘Archaeological Park’ being established in the area. Although this makes it much easier to control and manage the inflow of visitors, the teams of archeologists and scientists still have to be mindful of the many risks that come with excavations at such sites. In all excavation sites, it is imperative that the correct safety and preservation measures are taken.
Thankfully, over the centuries, the true potential of the area has been realised and many funds have gone into preserving and studying the site. This is especially pertinent in this case, given the unique insight into the Roman Empire that it provides — allowing archeologists to pictue what the city looked like before it was wiped off the map.
The ruins of Pompeii provide an interesting window into not only the Roman Empire, but also into how civilizations are affected by natural disasters. The tragedy that befell its inhabitants is still felt to this day and serves as a reminder as to how important it is to take warnings seriously — no matter how distant the volcano may appear.