• Weird History

Things Most People Don't Know About Pompeii

Mount Vesuvius was responsible for the destruction of the city of Pompeii in 79 AD. Nearly everyone has heard one story or another about arguably the most well-known volcanic eruption in history, but how many of you know what really happened on that fateful day in Pompeii?

This mountain located on the west coast of Italy is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, but the Vesuvius eruption is just one part of the story of the Italian city. How much do you know about daily life before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius? Hopefully, these facts about Pompeii will shed some light on one of the most famous ancient catastrophes in recorded history, as well as the vibrant society that preceded it. 

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  • Photo: Canadacow / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    The Frescoes On The Walls Reveal A Lot About Pompeian Culture

    Although very few written sources exist documenting pre-eruption Pompeii, the detailed frescoes on walls inside the city – which are incredibly well-preserved – tell us a lot about what Pompeian society might've been like, according to historians. For example, there's a major difference in the skin tones of men and women in the paintings; men are golden bronzed, and women appear in alabaster tones, gilded with jewelry and surrounded by fine furnishings.

    According to the scholars who studied the frescoes, this indicates that women of Pompeii demonstrated higher rank by cultivating pale skin, which showed they didn't need to go outdoors during the day.

  • Photo: Oliver Spalt / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    In Terms Of Eruptions, Pompeii Wasn't The Deadliest

    Despite being arguably the most famous volcanic eruption of all time (and the inspiration for several films), the explosion of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD is not even in the top five deadliest volcanic eruptions in history.

    Historians disagree on the total casualties of the eruption in 79 AD, with some estimating as many as 30,000 dead, making it seem like an almost incomparable tragedy. But these numbers don’t even come close to Mount Tambora in Indonesia, which killed approximately 80,000 people in its 1815 eruption and aftermath. 

  • Photo: Carole Raddato / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Pompeii Was Accidentally Discovered In 1599 (Then Buried Again)

    After sitting beneath a thick layer of ash for more than 1,500 years, Pompeii was accidentally discovered in the late 16th century when the workers who were digging a water channel unearthed frescoes and an inscription containing the name of the city.

    The famous Italian architect Domenico Fontana examined the finds but was unable to correctly identify the presence of the city below. So the city stayed buried for nearly another 150 years before the king of Naples, Charles of Bourbon, ordered the proper excavation of the site in the late 1740s. 

  • Photo: Pastorius / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

    There Were Warning Signs Before The Eruptions; The Locals Just Didn't Know To Look

    Given that they didn't even have a word for "volcano" during the deadly eruption of Vesuvius, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that local Pompeians didn't notice the many warning signs that preceded the event. For example, there were preceding earthquakes – a massive one of which occurred in 62 AD – but locals didn't connect this to the stirrings of Vesuvius.

    In addition to earthquakes, underground springs began drying up, and fish in the Sarno river floated to the surface, killed by the increased acidity in the water. If only they could've read the signs.