• 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. 

  • Photo: Rene Boulay / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Pompeii Was A Popular Holiday Destination For Wealthy Romans

    Since Rome was heavily populated (by ancient standards), and the summers could be unbearably hot, many wealthy Romans sought extravagant resorts at which to take vacations.

    Pompeii was nowhere near as crowded as Rome; it had remarkable architecture, a large amphitheater where top-tier shows took place, and (most important) a thriving commercial center with factories, shops, bathhouses, and brothels. 

  • Photo: Amphipolis / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Pompeii Is Well-Preserved Thanks To What Destroyed It

    It might sound odd (and more than a little horrible), but the tons of ash that blanketed Pompeii are also the reason why the city’s beautiful art, delicate jewelry, and impressive buildings have been so well-preserved for 2,000 years.

    While it may seem like a cruel irony, the truth is the ash and hot gas that killed thousands of Pompeii’s citizens preserved their bodies much better than any conventional method of embalming.

  • Photo: David Blaikie / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Archaeologists Have Identified Several Brothels

    You might have heard that Pompeii was the capital of ancient prostitution. You're probably picturing a plethora of brothels, and that isn't far from the truth based on what we know from the excavations.

    The largest brothel, known as the Lupanar and located in the city center, is one of the most-visited tourist attractions at the site today. Archeologists concluded it was a brothel from its layout – divided into cubicles, each with a masonry bed – and from its explicit graffiti, which lists sexual acts and prices. Erotic wall paintings, however, were not limited to the brothels. Such wall art appears to have been the decoration of choice for many buildings in Pompeii.

  • Photo: JoJan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Only One Firsthand Account Exists

    Pliny the Younger was one of the many people who witnessed the catastrophic aftermath of the Mount Vesuvius eruption. He was, however, the only one who wrote down in detail what happened that day in Pompeii (or, at least, the only one whose records have survived). In a letter to Tacitus, Pliny describes what he experienced during the second day of the disaster:

    A dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood.  "Let us leave the road while we can still see," I said, "or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind."  We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.  You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices.  People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying.  Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.