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.
Mount Vesuvius May Have Erupted Later Than Archaeologists Thought
For the longest time, historians were in agreement that Mount Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 AD. The October 2018 discovery of a date scribbled in charcoal in a house in Pompeii, however, may prove that the volcano erupted two months later than initially believed.
Archaeologists found literal writing on the walls during an excavation. The text dates the scribbles back to 16 days before the "calends" of November - October 17, according to our contemporary calendar system.
"Since it was done in fragile and evanescent charcoal, which could not have been able to last long, it is highly probable that it can be dated to the October of AD 79," the archaeology team said in an official statement.
Archaeologists Discovered Crushed Remains Of A Man Who Tried To Flee The Blast
Roughly 2,000 years after the initial explosion, archaeologists working at the ancient site discovered the remains of a man who appeared to be fleeing the eruption. The skeleton was stuck under a large rock – perhaps a stone door jamb – and lesions on the bones made the scientists suspect an infection may have impaired his escape.
Scientists initially believed the man survived the first phase of the eruption only to be pinned to the ground by the block, which was thrown into the air by the force of the volcano's pyroclastic flow. They have since discovered the man's skull and declared his death the direct result of the pyroclastic flow itself – meaning he perished from asphyxiation within a superheated cloud of rock and ash.
One Man's Body Was Found Incredibly Well-Preserved - Even His Hair And An Ear
In August 2021, researchers from the Archaeological Park of Pompeii and the European University of Valencia announced that they had discovered the well-preserved, partially mummified remains -including white hair, an ear, and bones - of a man buried in a tomb east of Pompeii at the necropolis of Porta Sarno. A statement called their find "one of the best preserved skeletons ever found in the ancient city."
The tomb belonged to a man named Marcus Venerius Secundio, a former enslaved person who was later freed and achieved higher social standing.
A bone analysis revealed that the man (interred before 79 CE and the Pompeii eruption) was around 60 years old when placed in the "hermetically sealed" tomb; this funeral practice was unusual for a man his age, because adults at that time were usually cremated rather than mummified.
An inscription in the tomb referring to “Greek and Latin ludi [performances]" also indicated a new discovery: that such entertainment took place in Greek, not just Latin as previously believed. "That performances in Greek were organized is evidence of the lively and open cultural climate which characterised ancient Pompeii," said Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
The tomb also included glass vessels and fabric fragments.
The Citizens Of Pompeii Had No Word For "Volcano"
When most of us hear the word “Pompeii,” our minds probably go to volcanoes and hot lava. The citizens of Pompeii themselves, however, didn’t know what a volcano was.
At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, there was no word for volcano. It came from Mt. Etna in the 1610s. The word is derived from “Vulcan," the Roman God of Fire.
Pompeii’s Citizens Had Perfect Teeth
During the 1800s, the skeletal remains found in Pompeii were cast in plaster for protection. This made research and examination impossible for scientists at the time, but, thanks to contemporary technology (more specifically, multi-layer CT scans), modern Italian scientists were able to make 3-D reconstructions of the skeletons that provided interesting insights into life in Pompeii.
One of the things that surprised researchers the most was the exemplary teeth of the majority of Pompeii's citizens. Their dental fortitude was mainly due to their good diet (rich in fruits and vegetables), as well as extremely high levels of fluorine that existed around the volcano.
The Ash Didn't Kill Everyone; The Heat Did
The estimates as to how many people were killed in Pompeii vary greatly, and the number has been a topic of debate among historians for decades. Regardless of how many people actually perished, it seems that we were wrong in our belief that most of the victims died of suffocation from the ash in the air.
New studies suggest that most died instantly from the extreme heat. According to Italian scientists, residents of Pompeii may have been exposed to temperatures well over 1,000 degrees.