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There Was An Eyewitness To The Destruction Of Pompeii - Here's What He Saw

Updated 22 Aug 2019 57.6k views15 items

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE near the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, it killed thousands of people and wiped entire cities off the map - and a Roman teenager named Pliny the Younger saw it all. Though there were no survivors in Pompeii, there were witnesses from other cities and towns around the Bay of Naples who also experienced the eruption. Pliny the Younger was one of them, and his firsthand account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius is the closest thing historians have to a record of what it was like in those terrifying final hours in Pompeii.

Pliny the Younger was around 18 years old when Vesuvius erupted. He and his mother, Plinia, were staying at his uncle Pliny the Elder's villa in Misenum, a Roman naval base on the Bay of Naples. Pliny the Elder, a celebrated scholar, commanded the Roman fleet at Misenum. On August 24, 79 CE, members of this small family went about their day as usual. But what began as a normal day in Misenum took a dramatic turn when Vesuvius began to erupt in the early afternoon.

Many other people likely saw the eruption that destroyed Pompeii, but none of them recorded their experience for historians to find. Pliny the Younger seems to have been the only witness who left a firsthand account of what happened in 79 CE. Several years after the event, he composed his recollections in a set of letters for the Roman historian Tacitus. Thanks to these ancient letters, scholars and armchair historians alike can get a sense of what it was like to live through one of the most infamous natural disasters in history.

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