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General Lucius and his friend Flavius are rocked by a tremor during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

Pompeii was a Roman city near modern Naples in the region of Campania in Italy. Along with its sister city, Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried in 79 A.D. during a long catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a volcano which is about five miles from the city. This is depicted in the Forever Knight episode "A More Permanent Hell".

Pompeii was the home of a Roman general, later (and better) known as Lucien LaCroix. In 79 A.D., he returned from a campaign against rebels in Gaul. He commissioned a marble bust of himself; and, shortly after a party in honour of his return, was in his house when the volcano began to erupt. At this point, his daughter, Divia, came to him with an offer: if he wished to live, she would turn him into a vampire. He agreed; and the two of them managed to escape the city before its total destruction.

History of PompeiiEdit

Around the 7th-6th century B.C., the town of Pompeii was founded by the Oscans on an important crossroad in Campania, in central Italy. It had already been used as a safe port by Greek and Phoenician sailors.

In the 5th century BC, the Samnites conquered Campania, including the town of Pompeii; and, after the Samnite Wars in the 4th century BC, Pompeii was forced to accept the status of socium of Rome. It later took part in a Campanian war against Rome, and was besieged by Sulla in 89 B.C.

The streets in Pompeii had stone paving.

It was forced to surrender nine years later; and many of those who had rebelled against Rome were ousted from their homes so that Sulla's veterans could be rewarded with land and property. Pompeii then became a Roman colony. Besides being an important passage for goods that arrived by sea en route for Rome along the nearby Appian Way, it was located in an area in which many wealthy Romans had their holiday villas. Agriculture, oil and wine production were also important. At the time of the eruption, the town had some 20,000 inhabitants.

Because it was preserved under the volcanic ash, Pompeii is the only ancient town of which the whole topographic structure is known precisely, with no later modifications or additions. Because of the difficult terrain, it did not have the regular plan typical of Roman towns; but it had straight streets laid out in a grid in the Roman tradition, paved with polygonal stones, with houses and shops on both sides of the street.

By the first century, Pompeii was only one of a number of towns located around the base of Mount Vesuvius. The area had a substantial population which grew prosperous from the region's agricultural fertility. Many of Pompeii's neighbors also suffered damage or destruction during the eruption of 79 A.D.

Eruption of Mount VesuviusEdit

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A computer-generated depiction of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

The eruption that destroyed Pompeii was preceded by numerous events that, in retrospect, should have provided warning. There was a powerful earthquake seventeen years earlier on 5 February 62 A.D., which caused widespread destruction around the Bay of Naples, and particularly to Pompeii. Another smaller earthquake took place in 64 A.D. Indeed, the Romans grew accustomed to minor earth tremors in the region; the writer Pliny the Younger even wrote that they "were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania".

In early August of 79 A.D., springs and wells dried up. Small earthquakes started taking place on 20 August, becoming more frequent over the next four days, but the warnings were not recognized, and on the afternoon of 24 August, the catastrophic eruption of the volcano began with a rain of pumice that lasted eighteen to twenty hours, and fell southward of the cone until it had built up to depths of over nine feet (2.8 metres). The only surviving reliable eyewitness account was recorded by Pliny the Younger, who was seventeen at the time of the eruption, in two letters to the historian Tacitus. Observing it from Misenum, across the bay some twenty odd miles from the volcano, he saw an extraordinarily dense and rapidly-rising cloud appearing above the mountain. This eruption column is estimated to have been more than twenty miles (32 km) tall.

Pliny the Younger then described how, after some time, the cloud rushed down the flanks of the mountain and covered everything around it, including the surrounding sea. This is known today as a "pyroclastic flow"—a cloud of superheated gas, ash, and rock that erupts from a volcano. Mount Vesuvius produced two pyroclastic flows that reached as far as Misenum, but were concentrated to the west and northwest. These burned and asphyxiated those stragglers who had remained behind in or near the city.

Pompeii eruption map

A map showing the cities and towns affected by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The black cloud represents the general distribution of ash and cinder.

Pliny stated that several earth tremors were felt at the time of the eruption and were followed by a very violent shaking of the ground. He also noted that ash was falling in very thick sheets and the village he was in had to be evacuated, and then that the sun was blocked out by the eruption and the daylight hours were left in darkness. Also, the sea was sucked away and forced back by an "earthquake", a phenomenon now called a tsunami.

Thirty-eight percent of the victims at Pompeii were found in the ash fall deposits, the majority inside buildings. These are thought to have been killed mainly by roof collapses, with the smaller number of victims found outside of buildings probably being killed by falling roof slates or by larger rocks thrown out by the volcano. The remaining sixty-two percent of remains found at Pompeii were in the pyroclastic surge deposits, and thus were probably killed by a combination of the blast and debris thrown around, and suffocation through ash inhalation. Examination of cloth, frescoes, and skeletons shows that it is unlikely that high temperatures were a significant cause of death.

Pompeii and Herculaneum were never rebuilt, although surviving townspeople and probably looters did undertake extensive salvage work after the destructions. The towns' locations were eventually forgotten until their accidental rediscovery in the eighteenth century.


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Casts of the corpses of some of the victims of Mount Vesuvius.

Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738 by workmen working on the foundation of a summer palace for the King of Naples, Charles of Bourbon. Pompeii was rediscovered as the result of intentional excavations in 1748 by the Spanish military engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. Both towns have since been excavated to reveal many intact buildings and wall paintings.

During early excavations of the site, occasional voids in the ash layer had been found that contained human remains. It was Giuseppe Fiorelli, who took charge of the excavations in 1860, who realized that these were spaces left by the decomposed bodies. He devised a technique of injecting plaster into them to perfectly recreate the forms of Vesuvius's victims. What resulted were highly accurate and eerie forms of the doomed Pompeiani who failed to escape, in their last moment of life, with the expression of terror often quite clearly visible. This technique is still in use today, with resin now used instead of plaster because it is more durable, and does not destroy the bones, allowing further analysis.

Adapted from the Wikipedia articles on Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius.

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