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  • Writer's pictureSiheli Siyathra

The Destruction Of Pompeii

Mount Vesuvius - the volcano that wiped a city off the face of the Earth. Most people think that the worst part of this eruption was the sheer suddenness in which it happened. But while the town’s destruction was unspeakably tragic, the speed wasn’t nearly the worst thing about it.

Two festivals happening in the town at the same time meant the tragedy ended up so much worse than it should have been. According to the book ‘Pompeii: An Archaeological Guide,’ the Pompeians were in the middle of a multi-day celebration honoring the emperor Augustus. Known today as the first emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus had passed 65 years earlier and had been made a god. Pompeii’s streets were filled with street musicians, fortune tellers, plays, and athletic events. Many of the performers had come to Pompeii from other towns. A lot more lives were lost than might have happened if the eruption had occurred a month later. Even worse, the festival before the eruption was Vulcanalia, worshipping the god Vulcan. Vulcan was the god of volcanoes and fire.

It wasn’t so much that the people didn’t get a warning about the eruption, because there definitely would’ve been ash, smoke, and loads of earthquakes. They probably took them as good omens because of Vulcanalia. As far as the townspeople cared, these warnings meant that Vulcan was busy at Mount Vesuvius, happy that everyone was celebrating him.

It wasn’t just the timing of the festivals that screwed everyone over in Pompeii. It was also the weather. According to Perspecta Weather, the wind in that part of Italy tends to blow in a South-Western direction, more or less. If this had been the case during the eruption, all the ash and poisonous gas would’ve blown away from the city. Sure, there would be the heat and lava problem to deal with, but the gases killed most of the people. But, for some reason, the wind was blowing in the North-Western direction during that day.

Considering many of the people in Rome lived around 2000 years ago, it’s easy to feel a disconnection between their lives and our own. But, in Pompeii, we don’t just have the skeletal remains of the dead -- we can see in great detail the fear on their faces. The nature of these remains makes the town’s destruction seem so much more than just history. When Pompeii was being excavated in the 1800s, archaeologists realized that, when they found a skeleton, it was always covered in a tight void of compacted ashes. The diggers poured plaster of Paris into the spaces and got casts of people during the last moments of their lives. In essence, the archaeologists could see the exact positions these people took as the ash rained down on them. There were even animal casts, including one of a dog writhing on its back. In 2015, many of the casts were CAT scanned, meaning that we know the ages, sexes, and health issues of many of the victims.

To this day, the volcano that destroyed Pompeii is known as one of the most dangerous in the world. Mount Vesuvius was pretty clear it wasn’t messing around when it destroyed the city. Vesuvius never sends clear warnings about eruptions so, even though it last blew in 1944, it might go off again tomorrow.

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