History of Pompeii

History of Pompeii-2131012

The history of Pompeii

The city of Pompeii is an ancient Roman town-city that was located near the modern day Naples within the Italian region of Campania. This paper will look at the history of the discovery of Pompeii right from when it was occupied by Oscan’s up until it was discovered by romans. There will also be a detailed analysis of on the disruption of Mt. Vesuvius and how this destruction affected the entire city and those that lived there.

The timeline of the history of Pompeii tells us about how many urban centers evolved due to the influence of Rome. All these cities had their own differences that existed due to their location and the local culture that existed however, most of them had similar development fate when it came to the dynamics of relationships with Rome, the economy and cultural growth. The timeline of the history of Pompeii is greatly influenced by its position in the south of Rome, in an area that has temperate climate and an open access to trade routes within the Mediterranean. Only a few of the ancient cities have survived with a similar degree of conservation like the city of Pompeii which is clearly indicates a unique insight. The timeline of the development of the city of Pompeii gives a strong sense of how similar rural centers came into existence. The name Pompeii was derived from an Oscan word for number five, pompe. This suggests that the community comprised of five hamlets or that it had been settled by a family group known as the gens Pompeian (Carwright, 2012).

The discovery and inhabitants of Pompeii

Pompeii was founded between the 6th and 7th century BC by people of central Italy known as the Oscan’s. It was founded on an important crossroad between Cumae, Nola and Stabbiae. The area had already been safely used as a port by the Greek and Phoenician sailors. The city was also captured by Etruscans and as a matter of fact the recent excavations have indicated the presence of Etruscan inscriptions as well as a 6th century BC necropolis. The city was captured for the first time by Greek colony that was allied to Syracuse known as Cumae between 525 and 474 BC. It was the conquered in the 5th century by Samnite’s and these new rules imposed their architecture which saw the enlargement of the town. The city was thus forced to accept the status of the Socium of Rome however; it maintained the administrative and linguistic autonomy. Pompeii was fortified in the 4th century BC and it remained faithful to Rome during the second Punic War.

Pompeii was part of the wars that were initiated by towns of Campania against Rome but it was besieged by Sulla in 89BC. Initially the social league led by Lucius Cluentius had played a significant role in resisting Romans, in 80 BC Pompeii had no option but to surrender after Nola was conquered. This resulted to many of the Sulla’s veterans getting property and land and those who were against the Romans ended up being ousted from their houses. Pompeii then became a Roman colony and it was named Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum. It then became an important route where goods arriving through the sea and were to be sent toward Rome or even the southern Italy were passing along the nearby Appian Way. The city got its water from a spur located in Aqua Augusta that had been built in 20 BC by Agrippa. The main line is what supplied other large towns as well as Misenum which was the naval base. The castellum within Pompeii is well taken care of and preserved and the details of its controls and distribution networks are easily found (Carwright, 2012).

In the 89 BC after the final occupation of Pompeii by Roman General Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the city was annexed by the Roman Republic. During this time the city went through a huge development of infrastructure which was mostly build during the Augustan period. These were such as an amphitheater, an aqueduct that acted as a water source for close to 25 street fountains, a palestra with a central natatorium, public baths and many business and private houses.

Significance of Pompeii’s location

Pompeii had a fertile and fruitful region of soil that made it possible for various crops to be harvested in the area. The soil that was around Mount Vesuvius had a good water holding capacity and this implied that the people had access to productive agriculture. Despite the hot and dry climate in the area, the Tyrrhenian Sea’s airflow made it possible for the soil to be hydrated. The rural areas that surrounded Pompeii had abundant agriculture plots which were quite fertile and hence bale to produce a large quantity of goods even larger than the city would require. Most of the flat land located within Campania that surrounded the Pompeii areas was used solely for the production of wheat and grain. The locals in Pompeii produced wheat, cereal, barley and millet as well as wine and olive oil. These were produced in so much abundance that they were exported to other regions. Vineyards were very important to the economy of Pompeii which led to agricultural policymaker Columella suggesting that every vineyard within Rome had to produce a quota of three cullei of wine in every jugerum if not the winery would be uprooted. The lands near Pompeii were full of nutrients and hence very efficient and many cases they were able to surpass these requirements by a very large margin. Other agricultural products in Pompeii were produced in quantities that would be enough for the consumption of the population in the city. There were also water depressions within the city near the wineries and they served as water wells for both produce and livestock.

Mt Vesuvius eruption

By the 1st century AD Pompeii was among the many towns that were located near the base of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius. This region had a substantial population that had become prosperous due to the renowned agricultural fertility of the region.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius had started on the afternoon of August 24, as cloud of ash and smoke that Pliny had observed. Ten thousand tons of the molten as and pumice left Mount Vesuvius each second. In just a few minutes after the eruption started, the cloud containing the debris went up high into the sky up to nine miles. The sky was quite dark and the people of Pompeii lit lamps in what was normally a bright daylight. There were layers of ash and pumice accumulating on roofs and buildings were shaking from each of the subsequent tremors.

It was in the early morning of August 25, 79 when a mass of pyroclastic material that had erupted from Mount Vesuvius travelling at a speed of 60mph, landed over Pompeii and collapsed there. This saw hot ash, poisonous gases and lava fragments blasting into peoples homes through the tiny openings that are found in roofs, doors and windows. Many people in the Pompeii were killed but not at the instant of the eruption. People inhaled the hot gasses leading to their lungs being filled with fluid. When they were breathing, the victims ended up suffocating due to the clogging of their wind pipes and their lungs toping to function. This occurred over a short period of time and after just a short while the entire city had been covered and destroyed by this twenty-foot blanket of volcanic debris. For over 1500 years the city had been buried and forgotten (Mariamilani, 2009)

Pliny’s account of the eruption

Pliny was a respected historian who was near Pompeii when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius took place. On the morning before the eruption a servant came to him and told him of a strange cloud that was hovering around the Bay of Naples. The description that Pliny gave of the cloud was recorded by the people that were around him particularly his nephew who was later known as Pliny the younger. They gave a vivid description and picture of the eruption and its impact on people. Pliny the elder gave a description of the cloud as an immense tree truck that was raising high into the air as it opened up into several branches. He came to the realization that he was witnessing a major natural event hence he gave an order to his staff to prepare a small gallery that would take him closer to that cloud. Before leaving he got an urgent call from friend that lived on the slopes of the mountain. He then ordered extra boats to accompany him to Pompeii to assist in rescue mission. As these boast approached the beach that was nearest to Pompeii, he noticed that there were ashes falling with an increased density, they got thicker and hotter and they were accompanied by black pumice cinders and stones when they got close. All over sudden they noticed that they were at shallow waters and hence could not move any further since the water was blocked by debris from the mountain. They decided to change their course southwards and landed at Stabbiae, a place five miles at the south of Pompeii (Mariamilani, 2009).

That morning of the eruption, they were woken up by very loud noises and the walls of their houses swaying forward and backward. The ships in the harbor were tossed like toys. Though it was daylight, it was still pitch dark and as Pliny moved out of the house he was met with sulphur fumes and pumice particles as well as ash. He collapsed and died due to not being able to breathe.

A large piece of volcanic rock would crash through the roof of a building Pliny the younger nephew to Pliny who had died at Sabbiae was still at Misenum when the final destruction of Pompeii took place. He wrote n account of this destruction and sent it to historians later.

From his vantage point which was north of Misenum, he was able to see the entire area lying between Pompeii and him covered with a black cloud. The sea was just like land as it was covered by pumice fragments forming a new surface on the ocean. He heard cries of children and people all through around him. Time after time he saw a flash of light not from the sun but from fire that accompanied this cloud. There were ashes falling all around him and o that he was not buried or crushed beneath them, he got up periodically and shook them off. He finally saw a glimmer of light and then the sun. This appeared very faint as if an eclipse was taking place. He began the journey back to Misenum with his mother and everything was different due to the thick layer of ash which appeared like a giant snowfall.

The inhabitants of Pompeii had ben used to minor quakes just as Pliny the young wrote, “Earth tremors were not particularly alarming since they were frequent in Campania”. There was a destruction of temples, houses, roads and bridges all over Pompeii. There was some rebuilding done after the eruption but some of the damage is yet to be repaired.


It was in 1755 that Pompeii was rediscovered when work on constructing the Sarno canal began as people stumbled into ancient walls that had been covered with inscriptions and paintings. The architect Domenico Fontana was called and he began the unearthing of a few other frescoes but then covered them and hence nothing more came out of that discovery. Most of the local stories of the city were based on the fact that just a few meters of volcanic debris lay an entire city. From that point on the Pompeii became an important stopping point that was visited by many famous people. Pompeii has been a tourist destination for close to 250 years it is also a driving force towards the economy of other towns that are located near the city. The objects that were buried beneath Pompeii were preserved well for over two thousand years. Since threw s no air and moisture, these objects remained underground with no deterioration meaning that once they were excavated they had a wealth of source and adequate evidence for analysis.


Carwright, M. (2012). Pompeii. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from http://www.ancien.eu/pompeii/Eyewitness to history. (1999).The destruction of Pompeii, 79 AD. Retrieved September 16, 2014 from http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/pompeii.htmMariamilani.(2009). Ancient Pompelii timeline and history. Retrieved Septembeer 16, 2014 from HYPERLINK “http://www.mariamilani.com/ancient_rome/Ancient_Pompeii%20history%20timeline.htm” http://www.mariamilani.com/ancient_rome/Ancient_Pompeii%20history%20timeline.htm

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