Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius in the background

The Roman city of Pompeii is one of the most famous and most fascinating ancient cities in the world. On 24 and 25 October in the year 79 AD, the city was completely destroyed when the nearby volcano of Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered the city in a thick layer of volcanic ash.

Visiting the site today is still an impressive experience and archaeologists continue to make new discoveries. Many of these can now be seen in the newly-opened Pompeii museum.

Two men found in the ashes

The remains of many bodies covered in ash have been found in the ruins and in November 2020 the skeletons of two men were found near a villa in Civita Giuliana. This area was a northern suburb of the city which contained many large villas. Excavations here in 2017 revealed a number of finds including the remains of three saddled and equipped horses in the stables of a high-ranking military officer.

These two men, excavated in November, survived the first eruption on 24 October but were overwhelmed by the subsequent volcanic explosion and clouds of ash on the following day. The men could not escape the poisonous combination of ash and rubble and their dead bodies were covered with layers of ash up to 2 metres thick. The men were found in a room connected to the  underground passages of the villa and archaeologists believe that the men were trying to hide from the destruction.

Based on an examination of the teeth and spine, it is thought that one of the men was between 18 and 25 years old and was most probably employed in heavy physical work, perhaps as a slave. The other man was between 30 and 40 years old and lay with his legs spread out.

The following YouTube film clip shows how skeletons are excavated in Pompeii. During the eruption the bodies of the victims were so quickly covered in hot ash that the body and clothing immediately disintegrated, leaving only a hollow shell inside the ash. By pouring plaster into the hollow it is possible to make a cast of the form inside. In a macabre way the person takes shape in front of us at the moment of death. Textile folds, visible as impressions in the ash, reveal that the older man wore a woollen coat and a tunic. The younger man wore only a tunic.

Fast food Roman style

In December 2020 it was announced that for the first time a thermopolium had been uncovered in Pompeii in an almost complete state of preservation. A thermopolium is a shop where people could buy ready-made meals – in other words, a take-away! Many people had no kitchen in their houses, so buying such meals would have been quite common. This is not the only take-away in Pompeii as around 80 other examples have previously been found, but this is the most intact.

The newly-excavated thermopolium consists of a many-sided counter with large holes in the top. Deep earthenware jars were placed in these holes, some containing warm food. The sides of the counter are covered with beautiful painted fresco’s showing wild ducks and a cockerel. Such images, either painted or sometimes mosaic, acted as a sort of advertisement for the products available for sale.  

Preliminary results based on an analysis of food remains have revealed a piece of duck bone in one of the earthenware jars, along with remains of goat, pig, fish and snails

Museum opening

The new museum, called the Antiquarium of Pompeii, was opened in January 2020. A museum was first erected here in 1873, but it was damaged during the Second World War and again by a severe earthquake in 1980. Since then the museum has been closed. A permanent exhibition in the new museum tells the story of the history of Pompeii from the 4th century BC to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Many significant finds are on display, such as plaster casts of the two men described above and other people who were desperately trying to escape from the city during the eruption. Other finds emphasise the close relationship between Pompeii and Rome.

The most recent information on opening times can be found on the website at

http://pompeiisites.org/en/

Text                  Riemke Scharff

Translation     Alun Harvey

Vorig artikelDe laatste ijstijd
Volgend artikelCeremonial chariot found at Pompeii

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