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The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. is unquestionably the most written about natural disaster in history. The city of Pompeii was one of the many thriving towns around the Bay of Naples. With a population of between 10,000 and 20,000 people, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius was a catastrophe. There had been several earth tremors in the days leading up to the eruption. On August 24, 79 A.D., within a day, the inhabitants of Pompeii and the nearby coastal town of Herculaneum were buried in ash from the volcano. In the 18th century researchers began exploring the buried cities and found that the ash had actually been an immaculate preservative. This allowed for researchers to reconstruct the life and art of Pompeii to a degree like none others.
To elaborate on the city of Pompeii before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the forum (shown above, on the right) was the center of civic life in Pompeii. Also known as its public square. The Forum was were Pompeiians congregated to purchase and sell merchandises. The Forum square was approximately 465 feet in length by 125 feet in width. The Amphitheater of Pompeii (shown above, on the left) is one of the oldest known examples of Roman technology. This arena could accommodate approximately 20,000-22,000 people. The Amphitheater was used for a “blood sport”. It was an exclusive type or Roman edifice. Gladiator combats and wild animal hunts took place here as a form of entertainment for the people of Pompeii. The mural in the Amphitheater, ‘Brawl in the Amphitheater’, depicted a dispute in 59 A.D. among the people of Pompeii and the people of Nuceria. Murals covered the city of Pompeii. They were on buildings, homes, and the city walls. The mural inscriptions mainly consisted of political slogans.
Pompeii was known for its wealth. Which came from wine and olive oil exports. The ground was exceptionally fertile and the climate was ideal for growing grapes. Wine and olive oil were exported and stored in terracotta jars. Bacchus, God of the Vineyards, was believed by the people of Pompeii to have represented wine, and help the vineyards grow.
Many sculptures derived from Pompeii. For instance, Head of a boy. The boy was identified by researchers to be a boy of a wealthy Pompeii family. In particular one of the most powerful and wealthy before the Roman colonization. It is now located in the National Archeological Museum. (Grant) Along with many other sculptures including Perseus with the Head of Medusa. Pompeii had several interesting buildings and sculptures. The House of Vettii, owned by the Vettius brothers, Conviva and Restitutus, were invested in imperative public offices. It was reconstructed after an earthquake in 69 A.D. and has many fascinating mural paintings.
As you can see, the city of Pompeii was thriving until its destruction on August 24, 79 A.D. An eyewitness account of the eruption gave researchers today more insight as to what happened on that day. Pliny the Elder has become one of the most significant sources of information about the destruction of Pompeii. He was a commander of the Roman fleet during this time and had tried to rescue people who stayed behind during the eruption. Pliny the Elder actually died during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, but his nephew Pliny the Younger, left letters about the encounter. In one of the letters about that horrific encounter he wrote, “Its general appearance can best be expressed as being like an umbrella pine, for it rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into two branches, I imagine because it was thrust upward by the first blast and then left unsupported as the pressure subsided, or else it was borne down by its own weight so that it spread out and gradually dispersed. Sometimes it looked white, sometimes blotched and dirty, according to the amount of soil and ashes it carried with it.” “The carts that we had ordered brought were moving in opposite directions, though the ground was perfectly flat, and they wouldn’t stay in place even with their wheels blocked by stones. In addition, it seemed as though the sea was being sucked backwards, as if it were being pushed back by the shaking of the land. Certainly the shoreline moved outwards, and many sea creatures were left on dry sand. Behind us were frightening dark clouds, rent by lightning twisted and hurled, opening to reveal huge figures of flame. These were like lightning, but bigger……. It wasn’t long thereafter that the cloud stretched down to the ground and covered the sea. It girdled Capri and made it vanish, it hid Misenum’s promontory. Then my mother began to beg and urge and order me to flee however I might, saying that a young man could make it, that she, weighed down in years and body, would die happy if she escaped being the cause of my death. I replied that I wouldn’t save myself without her, and then I took her hand and made her walk a little faster. She obeyed with difficulty, and blamed herself for delaying me.
Now came the dust, though still thinly. I look back: a dense cloud looms behind us, following us like a flood poured across the land. “Let us turn aside while we can still see, lest we be knocked over in the street and crushed by the crowd of our companions.” We had scarcely sat down when a darkness came that was not like a moonless or cloudy night, but more like the black of closed and unlighted rooms. You could hear women lamenting, children crying, men shouting……………. It grew lighter, though that seemed not a return of day, but a sign that the fire was approaching. The fire itself actually stopped some distance away, but darkness and ashes came again, a great weight of them. We stood up and shook the ash off again and again, otherwise we would have been covered with it and crushed by the weight. I might boast that no groan escaped me in such perils, no cowardly word, but that I believed that I was perishing with the world, and the world with me, which was a great consolation for death. At last the cloud thinned out and dwindled to no more than smoke or fog. Soon there was real daylight. The sun was even shining, though with the lurid glow it has after an eclipse. The sight that met our still terrified eyes was a changed world, buried in ash like snow.”(http://www.gso.uri.edu/vesuvius/Plinys/PlinyY.html) The type of eruption Pliny described geologists refer to as a Plinean Eruption. The city of Pompeii remained generally untouched and forgotten for nearly 1,700 years buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash before it was rediscovered and explored in the 18th century.
The volcanic ash from the eruption practically suffocated and buried the remaining people who stayed behind during the eruption. The bodies later discovered appeared to look like they were sleeping rather than dead. The people of Pompeii had remained frozen right where they had fallen. Researchers were able to fill the empty spaces where bodies had been with plaster. By doing this they were able to make casts of the people of Pompeii. While many items and sculptures from Pompeii are now currently on display throughout different museums, you can visit Pompeii and see the city. Researchers were able to virtually reconstruct the city to its previous standing before the eruption and get a better understanding of Roman life.
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