The Digging of Pompeii
THE DIGGING OF POMPEII
Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the commune of Pompeii. Along with Herculaneum, its sister city, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the Mount Vesuvius spanning two days in 79 AD. The eruption buried Pompeii under 4 to 6 meters of ash and pumice, and it was lost for over 1,500 years before its accidental rediscovery in 1599. Since then, its excavation has provided an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire.
Pompeii and Vesuvius / Pixabay
THE EARLY WARNING
Though Mt. Vesuvius had once been a very active volcano, it had remained dormant for as long as humans could remember. Since no legacy of destruction had been passed down from their ancestors, the people living near the mountain didn't realize there was any potential for danger.
The first warning sign came on February, A.D. 62. A "long, muffled roar" shook the town; nobody could tell what it was, or where it had come from. The earth began to tremble, and buildings collapsed all around. People rushed out of the town and away from the falling buildings. The towns nearby reservoir also broke, adding floods to the chaotic scene. Though it was destructive, the first earthquake lasted for only a moment; an hour later, however, the area was seized by another tremor. The quakes continued to occur at unpredictable intervals, inflicting alternate moods of hysteria and hope, until nightfall.
HISTORY OF POMPEII
Very little is known about the early settlers of Campania, its first settlers were probably hunters and fishers. Within the eight century BC, a group of Italic people known as the Oscans, they most likely inhabited the region and established Pompeii, the exact date is still unknown. The Ionians also settled in Campania during the eight century.
Their Greek settlers began the small trading post and soon dominated the area and grew into successful merchant cities. For a few centuries the inhabitants of Compania remained under of the Hellenic control, both Pompeii and the nearby Herculanium the center of Greek occupation. During the fifth century B.C. a group of warriors from Samnium, a region north of Campania, invaded the latter region and seized control of Pompeii. Rome, vying with the Samnites over control of the Italic peninsula, drove the Samnites out in the fourth century B.C. and took Pompeii as its own ally about 290 B.C.
Rome's control over Pompeii was distant - the city was allowed to retain its own language and culture, but was required to admit itself subject to Rome without benefiting from the status of Roman citizenship. When the Social War began in 90 B.C., they saw a chance at freedom and joined forces with other Roman "allies" against the city that oppressed them. The rebels and Rome fought for two years but one of Rome's most brilliant general, Sulla, eventually defeated the Campanians. He took Pompeii and Herculaneum in 89 B.C.
They were awarded the status of Roman citizenship, but their former liberty was taken away. In order to quell any further uprisings, Rome established colonies of army veterans to help keep the order. Then the "Romanization" of the region begins.
Campania adapted to the Romans as easily as it had to the Greeks. Because of the area's natural resources, trade flourished and the standard of living was raised. Pompeii developed its luxury services, trade with foreign countries and agricultural produce. As Rome itself became more prosperous, its wealthy citizens looked to Pompeii and the Gulf of Naples as a relaxing vacation area. The shoreline of the Gulf became host to the splendid country houses of the most powerful people in the world, including emperors, court personages, and Roman aristocracy. It appeared that Pompeii and the surrounding villas had finally found the peace and happiness they had longed for.
Last Day of Pompeii, Karl Briullov (1830-1833) / public domain
MT. VESUVIUS ERUPTS
Signs of the upcoming eruption began at the beginning of August in A.D. 79. Small tremors shook the ground, but the quakes were so insignificant and caused so little damage that only few paid any attention to them. Springs and wells also dried up, which in ancient times was often interpreted as a sign of the gods' displeasure.
That same month, the earth began to rumble and crack and the usually calm sea gave way to giant waves. Animals became uneasy and restless, as if they could foresee the disaster that awaited the town. Finally, on the morning of August 24th, 79 A. D. after seventeen years, the volcano burst open more powerful than any modern bomb invented. Smoke, mud, flames and burning stones spewed from the summit of the mountain, sending a rain of ash and rock through the surrounding countryside. The mud seeped down the sides of Vesuvius, swallowing nearby farms, orchards and country houses. Adding to the devastation were the mephitic vapors that accompanied the falling debris; the fumes first caused deliriousness in their victims, then suffocated them.
Some people of Pompeii grabbed their belongings and attempted to flee the area; others perhaps chose to wait until the streets were clear of the panicked masses; still others sealed themselves up in rooms, supposing that the ashes and poisonous gasses would not harm them there. The unfortunate people who could not escape in time to avoid disaster were killed by falling buildings, suffocated by the mephitic gas, or simply buried by the rapidly falling ash. Their bodies were quickly covered by the volcano's mineral deposits, which covered Pompeii in a layer more than 30 feet thick.
THE DIGGINGS OF POMPEII
After thick layers of ash covered the two towns, they were abandoned and eventually their names and locations were forgotten. The first time it was unearthed was in 1599, when the digging of an underground channel to divert the river Sarno, ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions. The architect Domenico Fontana unearthed a few more frescoes but then covered them over again and nothing more came of the discovery. Fontana's act of covering over the paintings has been seen both as censorship - in view of the frequent sexual content of such paintings - and as a broad-minded act of preservation for later times as he would have known that paintings of the hedonistic kind which was later found in some Pompeian villas were not considered in good taste in the fiercely moralistic and classicist climate of the counter-reformation.
Herculaneum was properly rediscovered in 1738 by workmen digging for the foundations 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. These towns have since been excavated to reveal many intact buildings and wall paintings.
“GARDEN OF THE FUGITIVES” – PLASTER CASTS OF VICTIMS
Karl Weber directed the first real excavations, he was followed in 1764 by military engineer Francisco la Vega. Francisco la Vega was succeeded by his brother, Pietro, in 1804. Giuseppe Fiorelli took charge of the excavations in 1860. During early excavations of the site, occasional voids in the ash layer had been found that contained human remains. It was Fiorelli who realized these were spaces left by the decomposed bodies and so devised the 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 residents who failed to escape, in their last moment of life, with the expression of terror clearly visible.
THE PAVED STREET
Some have theorized that Fontana found some of the famous erotic frescoes and, due to the strict modesty prevalent during his time, reburied them in an attempt at archaeological censorship. This view is bolstered by reports of later excavators who felt that sites they were working on had already been visited and reburied. Even many recovered household items had a sexual theme. The ubiquity of such imagery and items indicates that the sexual mores of the ancient Roman culture of the time were much more liberal than most present-day cultures, although much of what might seem to us to be erotic imagery (e.g. over-sized phalluses) was in fact fertility-imagery.
This clash of cultures led to an unknown number of discoveries being hidden away again. A wall fresco which depicted Priapus, the ancient god of sex and fertility, with his extremely enlarged penis, was covered with plaster, even the older reproduction below was locked away "out of prudishness" and only opened on request and only rediscovered in 1998 due to rainfall.
SOURCE PHOTOGRAPHER - http://lj.rossia.org/users/john_petrov/445870.html
Images from GOOGLE IMAGE
Images from wikipedia.org