Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A is for AD 79 - Mount Vesuvius

(Source: Wiki)
If you are a lover of history as I am, you will not gloss over the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Italy's Bay of Naples. It was *truly* an astonishing event that covered not only the famous Pompeii, but also the coastal city of Herculaneum. I found the study of this city to be far more fascinating because it was much closer to Vesuvius and therefore covered by three times the amount of ash and pyroclastic flow than Pompeii. Why does that matter? It quite literally preserved every thing on every floor and locked it in a tomb of rock--preserved it for what is relatively recent discovery and excavation.

On the right, you see the mountain as the Romans viewed it - green, lush, fertile, and teeming with life. It was exactly this until it blew its top. It is actually lush and fertile again--even if it is a dangerous place to live--but at least people are aware of its power now. The ancients didn't even realize that it was a volcano as it had been so long since anything had happened.

We studied this fascinating place today, and I found some really good video resources to share with the co-op. Here is a video of the destruction of Pompeii in recreation. This was really fascinating as Pompeii was not hit as hard as Herculaneum, but it was still hit very hard! It also shows the time frame. It was not in an instant and it is likely that many people were able to flee.

This is a faster recreation of the whole deadly process that adds quite a bit of information.

From Wiki:

Mount Vesuvius spawned a deadly cloud of volcanic gas, stones, ash and fumes to a height of 20.5 miles, spewing molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second, ultimately releasing a hundred thousand times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima bombing. The towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum were obliterated and buried underneath massive pyroclastic flows and lava.

A pyroclastic flow is a fast-moving current of hot gas and rock (collectively known as tephra), which reaches speeds moving away from a volcano of up to 450 mph. The gas can reach temperatures of about 1,830 °F.  Pyroclastic flows normally hug the ground and travel downhill, or spread laterally under gravity. Their speed depends upon the density of the current, the volcanic output rate, and the gradient of the slope. They are a common and devastating result of certain explosive volcanic eruptions.

An estimated 16,000 citizens in the Roman vicinities of Pompeii and Herculaneum perished due to geothermal pyroclastic flows.

And just what happened to a body during such an event? This is the medical report - short and sweet, and pretty astonishing.

This is the BBC's well-done video on Life and Death in Herculaneum. (Parental Note: Please watch this first and edit where necessary before showing to your children. Pompeii had brothels and this video shows photos of some of the frescoes designed for these places.) The video is mostly focused on the discoveries found in Herculaneum and they are, quite honestly, profound.

Pliny the Younger wrote an account of the eruption:

Broad sheets of flame were lighting up many parts of Vesuvius; their light and brightness were the more vivid for the darkness of the night... it was daylight now elsewhere in the world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any night.

It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to watch whole cities disappear. Herculaneum was buried under 60-75 feet of ash and flow and only a tiny fraction of the town has been uncovered. More than 300 skeletons found on the then-coastline are revealing so much more about the Romans than we have ever known before. The deaths of these people would not have been pretty, but due to the ash coverage, Herculaneum, even more than Pompeii, offers a rare glimpse into the real lives of ancient Romans. It has brought to life new ideas about these people and their times--what it was really like to live and die a Roman--and who might have called themselves by that title. Slaves were not always slaves, and the Romans were far from backward in their social and societal development. In fact, their towns were probably cleaner and better run than even many of our modern towns today! 

It's amazing what you can learn by digging in the dirt, isn't it?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.

It is impossible to study Roman history and not also study the early Christians and their astonishing trials. In his work, Apologeticus, the 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian wrote that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church." This was absolutely true then and is still true in parts of the world today.

The stories of our forefathers and mothers in the church are encouraging yet haunting depictions of incredible faith in a living Savior. I read their stories and I am at once amazed and chastised.

Imagine yourself as a young nursing mother, facing your pleading aged father from a dungeon cell. From the Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas, these are a few of the recorded words of the early martyr, Perpetua:

While we were still under arrest my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. 'Father,' said I, 'do you see this vase here, for example, or waterpot or whatever?'

'Yes, I do', said he.

And I told him: 'Could it be called by any other name than what it is?'

And he said: 'No.'

'Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.'

She would die in the arena in 203 AD. The record of her faith comes to us today and it is not for the faint of heart. Would you face the arena with the same grace and joy that she did? I am not sure that I would.

Then there is the powerful story of Polycarp. His martyrdom story can be read in full at the link, but this portion was particularly powerful to me.

As Polycarp was being taken into the arena, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice. When the crowd heard that Polycarp had been captured, there was an uproar. The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

“I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”

Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:8-10

Amen and amen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nothing sweeter than free to a homeschool mama!

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine is having a crazy "sale" right now except that the price is FREE!

Don't miss these two, friends!

These are whole sets for absolutely nothing. 


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Barbarism and Beauty

When I study Roman history, so many different adjectives roll through my mind. Their lust for glory and power quite literally paved the then known world. Rome's earthly conquerors and kings set the stage for the True Conquering King! The King of Kings and Lord of Lords entered the world as a human baby. It was a decree from Rome that brought Jesus to His long-ago foretold birthplace. Roman history is everywhere and all over the time of Christ.

That's where we are in history right now. It is hard to study Roman history because it went on for so many hundreds of years! Where does one begin and how is it possible to grasp it all? We just can't, I know, but each time we come to this time period, I certainly do try. 

We are reading a most interesting "documentary novel" entitled, The Flames of Rome(aff) It is set in AD 47. We are reading it out loud so it has caused me to jump over a few things of a more spicy nature. The author, Paul L. Maier, is a brilliant story teller, but more than that, he has kept the history just as it is. From the preface:

Since the true story of these times is so much more intriguing than the many fictionalized versions, I have not tampered with known facts in retelling it--unlike almost all historical novelists--nor invented characters that could never match the kind who actually lived in this era. The factual undergirding is documented in the Notes, some of which unveil new historical data.

All people in the book were real and their stories are told as accurately as possible. It is an incredible story so far and we are all intrigued and want to know what happens. I appreciate how the author ends his preface:

Though several episodes in these pages may seem lurid or jar our sensibilities, all are historical--none is contrived; as authentic fertilizer in the Roman seedbed of Christianity, it would have been dishonest to omit them.

Life in a Roman world was a harsh and immoral place. Christianity spread despite the persecution and temptations of the ancient world. This is a huge thing. We think we are the only ones facing an immoral world and hard choices, but we don't have to choose between life or death for our faith. We don't have to endure the suffering our early brothers and sisters faced--at least not in the USA.

Christ came amidst this time and place. Faced the painful death of the cross while up against a harsh and uncaring culture. He felt more than any pain we have ever faced. He knows our weakness and frailty and knows what it is to be tempted, beaten, and afflicted. He is Savior--and conquered not only Rome, but death and hell and the curse of sin.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 
-Hebrews 4:15-16

Great is His faithfulness. 

Studying history isn't a futile thing. It brings the past to the present. The Christ of yesterday is the same Christ of today--unchanging, eternal, glorified.