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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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3 comments:

SarahElisabeth Jones said...

My youngest has recently developed a fascinating with Pompeii. We have been looking at pictures, this week. He will be fascinated by these videos-thank you.

Marcy Crabtree said...

I sure wish you could teach history to Ben (and me!). And I'm so proud of you for participating in #abcblogging this round! Yay!

I featured this post for the Letter A. You can see here: http://benandme.com/2014/05/abc-blogging-favorites-letter.html

Under the Sky ... said...

Thanks, Sarah Elizabeth! We were *so* interested in them!

Marcy, you are a sweet friend. It is fun and I hope I make it all the way to Z! :D

Warmly,
Kate