Pompeii: A Sourcebook

Pompeii: A Sourcebook

Pompeii: A Sourcebook

Pompeii: A Sourcebook

Synopsis

This book presents translations of a wide selection of written records which survived the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, giving a vivid impression of what life was like in the town.From the labels on wine jars to scribbled insults, from advertisements for gladiatorial contests to love poetry, the individual chapters explore the early history of Pompeii, its destruction, leisure pursuits, politics, commerce and religion, plus early reports of its excavation.Information about the city from authors based in Rome is included, and the great majority of sources come from the city itself, written by its ordinary inhabitants - men and women, citizens and slaves.With helpful introductions, notes and illustrations, this sourcebook will appeal to anyone with an interest in Pompeii and in daily life in Roman times. It is also designed to be directly relevant to those studying the Romans in translation, at school or university level.

Excerpt

Pompeii was not a particularly significant Roman town. Even within its region of Campania, it was not as large or important as Naples or Puteoli; not as fashionable as Baiae or Stabiae; not as strategically important as Misenum nor as celebrated in literature as Cumae. No Pompeian made his mark on Roman literature or politics. No crucial moments in Rome's history hinge on Pompeii.

Yet today, because of the accident of its fate, Pompeii is a Unesco world heritage site, attracting up to five hundred times as many visitors each year as actually used to live in the town. The reason for this lies partly in the very ordinariness of the town and partly in the idea that its destruction by Mount Vesuvius preserved it in a time-capsule. Images of loaves of bread found in ovens, or of meals abandoned on dinner-tables, perpetuate this impression, but it is important in using this sourcebook to appreciate that this is not entirely accurate. It is not the case that, if only the right archaeological techniques were used, we could gain a full picture of daily life in Roman times, in a town frozen at the hour of its destruction. The violence of the eruption itself, with its earth tremors and pyroclastic activity, has thrown some aspects of the archaeological record into chaos: buildings and objects were not cocooned in gently descending pumice, but were subjected to extremes of heat and, if in the path of the pyroclastic flows, violently hurled away. If they had reacted at the start of the eruption, Pompeii's inhabitants would have had time to gather together their prized possessions and flee from the town into the countryside, although they might not in the end have escaped their doom. Nor was the town perfectly sealed from the time of its burial inAD79 until its official rediscovery in 1748; salvaging of materials from the site had been a common occurrence in the intervening period.

Nevertheless, it is easy to justify producing a sourcebook on Pompeii. Some of the written sources in this book - the inscriptions carved in stone on public and private monuments - were intended to perpetuate the memory of the individuals concerned, and, even if Vesuvius had not exploded, a few would probably have survived into modern times like the thousands of stone . . .

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