Pompeii: Its Life and Art

By August Mau; Francis W. Kelsey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE CITY OVERWHELMED

PREVIOUS to the terrible eruption of 79, Vesuvius was considered an extinct volcano. "Above these places," says Strabo, writing in the time of Augustus, "lies Vesuvius, the sides of which are well cultivated, even to the summit. This is level, but quite unproductive. It has a cindery appearance; for the rock is porous and of a sooty color, the appearance suggesting that the whole summit may once have been on fire and have contained craters, the fires of which died out when there was no longer anything left to burn."

Earthquakes, however, were of common occurrence in Campania. An especially violent shock on the fifth of February, 63 A.D., gave warning of the reawakening of Vesuvius. Great damage was done throughout the region lying between Naples and Nuceria, but the shock was most severe at Pompeii, a large part of the buildings of the city being thrown down. The prosperous and enterprising inhabitants at once set about rebuilding. When the final catastrophe came, on the twenty fourth of August, 79 A.D., most of the houses were in a good state of repair, and the rebuilding of at least two temples, those of Apollo and of Isis, had been completed. This renewing of the city, caused by the earthquake, may be looked upon as a fortunate circumstance for our studies.

Our chief source of information for the events of August 24- 26, 79, is a couple of letters of the Younger Pliny to Tacitus, who purposed to make use of them in writing his history. Pliny was staying at Misenum with his uncle, the Elder Pliny, who was in command of the Roman fleet. In the first letter he tells of his uncle's fate. On the afternoon of the twenty-fourth, the admiral Pliny set out with ships to rescue from impending danger the people at the foot of Vesuvius, particularly in the vicinity

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