Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the commune of Pompeii. It came under the domination of Rome in the 4th century BC, and was conquered and became a Roman colony in 80 BC after it joined an unsuccessful rebellion against the Roman Republic.


The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. The objects that lay beneath the city have been well-preserved for centuries because of the lack of air and moisture.


These artifacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held human bodies.


The town was founded around the 6th–7th century BC by the Osci or Oscans, a people of central Italy, on what was an important crossroad between Cumae, Nola and Stabiae. It had already been used as a safe port by Greek and Phoenician sailors.


According to Strabo, Pompeii was also captured by the Etruscans, and in fact recent excavations have shown the presence of Etruscan inscriptions and a 6th-century BC necropolis.


In 89 BC, after the final occupation of the city by Roman General Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Pompeii was finally annexed by the Roman Republic. During this period, Pompeii underwent a vast process of infrastructural development, most of which was built during the Augustan period.


Pompeii was conquered by the Romans and in a short time it became very important for the Roman trade exchanges as it started to export wine and olive oil even to Provencal and Spain.


In this period Pompeii was inevitably influenced by the Roman architectural and cultural styles and during the imperial age many families belonging to the Roman patriciate sojourned in Pompeii where they built the Temple of Augustus and the Building of Eumachia.


Following seismic activity and coastal changes, Pompeii now stands 2km inland but it would have been much closer to the sea and the mouth of the Sarno in Roman times and around four metres lower.


Roman ruins after the eruption of Vesuvius in Pompeii, Italy


The Roman town of Pompeii covers some three square kilometres (one third remains unexcavated) but the outer suburbs were also densely populated. There were also hundreds of farms and around one hundred villas in the surrounding countryside. The population of the town has been estimated at 10-12,000, with one third being slaves.


Pompeii was finally re-discovered in 1755 CE when work on the construction of the Sarno Canal began. Local stories of ‘the city’ were proved to have been based on fact when under just a few metres of volcanic debris lay an entire town. From then on, Pompeii became an essential stopping point on the fashionable Grand Tour and included such famous visitors as Goethe, Mozart and Stendhal.


A particular rich source of data has been skeletal remains and the possibility to take plaster casts of the impressions left by the dead in the volcanic material provide evidence that bad teeth were a common problem – enamel was worn away by stone chips in bread, residue from the basalt milling stone.


Tooth decay and abscesses from an over-sweet diet were a common problem and tuberculosis, brucellosis and malaria were also rife. The skeletal remains of slaves, often found still chained despite the disaster, also tell a sad tale of malnutrition, chronic arthritis and deformity caused by overwork.


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