Our idea of the death of Pompeii is largely shaped
by the famous painting of the famous Russian artist Karl Bryullov
"The Last Day of Pompeii". Strictly speaking, the city was destroyed
in two days of August for a few hours. Below, we will try to restore
the chronology of events from an archaeological site and from the
words of an eyewitness, Pliny the Younger, a Roman historian.
Chronology of Pliny the Younger
The first tremors began early in the morning on August 24.
Earthquakes are quite frequent in this region and for the
majority of the inhabitants of Pompeii did not cause any
particular concern. About 12 o'clock in the afternoon the
volcano itself woke up. A small trickle of thought appeared
over the mountain. The first pieces of pumice in the size of
2-6 cm began to fall in the east of Mount Vesuvius around
12:30. Most people looked at the colorful spectacle with
delight and fear, but only a few decided to leave the city
n the ninth day before the calends of
September (August 24), at the beginning of the day, my
mother drew my uncle's attention to a cloud of unusual size
and appearance. Its general form can best be described as a
pine umbrella, for it has risen to a great height as a kind
of tree trunk, and then branches have separated from it. I
imagine that this was because it was thrust up by the
initial blast until its power weakened and it was left
unsupported and spread out sideways under its own weight.
Sometimes it looked light coloured, sometimes it looked
mottled and dirty with the earth and ash it had carried up.
Like a true scholar, my uncle saw at once that it deserved
closer study and ordered a boat to be prepared. He said that
I could go with him, but I chose to continue my studies.
The first pieces of pumice began to fall on the city of
Pompeii around 1:30 pm Pumice is a light material and did
not cause any special harm. This volcanic rock can even
float on the water, and the temperature of the rock is not
hot at all. By the way, the lightness of pumice was fatal
for many Pompeii residents. The navy of the Roman Empire
tried to cross the Gulf of Naples from its bases, but it was
pumice stone that proved to be a barrier to warships. They
could not quickly and in time to undertake the evacuation of
the citizens of Pompeii. Many residents began to seek
shelter in homes. Mount Vesuvius awoke, and a column of
smoke rose to a height of 15 km above the ground. Light
pumice rain falls on the city. The city begins to be covered
with a layer of white rock at a speed of 15 cm per hour. By
this time, Pompeii are in the twilight of the oncoming
clouds from the volcano. Almost like the classic "Darkness
that came from the Mediterranean, covered the city hated by
Just as he was leaving the house, he
was handed a message from Rectina, the wife of Tascus, whose
home was at the foot of the mountain, and had no way of
escape except by boat. She was terrified by the threatening
danger and begged him to rescue her. He changed the plan at
once and what he had started in a spirit of scientific
curiosity he ended as a hero. He ordered the large galleys
to be launched and set sail. He steered bravely straight for
the danger zone that everyone else was leaving in fear and
haste but still kept on noting his observations.
already falling became hotter and thicker as the ships
approached the coast and it was soon superseded by pumice
and blackened burnt stones shattered by the fire. Suddenly
the sea shallowed where the shore was obstructed and choked
by debris from the mountain. He wondered whether to turn
back, as the captain advised, but decided instead to go on.
"Fortune favours the brave", he said, "take me to
Pomponianus". Pomponianus lived at Stabiae across the Bay of
Naples, which was not yet in danger, but would be threatened
if it spread. Pomponianus had already put his belongings
into a boat to escape as soon as the contrary onshore wind
changed. This wind, of course, was fully in my uncle's
favour and quickly brought his boat to Stabiae. My uncle
calmed and encouraged his terrified friend and was cheerful,
or at least pretended to be, which was just as brave.
At 5:30pm, the first collapses in Pompeii begin. The pumice
layer reaches the maximum weight and the roofs begin to
collapse, burying people searching for salvation in vain
under their family vaults. These are the first victims of
the eruption, but not the last. The bodies found in the
lower layers of pumice in almost all cases were located in
houses buried under the arches of the houses. On the streets
of the body in this layer were almost not found being on the
street was safer for people than inside the houses.
After his (uncle's) bath, he laid
down and dined; he was quite cheerful, in any case, he
pretended that he was such, which made him no less
courageous. At the same time, broad leaves of fire appeared
on Mount Vesuvius and the flames leaped and flared in
several places, their bright light was emphasized by the
dark night. My uncle tried to dispel the fears of his
companions, repeatedly claiming that it was just the fires
left by the peasants at the time of their horror, or fires
in empty houses in the areas where they were.
went to rest and, of course, slept, for, since he was fat,
his breathing (snoring) was quite loud and heavy and could
be heard by people coming and leaving the door.
The column of Vesuvius collapses in the form of a choke gas,
and then pyroclastic flows. Moving at a speed of up to 400
km / h, a hot wave of volcanic rocks and gas covers
Pompeii’s neighbors in the town of Herculaneum. All who were
still alive instantly die.
By this time, the courtyard to his
room was full of ash mixed with pumice, so that its level
rose, and if he had stayed longer he could never get out.
My uncle was awakened, went out and joined Pomponianus
and the rest of the household people who had not slept all
The second wave of pyroclastic flows.
Meanwhile, tall broad flames blazed
from several places on Vesuvius and glared out through the
darkness of the night. My uncle soothed the fears of his
companions by saying that they were nothing more than fires
left by the terrified peasants, or empty abandoned houses
that were blazing. he went to bed and apparently fell
asleep, for his loud, heavy breathing was heard by those
passing his door. But, eventually, the courtyard outside
began to fill with so much ash and pumice that, if he had
stayed in his room, he would never have been able to get
out. He was awakened and joined Pomponianus and his servants
who had sat up all night. They wondered whether to stay
indoors or go out into the open, because the buildings were
now swaying back and forth and shaking with more violent
tremors. Outside, there was the danger from the falling
pumice, although it was only light and porous. After
weighing up the risks, they chose the open country and tied
pillows over their heads with cloths for protection.
My uncle decided to go down to the shore. There, the mat
was spread on the ground for my uncle, so that he could lie
down. And he repeatedly asked for the cold water that he
The third wave of pyroclastic flows reaches the northern
walls of Pompeii.
Then the flame and the smell of
sulfur, which marked the approach of fire, caused others to
flee. Excited, my uncle struggled to his feet, leaning on
two slaves, but he immediately collapsed. I believe that his
breathing was hampered by the thick smoke that blocked his
trachea - for it was constitutionally weak and narrow and
The fourth wave kills most of the survivors. The victims
were found at a height of 2-3 meters above the ground. A
pumice blanket covered the city and many of its inhabitants
died sitting on the roofs of their houses.
The fifth and sixth waves completely cover the whole city.
The Gulf of Naples is covered with pumice, ash and dust.
And now the ash fell, but at first
rarely. Behind us (Pliny the Younger and his mother) is an
ominous thick smoke spreading over the earth like a flood,
following us. As soon as we agreed what to do, we were
shrouded in the night. Only shrill cries of women, crying of
children, cries of people were heard. But the darkness
brightened, and then, a cloud of smoke dissolved away. It
seemed that everything had changed - covered with a thick
layer of ash, like after a heavy snowfall.