Ermak Travel Guide


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Chronology of the Death of Pompeii








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.






24 August
  Geological chronology

Chronology of Pliny the Younger

Morning - 1pm 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 limits.

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.

1-5pm 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 the procurator."

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.
The ash 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.

5pm 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.

Then he 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.


25 August
12am 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 night.

2am 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 drank.

6:30 am 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 often inflamed.

7 am 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.

7:30- 8 am 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.