was found by Samnites in the 6th century, but soon thereafter became a
Greek colony. Greeks named the city
after mythical hero Hercules or Herakles. Greek
philosopher and historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus (circa 60 BC- after
7 BC) writes that Heracles was
the founder of both
Vesuvius. Whatever might be the case the first time we see the name
Herculaneum mentioned in the ancient texts is that of the
Ancient Greek philosopher Theoprhrastus (circa 371 BC- 287 BC) who calls
this city Heracleon.
The city served as a trading post that was visited by ships from all over the
Mediterranean. In the 4th century
was retaken by the Samnites. Finally it was sacked and captured by the
Romans who captured the city in 89 BC under leadership of Titus Didius,
a legate of Sulla. Under Roman rule
underwent large expansion.
Many private residencies and public buildings were constructed around
the time. One of
the main benefactors was proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus who lived in the
late first century BC. Originally born in Nuceria Alfaterna town of
Campania he became a close friend and an ally of the first Roman Emperor
Octavian Augustus. He donated large sums of money to construct beautiful
Herculaneum. Here he spent last years of his life and
eventually died here. Thankful residents honored their benefactor by
erecting marble statues in his honor. Herculaneum continued to grow in
size and population. By the time the city was destroyed it was home to
4,000- 5,000 inhabitants.
Roman rule and influence was not entirely positive however. We can see
that in a types of residents that existed in Herculaneum,. Houses from
the period of Samnites is very different from later residences
constructed during reign of the Romans. They are fairly modest and equal
in design and size. That is people before becoming part of the Roman
Empire did not have resources and will to stand out with their wealth.
Even rich people's houses were not much different from their
Once the Romans appear on the scene we see a different trend. Empire
certainly makes some citizens rich and incredibly powerful, while
predominant part of the society sinks to the bottom. Peasants couldn't
compete with large farming businesses that employ work of slaves. Many
families had to relocate to cities including Pompeii and Herculaneum and
become servants or even slaves. Residents of the city are in a similar
position. They sell their houses or simply loose them. A small minority
of residents on the other hand enjoyed an opulent lifestyle. This is
particularly notable in a design of houses they erected in the city.
They grew in size and splendor. New area of this expansion was provided
by demolishing houses of less fortunate neighbors who were forced to
work for meager payment or even become slaves.
On a fateful summer day of
August 24th, 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted covering
in 20 metres
(60 feet) of ash and volcanic mud. Initially eruption started to spew
ash from its crater which was blown in the South- East direction toward
Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae. Herculaneum that was situated to the West
of the mountain was initially spared. Only few inches of ash covered
in light grey blanket. However subsequent pyroclastic flow caught
the city and residents off guard. A huge mixture of hot gases and ash
descended from a mountain with a speed of 100 mph or 160 km per hour.
Many managed to escape
across the bay. In fact for a long it was thought
that everyone escaped the eruption. Only later did archaeologists
realized that many of the city's residents were simply cornered along a
sea shore. By the end of the day Herculaneum
Location of Herculaneum was
largely forgotten over centuries of human history. Eventually two cities
of Portici and Resina (today renamed Ercalono after a city) was
constructed on top of the ancient ruins. Only in the 18th century it was
rediscovered at a depth of 50- 60 feet below surface under supervision
of Rocco Gioacchino Alcubierre (or Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre) and his
personal assistant Carlo Weber. They dug extensive underground tunnels
through remains of Roman homes and businesses often causing great damage
to old buildings. They were also the first to compile a map of ancient
structures, which they described in a publication of Le Antichita di
Ercolano (The Antiquities of Herculaneum).
Archaeological digs on a site of old Herculaneum continue to this day.
The main problem that modern scientists face today is preservation of
the site. Many of the previous foundlings were lost to collapse due to
natural elements and erosion. Discovery of new insulas, residences and
chops often take back seat to proper support and preservation of already
discovered structures. One of the most disappointing parts of visiting
Herculaneum is closure of some parts of the city for general public.