Pyroclastic Pompeii


The ruins of Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background, sleeping.

Pompeii plaster figureThat 3D film showing the last 24 hours of Pompeii had me dodging the pumice and watching the sparks fly past my head. It was almost too realistic for my liking. I felt very glad to be safe in the modern era, more than 1900 years after that series of pyroclastic surges flowed over Pompeii, burying the city and its hapless inhabitants.

Even though the film was a brilliant reconstruction of the events in one part of the city, I think the plaster figures were more moving and distressing to see. They made it so easy to picture the last moments of the people and the animals: the slave tearing at his leg irons, the dog writhing in pain, the people clasped together in love and despair.

So let’s remember the people of Pompeii. I love their graffiti. Here’s a selection:

  • Lovers are like bees in that they live a honeyed life.
  • Atimetus has got me pregnant.
  • I hope your piles irritate you so that they burn like they’ve never burned before.
  • Nobody is gallant unless he has loved.
  • If anyone does not believe in Venus, he should gaze at my girlfriend.

Below are some fascinating facts that I learned today. See if you can add something I haven’t mentioned in a comment for others to read or, if you prefer, write a comment about what you found most interesting about the exhibition.

The bread of the rich contained yeast and therefore was soft and fluffy. The bread of the poor was unleavened (containing no yeast) and was therefore flat and hard, a little like pita bread. You see, inequality permeates even the most basic aspects of life.

People used dice in Pompeii and they were not above cheating. There were some samples of loaded dice at the exhibition; they had been weighted to fall on some numbers more often.



Pompeii - paved streetMost of the people who died in Pompeii survived for the first 22 hours or so, but were killed by the intense heat and buried by the series of pyroclastic surges between 6.30 and 7.30am on August 25, 79AD (almost 24 hours after the first explosion from Vesuvius).

Pompeii with VesuviusThe ash, pumice and sand reached a height of 4 metres, burying the city so effectively that after several years had passed people began to forget where it had once stood.

Pompeii - columnsEven though 2,000 people died, it is estimated that 10,000 people survived. They were the ones who fled from the city well before the pyroclastic surges began in the early hours of 25 August.

Pompeii courtyardPliny the Younger, who wrote the sole surviving eye-witness account of the eruption, had this type of volcanic event named after him. A “Plinian” eruption is one characterised by repeated explosions.

What can you remember? What did you find most fascinating? Write a comment to inform others.

You were a pleasure to take on an excursion, 7E. Thanks!

Ms Green.

Pompeii: Horrible for the Victims but an Archaeologist’s Dream…

Knowledge is often an arbitrary gift. The people of the ancient world, with few of our advantages, worked out many things for themselves. They figured out the uses of pi, for instance. They thought up philosophy, art, geometry, theatre and democracy. They designed and built buildings such as the pyramids and the Colosseum. Their architecture and sculpture still inspired people in the late Middle Ages; the Romans’ roads were unequalled till the 19th century.  

  Pompeii - paved street

If you go to Pompeii you can still see the stone paving on the streets and walk along them. Spooky. (Photo taken in 1995) 

And yet…before the eruption of Vesuvius, no one apparently had realised that there was a link between earthquakes and volcanic activity. This ignorance had disastrous consequences for the people of Pompeii, who had experienced many tremors but did not suspect that the dormant volcano nearby might be about to spew out gases, pumice and overpowering heat. When it did, those who fled without a moment’s pause had a chance of survival. Those who hunkered down to sit it out were melted by a pyroclastic surge.

Pompeii - Vesuvius 2The troublesome mountain of Vesuvius in 1995


Click HERE to do a crossword on Pompeii and walk (metaphorically speaking) its ancient, empty streets…

Pompeii with VesuviusA modern-day view of Pompeii (photo taken in 1995)


(Actually there are lots of tourists there now. It’s a fascinating place to visit if you ever get the opportunity.)

Work and Play in Everyday Pompeii

(Clipart licensed from the Clip Art Gallery,

First of all, you need to know that ancient Roman society was dangerous.

You could be eaten by lions.

You could be sent to gladiator school.

You could be sold into slavery and sent to the mines (where you would not live long).

If you were a soldier you were expected to build roads, fight in battles and cart around 40kg or more on your back during long marches.

If you were Julius Caesar you could be stabbed by a whole lot of senators just when you thought you had reached a state of unassailable power.

Then of course, if you lived in Pompeii in 79AD, you could have a heap of ash fall on you and expire in the ruins of your city, only to be discovered and pored over hundreds of years later by nosey archaeologists.


Show me how nosey you can be by reading the BBC website (links below) on what happened at Pompeii and then filling in the “Close the Gap” exercise at the link below that.

Then (and only then) you can go to gladiator school yourself!

BBC Website – Introduction to the story of Pompeii

Everyday life in Pompeii – click on each of the pictures in this gallery to find out more

Architecture in Pompeii


A Roman aqueduct (they were clever as well as brutal)

Gladiator: Dressed to Kill Game

Good luck from your nosey teacher (no comments, please),