The Worst Part Of Pompeii's Destruction Isn't What You Think

The Worst Part Of Pompeii's Destruction Isn't What You Think

You might be forgiven for thinking that the most disturbing part of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. was the sheer suddenness of Pompeii’s destruction. But while the town’s destruction was unspeakably tragic, the speed at which it happened wasn’t nearly the worst thing about it.

Two festivals happening in the town at the same time meant the tragedy at Pompeii ended up so much worse than it should have been. According to the book Pompeii: An Archaeological Guide, the Pompeians were in the middle of a multi-day celebration in honor of the emperor Augustus. Known today as the first emperor of the Roman Empire, Augustus had passed 65 years earlier and had just been made a god — as well as having the month of August named after him. Pompeii’s streets were filled with public celebrations including street musicians, fortune tellers, plays, and athletic events. Many of those performers and athletes came from outside Pompeii to take part in the event, as did the visitors and tourists who came to see them. We can't know exactly how many extra people were in the town at the time of its destruction, but it is certainly a lot more lives were lost than might have happened if the eruption had happened a month later.

Even worse, the day before the eruption was Vulcanalia, the festival of the god Vulcan — otherwise known as the god of fire and volcanoes. It wasn't so much that the people of Pompeii didn't get a warning that Mount Vesuvius was going to erupt, because there definitely would have been smoke, small earthquakes, and loud rumblings at the very least. It was more that, because of Vulcanalia, they would have interpreted these signs as good omens from the god rather than warnings to get out of Dodge. As far as the townspeople cared, these warnings were simply signs that Vulcan was busy at his forge inside Mount Vesuvius, perfectly happy that everyone was celebrating his special day.

Watch the video to lean why the worst part of Pompeii's destruction isn't what you think.

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Unheeded | 0:16
Weird weather | 1:47
Frozen in time | 3:05
Screaming death | 4:33
Beyond Pompeii | 5:49
Defiled | 6:57
Neglect | 8:18
The future | 9:40
The Worst Part Of Pompeii's Destruction Isn't What You Think backup