top of page
Listen Now.png
Photos (1).png

The year is 79 AD. A bustling Roman port city sits nestled at the base of a mountain. Ships bob in the harbor, their nets heavy with fish and crabs to sell at the markets. Already the vendors have gathered, offering fresh pomegranates, pots of honey, spiced wine. In the forum a group huddles excitedly around a sign, recently erected, announcing the date of the next gladiator battle. Children run by, chasing a cat, giggling. They duck into an alley past a man who has just emerged through the low doorway of a tabernae, squinting in the sunlight. Above, a woman leans out an open window. She shakes out a cloth and hangs it up to dry. It seems an ordinary day in Pompeii, a city in the Campania region of ancient Rome. But everything is about to change. That seemingly innocent mountain isn’t just a mountain, it’s a volcano and it’s about to erupt, burying Pompeii in over 13 feet of rock and ash, rendering it uninhabitable, and preserving it for 1,500 years. But did you know, Pompeii wasn’t so much forgotten as it was left, undisturbed, like a time capsule for future generations to dig up? Let’s fix that. 


Hello! I’m Shea LaFountaine and you’re listening to History Fix where I discuss lesser known true stories from history you won’t be able to stop thinking about. This week we’re uncovering the story of Pompeii, an ancient Roman city that was completely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. We’ll take a look at how it all went down and I’ll do my best to correct quite a few misconceptions about this catastrophic event. Because there are a good number of them. I thought I knew a lot about Pompeii already, but I was actually quite surprised by how much I had wrong when it came time to research this episode. 

For example, Pompeii wasn’t the only town destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius. Another town called Herculaneum was also destroyed as was Stabiae which was less a town and more a collection of villas, like giant vacation houses basically. So Pompeii was the name of a specific town but now it’s really more of an umbrella term referring to Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. Pompeii became the most popular archaeological site, it captured the public’s attention, for a few reasons. When Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash, it contained a lot of small stones of pumice which is a volcanic rock. Herculaneum was covered in a very fine powdery ash that basically turned into concrete. So Pompeii was much easier to excavate. It was crumblier, if that’s a word, so it was uncovered from the top down, revealing this ancient Roman town that people could actually walk around in. At Herculaneum this wasn’t as easy to pull off. They painstakingly chiseled tunnels through the, basically concrete that encased the town. So it just didn’t really have the same wow factor. Pompeii had a much better presentation. Also, Pompeii was more of a working town, Herculaneum and Stabiae were resort areas. So Pompeii gives us a much better idea of what Roman life, for the common man, was like. 


Anyway, we’re way ahead of ourselves, but I wanted you to know that we’re actually talking about 3 towns. Well, we’re mostly gonna talk about Pompeii but there were 3 towns destroyed. I never realized that. 


Okay, so, Pompeii, as I said, was basically a working town. It had a port so it had ships coming in and out. This always makes for an interesting place. I lived in Wilmington, North Carolina for a few years after I graduated college and Wilmington is a historically significant port city because it’s situated on the Cape Fear river. It has a rich and often shady history of brothels and pirates, all kinds of scandalous folks drawn to the indulgence and anonymity that a major seaport provides. So Pompeii had its fair share of that as well, but mostly it was a pretty average Roman town. Which is cool because I feel like often with history, we’re only hearing about the extremes. No one’s really writing average, ordinary things down. So Pompeii offers a glimpse into what the life of a normal Roman citizen was like. 


And here’s where I have to admit once again to misconceptions. When I think of ancient Rome, I don’t know, I guess I’m thinking of this very primitive civilization where people are like living in huts and their clothes are all dirty and tattered and they’re just like trying not to starve. I mean this was almost 2,000 years ago so in my mind it’s just this very different, primitive place. But really, when you look at Pompeii, basically frozen in time, it was not all that different from a modern city. They had lavish multistory buildings, apartments, shops, bars, restaurants, there was a ton of artwork, an amphitheater that predates the coliseum in Rome, gymnasiums, swimming pools, temples, public baths, signs hung in the streets advertising market days, apartments for rent, gladiator fights. It’s a bustling, lively place. They pursue art and education and recreation. It’s much more than survival, for all intents and purposes, they are thriving in Pompeii. What I was thinking of was I guess more like medieval, like the dark ages, which is the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. So this is before the fall of the Roman Empire. This is the height of the Roman Empire. It’s in its prime. 


Pompeii is a very desirable place to live. It’s on the coast (now it’s a bit farther from the coast but it was on the coast at the time), and it has fantastic fertile soil for growing crops. The reason it has such fertile soil is that it sits only around 5 miles from Vesuvius which we now know is a volcano. The Romans had no idea Vesuvius was a volcano. They just thought it was a regular old mountain. But volcanic soil is super fertile because it has a lot of minerals and like plant nutrients in it or whatever. So they’re just enjoying all that good dirt growing all kinds of yummy stuff to eat and they have no idea the mountain could literally explode at any moment. 


Now, if the Romans understood science, geology, the way we do now, they may have had at least an inkling that Vesuvius wasn’t just a normal mountain. You see, they experienced quite a few earthquakes and tremors in that area which today would clue us in to the fact that Vesuvius is located on a tectonic plate boundary and therefore quite likely a volcano. 


Actually around 17 years prior, they had a really bad earthquake in Pompeii that destroyed quite a few buildings. In fact, they were still working on repairing a lot of these buildings in 79 AD. So they weren’t unaccustomed to quakes and shakes in Pompeii. And this is probably part the reason they didn’t see the disaster coming because there were frequent tremors in the days leading up to the eruption but they were just like “eh, as long as it’s not as bad as that last one, it’ll be fine, that was nothing, it’s fine.” 


So on the morning of eruption day, they just woke up and went about their business as usual. There was a little tremor here and there but that was normal. Eruption day, by the way, experts disagree on what day Vesuvius actually erupted. We know it was 79 AD but some sources say August, some say October, some say December. I’m leaning towards October because they found pomegranates and grapes while excavating which were typically harvested in October. They wouldn’t have been ready to pick yet in August and they’d likely be eaten or turned into wine or whatever by December. So based on the fruit evidence, I’m siding with the camp that says October. 


By noon, the tremors are getting harder to ignore. Plus, the birds are acting funny which is never a good sign. The normal chatter of seagulls around the harbor has fallen eerily silent and they’re all flying off inland as fast as they can. Suddenly there’s another tremor, a much bigger one, big enough it can’t be ignored. Buildings rattle, people look around nervously wondering if they’re about to have another major earthquake. Those alive during the last one brace themselves. In the direction of Vesuvius, something strange is happening. A massive cloud is rising above the mountain. They’ve never seen anything like it. The mysterious cloud, plus the violence of that last tremor send many people running to the harbor. Those who are able clamor onto boats and head out to sea. Others start to move inland, like the birds. 


At around 1 pm the top of the mountain explodes, sending a tall pillar of black ash, toxic gases, and pumice into the sky. The dark cloud rises up miles into the air like a tree trunk growing out of the top of Vesuvius, darkening the midday sky. Ash and small pumice stones start to rain down on Pompeii. 6 inches accumulate on the ground and the roofs of buildings within the hour. The people have no idea what to do. Some rush indoors, eager to get out the falling ash and pumice. Others make a break for it, heading for whatever boats still remain in the harbor or hopping on carriages heading inland, pillows tied to their heads like helmets to fend off the falling rocks. It’s a difficult decision. Do you go outside to escape with rocks literally raining down on your head or do you hunker down inside, in unstable buildings, and try to wait out whatever is happening. 


This ash storm continued for the next 12 to 18 hours, blacking out the sun and turning day into night. One thing I think a lot of people don’t realize about Pompeii is that there was plenty of time to escape - a solid 12 hours at least. And most people did. At a certain point it became impossible to get ships out of the harbor. All the seismic activity would have created a really rough tsunami type thing in the water eventually so if you didn’t get on a boat within the first few hours you would have to escape inland, which you still had plenty of time to do. So really only maybe 10% of the total population stayed behind in Pompeii. 


I guess I just always thought of it like this really quick out of nowhere and boom the town was buried and everyone was dead. But, no, that’s not what happened. It was a long drawn out affair and the majority of the people were able to and did escape before it got real bad. Because it did get real bad and real inescapable by early the next morning. 


At that point this pillar of debris and ash above the volcano, this plume, reaches like 20 miles high into the sky. It’s been raining ash and volcanic rock since midday yesterday, the accumulation has already caused some buildings to collapse. It’s dark, like night time, like being in a dark room. But now, the pillar of debris above the volcano collapses and all that stuff rushes down the sides of the mountain. This is called a pyroclastic flow and it’s terrifying. It’s basically a bunch of ash, rocks, and hot gas traveling at around 120 miles per hour, sometimes much faster, with temperatures somewhere in the 500s of degrees Fahrenheit. So pyroclastic flows are unsurvivable. Scientists actually disagree about how those left in Pompeii at that point would have been killed by the pyroclastic flow. There are basically 3 equally gruesome options: get crushed to death as you’re buried under 13 feet of rock and ash, inhale toxic gas and ash which coated your lungs like plaster making it impossible to breathe, or be killed pretty much instantly by the extreme temperatures, flash-heated to death basically. Most tend to choose the latter, the just heated to death. I wouldn’t even call it burnt, they aren’t like on fire or anything, the straight up air is just like 500 some degrees so their bodies just overheated instantly. And honestly that’s probably the least painful and least terrifying way to die so I’m cool with that. I mean I think? At least it was fast. 


So really, there were several pyroclastic flows, several waves of this stuff rushing down the mountain and it was the 4th one that buried Pompeii. Now, the experience over in Herculaneum was slightly different. They weren’t getting as much of the raining ash and pumice initially because of the way the wind was blowing. That was getting blown towards Pompeii, away from Herculaneum. So, honestly I don’t know if that means more people would have left or more people would have stayed in Herculaneum. On the one hand, it was easier to escape in those first hours because it wasn’t raining rocks and ash. On the other hand, maybe they didn’t take it as seriously as the people in Pompeii because it wasn’t raining rocks and ash and therefore decided to stay. I don’t know. I know way less bodies have been found in Herculaneum but also, it’s way less excavated than Pompeii so that doesn’t prove much. There might be a whole lot more still buried there. What I do know is, while Pompeii survived the first 3 pyroclastic flows, Herculaneum, which was even closer to Vesuvius, was buried by the first one. 


There is a really wild video on YouTube called “A Day in Pompeii” I highly recommend you watch it. It’s like 8 minutes long, I’ll link it in the description. It’s basically an animation, but like a really realistic animation, showing Pompeii on the day Vesuvius erupted from that first normal morning when everyone woke up and went about their business as usual until it’s completely buried and just gone. I actually used to show this video in my 4th grade science class because we learned about volcanoes, so I’d tie in Pompeii to get a little history integration but also cause it’s just super interesting. Now I’m wondering if that’s like way too heavy for 4th graders. I mean it doesn’t show like people dying or anything, the video is like basically if you stuck a camera on the roof of a building in Pompeii, like a security camera. It kind of just shows the roof lines. But you can hear people like yelling and stuff. I don’t know, it might of been a bit much. You guys let me know. Watch it and then let me know on instagram or something @historyfixpodcast if you think it’s too much for 9 year olds. This was before I had kids. Now I’m like, I don’t know, sorry if I traumatized anyone’s kids in my science class. 


So this is all very specific. I mean we have this super specific timeline of events here. How do we know any of this? Well it’s sort of a combination of what we know about volcanoes and how they erupt, specifically stratovolcanoes like Vesuvius. This is kind of how it goes down, with the pyroclastic flows and all. Also, we have a first hand account of the eruption in 79 AD. A guy  named Pliny the Younger actually witnessed the event from a nearby town and recorded the experience in two letters that survived. In these letters, he described the earthquakes leading up to the eruption, the eruption itself, the huge column of ash that rose up to 20 miles into the air, the raining down of ash and rocks for a prolonged period of time, tsunamis, and of course the pyroclastic flows. Pliny was the first person to ever record, that we know of, the first to record a first hand account of a volcanic eruption. Actually, this type of eruption became known as “plinian” eruptions, named after Pliny. Because not all volcanoes are like this, there are lots of different types of volcanoes. Mauna Loa in Hawaii is the world’s largest active volcano but it doesn’t have violent, explosive eruptions like Vesuvius. The lava just kinda flows super slowly down the side of the mountain. Like, you could easily outwalk it like “oh, hey, don’t step in the lava, watch your step.” So Mauna Loa is relatively chill as far as volcanoes go. 


Now, Mount Saint Helens in Washington state is a stratovolcano like Vesuvius. It famously erupted quite violently in 1980 killing 57 people and covering areas up to 300 miles away in a thick layer of ash. We actually have footage of this eruption, because it was 1980 so there’s cameras and stuff. I’m also going to link a 3 minute video with some footage of Mount Saint Helens erupting because it was quite similar to Vesuvius with the giant ash cloud, the pyroclastic flows, raining ash, all that. Now Mount Saint Helens had a lot of ice on it so that caused some flooding and a lot of steam and stuff that didn’t happen at Vesuvius but otherwise similar. 


Okay back to Pompeii. My science teacher side is getting the best of me. Turning my history side back on now. So the eruption is over, Pompeii is buried under 13 feet of rock and ash. So what happens next? Well there is some effort to go back and find personal property that was left behind. Some very old tunnels have been found where people are trying to dig back into their homes to get their stuff or possibly other people’s homes to steal their stuff. That’s probably even more likely. Any buildings sticking up above the 13 feet of debris were likely disassembled and repurposed elsewhere. But for the most part, they just sort of walk away and start over somewhere else. Not a ton of effort is made to reclaim or try to salvage Pompeii and we know this because of how much stuff is still there today. It’s basically a total loss, they wash their hands of it and move on. 


I always thought Pompeii was sort of forgotten about but I kind of think that’s another misconception. I think people sort of always remembered Pompeii was there, knew it was there, it was just not worth anything to them. It wasn’t worth the effort it would take to get anything out of it. And there’s a couple reasons why I think this. Pompeii and Herculaneum still appear on a 4th century map so that’s from the 300’s AD so like 200 years after the eruption. They’re still on the map. Buried, uninhabitable, but on the map. By the 1600s Pompeii at least appears again on a map. Now it’s referred to as “la civita” (CH) which means the settlement or the town. Because there is still sort of something there. There was a big mound where Pompeii used to be, well, where Pompeii still is. Because it’s still there, just under the mound. 


So it’s not like Pompeii was forgotten about. It was on the maps. It’s just, you have to look at what happened after that. The Roman empire fell in 476 launching Europe into the dark ages. They are not pursuing science and archaeology. There aren’t like dark age historians going like, “cool, let’s go dig up Pompeii, I bet it’s really cool under there. We can learn so much” No. It’s just about survival for a long time.  


When the Renaissance begins in the 14th century, we have some development, some forward motion again. I talked about this with Atlantis too in episode 14 when I explain why no one was looking for Atlantis for so long. Because no one was doing anything for so long. Just trying not to starve, basically, that’s it. But the Renaissance brings us out of the dark ages and there is finally progress again. 


In 1595, Pompeii was stumbled upon by a famous Italian architect named Domenico Fontana. He was digging a canal. I mean, let’s be real, he wasn’t digging a canal. He designed a canal and he was having men dig it for him. This canal happened to go right through “la civita” that mound that was actually Pompeii. So Domenico’s men keep hitting stone walls while they’re trying to dig and they’re getting super frustrated. This is obviously not ideal for canal digging. They don’t really care about ancient Roman towns, they just want to dig their canal. This is also during the inquisition though when people were just mercilessly killed for not being Christian enough. So showing interest in anything ancient Rome, which was of course pagan, I mean they believed in multiple gods, so yeah the inquisition frowned upon that - even just showing interest in it, wanting to dig it up and study it at that time was like you could be killed for less. So Domenico makes a note of it in some record somewhere and that’s it. They move on. 


In 1708 Herculaneum is rediscovered when a marble column is pulled out a hole that’s being dug as a well for a nearby monastery. So that had to have been a crazy day on the job for that well digger. A local prince hears about it and he’s like “cool, treasure, I want some.” So they start excavating Herculaneum. But in the early 1700s archaeology isn’t really a thing yet. Engineers are brought in and they start tunneling through all the volcanic rock that encases the ancient city. But they’re doing a terrible job. It’s haphazard, it’s disorganized, they’re destroying stuff in the process, people are just grabbing whatever they want and waltzing away with it. There’s very little preservation of artifacts or record taking during these early explorations. It’s about getting treasure at this point, not learning about ancient Rome. 


In 1748 Pompeii is rediscovered yet again. A farmer is plowing a field and he flips over a marble column. There were a lot of marble columns in Pompeii and Herculaneum you guys. They were putting marble columns everywhere. This particular column belonged to a house owned by a woman named Julia Felix and she’s pretty cool so I want to pause to talk about her for a sec. Julia Felix was not an aristocratic woman in Pompeii. She was born into a poor family, she may have even been enslaved in her early life. But, despite all of that, and despite being a woman in the Roman empire which restricted and oppressed women (surprise, surprise), she rose to quite high levels of success through her own ingenuity and determination and I think she deserves a mention. At the time of the eruption, Julia owned 2 insular blocks. So an insular block is apparently like a city block that could hold around 10 houses and she had 2 of those. A good chunk of that was vegetable gardens but the rest was buildings - shops and apartments and even a private bath for residents. After that bad earthquake that happened around 17 years before the eruption, Julia took advantage of the housing crisis that resulted from all the destroyed buildings and started renting out apartments. And we know this because there is an advertisement painted on the side of one of her buildings that says quote “elegant bathing facilities, shops with annexed apartments upstairs and independent apartments on the first floor are offered for rent to respectable people.” So Julia is this rags to riches, self-made, entrepreneurial goddess of Pompeii and I just think it’s so cool that her story was preserved in that way. Because women’s stories often weren’t. We likely never would have heard of Julia Felix and her impressive accomplishments in an overwhelmingly patriarchal society because no one would have recorded her in any way that would have lasted. It literally took a volcano burying her apartment blocks and her shops and her garden and her advertisement painted on the wall and preserving them, freezing them in time, for Julia’s story to survive. So thank you Vesuvius for doing what no man dared do. Sorry y’all this podcast is making me increasingly feminist which is fine, I mean I just thanked a volcano but whatever it’s fine. 


So I think it’s cool that the first piece of Pompeii, the piece that set off all the excavating anyway, was part of Julia’s house. And it does, it sets off the excavations of Pompeii and it’s just as much of a disaster as the excavations of Herculaneum. Except that Pompeii is at least easier to excavate because of all the crumbly pumice stones and they’re able to uncover a whole lot more there. But we’re still seeing a complete lack of scientific process. Pompeii becomes a destination, the destination of the “Grand Tour” which is just when rich white boys travel around Europe before finally settling down. It was kind of just a way to show off your status and wealth and, I guess, get your ya yas out before taking on the duties of whatever title or position you were set to inherit from your daddy. But these guys were not helping the lack of preservation in Pompeii. They’re carting off artwork faster than it can be documented, ripping whole frescos off the walls of houses. It’s obvious, walking through Pompeii today, which houses were excavated first because the artwork is missing. In later excavations, all of that was left on site. 


It goes on this way until 1860 when archaeologist Guiseppe Fiorelli became director of excavations cause archaeology is a thing now. Actually, the discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum are kind of what started the field of archaeology. They were like “this doesn’t seem like the way to go about it. There has to be a better way, and voila, archaeology. Fiorelli finally developed a system for cataloging and documenting everything. He divided Pompeii into 9 regions, numbered all of the insular blocks, and then numbered each doorway. So now each individual house in Pompeii can be identified with a set of 3 numbers - region, block, house. 


Fiorelli did another really cool thing as well. As they’re digging through this 13 feet of debris and ash and rock to get down to the street level of Pompeii, they kept hitting these weird pockets of air, these voids in the rock and there were always bones in them, human remains. Fiorelli realizes, there was a body here, obviously cause of the bones. The rock solidified around the body like concrete and when it decomposed it just left this hollow, empty space in the rock. So Fiorelli decides it would be really cool to pour cement into these body voids and when he does this it creates incredible casts of these people’s bodies, capturing them in the moment they died. They are wild. If you haven’t seen these body casts from Pompeii you have to check them out. I have some pictures over on my instagram @historyfixpodcas, definitely worth a look.      


While we’re on the topic of bodies, so far around 1,200 skeletons have been recovered from Pompeii as well as about 90 of these body casts. So we’re not talking about a crazy number of bodies compared to the 15,000ish people that supposedly lived in Pompeii. I mean it is obviously a horrifically tragic loss of life, don’t get me wrong but, as I said earlier, the vast majority of people in Pompeii were able to escape, it seems. Now, only ⅔ of Pompeii has been excavated. Another ⅓ is completely untouched. So, is there a chance a whole bunch more bodies are in that last ⅓? It’s possible but not very likely. 


As of right now, there are no plans to excavate that last ⅓ of Pompeii. I’m sure there’s some really cool stuff down there but the people working at Pompeii realize that once it’s uncovered, it has to be maintained and preserved and they just don’t have the resources to do that right now. It’s been hard enough to maintain the ⅔ that are already uncovered. It requires constant maintenance and preservation work to keep the ruins from just weathering away and crumbling. So they’re saving the last ⅓ by just keeping it buried for now, which I think is very responsible. 


So how do they afford to maintain what’s already uncovered? Well, the answer to that is a double edged sword. In the early 19th century, France ruled Naples under the leadership of Napoleon. Which, just a coincidence, Naples was not named after Napoleon, it was already called that long before Napoleon came along. So Naples is basically the biggest Italian city near Pompeii. Napoleon’s sister Caroline was actually the one to propose that Pompeii be opened as a park for visitors, a museum really. They charge admission for people to come walk around then that money is used to upkeep the ruins. So it seems like a win win and it kind of is but all of those people walking through Pompeii takes its toll. Their feet have worn down the delicate mosaic tile floors, the oil from their fingers has degraded the artwork on the walls. But then again without them, it all would have crumbled into dust by now. So tourism at Pompeii is a necessary evil. 


And it’s really imperative that the city survive because it has so much to teach us about the lives of common folk in ancient Rome, which is so unusual. You know we’ve talked about this, especially in last week’s episode about Deborah Sampson. My sister Hannah came on to talk a little bit about the challenges she encountered trying to write her book “Remarkable Women of the Outer Banks.” It’s not easy to research women or any minority group throughout history. One of the women she highlights in her book, Chrissy Bowser, was an enslaved woman living on Roanoke Island during the American Civil War but researching Chrissy was like trying to catch a ghost in a net. Not only was she a woman, she was an enslaved woman. There just were not records of her. Her name was not recorded in the census records. Her achievements and accomplishments were just never written down and it’s only through storytelling, word of mouth, that anyone knows her name today. But Chrissy Bowser was born, you know, 200 years ago. Add another zero to that for Pompeii. Word of mouth only lasts for so long. In talking about ancient Rome, if it wasn’t written down, we don’t know about it. Except at Pompeii where it’s all been preserved like a literal time capsule. 


So here we have the house of Julia Felix, we get to see what an independent and entrepreneurial woman she was in a society that didn’t really allow for female independence. We see enslaved people, their skeletons found in shackles. This gives us a window into how enslaved people were treated in ancient Rome, so, yeah, not good. It also just shows us little details of the lives of normal people that aren’t often recorded in official records of the time - the graffiti in the streets, silly little things scrawled on the wall of a tarvernae, much like all the weird stuff people write in bathroom stalls in bars to this day. It’s very humanizing and relatable which is something official records typically are not. They record highlights, important accomplishments of white men mostly, numbers, dates, they don’t often capture the subtle nuances of humanity that we see in Pompeii. 


In Edenton, North Carolina which is a historic coastal town pretty close to where I live, and was actually the first capital of North Carolina, there’s a house built in 1758 called the Cupola House. The house was mostly occupied by the family of Dr. Samuel Dickinson. I visited maybe a decade ago and toured the house. It’s really neat, it’s been restored and is set up with period furnishings so it’s like stepping back in time. I remember in an upstairs bedroom, the children’s room, there’s an inscription carved into the window pane, a little rhyme, and I can’t for the life of me remember what it says nor can I find any record of it online, of course. But it was carved by a Dickinson daughter, she must’ve used a diamond or something to carve it into the glass like that. But I was just so struck by this seemingly ordinary act. This girl suddenly seemed human, a mischievous child, she could’ve been me. I could feel her in the room. I could see her carving that sneakily into the window, hiding it from her parents later, possibly, leaving her mark quite literally in a way that most girls throughout history have been unable to do. 


And that is what we have at Pompeii on a grand scale. Evidence of humanity that would have been erased if not for the eruption of Vesuvius, sealing it, preserving it, freezing it in time. Evidence that shows even ancient Romans were just people, normal people like us, not mythic figures, characters in an epic poem, just ordinary people going about their everyday lives in a different time and place. They are us and we are them and that’s easy to forget when studying the glossy, polished version of history that actually got written down. But that reminder is important if we are to learn anything from our pasts. We have to see ourselves in these stories. 


2 million people still live in the areas surrounding Vesuvius today. It’s one of the most densely populated parts of Italy and that’s no surprise, it’s picturesque, it’s near the coast, it still has that fertile soil. The same reasons the ancient Romans chose to live there 2,000 years ago, really. Except today, we know Vesuvius is a volcano, dormant, but still active and overdue for an eruption. Scientists monitor it constantly, keeping an eye on tremors, looking for signs of an impending eruption so they can warn people in time to evacuate. And Italians know, if it’s anything like the eruption in 79 AD, they’ll be walking away for good. But they aren’t too concerned. The looming threat of Vesuvius is part of their history, their culture, and they embrace it.


Thank you all so very much for listening to History Fix. I hope you found this story interesting and maybe you even learned something new. Be sure to follow my instagram @historyfixpodcast to see some images that go along with this episode and to stay on top of new episodes as they drop. I’d also really appreciate it if you’d rate and follow this podcast on whatever app you’re using to listen, that’ll make it much easier to get your next fix. 


Information used in this episode was sourced from, Oregon State University, Encyclopedia Britannica Online,,, a Short History of podcast episode about Pompeii and a History Extra podcast episode titled “Pompeii: Everything You Wanted to Know.” Links to these sources, as well as the 2 YouTube videos I mentioned can be found in the show notes. 

bottom of page