Five Things I Didn’t Know about Pompeii

fovI’ve just finished The Fires of Vesuvius, Mary Beard’s 2008 book on the ruins of Pompeii, and thought I would pass along some of the things that revised my very vague sense of what the lost city was all about. The book makes a great companion to Pompeii and the Roman Villa, creating a context for the artworks and the lives lived among them.

Graffiti

Writing on walls and public surfaces was evidently popular in Pompeii. Some examples: “Epaphroditus and Thalia.” “Atimetus got me pregnant.” “I won at Nuceria playing alea, 855½ denarii—honestly, it’s true.” “Celadus, heartthrob of the girls.” (Beard concludes that this last example and other tributes to gladiators were written by the gladiators themselves.)

Evacuation

Pompeii was not engulfed by the eruption of Vesuvius without warning; tremors would have affected the town hours and possibly days in advance. The town’s population is figured at between 6,400 and 30,000; of those, Beard estimates, at most 2,000 died in the disaster. The book opens with the terrifying episode of some who waited too long before trying to leave.

Riot at the Amphitheater

Twenty years before the end of Pompeii came what Beard calls its “second most famous appearance” in Roman history—a gladiatorial show that went bad when the rivalry between hometown Pompeii and visiting Nuceria progressed from name-calling to stone-throwing to open sword combat. There were so many casualties that the matter was taken to Nero, and Pompeiians were prohibited from holding similar events for ten years.

Garum

Pompeii was known for making and distributing a fish sauce called garum. The point of manufacture seems to have been outside of town. Pliny the Elder praised Pompeii’s garum (while disparaging a local wine as likely to produce a hangover till midday). Pottery labels show that you could get kosher garum as well as “best,” “premium best,” and “absolutely the best” garum.

triclinium

The Moregine Triclinium, installation view

Nero

Mary Beard excels at dividing what is known about Pompeii from what is guesswork or wishful thinking. Did the emperor Nero visit the city? The author finds the evidence flimsy. She cites a recently discovered wall painting of Apollo that’s been said to resemble Nero and thus demonstrate that Nero had used the location as a temporary residence. Or not, says Beard. But you can have a look for yourself. The painting is part of the Moregine Triclinium on display in Pompeii and the Roman Villa. (Oh, and I checked the wall label—there’s no mention of Nero.)

Tom Drury

One Response to Five Things I Didn’t Know about Pompeii

  1. Ferinannnd says:

    Побольше б таких штук

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,088 other followers

%d bloggers like this: