Mount Vesuvius is hundreds of thousands of years old and is the only volcano on mainland Europe that has erupted within the last 100 years; the last time was in March 1944. There are approximately 3 million people living in the vicinity of Vesuvius, and it is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes on the planet.
There have been over 50 eruptions but the one that destroyed the town of Pompeii on August 24/25, 79 AD is the most famous. Over the course of two days, it also devastated the settlements of Herculaneum, Stabiae, and Oplontis. The tragedy still fascinates history lovers everywhere, and in this article, I look at 7 things you may not know about the eruption and the town of Pompeii.
1 – It Wasn’t a Total Surprise
According to the eyewitness account of Pliny the Younger, the eruption of the volcano caught everyone by surprise. He saw it from Misenum which was 21 kilometers away, and his account is our main source for the fateful event. However, it is a myth that everyone in the town was caught unaware. There were a number of minor tremors in the region during the years building up to the eruption.
There had been a powerful earthquake in the area in 62 AD and on August 20, 79 AD, 4-5 days before Mount Vesuvius erupted, small earthquakes started to take place. The number of tremors increased in the following days and even in Ancient Rome, people knew that earthquakes and tremors near the site of a volcano were something to worry about. Alas, thousands of people living in Campania were so used to the activity that they didn’t feel any fear.
Of course, this was not true for everyone. Wealthy Romans had used Pompeii as a vacation spot and purchased second homes as getaways. After the earthquake of 62 AD, many of them did not return. By the time of the eruption, there were a substantial number of abandoned vacation homes. The number of warning signs increased as the day drew near and reports from eyewitnesses suggest that the volcano began erupting a day before the deadly hot gas blast killed so many people.
These early portents of doom were enough to scare away thousands of residents. The remains of around 1,400 people were found in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the death toll is unknown. However, since the total population of the four affected towns is believed to have been up to 20,000, it is fair to say that a reasonable proportion of people left before the eruption. Most of the people doomed to die were too poor to leave the city or else they had no place to go. It is likely that a large percentage of the dead were slaves or servants. Several local politicians also remained including the mayor of Pompeii.