Pompeii is possibly the best-documented catastrophe in Antiquity. Because of it, we
know now how the Pompeians lived because they left behind an extensive legacy of art,
including monuments, sculptures and paintings.
Pompeii lay on a plateau of ancient lava near the Bay of Naples in western Italy in
a region called Campania, less than 1.6 kilometers from the foot of Mount Vesuvius. With
the coast to the west and the Apennine Mountains to the East, Campania is a fertile plain,
traversed by two major rivers and rich soil. However, in the early days, it was not a
remarkable city. Scholars have not been able to identify Pompeii’s original inhabitants.
The first people to settle in this region were probably prehistoric hunters and fishers.
By at least the eight century B.C., a group of Italic people known as the Oscans occupied
the region; they most likely established Pompeii, although the exact date of its origin is
unknown. “The root of the word Pompeii would appear to be the Oscan word for the
number five, pompe, which suggests that either the community consisted of five hamlets
or, perhaps, was settled by a family group (gens Pompeia)”(Kraus 7).
In the course of the eight century B.C., Greek and Etruscan colonization
stimulated the development of Pompeii as a city around the area of the Forum. A point for
important trade routes, it became a place for trading towards the inland. Up until the
middle of the 5th century B.C., the city was dominated politically by the Etruscans. In the
course of the 6th century B.C., the influence of Greek culture is also documented by
terracottas, ceramics and architecture. A group of warriors from Samnium, called
Samnite, invaded the region in the 400’s B.C. Pompeii remained a relatively unimportant
village until the 200’s B.C., when the town entered a prosperous period of building and
expansion. The Romans defeated the Samnites, and Pompeii became part of the emerging
Roman state. Pompeii joined the Italic revolt against Rome, the Social War of 91-87 B.C.,
and was crushed by Sulla. Although the city was not destroyed, it lost its autonomy,
becoming a colony called Colonia Veernia Cornelia P, in honor of its conqueror L.
Cornelius Sulla. By 79 AD, Latin had replaced Oscan as the principal language, and the
laws and culture of Imperial Rome were implanted. The “romanization” had began.

Pompeii grew from a modest farming town to an important and sophisticated
industrial and trading center. In 62 A.D., the first disaster, a terrible earthquake hit the
city. As the city was being rebuilt the second disaster struck. In the summer of A.D. 79,
Vesuvius suddenly erupted with violence. Hot ashes, lava and stones poured into Pompeii.
The eruption caught Pompeians by surprise: “They heard the crash of falling roofs: an
instant more and the mountain-cloud seemed to roll towards them, dark and rapid, like a
torrent; at the same time, it cast forth from its bosom a showe of ashes mixed with vast
fragments of burning stone! over the crushing vines- over the desolate streets- over the
amphitheater itself- far and wide- with many a mighty splash in the agitated sea- fell that
awful shower.”, (Bulwer-Lytton 1).
The remains of about 2,000 victims out of a population of 20,000 have been found in
excavations. Some of them were trapped and killed in their homes. Others died as they
fled. Archaeologists have found the shells (molds) of the bodies preserved in the hardened
ash. By pouring plaster into the shells, they can make copies of the victims, even to the
expressions of agony on their faces.
Pompeii was not forgotten. Peasants in the area searched for hidden treasure and
they made tunnels. In the 1500’s workers digging a tunnel to change the course of the
Sarno river discovered parts of a temple and the forum, but no one paid much attention. In
1748, a farmer discovered a wall and the authorities in Italy began a series of excavations.
After 1860, Giuseppe Fiorelli served as director of the excavations. He directed the first
uncovering of the whole city block by block. The Italian government has provided funding
money for this project. After many years of work, we can now walk in Pompeii “as
Pompeians did”.

After standing in line for quite a while and paying for a ticket, the tourist
experiences what are about to live are quite unique. When walking in Pompeii, you can
close your eyes and feel the magic of the city, because it seems like the time has not gone
by. Visitors can see the buildings as they stood