Archaeologists have discovered traces of Bronze Age dwellings in the area, while Mount Vesuvius eruptions in 1800 BCE and 1360 BCE certainly killed off everyone from that era. Around 600 B.C.E., the Oscans, an ancient Campanian people, established Pompeii as a city. It was a melting pot of civilizations from all across the Mediterranean, yet the Oscan influence lingered until the city was destroyed. The Pompeii remains also show that the residents admired Greek culture. The villas' temples, statues, public structures, and decorations all displayed a strong Hellenistic influence. Pompeii was hardly the most significant city in the Roman Empire, or even in the Campania region of southern Italy, but it was a prosperous one.
Prior to its collapse, Pompeii was located on the coast of the Bay of Naples near the mouth of the Sarno River, making it a regional trading hub. The Sarno River and the volcanic soils deposited by Mount Vesuvius cooperated to create rich agriculture – volcanic soils are particularly high in nutrients, while the river provides a fast source of irrigation. And the tufa limestone used to construct Pompeii's huge public buildings, as well as the villas and mansions of the city's wealthiest people, was most likely quarried from the Monti Lattari mountain range immediately south of the city. The richest families in Pompeii made their fortunes mostly via the production and exportation of wine, though the region also produced olive oil and textiles.
Pompeii's affluence enabled the arts to flourish, giving the city its characteristic array of marble and bronze statues and marble-fronted public buildings. Temples to Jupiter, Venus, Augustus, and others were among the more remarkable structures in Pompeii, as was an amphitheater that could house 20,000 people, ornate public baths, public gardens and gymnasia, a complete theater area, and a sporting arena. In 59 C.E., a riot broke out during an athletic tournament between Pompeii and the rival city Nuceria. This was an early example of sports hooliganism. In Pompeii, there was a wide range of housing types, from opulent estates to pergulae, small buildings like apartments that were generally over stores or workshops.
The Campania region is located at a tectonic boundary where the African plate is gradually being forced beneath the Eurasian plate, a process known as subduction. This "Campanian Arc" is home to several volcanoes, none of which are as active or well-known as Vesuvius. Veusvius is a stratovolcano, which has steep sides made of alternating layers of solidified lava, ash, pumice, and tephra. Stratovolcanoes are also notable for their highly explosive eruptions: Mount St. Helens in Washington state and Krakatoa in Indonesia are two examples. As hot magma creeps toward the surface, gas diffuses into the rocks, increasing pressure within the volcano. When the pressure builds up enough, it bursts free of the volcano like a cork on a shaken champagne bottle. The 79 C.E. The Vesuvius eruption appears to have blasted mostly from the summit of the cone, but other stratovolcano eruptions, such as Mount St. Helens and maybe some of the previous Vesuvius eruptions, have erupted from the volcano's side.
Pliny the Younger, whose uncle, Pliny the Elder, was in command of a fleet in the Roman navy stationed at Misenum, a town on the northern tip of the Bay of Naples, provided the sole recorded firsthand account of Vesuvius' eruption. Pliny the Younger was about 17 at the time of the eruption, and his letters to the Roman historian Tacitus were written more than 20 years afterwards. His mother and he were at Misenum when the eruption happened, and his uncle was killed while leading a rescue fleet. In his letters to Tacitus, he stated the following: "For several days past there had been earth tremors which were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania: but that night the shocks were so violent that everything felt as if it were not only shaken but overturned."
In truth, Pompeii had been seriously devastated by a devastating earthquake 17 years before. The city's ruins display crumbling walls and lintels that have been repaired. Pliny the Younger's terrifying account of fleeing Misenum with a crowd of terrified people gives us a glimpse into what it was like for Pompeians during the disaster: "A dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood... We had scarcely sat down when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room."
The shrieks of women, the sobbing of infants, and the yelling of men could all be heard... Some people begged for death because they were afraid of dying. Many begged the gods for help, but even more believed that there were no gods remaining and that the universe was doomed to perpetual darkness... Ashes began to fall again, this time in torrents. We sprang up and shook them off; otherwise, we would have been smothered and crushed beneath their weight... Finally, the blackness dissolved into smoke or fog... We were horrified to see everything transformed, covered in ashes as deep as snowdrifts."
In the hours following the eruption, residents of Pompeii and adjacent Herculaneum escaped. Not everyone, however, was able or willing to leave. In Pompeii, an estimated 2,000 individuals died. For decades, it was assumed that the majority of them died of asphyxia after being buried in ash — Pompeii was buried 19-23 feet below ground. Modern archaeologists believe that the victims of the volcano were killed fast by pyroclastic flows known as nuées ardentes, which were tremendous surges of heated gases and ash. Even when they were hiding in buildings, the heat was enough to kill them, and the surges carried the ash into, burying everything. The eruption also destroyed the Oplontis and Stabiae villages.
Many ancient Roman literature have survived. Nonetheless, the Pompeii ruins provide a clear view at life 2,000 years ago, particularly for lower-class people and slaves. Much of the written history of ancient Rome that has survived concentrates on politics, military concerns, and affluent people's activities. Pompeii's superbly preserved stores, residences, and artwork provide a unique view into city life. Throughout the 1700s, a parade of kings, queens, and other nobles raided Pompeii and Herculaneum in search of old statues and mosaics for their palaces.
Archaeologists undertook more constructive work in the 1800s, excavating and clearing hardened ash from structures in order to preserve what they could and learn as much as possible about ancient Roman life. Nonetheless, their approaches were crude. The site suffered weather damage, and objects were relocated to safer areas. In 1860, Giuseppe Fiorelli took over as director of the Pompeii excavations. Fiorelli established precise procedures of removing and recording the placements of everything found in the ruins, which proved to be a watershed moment for the archaeological activities at the ruins.
The ruins of the dead city were gradually revealed. When naming larger manors and estates, archaeologists referred to noteworthy characteristics. The House of the Faun, for example, was named after a bronze statue it housed, whereas the evocatively named Villa of the Mysteries was named after a series of frescoes — paintings made using water-based pigments on freshly laid lime plaster — with a bright red background, depicting a woman being initiated into the cult of Dionysus. Approximately two-thirds of the city has been cleansed of ash as of today. New technology continues to disclose more about Pompeii's life. For example, X-ray phase-contrast tomography enables researchers to read the writing on rolled, burned scrolls without unrolling or damaging them, and DNA analysis of Pompeii's sewers and latrines provides rare insight into everyday Roman diets, which included a lot of fish and olives, while rich people ate more exotic meats.