While the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 is certainly one of the most well-known volcanic eruptions in history, it is far from the deadliest. Read on and find out more surprising information about Pompeii.
The Eruption Wasn't a Total Shock
While the people of Pompeii didn't know Mt. Vesuvius was going to erupt exactly when it did, they weren't taken totally by surprise.
To start with, a powerful earthquake had taken place in A.D. 62, less than 20 years before Mt. Vesuvius's massive eruption. It was strong enough that many of the wealthy Romans who had vacation homes on the island stopped returning, sensing that the earthquake was connected to the enormous volcano. And in the days leading up to the infamous eruption, there were several small tremors felt throughout the city and region. Some eyewitnesses state that the volcano started erupting a full day before the powerful blast killed everyone in Pompeii.
The fact that out of the estimated 20,000 people who lived in and near Pompeii only about 1,400 bodies were found in the city is further evidence that people were warned about the eruption and fled the city.
Mt. Vesuvius Has Erupted at Least 50 Times
While the eruption in A.D. 79 is certainly the most famous, it's not the only one that's ever happened. The volcano has had at least 50 total eruptions, including eight major eruptions, the last one in 1944. The 1944 eruption happened during World War II and was particularly inconvenient for the allied troops who were forced to evacuate their airbase.
Because of its proximity to Naples, Italy, Mt. Vesuvius is considered particularly dangerous. Advanced technology that can predict volcanic eruptions should be able to encourage residents to evacuate the areas around the volcano in enough time to avoid disaster, however.
People Died From the Heat, Not the Ash
Manu assume that people died from the ash that resulted from the enormous eruption. But, it turns out, the heat is the more likely culprit, at least for the people in the closest proximity to the volcano. Recent research suggests that the people of Pompeii were exposed to extremely hot temperatures, as high as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
As horrific as dying from exposure to 1,000 plus degree temperatures sounds, it actually would have been much faster than slowly dying from asphyxiation, as researchers had previously believed. Exposure to such extreme temperatures meant people would have died within seconds, not hours.
Pompeii Was a Popular Vacation Spot for Wealthy Romans
Rich Romans used Pompeii as a vacation spot. We know this because of the expansive villas that were decorated in rich artwork, including mosaics and sculptures. The Roman emperor Nero even had a villa in Pompeii. The villas in and near Pompeii stand in stark contrast to the cramped slave quarters that have been uncovered.
At the time of the A.D. 79 eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, most of the villas were abandoned, suggesting that the well-to-do Romans who vacationed there were warned of the volcanic eruption and decided to spend their time elsewhere.
The People of Pompeii Had Perfect Teeth
It turns out that the people who lived in Pompeii had excellent diets and great teeth. Researchers made the discovery after performing CT scans on the plastered bodies of the people of Pompeii. They credit their perfect teeth to high fluoride levels in the nearby water and a diet rich in lentils, fish, and olives.
Pompeii Did Not See the Worst Volcanic Eruption in History
It's one of the most well-known volcanic eruptions in history, but the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is far from the worst in history. In fact, it doesn't even crack the top five deadliest volcanic eruptions in human history.
In comparison to the 16,000 or so people who died as a result of the eruption (certainly not a small number, by any means), the deadliest volcanic eruption in history to date is the eruption of Mount Tambora, Indonesia in 1815. The blast is responsible for killing as many as 80,000 people, many as the result of fallout from not having enough crops to go around plus blocked sunlight as a result of all the ash and smoke that hung around for months after the blast.
The People of Pompeii Loved Graffiti
There's graffiti all over Pompeii. You can see graphic depictions of sexual acts (plus prices) on the walls of the several brothels across the city along with on other non-brothel buildings. There's also writing on the walls of the bars in town and even on the walls leading to the Basilica Forum. There's evidence of people playing games on the walls to pass the time as they waited, along with people's names, initials, and the same sort of crude writing you might find on the bathroom stall of your neighborhood dive bar.