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In the Shadow of Vesuvius
Which ancient city . . .
• was destroyed in one day?
• lay buried for centuries?
• is a window on ancient Roman life?
Nearly 2,000 years ago, the city of Pompeii prospered
on the fertile slopes near the volcano Vesuvius. About
100 kilometers north of Pompeii was the city of Rome.
Rome was the capital of a vast empire that stretched
across Europe and around the Mediterranean Sea.
Pompeii was a small but popular trading center and
site for luxury Roman villas. When Vesuvius erupted
violently in A.D. 79, thousands of Pompeians were
caught unawares. Ash, hot gases, and rocks trapped and
preserved this ancient city and its inhabitants. Today,
excavations at Pompeii reveal the daily life of a bustling
city at the height of the Roman Empire.
Ancient Italy in A.D. 79
i c S
looms behind the
ruins of the Forum
Ty r r h e n i a n
S e a
S i c i l y
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Daily Life in Pompeii
Excavations at Pompeii began in the mid-1700s and
continue today. The ?ndings have been astounding.
Life stopped abruptly that fateful day. Thousands
abandoned their meals or left food simmering on the
?re. A baker had just placed the day’s round loaves of
bread in the oven. A jeweler left his work un?nished
on a bench. Houses and public buildings that
remained intact reveal daily life through frescoes
(wall paintings), sculpture, mosaic ?oors, and
expansive indoor courtyards.
At the center of city life was the Forum, a large,
rectangular open space where Pompeians conducted
business and politics. Here people sold meat and ?sh
as well as fruits, vegetables, grapes, and olives grown
on the fertile slopes of Vesuvius. Some merchants
Fresco From Pompeii
sold cloth made from the wool of sheep raised
This fresco portrays an educated couple.
nearby. Others sold copper pots, oil lamps, furniture,
Here the wife holds a stylus and wax
tablet, and the husband holds a scroll.
and glassware. People of all classes gathered at the
Forum to exchange ideas, notices, and gossip. Some
even wrote graf?ti on the walls!
Bakery and Bread
This fresco, found in
Pompeii, shows a man
A carbonized loaf
of bread, below,
indicates how bread
was cut into wedges.
The Forum was central to life in
Pompeii. Research another structure
in Pompeii. Write a short report that
describes its structure and function.
Explain the building’s importance to
Roman society. Possible topics include
• city walls
• public baths
• water system
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Most volcanoes and earthquakes occur along plate
boundaries where Earth’s crust is fractured and weak.
Unknown to the people of Pompeii, their city and
surrounding areas rested directly over a subduction
zone where the Eurasian plate meets the African plate.
Although Mount Vesuvius had erupted in the past, the
volcano had lain dormant for hundreds of years.
Around noon on August 24, A.D. 79, the volcano
suddenly exploded. Volcanic ash and gases shot
27 kilometers into the air. During the rest of the day
and into the night, 3 meters of ash blanketed the city.
But the destruction wasn’t over. Around midnight, a
deadly pyroclastic ?ow poured over the entire area,
trapping about 2,000 Pompeians who had not yet
escaped. Afterward, an additional 3 meters of volcanic
debris rained down on Pompeii. This layer of material
sealed the city, preserving it nearly intact for centuries.
century painting is
The column of ash
Magma explodes from
Pumice and ash blow
the vent in Mount
southeast and fall on
Vesuvius. A column of
pumice and ash rises.
cover the region.
Different kinds of lava vary in silica content and
How does the sand affect the viscosity of the
temperature and therefore spread at different
molasses? What does the sand represent in
rates. Use molasses to model lava ?ow rates.
your model? How would a volcano with this
1. Measure one tablespoon of molasses, and
type of lava be likely to erupt?
slowly pour it onto a plastic plate. Time and
3. Heat one tablespoon of molasses over a hot
record how long it takes for the molasses to
plate. Repeat Step 1. How does the viscosity of
the heated molasses compare with the viscosity
2. Add one tablespoon of sand to one tablespoon
of the molasses in Step 1? What can you
of molasses. Stir the mixture thoroughly.
conclude about the effect of temperature on
Repeat the pouring and timing of Step 1.
the ?ow rate of lava?
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Pliny the Younger (circa A.D. 62–113) was a nephew
of the scholar and historian Pliny the Elder. When he
was about 17 years old, he witnessed the eruption of
Mount Vesuvius while visiting a city across the bay from
Pompeii. Some 25 years later, Pliny the Younger described
the terrifying scene in a letter to the historian Tacitus.
Excerpt from Pliny the Younger’s
letter to Tacitus, circa A.D. 104
“I look back: a dense cloud looms
but darkness and ashes
behind us, following us like a ?ood poured
came again, a great weight of
v Pliny the Younger
across the land. . . . A darkness came that
them. We stood up and shook the
was not like a moonless or cloudy night,
ash off again and again, otherwise
but more like the black of closed and
we would have been covered with it
unlighted rooms. You could hear women
and crushed by the weight. . . .
lamenting, children crying, men shouting.
“At last the cloud thinned out and
Some were calling for parents, others for
dwindled to no more than smoke or fog.
children or spouses. . . . There were some
Soon there was real daylight. The sun was
so afraid of death that they prayed for
even shining, though with the lurid glow it
death. . . . It grew lighter, though that
has after an eclipse. The sight that met our
seemed not a return of day, but a sign that
still terri?ed eyes was a changed world,
the ?re was approaching. The ?re itself
buried in ash like snow.”
actually stopped some distance away,
An eyewitness account is a ?rsthand,
factual account of an event or experience.
Pliny the Younger ?lled his letter with
vivid sensory details—details that help the
reader see, feel, smell, taste, and hear—in
order to convey what the Vesuvius
eruption was like.
Choose an interesting event that you’ve
witnessed. Write an eyewitness account
of it. Provide readers with key facts, such
as the time and place of the event, along
with interesting and vivid details.
Dog at Pompeii
This is a plaster cast of a dog
left chained to a post during
the eruption of Vesuvius.
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To calculate business trades in the Forum and
elsewhere, Pompeians used an abacus. An abacus is
a metal or wood box, with counters that slide along
grooves or wires. The Romans made abacuses small
enough to be portable, rather like today’s pocket
This Roman abacus could calculate numbers
into the millions. The groove on the right
was used to calculate fractions.
Reading the Roman Abacus
A typical Roman abacus could be
If you were using a modern calcu-
To read a number, count the
used to calculate numbers up to
lator, you would start with 0. To
beads that are closest to the
9,999. The ancient Romans used
set the Roman abacus at 0, move
letters in the middle.
letters to represent numerals. The
all the counters away from the
3 hundreds (C) + 5 tens (X) +
table below shows the value of
letters in the middle as shown.
1 ten (X) + 2 ones (I) = 362
the Roman numerals.
M C X I
M C X I
The Roman numerals divide the
abacus into an upper and lower
part. Each bead or counter on
the upper part stands for ?ve.
Each bead on the lower part
This abacus reads 0.
This abacus reads 362.
stands for one.
Using the Roman Abacus
Adding Clear the abacus to 0. You
3. The result is 387, as shown.
1. Go to the C (hundreds) column.
are now ready to add 25 + 362 on
Subtract by moving 1 hundreds
the abacus. Set up the counters to
display 362 as shown above. Then
2. Then go to the X (tens) column.
add 25 by moving the counters
Subtract by moving the counter
toward the middle.
M C X I
that stands for 5 tens up and
1. Go to the X (tens) column.
the 3 tens counters down.
Move 2 tens counters up, so
After performing the calculation,
that the tens column displays
you should get the number
2 tens + 6 tens = 8 tens.
shown below. What number is it?
2. Go to the I (ones) column.
Subtracting You use the same
Remember that the upper
steps to subtract. Clear the abacus
counters are multiples of 5.
to 0. To calculate 387 – 180, ?rst
Move the counter that stands
set up the abacus to show 387,
for 5 ones down to the middle,
as shown above. Subtract by
M C X I
so that the ones column dis-
moving the counters away from
plays 5 ones + 2 ones = 7 ones.
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Create an abacus of your own by
drawing heavy lines with a marker or
crayon on a sheet of paper. Label each
line about halfway up, as shown in the
abacus illustrations on these pages. Use
beans, pennies, or other small objects
as beads. Begin by setting up your
abacus to read 0. Perform the
801 + 143
2,788 – 1,517
8,754 + 241
6,487 – 2,382
Check your work using Arabic
numerals. Now create two of your own
problems for a partner to solve.
It’s A.D. 80. Your class is a group
Products From Pompeii
of Pompeians who escaped the
Colorful glassware and ?ne
eruption and are living at a
jewelry were among the
safe distance south of Mount
luxury goods traded in
Vesuvius. To advertise the
businesses in your new location,
write a “press kit” to distribute
in the Roman Empire. Your kit
• a map showing your new
location in relation to
• a description of your trade,
such as a baker, potter, barber,
cloth maker, restaurant owner,
mason, or jewelry maker
• the products or services you’re
selling, such as wool, gold and
silver jewelry, oil lamps, glass-
ware, mosaic tiles, and so on
• drawings and photos
Research ancient Pompeii, using
the library or the Internet.