The 24th of August 079 AD
To put it in context: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD is calculated to have released 100,000 times the amount of thermal energy produced by the bomb that obliterated Hiroshima in 1945. The death toll is not known, not unnaturally given the chaos, the relative lack of records, and the fact that the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried beneath millions of tons of rock, pumice and ash. It is estimated, however, that more than 15,000 died, and the number may have been far greater.
The eruption was preceded by a major earthquake in 62AD, which caused devastation in its own right – famously Pompeii when excavated revealed pots of plaster and painting materials.
Vesuvius (still by the way active today) first threw millions of tons of material more than 20 miles into the skies; people were killed and injured by falling pumice and rocks; then it launched two pyroclastic flows, waves of hot gas and pulverised rock that can travel at speeds in excess of 400mph, and reach 1000 Celsius, burning those foolish or unfortunate enough to remain.
We forgot Pompeii for many centuries, but eventually it was rediscovered and became along with neighbouring Naples part of the Grand Tour in the 18th century. And it’s an ill wind: yes the eruption destroyed two large towns and killed thousands; but it also gave Frankie Howerd his finest hour. And rather more seriously it preserved evidence of everyday Roman life for us, filling in many gaps that archaeology elsewhere had left.
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