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Discovery of Pompeii

The 18th-century excavations at PompeiiThe 18th-century excavations at PompeiiMuch of our evidence about Roman houses and towns comes from the ruins of two cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were destroyed in AD 79, when the nearby volcano Vesuvius erupted. Pompeii was buried under hot ash, while Herculaneum disappeared under mud washed down from the volcano. Although attempts were made to evacuate the cities, thousands of people were killed. The lost cities remained forgotten for many centuries. Since the 18th century, when the earliest excavations began, whole streets of shops and houses have been uncovered by archaeologists working in both cities.


The prosperous town of Pompeii was typical of a Roman market town. A busy harbour brought in ships full of goods from overseas. Wealthy Pompeii merchants traded local produce—wine, cloth and garum (a fish sauce)—for glassware, jewels and spices. People crowded the town’s bars, shops and taverns. The town of Pompeii was situated in the Bay of Naples, 200 kilometres (125 miles) southeast of Rome. The bay had good harbours for seagoing ships and the land was very fertile. For these reasons, this area has always had a large population.

Volcanic ash from the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 fell to the ground as far away as Africa.

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