Records of Pompeii survivors have been found – and archaeologists are starting to grasp how they rebuilt their lives

On 24 AugustIn 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, throwing over 3 cubic miles of debris as much as 20 miles (32.1 kilometers) into the air. As ash and rock fell to earth, they buried the traditional cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

According to most recent accounts, the story essentially ends here: each cities worn out, their populations frozen in time.

It only starts with the rediscovery of cities and the excavations that began in earnest within the 1740s.

But current research has modified the narrative. The story of the eruption of Vesuvius isn’t any longer a story of destruction; it also includes the stories of those that survived the eruption and rebuilt their lives.

The seek for survivors and their stories has dominated the last decade of my archaeological fieldwork as I actually have tried to find who might need escaped the eruption. Some of my findings are featured in an episode of the brand new PBS documentary, “Pompeii: The new excavation.”

“Pompeii: The New Excavation” highlights recent discoveries which have helped historians higher understand life before and after the eruption of Vesuvius.

Get out alive

Pompeii and Herculaneum were two wealthy cities on the coast of Italy south of Naples. Pompeii was a community of about 30,000 people which housed a thriving industry and energetic political and financial networks. Herculaneum, with a population of about 5,000had an energetic fishing fleet and a variety of marble workshops. Both economies supported the villas of rich Romans in the encompassing countryside.

In popular culture, the outbreak is generally portrayed as an apocalyptic event with no survivors: In episodes of the tv series “Doctor Who” And “Loki“, everyone in Pompeii and Herculaneum dies.

However, there have been at all times indications that folks might need escaped.

The outbreak itself lasted over 18 hoursThe human stays present in each town represent only a fraction of their population, and lots of objects that one might need expected to have survived and been preserved in ashes are missing: carts and horses have disappeared from the stables, ships are missing from the docks, and money and jewellery boxes have been emptied.

All this implies that many – if not most – people within the cities could have escaped in the event that they had fled early enough.

Some archaeologists have at all times assumed that some people fled, but finding them was never a priority.

So I developed a way to see if survivors may very well be found. I took Roman names that only appear in Pompeii or Herculaneum – resembling Numerius Popidius and Aulus Umbricius – and searched for individuals with those names living in the encompassing communities within the period after the eruption. I also looked for added evidence, resembling improved infrastructure in neighboring communities to accommodate migrants.

After eight years of combing through databases containing tens of 1000’s of Roman inscriptions on partitions and tombstones, I discovered evidence of over 200 survivors in 12 towns. These communities are mainly situated in the realm around Pompeii, but they were mostly north of Vesuvius, outside the zone of best destruction.

It seems that the majority survivors stayed as near Pompeii as possible, preferring to settle along with other survivors and counting on the social and economic networks of their home towns to assist them relocate.

Some migrants are successful

Some of the refugee families appear to have succeeded of their latest communities.

The Caltilius family relocated to Ostia – then a crucial port city north of Pompeii, 29 kilometers from Rome. There they founded a temple for the Egyptian deity Serapis. Serapiscarrying a basket of grain on his head to symbolize the abundance of the earth, was popular in port cities resembling Ostia, which were dominated by the grain trade. These cities also built a magnificent, expensive tomb complex decorated with inscriptions and huge portraits of relations.

Members of the Caltilius family married into one other refugee family, the Munatiuses. Together they founded a wealthy, successful clan.

Aerial view of the ruins of a city discovered during archaeological excavations.
Some of the survivors settled in Ostia, a port city north of Pompeii.
DEA Image Library/Getty Images

Puteoli, the second largest port city of Roman Italy – today Pozzuoli – also welcomed survivors from Pompeii. The family of Aulus Umbricius, a Garum Tradera preferred fermented fish sauce, settled there. After reviving the family garum business, Aulus and his wife named their first child, born of their adopted home, Puteolanus, or “the Puteolanian.”

Others get into trouble

Not all survivors of the outbreak were wealthy or successful of their latest communities. Some had been poor before. Others appeared to have lost their family fortunes, perhaps consequently of the outbreak itself.

Fabia Secundina from Pompeii – apparently named after her grandfather, a wealthy wine merchant – also ended up in Puteoli. There she married a gladiator, Aquarius retiarius, who died on the age of 25, leaving her in great financial difficulties.

Three other very poor families from Pompeii – the Avianii, Atilii and Masuri families – survived and settled in a small, poorer community called Nuceria, which is now called Nocera and is situated about 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) east of Pompeii.

According to a surviving tombstone, the Masuri family took in a boy named Avianius Felicio as a foster son. Notably, there was no record of foster children throughout the 160 years of Roman Pompeii, and prolonged families often took in orphans. For this reason, it is probably going that Felicio had no surviving relations.

This small example illustrates the larger pattern of generosity shown by migrants, even impoverished ones, toward other survivors and their latest communities. They not only cared for one another; additionally they donated to the religious and civic institutions of their latest homeland.

For example, the Vibidia family had lived in Herculaneum. Before town was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius, that they had donated generously to finance various facilities, including a brand new Temple of Venus, the Roman goddess of affection, beauty and fertility.

A female member of the family who survived the eruption seems to have continued the family tradition: after settling in her latest community of Beneventum, she donated a really small, poorly made altar to Venus on public land made available to her by the local city council.

How would survivors be treated today?

As survivors settled into their latest communities and built lives, the federal government also played a job.

The Emperors in Rome invested heavily within the regionReconstruction of buildings damaged by the eruption and construction of latest infrastructure for the displaced population, including roads, water systems, amphitheaters and temples.

This model of post-disaster reconstruction could be a lesson for today. The cost of financing reconstruction seems never to have been discussed. Survivors weren’t isolated in campsnor were they forced to live indefinitely in tent citiesThere isn’t any evidence that they experienced discrimination of their latest communities.

Instead, all signs suggest that communities welcomed the survivors, a lot of whom went on to start out their very own businesses and tackle positions in local government. And the federal government responded by ensuring that the brand new populations and their communities had the resources and infrastructure to rebuild their lives.

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