Pupil Contributions, Clifton College

Pupil Contributions, Clifton College

 Anna Matthews: 04/12/2017

Pompeii was an ancient Roman town on the west coast of Italy. Originally founded in the 6th century BC, it grew into a successful city, thriving because of its advantageous geographical location. It was an ideal hotspot for traders, because it was near the river Sarno and in the bay of Naples, so was an ideal stop off place for traders on the trade route from Rome to the south of the Mediterranean. This meant that many trade guilds were based in Pompeii; for example, the Eumachia building in the forum was the guildhall for fullers and cloth merchants. All this trade meant that Pompeii prospered significantly.

Because of Mount Vesuvius nearby, Pompeii was on a high natural ridge, formed by a previous lava spur from an earlier eruption, which allowed the city to overlook the trade routes on the bay of Naples, as well as keeping watch for attackers, so that the city was easier to defend. Earlier eruptions also meant that the soil was mineral rich, so there were plenty of forest nearby, which were a source of food, both fruit and wild animals such as deer, and timber for building houses for the city. Agriculture also thrived here, due to irrigation being possible due to the river Sarno, as well as the mineral rich soil for growing crops.

Pompeii was very cosmopolitan, due to the many merchants from different countries. In particular, there was a large Greek influence on the city, as is seen in its art and buildings. One of the oldest temples in the city is dedicated to Apollo, the Greek god of music, healing, poetry and the sun, just to name a few. This temple is positioned in the forum, with a most famous bronze statue of the god outside, in which he was drawing back the string of a bow, for archery is another thing that he is god for.

However, despite all the benefits that Mount Vesuvius brought to the inhabitants of Pompeii, it also had its downfalls. For example, the ancient Pompeians frequently suffered from earthquakes, most notably in 62 AD, when a catastrophic earthquake struck the city, lasting for several days with the aftershock. A handful people died from buildings falling down and collapsing, and repairs were still being carried out on several buildings, including the Temple of Jupiter, when Mount Vesuvius erupted 17 years later in 79 AD, burying the city under 4-6m of volcanic debris such as ash and pumice. Although some people escaped, many people died. Where they lay in the condensed ash for hundred of years before rediscovery, their corpses rotted away, leaving cavities in the ash in the positions that they died in. Some of these have bags of coins with them, so we can tell that they had been looting abandoned houses. The ash has also preserved the artwork and buildings in great quality, so Pompeii has been integral to us learning about the ancient societies and world. Pompeii lay undiscovered until the 18th Century, when it was rediscovered by accident. Since excavation, materials have slowly began to decay, so we must be very careful and conserve these remains as best as we can.