Capo Miseno today.
Pliny's HQ was on the
peak of the hill, from
which he could view all
of the Bay of Naples.
Misenum Naval Base, 79 AD -- Pliny
the Elder, an acute observer of natural phenomena,
had already noted the ripples on the surface of
the wine in his glass; the earth was shaking under
his naval headquarters on the northern edge of the
Bay of Naples. Ancient Greek and Roman
historians and naturalists had, for a long time,
warned of the fires under the volcano and
described the charred rocks around its peak.
Local mythology warned that a giant was buried
under the mountain -- the brother of the more
active giant trapped under Mount Etna in Sicily --
and warned that both were struggling to get
There had been massive eruptions centuries and
millennia before; the whole of the Bay of Naples
is but one-fourth of the huge caldera, and
Vesuvius is only a small vent on its edge.
But residents and ancient Roman vacationers and
tourists in the towns clustered around the base of
Vesuvius were not aware of the significance of the
early warning signs. In fact many in Pompeii
even had forgotten their local mythology and
religion. They had turned to the
worship of an Egyptian Goddess, Isis, who
apparently knew nothing of volcanoes.
On August 24, 79 AD, they briefly had cause to
regret what they had forgotten. Their
regrets were brief, because the next day they were
dead. Thousands of bodies have been
recovered since those two days, and many more
thousands (the folks that fled the towns) are
still out there in the unexcavated countryside
under thick layers of ash and clasts.
Our class will look at the geology and history of
the area around the Neapolitan caldera and then at
the 79 AD eruption and its aftermath. We
will explore the ruins and see the recovered
artifacts. We'll read the eyewitness
description of the eruption written by Pliny the
Younger, who declined the invitation to accompany
his uncle, Pliny the Elder, on his fatal
fact-finding and attempted rescue mission into the
danger area. Even so, Pliny the Younger had
to flee the final paroxysmal pyroclastic flow that
roared almost 20 miles across the Bay of
There's much more: see http://www.mmdtkw.org/ALRItkwVesPompeiiVesuvius.html
(which includes some suggested readings beyond the
course handouts) and http://www.mmdtkw.org/ALRItkwPages.html#Vesuvius.
And be warned: Vesuvius is overdue for
another major eruption.