Monday, August 24, 2015

(Maybe) Vesuvius Day

In researching Ancient Rome for one of my works-in-progress, I came across an interesting tidbit that will probably be familiar to historians...

We typically mark August 24th as the day that Vesuvius erupted catastrophically, way back in 79 AD, and ravaging the nearby countryside and towns. That date comes to us from the writings of Pliny the Younger (not to be confused with his uncle, Pliny the Elder), who wrote of the ordeal several years after the fact.

However, there is plenty of historical evidence that the destruction of Pompeii, situated southeast of the volcano, actually occurred two or three months later. For instance (from Wikipedia)...

"People buried in the ash appear to be wearing heavier clothing than the light summer clothes that would be expected in August. The fresh fruit and vegetables in the shops are typical of October, and conversely the summer fruit that would have been typical of August was already being sold in dried, or conserved form. Wine fermenting jars had been sealed over, and this would have happened around the end of October. Coins found in the purse of a woman buried in the ash include one which features a fifteenth imperatorial acclamation among the emperor's titles. These cannot have been minted before the second week of September. So far there is no definitive theory as to why there should be such an apparent discrepancy."

I'll leave it to folks much smarter than me to argue over the discrepancy though it remains one of history's fascinating open questions.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum in high school (back when I actually knew Latin) and as an archaeological site, it's totally cool. (Side note: For whatever reason, the tourist site was known for its stray dogs, which I can attest to!)

All this research has been a fun little diversion as I work through this latest novel, set during the time of Vesuvius's eruption. The aftermath features in the story, but isn't the central part of the narrative. It's just a stop along the way for the characters...

Anyway, just wanted to say Happy Maybe Vesuvius Day. (Though "Happy" probably isn't the right word...)

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