The Last Morning in Pompeii & The Night Pompeii Died: A New Video Series Explores the End of the Doomed Roman City

We’re still learn­ing what hap­pened in Pom­peii in 79 AD. In the broad sense, of course, we know exact­ly what hap­pened: the vol­cano Mount Vesu­vius erupt­ed, over­whelm­ing the city (as well as Her­cu­la­neum) with heat and entomb­ing it in ash. But what exact­ly was going on in Pom­pei­i’s last days? Absent the pow­er of time trav­el, we can nev­er know for sure. But the dis­as­ter that end­ed the life of Pom­peii also pre­served that life more or less as it was, result­ing in a har­row­ing snap­shot made of ruins and remains uncom­mon­ly intact by the stan­dards of ancient Rome. It is to Mount Vesu­vius that we thus owe a good deal of our knowl­edge about the tex­ture of every­day life in the Roman Empire.

His­to­ry Youtu­ber Gar­rett Ryan explains all this in a new three-part minis­eries, which con­sists of the videos “The Last Morn­ing in Pom­peii,” “The Night Pom­peii Died,” and “The Vic­tims of Vesu­vius.” We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Ryan’s chan­nel Told in Stone here on Open Cul­ture for its episodes on sub­jects like ancient Roman aque­ducts and ancient Roman drugs.

Here, he uses his for­mi­da­ble all-around knowl­edge of ancient Roman life to paint a ver­bal pic­ture of how aver­age Pom­pei­ians might have lived out their final day in the city. Dur­ing its course, what in the morn­ing would have felt like noth­ing more than odd rum­blings would — in accor­dance with the arche­typ­al tale of dis­as­ter — turn into an infer­no by night­fall.

As in his oth­er videos, Ryan shows as much con­cern with what we know as how we know it. In the case of Pom­peii and Her­cu­la­neum, the his­tor­i­cal evi­dence includes no few­er than 1,500 recov­ered bod­ies, with hun­dreds or even thou­sands still buried. The vivid­ness of the image con­sti­tut­ed by these cit­i­zens and their sur­round­ings — a vivid­ness enhanced by the prac­tice of mak­ing real­is­tic plas­ter casts from their impres­sions in the ash — would lead any vis­i­tor at the ruins to imag­ine for him­self sto­ries of the lives of Pom­pei­ians. So it seems to have gone with Ryan, who after gaz­ing into Vesu­vius’ crater beheld the sprawl of mod­ern-day Naples, which has “crept up to the very foot of the vol­cano, await­ing the next erup­tion.” The under­ly­ing sto­ry, told in geo­log­i­cal time, is still nowhere near its end.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Watch the Destruc­tion of Pom­peii by Mount Vesu­vius, Re-Cre­at­ed with Com­put­er Ani­ma­tion (79 AD)

Pom­peii Rebuilt: A Tour of the Ancient City Before It Was Entombed by Mount Vesu­vius

Behold 3D Recre­ations of Pompeii’s Lav­ish Homes–As They Exist­ed Before the Erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius

How the Sur­vivors of Pom­peii Escaped Mount Vesu­vius’ Dead­ly Erup­tion: A TED-Ed Ani­ma­tion Tells the Sto­ry

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er an Ancient Roman Snack Bar in the Ruins of Pom­peii

A Drone’s Eye View of the Ruins of Pom­peii

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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