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Episode
163

Pompeii

Jun 1, 2021
History
-
20
minutes
Romans
Natural world
Italy
Naples
Volcano
Art
Weird history

In AD79 Mount Vesuvius erupted, covering much of the nearby area in a thick layer of ash and killing thousands of people.

Today we tell the story of what happened, what archaeologists discovered in the ancient town, and what secrets about Roman life have been uncovered.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Pompeii.

[00:00:28] Now, I imagine you know a little bit about Pompeii. 

[00:00:31] It is the scene of probably the most famous volcanic eruption in history, a volcanic eruption that stopped the clocks on an entire town, preserving it for thousands of years.

[00:00:45] In today’s episode we are going to, of course, tell the story of Pompeii, but we will explore the questions that Pompeii makes us ask ourselves, from what is the relationship between the past and the present, to how we should actually think about the people who died there.

[00:01:05] I should also add that today’s episode is a request from an amazing member of Leonardo English called Silvana, so, Silvana, I hope you enjoy it.

[00:01:15] Right, let’s not waste a minute, and get started right away.

[00:01:20] So, Pompeii.

[00:01:22] For those of you who need a reminder about where Pompeii actually is, it is just inland from the Bay of Naples, in southern Italy.

[00:01:32] It sits on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano which was to play a crucial, albeit catastrophic, role in the history of the town of Pompeii.

[00:01:44] Our story starts in the late summer or early autumn of the year 79 AD, almost 2,000 years ago.

[00:01:54] The exact dates, and specifics of what happened are still not universally agreed on, but it is thought to have gone something like this.

[00:02:05] For a few days there had been small earthquakes in the area, but nothing too troubling, nothing too worrying for the inhabitants. 

[00:02:15] Small plumes of smoke were coming out of Mt Vesuvius, but this was nothing so abnormal - it seemed relatively harmless.

[00:02:26] Then, around 1pm, after the pressure had been building up deep within, the volcano erupted and a column of ash was shot up into the sky.

[00:02:39] Ash fell all over the nearby area, covering it in a grey cloud and a grey layer of ash.

[00:02:46] Residents of Pompeii, and all of the other nearby towns, started to flee, they started to run away. They weren’t to know what was to come, but presumably they thought that it wasn’t good news.

[00:03:00] Many did manage to escape. 

[00:03:03] The ash wasn’t deadly itself, it was bad for your lungs, made it hard to breathe, and made it hard to see, but it wasn't to be the thing that would actually kill you. 

[00:03:15] Either some time later on that evening, or during the night, the volcano spewed out, it threw out, a huge pyroclastic flow

[00:03:26] A pyroclastic flow is a collection of extremely hot ash and gas that can travel incredibly fast, up to 700 kilometres per hour. 

[00:03:37] And the temperature inside one of these deadly clouds can reach 1,000 degrees Centigrade.

[00:03:44] This deadly collection of gas and volcanic matter rushed down the side of the volcano, heading straight for Pompeii.

[00:03:53] Some of the residents that were still in the town and saw this coming ran for their lives, while others sheltered inside their houses.

[00:04:02] But, it was to no avail

[00:04:05] As the deadly gas covered the town the people left there would have been killed almost instantly. 

[00:04:12] It would have been so hot that the bodies would have been vaporised, and there’s evidence that one poor person’s brain was actually melted and turned into a glass-like consistency.

[00:04:25] To put things in perspective, and give you some points of comparison, it’s estimated that the eruption would have released about 100,000 times the amount of thermal energy released in the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and at its peak it would have released 1.5 million tonnes of matter every second.

[00:04:49] A pretty serious explosion, right?

[00:04:52] Now, to state the obvious, it must have been horrifying to see, and if you were one of the poor souls later found in the remains, it must have been terrifying.

[00:05:04] But what this tragic event has left us with is a Roman settlement, almost perfectly preserved in time. 

[00:05:13] There really isn’t anything quite like it anywhere, at least that we have discovered yet.

[00:05:19] When we think of other ancient monuments or towns, they have often fallen into a state of disrepair, or they have been built over by subsequent generations. 

[00:05:30] There is usually a period of time between when they stopped being used and the present day.

[00:05:37] But in the case of Pompeii, one minute there was a thriving Roman settlement, then the next it was all covered in ash and volcanic matter, its inhabitants preserved standing up, a dog tied to a wall, and everything left as if time had been stopped.

[00:05:56] This is the true magic of Pompeii, and the reason it has captured so many people’s imagination.

[00:06:03] Now, before we reflect on some of the questions Pompeii gets us thinking about, let me remind you of both how we know what happened, and what has happened to Pompeii since that fateful day in AD79.

[00:06:18] Firstly, how do we know what happened?

[00:06:21] Well, through the letters of a Roman named Pliny The Younger. 

[00:06:26] He would have been 17 at the time of the explosion, and he was residing in a settlement called Miseno, which was across the bay from both Vesuvius and Pompeii, so he was safe from the blast.

[00:06:40] He wrote a vivid description of the eruption, but he actually wrote about it 25 years after it happened, in letters to the historian Tacitus.

[00:06:51] Now, Pliny’s account of the eruption is considered to be authoritative and broadly true, but we should remember that Pliny is recalling something that happened 25 years beforehand

[00:07:05] Pliny provides us with a vivid picture of the ash cloud, describing the ash as a blanket of snow.

[00:07:13] And his account is consistent with what archaeologists later found when excavating the town of Pompeii.

[00:07:21] After the eruption, the entire town was covered in ash and lava, it was in effect submerged, it was under the ground. 

[00:07:30] There’s evidence that some thieves returned in the days and weeks after the eruption to try to steal any jewels or precious possessions that had been left behind, but in the subsequent years, subsequent centuries even, the ancient town lay below the ground, hidden, knowledge of it lost to the world.

[00:07:52] Various different people had found signs of its existence, but it wasn’t until the year 1763 that the town of Pompeii was properly rediscovered. 

[00:08:04] The nearby town of Herculaneum, which had been completely covered by ash in the same eruption, had been discovered in 1738, and this prompted renewed interest in unearthing Pompeii, in rediscovering Pompeii.

[00:08:21] The archeological work was complicated by the French invasion of Naples in 1799, and it wasn’t until 1863 that the famous archaeologist, Giuseppe Fiorelli, took over and things really started to progress.

[00:08:38] I imagine you might be familiar with much of what they found, but let me remind you about some of the most startling, the most surprising, discoveries.

[00:08:50] The first thing to mention about what they discovered is actually what they didn’t discover. 

[00:08:56] They didn’t discover bodies, but instead discovered holes in the solid ash layer. 

[00:09:04] You might think, hang on, I thought I had seen bodies of people in Pompeii...who were these people then?

[00:09:11] Well, what happened was that the bodies of the people who died during the eruption were completely stuck in the volcanic ash. As the years went by, their clothes and their bodies disintegrated, they biodegraded, often just leaving a pile of bones inside a cavity full of air.

[00:09:32] As the archaeologists dug through the ash they found these pockets of air, with some bones at the bottom, and realised that the empty space represented the people. 

[00:09:46] Fiorelli, the man leading the project, realised that you could pour in liquid plaster into the hole, and it would form an exact copy of that person’s body.

[00:09:59] So, to the question of these bodies that you might see in a museum or on a television documentary as “bodies of someone who died in Pompeii”, they aren’t the physical bodies, but they are an exact representation of that person when they died. 

[00:10:17] Although they are copies, you could certainly make the argument that they are more ‘real’ than a bag of old bones, or the decaying corpse, the old dead body, of an old king or queen. 

[00:10:30] These moulds, these copies, are exact copies of the people who died in the eruption. 

[00:10:37] This also means that we have a different relationship with them. 

[00:10:42] They are, on one level, less human, because they are made of plaster.

[00:10:47] But on another level, they are far more. 

[00:10:50] Unlike tombs or graves, or even skeletons that have been discovered elsewhere, the plaster moulds of the victims of Pompeii are their exact shape, their exact position at their moment of their death.

[00:11:04] The bodies weren’t the only amazing thing that the archaeologists found, and I imagine that you might be familiar with some of the other amazing discoveries.

[00:11:14] Over the course of the past 150 years, excavations have uncovered the thriving town, from its well-developed amphitheatre to its bustling, busy market, from the public baths to the many brothels.

[00:11:30] Over 2,000 frescoes have been discovered, which tell the story of life in the town. 

[00:11:37] In the market and shops of the town they found evidence of the food that people would eat, and one type of food in particular helped in an unexpected way.

[00:11:49] In 2008, historians used something called garum, which was a type of ancient Roman fish sauce, to help confirm the date that the eruption of Pompeii took place.

[00:12:01] Now, what exactly was this garum, and how does fish sauce help you understand what date a volcano exploded on? 

[00:12:10] Those are perhaps two very valid questions that are going through your mind.

[00:12:16] Garum was made by fermenting the insides, the guts, of small fish, leaving them out together with herbs and salt for several weeks. 

[00:12:28] Historians believe that the ancient Romans used to eat it with almost every meal - it was a way of adding flavour to the food, and was cheaper than salt.

[00:12:39] It might not sound so enticing, so delicious, to you or me, but it is believed to have been hugely popular 2000 years ago.

[00:12:49] Now, to the question of how did a bunch of fermented fish intestines help us understand the exact date that Vesuvius erupted. 

[00:12:58] Of course, they couldn’t confirm the date, but what the analysis of the garum did do was confirm that Pliny the Younger’s reported date of August 24th was possible.

[00:13:10] Scientists analysed the type of fish in the garum, and discovered that it was a type of fish common in the area in late July and early August, and this garum would normally be left to ferment for no longer than a month.

[00:13:25] So, Pliny’s date of August 24th was supported by this disgusting to me or you but delicious to the Romans, fish.

[00:13:34] Amazing, right?

[00:13:36] Moving on, let’s talk a little more about the opening up of Pompeii, and how it was perceived by early visitors. 

[00:13:44] When the city was first discovered, in the late 19th century, it was just opened up, shown as it was.

[00:13:53] Visitors often remarked that it was a little chaotic and messy, and in a real state of disrepair

[00:14:00] Obviously, one might think, the town had suffered a catastrophic volcanic eruption and been stuck under ash for the best part of 2,000 years.

[00:14:10] Then over the past 100 years conservation and restoration efforts have focussed on recreating and restoring some of the original buildings in a sustainable way. 

[00:14:21] The result is now pretty outstanding, and the reconstructions bring the ancient town to life, allowing visitors to experience what life would have been like at the very moment the volcano erupted.

[00:14:35] If you have been to Pompeii you will have experienced this firsthand.

[00:14:39] You can walk through the old Roman road, you can go into the old amphitheatre, you can even visit the brothel and look at the adult-only frescoes on the wall.

[00:14:50] It truly is an amazing experience, and if you have the chance, it is something that I would highly recommend.

[00:14:57] Now, there are a few outstanding questions that many people have about Pompeii, and the volcano that stands above it.

[00:15:05] The most frequent one seems to be “will Vesuvius erupt again?”

[00:15:11] The answer to that, according to most seismologists, most experts on the subject is a resounding “yes, it is just a question of when”.

[00:15:21] Mount Vesuvius is in a dormant phase at the moment, but is regarded as an active volcano. 

[00:15:29] If you go to the top, which you can very easily do, you can see the gases coming out of it, as well as some quite unpleasant smells.

[00:15:38] There hasn’t been a large eruption since 1944, when 26 people died. 

[00:15:44] We are due another one, there should be another one happening relatively soon.

[00:15:50] Compared to AD79, the area around the volcano is significantly more populated, there are many more people living there than 2000 years ago.

[00:16:00] Naples is Italy’s third largest city, and the area around Mt Vesuvius is filled with towns and villages.

[00:16:08] But, of course, we have many scientific advantages that the poor residents of Pompeii didn’t have. 

[00:16:14] The volcano is now under constant monitoring, it is now much easier to leave in a hurry, and if there were another eruption of a similar size to the one in AD79, then most people would likely manage to get away in time.

[00:16:30] Let us end today’s episode with a few weird and unexpected facts about Pompeii, since we are now fully acquainted with the story.

[00:16:40] Firstly, there is a theory that the residents of Pompeii didn’t actually know that Vesuvius was a volcano, they thought it was just a harmless mountain. 

[00:16:50] They didn’t even have a word for volcano, and so they must have been even more surprised when this large mountain exploded and clouds of deadly gas and dust rushed down the side of the mountain towards them.

[00:17:04] Secondly, the excavations of Pompeii revealed several things that one might not first associate with the ancient Romans, or at least, don’t always appear in the history books.

[00:17:16] For starters, there was a lot of graffiti, a lot of writing on the walls of the town. 

[00:17:22] Indeed, there are over 11,000 samples of graffiti that have been found, with all sorts of poems, insults, and more. 

[00:17:31] There were also 25 different brothels found. 

[00:17:35] For some people, when we imagine ancient Romans, we think of a very different type of society to our own, without things such as graffiti or prostitution, but the example of Pompeii makes us remember that humans really don’t change that much.

[00:17:53] And finally, something that is not only a weird fact, but also makes us remember quite how special and unique the case of Pompeii is, is the fact that the victims of the volcano were preserved for so long meaning that we know quite a lot about their bodies. 

[00:18:10] Specifically, we know that most of them had excellent teeth. 

[00:18:15] Teeth normally aren’t parts of the body that survive for 2000 years after death, but given the nature of how these people died, and how their bodies were preserved, scientists saw that these people had fantastic teeth. 

[00:18:30] The hypothesis about why that is is that their diet would have been rich in fruit and vegetables, and had relatively no sugar. So, we can all probably learn something from that.

[00:18:43] Pompeii, when you stop for a minute and think about what it really tells us about the past, is completely fascinating. 

[00:18:51] Our understanding of the past, in general, comes from written records and objects, not from the people themselves. 

[00:19:00] Pompeii is unique in that it is an entire town, an entire civilization, complete with its residents, which was stopped in time, preserved for eternity.

[00:19:11] And although the physical bodies of the victims are long gone, the voids, the empty spaces, remain.

[00:19:20] It might sound like a gloomy way to end this episode, but I think it’s an interesting question to ask ourselves in 2,000 years from now, what might be the next Pompeii?

[00:19:35] OK then that is it for today’s episode on Pompeii. 

[00:19:40] I imagine that you knew something of the story of Pompeii before, but I hope that you have learned a few new things, and it has encouraged you to think about it in a slightly different way.

[00:19:51] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:19:55] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:04] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:20:09] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Pompeii.

[00:00:28] Now, I imagine you know a little bit about Pompeii. 

[00:00:31] It is the scene of probably the most famous volcanic eruption in history, a volcanic eruption that stopped the clocks on an entire town, preserving it for thousands of years.

[00:00:45] In today’s episode we are going to, of course, tell the story of Pompeii, but we will explore the questions that Pompeii makes us ask ourselves, from what is the relationship between the past and the present, to how we should actually think about the people who died there.

[00:01:05] I should also add that today’s episode is a request from an amazing member of Leonardo English called Silvana, so, Silvana, I hope you enjoy it.

[00:01:15] Right, let’s not waste a minute, and get started right away.

[00:01:20] So, Pompeii.

[00:01:22] For those of you who need a reminder about where Pompeii actually is, it is just inland from the Bay of Naples, in southern Italy.

[00:01:32] It sits on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano which was to play a crucial, albeit catastrophic, role in the history of the town of Pompeii.

[00:01:44] Our story starts in the late summer or early autumn of the year 79 AD, almost 2,000 years ago.

[00:01:54] The exact dates, and specifics of what happened are still not universally agreed on, but it is thought to have gone something like this.

[00:02:05] For a few days there had been small earthquakes in the area, but nothing too troubling, nothing too worrying for the inhabitants. 

[00:02:15] Small plumes of smoke were coming out of Mt Vesuvius, but this was nothing so abnormal - it seemed relatively harmless.

[00:02:26] Then, around 1pm, after the pressure had been building up deep within, the volcano erupted and a column of ash was shot up into the sky.

[00:02:39] Ash fell all over the nearby area, covering it in a grey cloud and a grey layer of ash.

[00:02:46] Residents of Pompeii, and all of the other nearby towns, started to flee, they started to run away. They weren’t to know what was to come, but presumably they thought that it wasn’t good news.

[00:03:00] Many did manage to escape. 

[00:03:03] The ash wasn’t deadly itself, it was bad for your lungs, made it hard to breathe, and made it hard to see, but it wasn't to be the thing that would actually kill you. 

[00:03:15] Either some time later on that evening, or during the night, the volcano spewed out, it threw out, a huge pyroclastic flow

[00:03:26] A pyroclastic flow is a collection of extremely hot ash and gas that can travel incredibly fast, up to 700 kilometres per hour. 

[00:03:37] And the temperature inside one of these deadly clouds can reach 1,000 degrees Centigrade.

[00:03:44] This deadly collection of gas and volcanic matter rushed down the side of the volcano, heading straight for Pompeii.

[00:03:53] Some of the residents that were still in the town and saw this coming ran for their lives, while others sheltered inside their houses.

[00:04:02] But, it was to no avail

[00:04:05] As the deadly gas covered the town the people left there would have been killed almost instantly. 

[00:04:12] It would have been so hot that the bodies would have been vaporised, and there’s evidence that one poor person’s brain was actually melted and turned into a glass-like consistency.

[00:04:25] To put things in perspective, and give you some points of comparison, it’s estimated that the eruption would have released about 100,000 times the amount of thermal energy released in the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and at its peak it would have released 1.5 million tonnes of matter every second.

[00:04:49] A pretty serious explosion, right?

[00:04:52] Now, to state the obvious, it must have been horrifying to see, and if you were one of the poor souls later found in the remains, it must have been terrifying.

[00:05:04] But what this tragic event has left us with is a Roman settlement, almost perfectly preserved in time. 

[00:05:13] There really isn’t anything quite like it anywhere, at least that we have discovered yet.

[00:05:19] When we think of other ancient monuments or towns, they have often fallen into a state of disrepair, or they have been built over by subsequent generations. 

[00:05:30] There is usually a period of time between when they stopped being used and the present day.

[00:05:37] But in the case of Pompeii, one minute there was a thriving Roman settlement, then the next it was all covered in ash and volcanic matter, its inhabitants preserved standing up, a dog tied to a wall, and everything left as if time had been stopped.

[00:05:56] This is the true magic of Pompeii, and the reason it has captured so many people’s imagination.

[00:06:03] Now, before we reflect on some of the questions Pompeii gets us thinking about, let me remind you of both how we know what happened, and what has happened to Pompeii since that fateful day in AD79.

[00:06:18] Firstly, how do we know what happened?

[00:06:21] Well, through the letters of a Roman named Pliny The Younger. 

[00:06:26] He would have been 17 at the time of the explosion, and he was residing in a settlement called Miseno, which was across the bay from both Vesuvius and Pompeii, so he was safe from the blast.

[00:06:40] He wrote a vivid description of the eruption, but he actually wrote about it 25 years after it happened, in letters to the historian Tacitus.

[00:06:51] Now, Pliny’s account of the eruption is considered to be authoritative and broadly true, but we should remember that Pliny is recalling something that happened 25 years beforehand

[00:07:05] Pliny provides us with a vivid picture of the ash cloud, describing the ash as a blanket of snow.

[00:07:13] And his account is consistent with what archaeologists later found when excavating the town of Pompeii.

[00:07:21] After the eruption, the entire town was covered in ash and lava, it was in effect submerged, it was under the ground. 

[00:07:30] There’s evidence that some thieves returned in the days and weeks after the eruption to try to steal any jewels or precious possessions that had been left behind, but in the subsequent years, subsequent centuries even, the ancient town lay below the ground, hidden, knowledge of it lost to the world.

[00:07:52] Various different people had found signs of its existence, but it wasn’t until the year 1763 that the town of Pompeii was properly rediscovered. 

[00:08:04] The nearby town of Herculaneum, which had been completely covered by ash in the same eruption, had been discovered in 1738, and this prompted renewed interest in unearthing Pompeii, in rediscovering Pompeii.

[00:08:21] The archeological work was complicated by the French invasion of Naples in 1799, and it wasn’t until 1863 that the famous archaeologist, Giuseppe Fiorelli, took over and things really started to progress.

[00:08:38] I imagine you might be familiar with much of what they found, but let me remind you about some of the most startling, the most surprising, discoveries.

[00:08:50] The first thing to mention about what they discovered is actually what they didn’t discover. 

[00:08:56] They didn’t discover bodies, but instead discovered holes in the solid ash layer. 

[00:09:04] You might think, hang on, I thought I had seen bodies of people in Pompeii...who were these people then?

[00:09:11] Well, what happened was that the bodies of the people who died during the eruption were completely stuck in the volcanic ash. As the years went by, their clothes and their bodies disintegrated, they biodegraded, often just leaving a pile of bones inside a cavity full of air.

[00:09:32] As the archaeologists dug through the ash they found these pockets of air, with some bones at the bottom, and realised that the empty space represented the people. 

[00:09:46] Fiorelli, the man leading the project, realised that you could pour in liquid plaster into the hole, and it would form an exact copy of that person’s body.

[00:09:59] So, to the question of these bodies that you might see in a museum or on a television documentary as “bodies of someone who died in Pompeii”, they aren’t the physical bodies, but they are an exact representation of that person when they died. 

[00:10:17] Although they are copies, you could certainly make the argument that they are more ‘real’ than a bag of old bones, or the decaying corpse, the old dead body, of an old king or queen. 

[00:10:30] These moulds, these copies, are exact copies of the people who died in the eruption. 

[00:10:37] This also means that we have a different relationship with them. 

[00:10:42] They are, on one level, less human, because they are made of plaster.

[00:10:47] But on another level, they are far more. 

[00:10:50] Unlike tombs or graves, or even skeletons that have been discovered elsewhere, the plaster moulds of the victims of Pompeii are their exact shape, their exact position at their moment of their death.

[00:11:04] The bodies weren’t the only amazing thing that the archaeologists found, and I imagine that you might be familiar with some of the other amazing discoveries.

[00:11:14] Over the course of the past 150 years, excavations have uncovered the thriving town, from its well-developed amphitheatre to its bustling, busy market, from the public baths to the many brothels.

[00:11:30] Over 2,000 frescoes have been discovered, which tell the story of life in the town. 

[00:11:37] In the market and shops of the town they found evidence of the food that people would eat, and one type of food in particular helped in an unexpected way.

[00:11:49] In 2008, historians used something called garum, which was a type of ancient Roman fish sauce, to help confirm the date that the eruption of Pompeii took place.

[00:12:01] Now, what exactly was this garum, and how does fish sauce help you understand what date a volcano exploded on? 

[00:12:10] Those are perhaps two very valid questions that are going through your mind.

[00:12:16] Garum was made by fermenting the insides, the guts, of small fish, leaving them out together with herbs and salt for several weeks. 

[00:12:28] Historians believe that the ancient Romans used to eat it with almost every meal - it was a way of adding flavour to the food, and was cheaper than salt.

[00:12:39] It might not sound so enticing, so delicious, to you or me, but it is believed to have been hugely popular 2000 years ago.

[00:12:49] Now, to the question of how did a bunch of fermented fish intestines help us understand the exact date that Vesuvius erupted. 

[00:12:58] Of course, they couldn’t confirm the date, but what the analysis of the garum did do was confirm that Pliny the Younger’s reported date of August 24th was possible.

[00:13:10] Scientists analysed the type of fish in the garum, and discovered that it was a type of fish common in the area in late July and early August, and this garum would normally be left to ferment for no longer than a month.

[00:13:25] So, Pliny’s date of August 24th was supported by this disgusting to me or you but delicious to the Romans, fish.

[00:13:34] Amazing, right?

[00:13:36] Moving on, let’s talk a little more about the opening up of Pompeii, and how it was perceived by early visitors. 

[00:13:44] When the city was first discovered, in the late 19th century, it was just opened up, shown as it was.

[00:13:53] Visitors often remarked that it was a little chaotic and messy, and in a real state of disrepair

[00:14:00] Obviously, one might think, the town had suffered a catastrophic volcanic eruption and been stuck under ash for the best part of 2,000 years.

[00:14:10] Then over the past 100 years conservation and restoration efforts have focussed on recreating and restoring some of the original buildings in a sustainable way. 

[00:14:21] The result is now pretty outstanding, and the reconstructions bring the ancient town to life, allowing visitors to experience what life would have been like at the very moment the volcano erupted.

[00:14:35] If you have been to Pompeii you will have experienced this firsthand.

[00:14:39] You can walk through the old Roman road, you can go into the old amphitheatre, you can even visit the brothel and look at the adult-only frescoes on the wall.

[00:14:50] It truly is an amazing experience, and if you have the chance, it is something that I would highly recommend.

[00:14:57] Now, there are a few outstanding questions that many people have about Pompeii, and the volcano that stands above it.

[00:15:05] The most frequent one seems to be “will Vesuvius erupt again?”

[00:15:11] The answer to that, according to most seismologists, most experts on the subject is a resounding “yes, it is just a question of when”.

[00:15:21] Mount Vesuvius is in a dormant phase at the moment, but is regarded as an active volcano. 

[00:15:29] If you go to the top, which you can very easily do, you can see the gases coming out of it, as well as some quite unpleasant smells.

[00:15:38] There hasn’t been a large eruption since 1944, when 26 people died. 

[00:15:44] We are due another one, there should be another one happening relatively soon.

[00:15:50] Compared to AD79, the area around the volcano is significantly more populated, there are many more people living there than 2000 years ago.

[00:16:00] Naples is Italy’s third largest city, and the area around Mt Vesuvius is filled with towns and villages.

[00:16:08] But, of course, we have many scientific advantages that the poor residents of Pompeii didn’t have. 

[00:16:14] The volcano is now under constant monitoring, it is now much easier to leave in a hurry, and if there were another eruption of a similar size to the one in AD79, then most people would likely manage to get away in time.

[00:16:30] Let us end today’s episode with a few weird and unexpected facts about Pompeii, since we are now fully acquainted with the story.

[00:16:40] Firstly, there is a theory that the residents of Pompeii didn’t actually know that Vesuvius was a volcano, they thought it was just a harmless mountain. 

[00:16:50] They didn’t even have a word for volcano, and so they must have been even more surprised when this large mountain exploded and clouds of deadly gas and dust rushed down the side of the mountain towards them.

[00:17:04] Secondly, the excavations of Pompeii revealed several things that one might not first associate with the ancient Romans, or at least, don’t always appear in the history books.

[00:17:16] For starters, there was a lot of graffiti, a lot of writing on the walls of the town. 

[00:17:22] Indeed, there are over 11,000 samples of graffiti that have been found, with all sorts of poems, insults, and more. 

[00:17:31] There were also 25 different brothels found. 

[00:17:35] For some people, when we imagine ancient Romans, we think of a very different type of society to our own, without things such as graffiti or prostitution, but the example of Pompeii makes us remember that humans really don’t change that much.

[00:17:53] And finally, something that is not only a weird fact, but also makes us remember quite how special and unique the case of Pompeii is, is the fact that the victims of the volcano were preserved for so long meaning that we know quite a lot about their bodies. 

[00:18:10] Specifically, we know that most of them had excellent teeth. 

[00:18:15] Teeth normally aren’t parts of the body that survive for 2000 years after death, but given the nature of how these people died, and how their bodies were preserved, scientists saw that these people had fantastic teeth. 

[00:18:30] The hypothesis about why that is is that their diet would have been rich in fruit and vegetables, and had relatively no sugar. So, we can all probably learn something from that.

[00:18:43] Pompeii, when you stop for a minute and think about what it really tells us about the past, is completely fascinating. 

[00:18:51] Our understanding of the past, in general, comes from written records and objects, not from the people themselves. 

[00:19:00] Pompeii is unique in that it is an entire town, an entire civilization, complete with its residents, which was stopped in time, preserved for eternity.

[00:19:11] And although the physical bodies of the victims are long gone, the voids, the empty spaces, remain.

[00:19:20] It might sound like a gloomy way to end this episode, but I think it’s an interesting question to ask ourselves in 2,000 years from now, what might be the next Pompeii?

[00:19:35] OK then that is it for today’s episode on Pompeii. 

[00:19:40] I imagine that you knew something of the story of Pompeii before, but I hope that you have learned a few new things, and it has encouraged you to think about it in a slightly different way.

[00:19:51] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:19:55] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:04] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:20:09] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:11] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:21] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Pompeii.

[00:00:28] Now, I imagine you know a little bit about Pompeii. 

[00:00:31] It is the scene of probably the most famous volcanic eruption in history, a volcanic eruption that stopped the clocks on an entire town, preserving it for thousands of years.

[00:00:45] In today’s episode we are going to, of course, tell the story of Pompeii, but we will explore the questions that Pompeii makes us ask ourselves, from what is the relationship between the past and the present, to how we should actually think about the people who died there.

[00:01:05] I should also add that today’s episode is a request from an amazing member of Leonardo English called Silvana, so, Silvana, I hope you enjoy it.

[00:01:15] Right, let’s not waste a minute, and get started right away.

[00:01:20] So, Pompeii.

[00:01:22] For those of you who need a reminder about where Pompeii actually is, it is just inland from the Bay of Naples, in southern Italy.

[00:01:32] It sits on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, the volcano which was to play a crucial, albeit catastrophic, role in the history of the town of Pompeii.

[00:01:44] Our story starts in the late summer or early autumn of the year 79 AD, almost 2,000 years ago.

[00:01:54] The exact dates, and specifics of what happened are still not universally agreed on, but it is thought to have gone something like this.

[00:02:05] For a few days there had been small earthquakes in the area, but nothing too troubling, nothing too worrying for the inhabitants. 

[00:02:15] Small plumes of smoke were coming out of Mt Vesuvius, but this was nothing so abnormal - it seemed relatively harmless.

[00:02:26] Then, around 1pm, after the pressure had been building up deep within, the volcano erupted and a column of ash was shot up into the sky.

[00:02:39] Ash fell all over the nearby area, covering it in a grey cloud and a grey layer of ash.

[00:02:46] Residents of Pompeii, and all of the other nearby towns, started to flee, they started to run away. They weren’t to know what was to come, but presumably they thought that it wasn’t good news.

[00:03:00] Many did manage to escape. 

[00:03:03] The ash wasn’t deadly itself, it was bad for your lungs, made it hard to breathe, and made it hard to see, but it wasn't to be the thing that would actually kill you. 

[00:03:15] Either some time later on that evening, or during the night, the volcano spewed out, it threw out, a huge pyroclastic flow

[00:03:26] A pyroclastic flow is a collection of extremely hot ash and gas that can travel incredibly fast, up to 700 kilometres per hour. 

[00:03:37] And the temperature inside one of these deadly clouds can reach 1,000 degrees Centigrade.

[00:03:44] This deadly collection of gas and volcanic matter rushed down the side of the volcano, heading straight for Pompeii.

[00:03:53] Some of the residents that were still in the town and saw this coming ran for their lives, while others sheltered inside their houses.

[00:04:02] But, it was to no avail

[00:04:05] As the deadly gas covered the town the people left there would have been killed almost instantly. 

[00:04:12] It would have been so hot that the bodies would have been vaporised, and there’s evidence that one poor person’s brain was actually melted and turned into a glass-like consistency.

[00:04:25] To put things in perspective, and give you some points of comparison, it’s estimated that the eruption would have released about 100,000 times the amount of thermal energy released in the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and at its peak it would have released 1.5 million tonnes of matter every second.

[00:04:49] A pretty serious explosion, right?

[00:04:52] Now, to state the obvious, it must have been horrifying to see, and if you were one of the poor souls later found in the remains, it must have been terrifying.

[00:05:04] But what this tragic event has left us with is a Roman settlement, almost perfectly preserved in time. 

[00:05:13] There really isn’t anything quite like it anywhere, at least that we have discovered yet.

[00:05:19] When we think of other ancient monuments or towns, they have often fallen into a state of disrepair, or they have been built over by subsequent generations. 

[00:05:30] There is usually a period of time between when they stopped being used and the present day.

[00:05:37] But in the case of Pompeii, one minute there was a thriving Roman settlement, then the next it was all covered in ash and volcanic matter, its inhabitants preserved standing up, a dog tied to a wall, and everything left as if time had been stopped.

[00:05:56] This is the true magic of Pompeii, and the reason it has captured so many people’s imagination.

[00:06:03] Now, before we reflect on some of the questions Pompeii gets us thinking about, let me remind you of both how we know what happened, and what has happened to Pompeii since that fateful day in AD79.

[00:06:18] Firstly, how do we know what happened?

[00:06:21] Well, through the letters of a Roman named Pliny The Younger. 

[00:06:26] He would have been 17 at the time of the explosion, and he was residing in a settlement called Miseno, which was across the bay from both Vesuvius and Pompeii, so he was safe from the blast.

[00:06:40] He wrote a vivid description of the eruption, but he actually wrote about it 25 years after it happened, in letters to the historian Tacitus.

[00:06:51] Now, Pliny’s account of the eruption is considered to be authoritative and broadly true, but we should remember that Pliny is recalling something that happened 25 years beforehand

[00:07:05] Pliny provides us with a vivid picture of the ash cloud, describing the ash as a blanket of snow.

[00:07:13] And his account is consistent with what archaeologists later found when excavating the town of Pompeii.

[00:07:21] After the eruption, the entire town was covered in ash and lava, it was in effect submerged, it was under the ground. 

[00:07:30] There’s evidence that some thieves returned in the days and weeks after the eruption to try to steal any jewels or precious possessions that had been left behind, but in the subsequent years, subsequent centuries even, the ancient town lay below the ground, hidden, knowledge of it lost to the world.

[00:07:52] Various different people had found signs of its existence, but it wasn’t until the year 1763 that the town of Pompeii was properly rediscovered. 

[00:08:04] The nearby town of Herculaneum, which had been completely covered by ash in the same eruption, had been discovered in 1738, and this prompted renewed interest in unearthing Pompeii, in rediscovering Pompeii.

[00:08:21] The archeological work was complicated by the French invasion of Naples in 1799, and it wasn’t until 1863 that the famous archaeologist, Giuseppe Fiorelli, took over and things really started to progress.

[00:08:38] I imagine you might be familiar with much of what they found, but let me remind you about some of the most startling, the most surprising, discoveries.

[00:08:50] The first thing to mention about what they discovered is actually what they didn’t discover. 

[00:08:56] They didn’t discover bodies, but instead discovered holes in the solid ash layer. 

[00:09:04] You might think, hang on, I thought I had seen bodies of people in Pompeii...who were these people then?

[00:09:11] Well, what happened was that the bodies of the people who died during the eruption were completely stuck in the volcanic ash. As the years went by, their clothes and their bodies disintegrated, they biodegraded, often just leaving a pile of bones inside a cavity full of air.

[00:09:32] As the archaeologists dug through the ash they found these pockets of air, with some bones at the bottom, and realised that the empty space represented the people. 

[00:09:46] Fiorelli, the man leading the project, realised that you could pour in liquid plaster into the hole, and it would form an exact copy of that person’s body.

[00:09:59] So, to the question of these bodies that you might see in a museum or on a television documentary as “bodies of someone who died in Pompeii”, they aren’t the physical bodies, but they are an exact representation of that person when they died. 

[00:10:17] Although they are copies, you could certainly make the argument that they are more ‘real’ than a bag of old bones, or the decaying corpse, the old dead body, of an old king or queen. 

[00:10:30] These moulds, these copies, are exact copies of the people who died in the eruption. 

[00:10:37] This also means that we have a different relationship with them. 

[00:10:42] They are, on one level, less human, because they are made of plaster.

[00:10:47] But on another level, they are far more. 

[00:10:50] Unlike tombs or graves, or even skeletons that have been discovered elsewhere, the plaster moulds of the victims of Pompeii are their exact shape, their exact position at their moment of their death.

[00:11:04] The bodies weren’t the only amazing thing that the archaeologists found, and I imagine that you might be familiar with some of the other amazing discoveries.

[00:11:14] Over the course of the past 150 years, excavations have uncovered the thriving town, from its well-developed amphitheatre to its bustling, busy market, from the public baths to the many brothels.

[00:11:30] Over 2,000 frescoes have been discovered, which tell the story of life in the town. 

[00:11:37] In the market and shops of the town they found evidence of the food that people would eat, and one type of food in particular helped in an unexpected way.

[00:11:49] In 2008, historians used something called garum, which was a type of ancient Roman fish sauce, to help confirm the date that the eruption of Pompeii took place.

[00:12:01] Now, what exactly was this garum, and how does fish sauce help you understand what date a volcano exploded on? 

[00:12:10] Those are perhaps two very valid questions that are going through your mind.

[00:12:16] Garum was made by fermenting the insides, the guts, of small fish, leaving them out together with herbs and salt for several weeks. 

[00:12:28] Historians believe that the ancient Romans used to eat it with almost every meal - it was a way of adding flavour to the food, and was cheaper than salt.

[00:12:39] It might not sound so enticing, so delicious, to you or me, but it is believed to have been hugely popular 2000 years ago.

[00:12:49] Now, to the question of how did a bunch of fermented fish intestines help us understand the exact date that Vesuvius erupted. 

[00:12:58] Of course, they couldn’t confirm the date, but what the analysis of the garum did do was confirm that Pliny the Younger’s reported date of August 24th was possible.

[00:13:10] Scientists analysed the type of fish in the garum, and discovered that it was a type of fish common in the area in late July and early August, and this garum would normally be left to ferment for no longer than a month.

[00:13:25] So, Pliny’s date of August 24th was supported by this disgusting to me or you but delicious to the Romans, fish.

[00:13:34] Amazing, right?

[00:13:36] Moving on, let’s talk a little more about the opening up of Pompeii, and how it was perceived by early visitors. 

[00:13:44] When the city was first discovered, in the late 19th century, it was just opened up, shown as it was.

[00:13:53] Visitors often remarked that it was a little chaotic and messy, and in a real state of disrepair

[00:14:00] Obviously, one might think, the town had suffered a catastrophic volcanic eruption and been stuck under ash for the best part of 2,000 years.

[00:14:10] Then over the past 100 years conservation and restoration efforts have focussed on recreating and restoring some of the original buildings in a sustainable way. 

[00:14:21] The result is now pretty outstanding, and the reconstructions bring the ancient town to life, allowing visitors to experience what life would have been like at the very moment the volcano erupted.

[00:14:35] If you have been to Pompeii you will have experienced this firsthand.

[00:14:39] You can walk through the old Roman road, you can go into the old amphitheatre, you can even visit the brothel and look at the adult-only frescoes on the wall.

[00:14:50] It truly is an amazing experience, and if you have the chance, it is something that I would highly recommend.

[00:14:57] Now, there are a few outstanding questions that many people have about Pompeii, and the volcano that stands above it.

[00:15:05] The most frequent one seems to be “will Vesuvius erupt again?”

[00:15:11] The answer to that, according to most seismologists, most experts on the subject is a resounding “yes, it is just a question of when”.

[00:15:21] Mount Vesuvius is in a dormant phase at the moment, but is regarded as an active volcano. 

[00:15:29] If you go to the top, which you can very easily do, you can see the gases coming out of it, as well as some quite unpleasant smells.

[00:15:38] There hasn’t been a large eruption since 1944, when 26 people died. 

[00:15:44] We are due another one, there should be another one happening relatively soon.

[00:15:50] Compared to AD79, the area around the volcano is significantly more populated, there are many more people living there than 2000 years ago.

[00:16:00] Naples is Italy’s third largest city, and the area around Mt Vesuvius is filled with towns and villages.

[00:16:08] But, of course, we have many scientific advantages that the poor residents of Pompeii didn’t have. 

[00:16:14] The volcano is now under constant monitoring, it is now much easier to leave in a hurry, and if there were another eruption of a similar size to the one in AD79, then most people would likely manage to get away in time.

[00:16:30] Let us end today’s episode with a few weird and unexpected facts about Pompeii, since we are now fully acquainted with the story.

[00:16:40] Firstly, there is a theory that the residents of Pompeii didn’t actually know that Vesuvius was a volcano, they thought it was just a harmless mountain. 

[00:16:50] They didn’t even have a word for volcano, and so they must have been even more surprised when this large mountain exploded and clouds of deadly gas and dust rushed down the side of the mountain towards them.

[00:17:04] Secondly, the excavations of Pompeii revealed several things that one might not first associate with the ancient Romans, or at least, don’t always appear in the history books.

[00:17:16] For starters, there was a lot of graffiti, a lot of writing on the walls of the town. 

[00:17:22] Indeed, there are over 11,000 samples of graffiti that have been found, with all sorts of poems, insults, and more. 

[00:17:31] There were also 25 different brothels found. 

[00:17:35] For some people, when we imagine ancient Romans, we think of a very different type of society to our own, without things such as graffiti or prostitution, but the example of Pompeii makes us remember that humans really don’t change that much.

[00:17:53] And finally, something that is not only a weird fact, but also makes us remember quite how special and unique the case of Pompeii is, is the fact that the victims of the volcano were preserved for so long meaning that we know quite a lot about their bodies. 

[00:18:10] Specifically, we know that most of them had excellent teeth. 

[00:18:15] Teeth normally aren’t parts of the body that survive for 2000 years after death, but given the nature of how these people died, and how their bodies were preserved, scientists saw that these people had fantastic teeth. 

[00:18:30] The hypothesis about why that is is that their diet would have been rich in fruit and vegetables, and had relatively no sugar. So, we can all probably learn something from that.

[00:18:43] Pompeii, when you stop for a minute and think about what it really tells us about the past, is completely fascinating. 

[00:18:51] Our understanding of the past, in general, comes from written records and objects, not from the people themselves. 

[00:19:00] Pompeii is unique in that it is an entire town, an entire civilization, complete with its residents, which was stopped in time, preserved for eternity.

[00:19:11] And although the physical bodies of the victims are long gone, the voids, the empty spaces, remain.

[00:19:20] It might sound like a gloomy way to end this episode, but I think it’s an interesting question to ask ourselves in 2,000 years from now, what might be the next Pompeii?

[00:19:35] OK then that is it for today’s episode on Pompeii. 

[00:19:40] I imagine that you knew something of the story of Pompeii before, but I hope that you have learned a few new things, and it has encouraged you to think about it in a slightly different way.

[00:19:51] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:19:55] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:20:04] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:20:09] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]