The Special Case of Herculaneum

David Sider

in The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199843695
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History

 The Special Case of Herculaneum

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  • Classical Studies
  • Greek and Roman Papyrology
  • Historical Archaeology


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Papyrologists have many archives but only one Greek library—the collection of rolls found in a richly endowed villa that had once been on the shore of the bay of Naples in Herculaneum. The modern recovery of Herculaneum began in 1709, when workers digging a well in the Italian town of Resina struck a theater many feet below the surface. The excavations came under the control of the Spanish, who expelled the Austrians in 1734 and whose king, Charles III, ordered the tunnels reopened in 1738, looking to the ancient town as a source of decoration for his own palace, located not far from that of Prince d'Elboeuf in Portici. A noxious or pestilential emanation, mephitis, fact led to the premature closing of the excavation tunnels in Herculaneum. In July 1750, Roque Joaquín de Alcubierre put the highly competent Karl Weber, a Swiss engineer, in charge of supervising the excavations.

Keywords: Greek library; Herculaneum; papyrologists; Prince d'Elboeuf; Charles III; mephitis; Roque Joaquín de Alcubierre; Karl Weber

Article.  8621 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Greek and Roman Papyrology ; Historical Archaeology

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