Founded around the 6th century bce, perhaps by the Italic Ausonian tribe, Pompeii rests on a plateau overlooking both the Sarno River and the Mediterranean, a site ideal for regional trade. The rich volcanic soil and lucrative location encouraged the city’s growth. The first few centuries of the city’s life are still obscured, but Greek influence from nearby Hellenic colonies is apparent in the public and private architecture of Pompeii, as typified by the Large Theater. Engulfed by Roman expansion, Pompeii became an ally of Rome but participated in the socii rebellion known as the Social Wars (89–80 bce). Although besieged in the Social War, Pompeii was left relatively unscathed. Despite its physical safety, Pompeii was punished by Rome at the conclusion of the conflict: legionary veterans were settled in the community and Pompeii’s civic status was reduced to that of a colony (Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum). The full social impact of the veterans and subsequent Romanization are subjects of continuing scholarly debate. In the archaeological record, however, the results are easily discernible through structures associated with Roman cities, such as the amphitheater. The bulk of the archaeological material, however, dates from the Imperial period: agriculture and trade were augmented by the area’s attraction as a resort destination for elite Romans. This seemingly idyllic life was interrupted in 62 ce when an earthquake struck the region, substantially damaging Pompeii. A swarm of seismic disruptions preceded the subsequent eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in 79 ce. This eruption entombed the city in ash and lapilli (small pieces of volcanic debris) that preserved it with stunning efficiency. Although there is evidence that survivors or treasure seekers returned to the devastated city to dig out valuables, the site itself was not reoccupied. Textual references kept the memory of Pompeii alive, but it was not until the 18th century ce that the site was correctly identified as Pompeii with formal excavations following. It is significant to note that Pompeii’s archaeological and art historical importance is inversely proportional to its historical importance. Its exceptional preservation has encouraged generalizing results of Pompeian scholarship to the Roman world at large. The trend to see Pompeii as the Roman world in microcosm has been criticized as the “Pompeii problem”; that said, nowhere else in the classical world do we find such depth and variety of information on nearly every aspect of ancient life.
Article. 14866 words.
Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy
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