Monday, August 24, 2009

Two events of note...

On the 24th of August 79.C.E Mount Vesuvius erupted, sealing the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum (among others) under volcanic ash, essentially "pausing" everyday Roman life, which would give us, almost some 2000 years later (1748), one of our most important windows into Roman society. It's difficult to overestimate how important they are to us.

Among the victims was the Elder Pliny, writer of the huge Natural History encyclopedia. Interestingly his nephew, Pliny the Younger (a prolific letter writer) wrote a letter to his friend, Tacitus, detailing the events of that day and his uncle's activities, which has survived. Conventionally numbered Letter 6.16, it ends with the rather haunting line:

"When daylight returned on the 26th—two days after the last day he had seen—his body was found intact and uninjured, still fully clothed and looking more like sleep than death".

August 24th (this time in 410. C.E) was also the date in which Alaric the Goth sacked Rome, setting the Western Empire ever more on it's doomed path. It had been almost 800 years since Rome had been subdued, causing St. Jerome to say (in a letter labelled Letter CXXVII):

"My voice sticks in my throat; and, as I dictate, sobs choke my utterance. The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken".

His words here go somewhere to explaining the magnitude of these events. Rome - traditionally founded in 753 .B.C.E, Master of the world from at least the mid 2nd Century, had fallen.

Arguably the latter event is the more important for where we find ourselves now, but I wonder how many people know of Pompeii, but couldn't say when the Western Empire fell, or who was behind it.

Interestingly, Vesuvius is getting some news coverage, while the sack of Rome gets very little.

On This Day: Vesuvius Erupts.

I should note that the exact date of Vesuvius' eruption is still up for debate. August 24th is usually the accepted date, but some varying versions of Pliny's letter, and also some archeological evidence (clothes, among other things) suggest it was somewhat later - perhaps as much as two months.

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