Raising Pompeii, presented by Michael Buerk, provides a fantastic introduction to the study of Pompeii. It is a unique resource in that it showcases the former Roman port city in all its former glory, thanks to state-the-art computer imagery, in addition to its current state. Thus, it helps students to straddle the necessary perspectives of any historian: past and present, and the unmitigated correlation between the two.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD undoubtedly consolidated Pompeii’s place in history. Located along the Bay of Naples and once considered one of the gateways to the Roman empire, Pompeii was once home to an estimated 12,000 people. Today, it hosts approximately 3 million tourists every year. What is the reason for this intense fascination? Is it merely a sense of morbid curiosity surrounding the deaths of those who died in the Plinean eruption on August 24th, 79 AD? Mayhap, but it is also due to the fact that it is so rare for us to be offered such a holistic look at life in an ancient city. Pompeii is certainly unique in this regard, the very eruption that devastated its inhabitants also serving to make a lasting vignette of their lives, due to the thick layer of ash and pumice that was wrought over the city during the pyroclastic flow.
Indeed, Buerk concerns himself primarily with the notion of bringing ‘this city back to life’ and the lives that those in Pompeii led, not their grisly demise. Aided with computer generated reproductions, Raising Pompeii showcases Pompeii as it would have been in the 1st century AD, drawing on a wealth of knowledge from an array of archaeologists and historians such as Dr Sophie Hay and Peter Ellis. Every aspect of life in Pompeii is explored, from the agricultural industry, made possible by the rich volcanic soil, their production of wine and the infamous fish sauce garum, their imports and exports as a port city, diet, entertainment and even the utilisation of cosmetics are all discussed, as Buerk leads us through a sweeping look at life in Pompeii.
However, Buerk is also sure to provide specific examples of Pompeian life, leading us through the niche Porta Marina district and the house and bar of Sextus Pompeius Amarantus, showcasing the value of hospitality within Roman society as a platform with which to demonstrate your status, be it via the grand atrium or the food that was offered to guests, consolidating the class divide within Roman culture. He also demonstrates the importance of the forum within Roman society, be it as a political, religious (as showcased by the dominating presence of the temples of Jupiter, Apollo and Vespa) or social platform. We also delve into the importance of sports within Pompeian society, particularly gladiators and the Roman taste for the macabre. Buerk takes us around the amphitheatre, a veritable monolith of architecture and the first stone structure of its kind in Italy, made to host up to 20,000 people. Overall, every aspect showcased serves as a heady reminder of the might and grandeur of the ancient Roman empire.
Raising Pompeii serves as a fantastic introduction to the world of Pompeii and Ancient Rome in general, and will undoubtedly serve to pique student’s interest beyond the events of the eruption, providing a broader context with which to ground their study.
Here’s a list of TV4Education resources that can be used in relation to the topics covered in this post. If you use the SmartSuite version of TV4Education just search for the titles below on your site.