Herculaneum, Oplontis, Pompeii, Life before Chatastrophe
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 changed the life of a prosperous region of the Roman Empire forever. Pliny the Younger described the catastrophic event in letters addressed to the historian Tacitus. Many people lost their lives during the eruption; the majority of the deceased were buried under a thick layer of ash inside the buildings of Pompeii and killed by pyroclastic flows in the bay of Herculaneum. Archaeological excavations began in the late 16th century and were renewed in the 18th century mainly to extract art objects. Proper archaeological surveys conducted during the 20th century created the ground for a broader understanding of the lifestyle of the population before the catastrophe, and created a firm chronological framework for the vast archaeological material. Modern surveys taken together with the written sources have revealed a complex picture of the populations in Herculaneum and Pompeii, their varied activities, their social mobility and their rich diet. The painstaking efforts of archaeologists and restorers enable us to appreciate the aesthetic and artistic achievements of the inhabitants. The majority of artworks are preserved in the Naples Archaeological Museum, but at some sites such as ancient Oplontis or the House of Mysteries in Pompeii they are still in situ and thus give us an opportunity to admire the opulence of luxury Roman villas.
The cities had magnificent temples where rich and poor worshipped their gods; they bathed in bath houses; they watched gladiatorial battles and entertained foreign dignitaries in the amphitheatre. The urban population of these towns had laundries, bakeries, taverns and shops; their houses often had water supplies, heating systems and gardens with decorative plants, sculpture and fountains. Public buildings and private houses were richly adorned with mosaics and frescoes depicting mythological scenes, historical events and theatrical motifs, imitating architectural features, exotic landscapes, still lifes and gardens inhabited with birds. As many archaeological finds confirm, Georgian elites of Late Antiquity were influenced by Roman practice and were inspired to imitate the lifestyle of the Roman aristocracy.