History of Vesuvius - History

History of Vesuvius - History


(Bomb Ketch: t. 145; Ibp. 82'5"; b. 25'5"; dr. 8'4";
cpl. 30; a. 1 13" mortar, 8 9-pdrs., 2 24-pdrs.)

The first Vesuvius—a bomb ketch built by Jacob Coffin at Newburyport, Mass.—was launched on 31 May 1806; and commissioned in or before September 1806, Lt. James T. Leonard in command.

Vesuvius departed Boston for the Gulf of Mexico but while en route on 19 October, ran aground in the Gulf of Abaco. The ship lost her rudder and floated free only after her crew had jettisoned all of her guns and their carriages; her shot and shell; and even part of the kentledge. She finally reached New Orleans on 27 November.

Repaired and rearmed with 10 6-pounders, the ship subsequently sailed for Natchez and operated out of that port from February 1807 until returning to New Orleans on 30 May. Vesuvius was then ordered north for further repairs and arrived at New York on 16 August.

The ship apparently remained in the New York area until the spring of 1809, when she again sailed for New Orleans. Embarking upon duties to suppress slave traders and pirates operating out of the trackless bayous, Vesuvius cruised off the mouth of the muddy Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico, alert for any sign of illegal activity.

The crew's vigilance was rewarded in February 1810 when, under the command of Lt. Benjamin F. Read Vesuvius gave chase to a pirate vessel off the mouth of the Mississippi and captured Due de Montebello—a schooner named by Frenchmen who had been expelled from Cuba by the Spanish government. Dispatched to New Orleans, the buccaneer ship was condemned. In the same month, boats from Vesuvius, under the command of Midshipman F. H. Gregory, captured pirate schooner Diomede and slaver Alexandria—the latter with a full cargo of slaves on board and flying British colors.

Four months later, Comdr. David Porter, commander of the New Orleans station, embarked in Vesuvius before the bomb ketch departed New Orleans on 10 June 1810, bound via Havana, Cuba, for Washington. Also making the passage were Porter's wife and the Porters' ward, eight-year-old James Glasgow Farragut. The lad —who would later change his name to David Glasgow Farragut and ultimately become the Navy's first admiral—was experiencing his first sea voyage.

After repairs at the Washington Navy Yard, the ketch pressed on for New York and arrived on 6 September 1810. Vesuvius was placed in ordinary, and her crew was transferred to Enterprise.

In 1816, Vesuvius served as a receiving ship at New York. A survey conducted in April 1818 revealed that the cost to repair and refit the ship would be, in the survey's words, "exhorbitant." Still carried on the Navy list as a receiving ship through 1821, Vesuvius was broken up in June 1829 after being damaged beyond repair on 4 June when the old steamship Fulton exploded alongside.

History of Vesuvius Furnace

The home known as Vesuvius is the oldest standing home in Lincoln County located between Denver and Iron Station. At one time, the plantation was a majority of what is now Lincoln County. Built in 1792 by General Joseph Graham, Vesuvius has seen over 200 years of American history. Located on the property are the remnants of the iron furnace built by Graham in 1790. This was one of the first of many furnaces built in Lincoln County that helped to produce many different types of iron works well into the 1800s. Joseph Graham and his family played a big role in North Carolina politics and industry. Most notably, his son William Graham served as governor of North Carolina, Secretary of the Navy, and was a vice president candidate. The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 as the home place of General Joseph Graham and still maintains most of its original structure and architecture.

  Furnace Remains Photo Courtesy Beverly Robinson

The house was built in two sections: the older dated to about 1792, with the western section added about 1810-1820. It is a two-story, five bays wide and two deep, frame structure with a one-story shed porch. The furnace was built in 1790, and is constructed of large stone blocks of random sizes, but about half of the square pyramidal structure has fallen down. The furnace remains are about 20 feet high and filled with dirt, debris, and vegetation.

After the war, Alexander Brevard married Rebecca Davidson, the daughter of Major John Davidson of Mecklenburg County, a practical blacksmith, opponent of British authority, planter, and ironmonger. In about 1792, John Davidson, Alexander Brevard, and Joseph Graham, entered partnership with Peter Forney, a pioneer in the Lincoln County iron industry they purchased a share in the "big ore bank", a few miles east of Lincolnton, and made plans to erect facilities to manufacture iron products. Brevard moved his family to Lincoln County and settled on Leeper's Creek, where he built Mt. Tirza Forge on adjoining land, Graham built Vesuvius Furnace. In 1795, Forney sold his interest in the partnership, and the others continued to operate under the name Joseph Graham and Company, with Davidson leaving actual management to his sons-in-law. The business proved highly lucrative, and additional land was acquired. By 1804, when Davidson sold his interest to Brevard and Graham, the company assets included over five thousand acres nine slaves improvements, equipment, and stock valued conservatively at ŭ,000 and cash and notes receivable in the amount of Ű,876. Brevard and Graham continued the partnership as Brevard and Company until 1814, when the business relationship was dissolved.

Joseph Graham was not only the founder of Vesuvius Furnace, he was a Major in the Revolutionary War, and a Major-General in the War of 1812. He voted "yea" when North Carolina ratified the United States Constitution in Fayetteville in 1789. Many of his descendants live in this area today. Isabella Davidson was the wife of General Graham and her father was a Signer of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Captain Alexander Brevard was a landowner and Mary Brevard was the wife of General Davidson who was killed at the Battle of Cowan&aposs Ford. Peter Forney was the son of Jacob Forney for whom the Jacob Forney Chapter NSDAR is named. Peter Forney and his brothers, Jacob and Abram, all saw military service during the American Revolution. His parents were Swiss immigrants who also firmly supported the American cause and are also proven patriots by the DAR.

The name "Vesuvius" was allegedly given to it since the iron furnace smoked like Mount Vesuvius, which experienced relatively severe eruptions almost continuously from 1631 to 1944. In addition to wood from what was likely hundreds of acres of nearby trees every year, Graham&aposs blast furnace may have also been fueled by limestone and iron ore from the kiln and mine at the farmstead of Casper Kühner. Jacob, son of Abraham Kühner and grandson of Casper Kühner, granted the historic Keener Farmstead to Lawson Keener in 1853. In addition to documenting Abraham&aposs actions at the Battle of Ramsour&aposs Mill, Joseph Graham also served on a committee to settle his estate in 1799. Joseph Graham is buried near his historic homeplace in Machpelah Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Alexander Brevard is also buried there as well as many members of the Graham, Davidson, Forney and Brevard families.

The home was acquired by the Lineberger family in 1945 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2009, it was privately restored and opened as Vesuvius Vineyards, a wine vineyard and wedding venue. Much of the original architecture is still intact including the outside kitchen and separate kitchen building behind the home.

The content contained herein does not necessarily represent the position of the NSDAR. Web hyperlinks to
non-DAR sites are not the responsibility of the NSDAR, the state organizations, or individual DAR chapters.


Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii, a city south of Rome, in A.D. 79 in about 25 hours, according to History. Because the city was buried so quickly by volcanic ash, the site is a well-preserved snapshot of life in a Roman city. There is also a detailed account of the disaster recorded by Pliny the Younger, who interviewed survivors and recorded events in a letter to his friend Tacitus. [Related: Pompeii 'Wall Posts' Reveal Ancient Social Networks]

Pompeii was established in 600 B.C. and was slowly recovering from a major earthquake that rocked the city in February of A.D. 62. The shallow quake, originating beneath Mount Vesuvius, had caused major damage to the springs and piping that provided the city's water. Reconstruction was being carried out on several temples and public buildings. Seneca, a historian, recorded that the quakes lasted for several days and also heavily damaged the town of Herculaneum and did minor damage to the city of Naples before subsiding. The major quake was followed by several minor shakes throughout the following years. [Image Gallery: Pompeii's Toilets]

Because seismic activity was so common in the area, citizens paid little attention in early August of 79 when several quakes shook the earth beneath Herculaneum and Pompeii. People were unprepared for the explosion that took place shortly after noon on the 24th of August. Around 2,000 residents survived the first blast.

Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, described the massive debris cloud. "It resembled a (Mediterranean) pine more than any other tree. Like a very high tree the cloud went high and expanded in different branches … sometimes white, sometimes dark and stained by the sustained sand and ashes." In Pompeii, ash blocked the sun by 1 p.m. and the people tried to clear heavy ash from rooftops as it fell at a rate of about 6 inches (15 centimeters) an hour. [Image Gallery: Preserved Pompeii &mdash Photos Reveal City in Ash]

Shortly after midnight, a wall of volcanic mud engulfed the town of Herculaneum, obliterating the town as its citizens fled toward Pompeii. About 6:30 a.m. on the following morning, a glowing cloud of volcanic gases and debris rolled down Vesuvius' slopes and enveloped the city of Pompeii. Most victims died instantly as the superheated air burned their lungs and contracted their muscles, leaving the bodies in a semi-curled position to be quickly buried in ash and thus preserved in detail for hundreds of years.

Far away in Misenum, approximately 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Pompeii, Pliny the Younger, the 18-year-old nephew of Pliny the Elder, and his mother joined other refugees escaping the earthquakes rocking their city. They observed, "the sea retreating as if pushed by the earthquakes." This was probably caused by a tsunami at the climax of the eruption, which gives us the time frame for historical record. Pliny writes of "black and horrible clouds, broken by sinuous shapes of flaming wind." He describes people wheezing and gasping because of that wind the same wind that doomed the people of Pompeii.

It is believed that around 30,000 people died from the eruption of Vesuvius in 79.

What would happen if Mount Vesuvius erupted today?

When it comes to Italy's Mount Vesuvius, ­it isn't a question of if it erupts but when. Ge­ologists and volcanologists who study the volcano readily concede that Mount Vesuvius is overdue for an explosion [source: Fraser]. For that reason, the Vesuvius Observatory monitors seismic activity, gas emissions and other indicators 24 hours a day to know at the earliest point when it may blow.

The infamous volcano is best known for its nearly instantan­eous decimation of neighboring towns Pompeii and Herculaneum in A.D. 79. Considered one of the world's most dangerous, it is also the only active volcano on Europe's mainland. Nevertheless, 600,000 people live in the 18 towns at its base that comprise the "red zone."

The red zone denotes the populated area that would bear the brunt of an ­eruption. Directly in the line of fire, the 9-mile (12-kilometer) radius of people stand little chance of survival when Vesuvius explodes again.

­Because of the imminent -- and unpredictable -- threat, the Italian government has devised an evacuation plan to clear out the red zone 72 hours ahead of an impending eruption. Beginning in 2004, the government also set up a program to pay people $46,000 (30,000E) to relocate outside of the zone -- though it has had relatively few takers. Experts warn that emergency plans should also include nearby Naples since an explosion could send dangerous burning ash and pumice as far as 12 miles (20 kilometers) [source: Fraser].

The last time Vesuvius activated was in 1944, causing minor damage and killing 26 people. New research has shown that the mountain probably will not act as kindly next time. For starters, Mount Vesuvius sits on top of a layer of magma deep in the earth that measures 154 square miles (400 square kilometers) [source: Noble]. That's a lot of magma -- Kilaeua Volcano is probably the most active volcano in the world, with 34 eruptions since 1952 [source: U.S. Geological Survey], but compared to Vesuvius, which has erupted around 30 times since 79 A.D. [source: Than], its magma supply is much smaller. Topping it off, scientists expect that the next eruption will be an incredibly forceful explosion, termed plinean, marked by flying rock and ash at speeds of up to almost 100 miles per hour (160 kph).

To summarize, if Mount Vesuvius erupts today, it wouldn't be a pretty picture. Given its potential, Vesuvius could endanger more than 3 million people and wipe out the city of Naples [source: Than].

Next, we'll learn what happened to Pompeii and Herculaneum that gave Vesuvius its notable reputation.


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Vesuvius, also called Mount Vesuvius or Italian Vesuvio, active volcano that rises above the Bay of Naples on the plain of Campania in southern Italy. Its western base rests almost upon the bay. The height of the cone in 2013 was 4,203 feet (1,281 metres), but it varies considerably after each major eruption. At about 1,968 feet (about 600 metres), a high semicircular ridge, called Mount Somma, begins, girding the cone on the north and rising to 3,714 feet (1,132 metres). Between Mount Somma and the cone is the Valle del Gigante (Giant’s Valley). At the summit of the cone is a large crater about 1,000 feet (about 305 metres) deep and 2,000 feet (about 610 metres) across it was formed in the eruption of 1944. More than two million people live in the vicinity of Vesuvius and on its lower slopes. There are industrial towns along the coast of the Bay of Naples and small agricultural centres on the northern slopes.

Vesuvius probably originated somewhat less than 200,000 years ago. Although a relatively young volcano, Vesuvius had been dormant for centuries before the great eruption of 79 ce that buried the cities of Pompeii, Oplontis, and Stabiae under ashes and lapilli and the city of Herculaneum under a mudflow. The writer Pliny the Younger, who was staying at a place west of Naples, gave an excellent account of the catastrophe in two letters to the historian Tacitus. Between the years 79 and 1037, several eruptions were reported, which include those occurring in 203, 472, 512, 685, 787, 968, 991, 999, and 1007. The explosions of 512 were so severe that Theodoric the Goth released the people living on the slopes of Vesuvius from payment of taxes.

After some centuries of quiescence, a series of earthquakes, lasting six months and gradually increasing in violence, preceded a major eruption that took place on December 16, 1631. Many villages on the slopes of the volcano were destroyed, about 3,000 people were killed, the lava flow reached the sea, and the skies were darkened for days. After 1631 there was a change in the eruptive character of the volcano, and activity became continuous. Two stages could be observed: quiescent and eruptive. During the quiescent stage the volcano’s mouth would be obstructed, whereas in the eruptive stage it would be almost continuously open.

Between 1660 and 1944 several of these cycles were observed. Severe paroxysmal (suddenly recurring) eruptions, concluding an eruptive stage, occurred in 1660, 1682, 1694, 1698, 1707, 1737, 1760, 1767, 1779, 1794, 1822, 1834, 1839, 1850, 1855, 1861, 1868, 1872, 1906, 1929, and 1944. The eruptive stages varied in length from 6 months to 30 3 /4 years. The quiescent stages varied from 18 months to 7 1 /2 years.

Scientific study of the volcano did not begin until late in the 18th century. An observatory was opened in 1845 at 1,995 feet (608 metres), and in the 20th century numerous stations were set up at various heights for making volcanologic measurements. A large laboratory and a deep tunnel for seismo-gravimetric measurements were also built.

The slopes of Vesuvius are covered with vineyards and orchards, and the wine grown there is known as Lacrima Christi (Latin for “tears of Christ”) in ancient Pompeii the wine jars were frequently marked with the name Vesuvinum. Higher up, the mountain is covered with copses of oak and chestnut, and on the northern side along the slopes of Mount Somma the woods proceed to the very summit. On the western side the chestnut groves give way above 2,000 feet to undulating plateaus covered with broom, where the crater left by the great eruption of the year 79 ce has been filled in. Still higher, on the slopes of the great cone and on the inner slope of Mount Somma, the surface is almost barren during quiescent periods it is covered by tufts of meadow plants.

The soil is very fertile, and in the long period of inactivity before the eruption of 1631 there were forests in the crater and three lakes from which pasturing herds drank. Vegetation on the slope dies off during eruptive periods because of the volcanic gases. After the eruption of 1906, forests were planted on the slopes in order to protect inhabited places from the flows of mud that usually occur after violent eruptions, and in the fertile soil the trees grew rapidly.

In 73 bce the gladiator Spartacus was besieged by the praetor Gaius Claudius Glaber on the barren summit of Mount Somma, which was then a wide, flat depression walled by rugged rocks festooned with wild vines. He escaped by twisting ropes of vine branches and descending through unguarded fissures in the rim. Some paintings excavated in Pompeii and Herculaneum represent the mountain as it looked before the eruption of 79 ce , when it had only one peak.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy McKenna, Senior Editor.


It seems certain that Pompeii, Herculaneum, and nearby towns were first settled by Oscan-speaking descendants of the Neolithic inhabitants of Campania. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Oscan village of Pompeii, strategically located near the mouth of the Sarnus River, soon came under the influence of the cultured Greeks who had settled across the bay in the 8th century bce . Greek influence was challenged, however, when the Etruscans came into Campania in the 7th century. The Etruscans’ influence remained strong until their sea power was destroyed by King Hieron I of Syracuse in a naval battle off Cumae in 474 bce . A second period of Greek hegemony followed. Then, toward the end of the 5th century, the warlike Samnites, an Italic tribe, conquered Campania, and Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae became Samnite towns.

Pompeii is first mentioned in history in 310 bce , when, during the Second Samnite War, a Roman fleet landed at the Sarnus port of Pompeii and from there made an unsuccessful attack on the neighbouring city of Nuceria. At the end of the Samnite wars, Campania became a part of the Roman confederation, and the cities became “allies” of Rome. But they were not completely subjugated and Romanized until the time of the Social War. Pompeii joined the Italians in their revolt against Rome in this war and was besieged by the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 89 bce . After the war, Pompeii, along with the rest of Italy south of the Po River, received Roman citizenship. However, as a punishment for Pompeii’s part in the war, a colony of Roman veterans was established there under Publius Sulla, the nephew of the Roman general. Latin replaced Oscan as the official language, and the city soon became Romanized in institutions, architecture, and culture.

A riot in the amphitheatre at Pompeii between the Pompeians and the Nucerians, in 59 ce , is reported by the Roman historian Tacitus. An earthquake in 62 ce did great damage in both Pompeii and Herculaneum. The cities had not yet recovered from this catastrophe when final destruction overcame them 17 years later.

Mount Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 ce . A vivid eyewitness report is preserved in two letters written by Pliny the Younger to the historian Tacitus, who had inquired about the death of Pliny the Elder, commander of the Roman fleet at Misenum. Pliny the Elder had rushed from Misenum to help the stricken population and to get a close view of the volcanic phenomena, and he died at Stabiae. Site excavations and volcanological studies, notably in the late 20th century, have brought out further details. Just after midday on August 24, fragments of ash, pumice, and other volcanic debris began pouring down on Pompeii, quickly covering the city to a depth of more than 9 feet (3 metres) and causing the roofs of many houses to fall in. Surges of pyroclastic material and heated gas, known as nuées ardentes, reached the city walls on the morning of August 25 and soon asphyxiated those residents who had not been killed by falling debris. Additional pyroclastic flows and rains of ash followed, adding at least another 9 feet of debris and preserving in a pall of ash the bodies of the inhabitants who perished while taking shelter in their houses or trying to escape toward the coast or by the roads leading to Stabiae or Nuceria. Thus Pompeii remained buried under a layer of pumice stones and ash 19 to 23 feet (6 to 7 metres) deep. The city’s sudden burial served to protect it for the next 17 centuries from vandalism, looting, and the destructive effects of climate and weather.


Vesuvius has a long historic and literary tradition. It was considered a divinity of the Genius type at the time of the eruption of AD 79: it appears under the inscribed name Vesuvius as a serpent in the decorative frescos of many lararia, or household shrines, surviving from Pompeii. An inscription from Capua [9] to IOVI VESVVIO indicates that he was worshipped as a power of Jupiter that is, Jupiter Vesuvius. [10]

The Romans regarded Mount Vesuvius to be devoted to Hercules. [11] The historian Diodorus Siculus relates a tradition that Hercules, in the performance of his labors, passed through the country of nearby Cumae on his way to Sicily and found there a place called "the Phlegraean Plain" (Φλεγραῖον πεδίον, "plain of fire"), "from a hill which anciently vomited out fire . now called Vesuvius." [12] It was inhabited by bandits, "the sons of the Earth," who were giants. With the assistance of the gods he pacified the region and went on. The facts behind the tradition, if any, remain unknown, as does whether Herculaneum was named after it. An epigram by the poet Martial in 88 AD suggests that both Venus, patroness of Pompeii, and Hercules were worshipped in the region devastated by the eruption of 79. [13]

Vesuvius was a name of the volcano in frequent use by the authors of the late Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. Its collateral forms were Vesaevus, Vesevus, Vesbius and Vesvius. [14] Writers in ancient Greek used Οὐεσούιον or Οὐεσούιος . Many scholars since then have offered an etymology. As peoples of varying ethnicity and language occupied Campania in the Roman Iron Age, the etymology depends to a large degree on the presumption of what language was spoken there at the time. Naples was settled by Greeks, as the name Nea-polis, "New City", testifies. The Oscans, an Italic people, lived in the countryside. The Latins also competed for the occupation of Campania. Etruscan settlements were in the vicinity. Other peoples of unknown provenance are said to have been there at some time by various ancient authors.

Some theories about its origin are:

Vesuvius is a "humpbacked" peak, consisting of a large cone (Gran Cono) partially encircled by the steep rim of a summit caldera caused by the collapse of an earlier (and originally much higher) structure called Mount Somma. [18] The Gran Cono was produced during the A.D. 79 eruption. For this reason, the volcano is also called Somma-Vesuvius or Somma-Vesuvio. [19]

The caldera started forming during an eruption around 17,000–18,000 years ago, [20] [21] [22] and was enlarged by later paroxysmal eruptions, [23] ending in the one of AD 79. This structure has given its name to the term "somma volcano", which describes any volcano with a summit caldera surrounding a newer cone. [24]

The height of the main cone has been constantly changed by eruptions but was 1,281 m (4,203 ft) in 2010. [21] Monte Somma is 1,132 m (3,714 ft) high, separated from the main cone by the valley of Atrio di Cavallo, which is 5 km (3.1 mi) long. The slopes of the volcano are scarred by lava flows, while the rest are heavily vegetated, with scrub and forests at higher altitudes and vineyards lower down. Vesuvius is still regarded as an active volcano, although its current activity produces little more than sulfur-rich steam from vents at the bottom and walls of the crater. Vesuvius is a stratovolcano at the convergent boundary where the African Plate is being subducted beneath the Eurasian Plate. Layers of lava, ash, scoria and pumice make up the volcanic peak. Their mineralogy is variable, but generally silica-undersaturated and rich in potassium, with phonolite produced in the more explosive eruptions [25] (e.g. the eruption in 1631 displaying a complete stratigraphic and petrographic description: phonolite was firstly erupted, followed by a tephritic phonolite and finally a phonolitic tephrite). [26]

Vesuvius was formed as a result of the collision of two tectonic plates, the African and the Eurasian. The former was subducted beneath the latter, deeper into the earth. As the water-saturated sediments

of the oceanic African plate were pushed to hotter depths inside the planet, the water boiled off and lowered the melting point of the upper mantle enough to partially melt the rocks. Because magma is less dense than the solid rock around it, it was pushed upward. Finding a weak spot at the Earth's surface, it broke through, thus forming the volcano. [ citation needed ]

The volcano is one of several which form the Campanian volcanic arc. Others include Campi Flegrei, a large caldera a few kilometers to the north west, Mount Epomeo, 20 kilometres (12 mi) to the west on the island of Ischia, and several undersea volcanoes to the south. The arc forms the southern end of a larger chain of volcanoes produced by the subduction process described above, which extends northwest along the length of Italy as far as Monte Amiata in Southern Tuscany. Vesuvius is the only one to have erupted within recent history, although some of the others have erupted within the last few hundred years. Many are either extinct or have not erupted for tens of thousands of years.

Mount Vesuvius has erupted many times. The eruption in AD 79 was preceded by numerous others in prehistory, including at least three significantly larger ones, including the Avellino eruption around 1800 BC which engulfed several Bronze Age settlements. Since AD 79, the volcano has also erupted repeatedly, in 172, 203, 222, possibly in 303, 379, 472, 512, 536, 685, 787, around 860, around 900, 968, 991, 999, 1006, 1037, 1049, around 1073, 1139, 1150, and there may have been eruptions in 1270, 1347, and 1500. [23] The volcano erupted again in 1631, six times in the 18th century (including 1779 and 1794), eight times in the 19th century (notably in 1872), and in 1906, 1929 and 1944. There have been no eruptions since 1944, and none of the eruptions after AD 79 were as large or destructive as the Pompeian one.

The eruptions vary greatly in severity but are characterized by explosive outbursts of the kind dubbed Plinian after Pliny the Younger, a Roman writer who published a detailed description of the AD 79 eruption, including his uncle's death. [27] On occasion, eruptions from Vesuvius have been so large that the whole of southern Europe has been blanketed by ash in 472 and 1631, Vesuvian ash fell on Constantinople (Istanbul), over 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) away. A few times since 1944, landslides in the crater have raised clouds of ash dust, raising false alarms of an eruption.

Since 1750, seven of the eruptions of Vesuvius have had durations of more than 5 years, more than any other volcano except Etna. The two most recent eruptions of Vesuvius (1875–1906 and 1913–1944) both lasted more than 30 years. [28]

Before AD 79

Scientific knowledge of the geologic history of Vesuvius comes from core samples taken from a 2,000 m (6,600 ft) plus bore hole on the flanks of the volcano, extending into Mesozoic rock. Cores were dated by potassium–argon and argon–argon dating. [29] The area has been subject to volcanic activity for at least 400,000 years the lowest layer of eruption material from the Somma caldera lies on top of the 40,000-year‑old Campanian ignimbrite produced by the Campi Flegrei complex.

  • 25,000 years ago: Vesuvius started forming in the Codola Plinian eruption. [18]
  • Vesuvius was then built up by a series of lava flows, with some smaller explosive eruptions interspersed between them.
  • About 19,000 years ago: the style of eruption changed to a sequence of large explosive Plinian eruptions, of which the AD 79 one was the most recent. The eruptions are named after the tephra deposits produced by them, which in turn are named after the place where the deposits were first identified: [30]
  • 18,300 years ago: the Basal Pumice (Pomici di Base) eruption, VEI 6, the original formation of the Somma caldera. The eruption was followed by a period of much less violent, lava-producing eruptions. [22]
  • 16,000 years ago: the Green Pumice (Pomici Verdoline) eruption, VEI 5. [18]
  • Around 11,000 years ago: the Lagno Amendolare eruption, smaller than the Mercato eruption.
  • 8,000 years ago: the Mercato eruption (Pomici di Mercato) – also known as Pomici Gemelle or Pomici Ottaviano, VEI 6. [18]
  • Around 5,000 years ago: two explosive eruptions smaller than the Avellino eruption.
  • 3,800 years ago: the Avellino eruption (Pomici di Avellino), VEI 6 its vent was apparently 2 km (1.2 mi) west of the current crater and the eruption destroyed several Bronze Age settlements of the Apennine culture. Several carbon dates on wood and bones offer a range of possible dates of about 500 years in the mid-2nd millennium BC. In May 2001, near Nola, Italian archaeologists using the technique of filling every cavity with plaster or substitute compound recovered some remarkably well-preserved forms of perishable objects, such as fence rails, a bucket and especially in the vicinity thousands of human footprints pointing into the Apennines to the north. The settlement had huts, pots and goats. The residents had hastily abandoned the village, leaving it to be buried under pumice and ash in much the same way that Pompeii and Herculaneum were later preserved. [31][32]Pyroclastic surge deposits were distributed to the northwest of the vent, travelling as far as 15 km (9.3 mi) from it, and lie up to 3 m (9.8 ft) deep in the area now occupied by Naples. [33]
  • The volcano then entered a stage of more frequent, but less violent eruptions, until the most recent Plinian eruption, which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • The last of these may have been in 217 BC. [23] There were earthquakes in Italy during that year and the sun was reported as being dimmed by gray haze or dry fog. Plutarch wrote of the sky being on fire near Naples and Silius Italicus mentioned in his epic poem Punica[34][35] that Vesuvius had thundered and produced flames worthy of Mount Etna in that year, although both authors were writing around 250 years later. Greenlandice core samples of around that period show relatively high acidity, which is assumed to have been caused by atmospheric hydrogen sulfide. [36]
  • The volcano was then quiet (for 295 years, if the 217 BC date for the last previous eruption is true) and was described by Roman writers as having been covered with gardens and vineyards, except at the top, which was craggy. The volcano may have had only one summit at that time, judging by a wall painting, "Bacchus and Vesuvius", found in a Pompeian house, the House of the Centenary (Casa del Centenario).

Several surviving works written over the 200 years preceding the AD 79 eruption describe the mountain as having had a volcanic nature, although Pliny the Elder did not depict the mountain in this way in his Naturalis Historia: [37]

  • The Greek historian Strabo (ca 63 BC–AD 24) described the mountain in Book V, Chapter 4 of his Geographica[38] as having a predominantly flat, barren summit covered with sooty, ash-coloured rocks and suggested that it might once have had "craters of fire". He also perceptively suggested that the fertility of the surrounding slopes may be due to volcanic activity, as at Mount Etna.
  • In Book II of De architectura, [39] the architect Vitruvius (c.a. 80–70 BC -?) reported that fires had once existed abundantly below the peak and that it had spouted fire onto the surrounding fields. He went on to describe Pompeiian pumice as having been burnt from another species of stone. (c.a. 90 BC–c.a. 30 BC), another Greek writer, wrote in Book IV of his Bibliotheca Historica that the Campanian plain was called fiery (Phlegrean) because of the peak, Vesuvius, which had spouted flames like Etna and showed signs of the fire that had burnt in ancient history. [40]

Eruption of AD 79

In AD 79 Vesuvius erupted in one of the most catastrophic eruptions of all time. Historians have learned about the eruption from the eyewitness account of Pliny the Younger, a Roman administrator and poet. [41] In the surviving copies of the letters several dates are given. [42] The latest evidence supports earlier findings and indicates that the eruption occurred after 17 October. [43]

The volcano ejected a cloud of stones, ashes and volcanic gases to a height of 33 km (21 mi), spewing molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 6 × 10 5 cubic metres (7.8 × 10 5 cu yd) per second, ultimately releasing 100,000 times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. [44] The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed by pyroclastic surges and the ruins buried under tens of metres of tephra. [44] [41]

Precursors and foreshocks

The AD 79 eruption was preceded by a powerful earthquake in 62, which caused widespread destruction around the Bay of Naples, and particularly to Pompeii. [45] Some of the damage had still not been repaired when the volcano erupted. [46] The deaths of 600 sheep from "tainted air" in the vicinity of Pompeii indicates that the earthquake of AD 62 may have been related to new activity by Vesuvius. [47]

The Romans grew accustomed to minor earth tremors in the region the writer Pliny the Younger even wrote that they "were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania". Small earthquakes started taking place four days before the eruption [46] becoming more frequent over the next four days, but the warnings were not recognized. [a]

Scientific analysis

Reconstructions of the eruption and its effects vary considerably in the details but have the same overall features. The eruption lasted two days. The morning of the first day was perceived as normal by the only eyewitness to leave a surviving document, Pliny the Younger. In the middle of the day an explosion threw up a high-altitude column from which ash and pumice began to fall, blanketing the area. Rescues and escapes occurred during this time. At some time in the night or early the next day pyroclastic surges in the close vicinity of the volcano began. Lights were seen on the peak interpreted as fires. People as far away as Misenum fled for their lives. The flows were rapid-moving, dense and very hot, knocking down wholly or partly all structures in their path, incinerating or suffocating all population remaining there and altering the landscape, including the coastline. These were accompanied by additional light tremors and a mild tsunami in the Bay of Naples. By late afternoon of the second day, the eruption was over, leaving only haze in the atmosphere through which the sun shone weakly.

The latest scientific studies of the ash produced by Vesuvius reveals a multi-phase eruption. [48] The initial major explosion produced a column of ash and pumice ranging between 15 and 30 kilometres (49,000 and 98,000 ft) high, which rained on Pompeii to the southeast but not on Herculaneum upwind. The chief energy supporting the column came from the escape of steam superheated by the magma, created from seawater seeping over time into the deep faults of the region, that came into interaction with magma and heat.

Subsequently, the cloud collapsed as the gases expanded and lost their capability to support their solid contents, releasing it as a pyroclastic surge, which first reached Herculaneum but not Pompeii. Additional blasts reinstituted the column. The eruption alternated between Plinian and Peléan six times. Surges 3 and 4 are believed by the authors to have buried Pompeii. [49] Surges are identified in the deposits by dune and cross-bedding formations, which are not produced by fallout.

Another study used the magnetic characteristics of over 200 samples of roof-tile and plaster fragments collected around Pompeii to estimate equilibrium temperature of the pyroclastic flow. [50] The magnetic study revealed that on the first day of the eruption a fall of white pumice containing clastic fragments of up to 3 centimetres (1.2 in) fell for several hours. [51] It heated the roof tiles up to 140 °C (284 °F). [52] This period would have been the last opportunity to escape.

The collapse of the Plinian columns on the second day caused pyroclastic density currents (PDCs) that devastated Herculaneum and Pompeii. The depositional temperature of these pyroclastic surges ranged up to 300 °C (572 °F). [53] Any population remaining in structural refuges could not have escaped, as the city was surrounded by gases of incinerating temperatures. The lowest temperatures were in rooms under collapsed roofs. These were as low as 100 °C (212 °F). [54]

The two Plinys

The only surviving eyewitness account of the event consists of two letters by Pliny the Younger to the historian Tacitus. [7] Pliny the Younger describes, amongst other things, the last days in the life of his uncle, Pliny the Elder. Observing the first volcanic activity from Misenum across the Bay of Naples from the volcano, approximately 35 kilometres (22 mi), the elder Pliny launched a rescue fleet and went himself to the rescue of a personal friend. His nephew declined to join the party. One of the nephew's letters relates what he could discover from witnesses of his uncle's experiences. [55] [56] In a second letter the younger Pliny details his own observations after the departure of his uncle. [57] [58]

The two men saw an extraordinarily dense cloud rising rapidly above the peak. This cloud and a request by a messenger for an evacuation by sea prompted the elder Pliny to order rescue operations in which he sailed away to participate. His nephew attempted to resume a normal life, but that night a tremor awoke him and his mother, prompting them to abandon the house for the courtyard. Further tremors near dawn caused the population to abandon the village and caused disastrous wave action in the Bay of Naples.

The early light was obscured by a black cloud through which shone flashes, which Pliny likens to sheet lightning, but more extensive. The cloud obscured Point Misenum near at hand and the island of Capraia (Capri) across the bay. Fearing for their lives, the population began to call to each other and move back from the coast along the road. A rain of ash fell, causing Pliny to shake it off periodically to avoid being buried. Later that same day the pumice and ash stopped falling and the sun shone weakly through the cloud, encouraging Pliny and his mother to return to their home and wait for news of Pliny the Elder.

Pliny's uncle Pliny the Elder was in command of the Roman fleet at Misenum, and had meanwhile decided to investigate the phenomenon at close hand in a light vessel. As the ship was preparing to leave the area, a messenger came from his friend Rectina (wife of Tascius [59] ) living on the coast near the foot of the volcano explaining that her party could only get away by sea and asking for rescue. Pliny ordered the immediate launching of the fleet galleys to the evacuation of the coast. He continued in his light ship to the rescue of Rectina's party.

He set off across the bay but in the shallows on the other side encountered thick showers of hot cinders, lumps of pumice and pieces of rock. Advised by the helmsman to turn back, he stated "Fortune favors the brave" and ordered him to continue on to Stabiae (about 4.5 kilometers from Pompeii).

Pliny the Elder and his party saw flames coming from several parts of the crater. After staying overnight, the party was driven from the building by an accumulation of material, presumably tephra, which threatened to block all egress. They woke Pliny, who had been napping and emitting loud snoring. They elected to take to the fields with pillows tied to their heads to protect them from the raining debris. They approached the beach again but the wind prevented the ships from leaving. Pliny sat down on a sail that had been spread for him and could not rise even with assistance when his friends departed. Though Pliny the Elder died, his friends ultimately escaped by land. [60]

In the first letter to Tacitus, Pliny the Younger suggested that his uncle's death was due to the reaction of his weak lungs to a cloud of poisonous, sulphurous gas that wafted over the group. However, Stabiae was 16 km from the vent (roughly where the modern town of Castellammare di Stabia is situated) and his companions were apparently unaffected by the volcanic gases, and so it is more likely that the corpulent Pliny died from some other cause, such as a stroke or heart attack. [61] His body was found with no apparent injuries on the next day, after dispersal of the plume.


Along with Pliny the Elder, the only other noble casualties of the eruption to be known by name were Agrippa (a son of the Herodian Jewish princess Drusilla and the procurator Antonius Felix) and his wife. [62]

By 2003, around 1,044 casts made from impressions of bodies in the ash deposits had been recovered in and around Pompeii, with the scattered bones of another 100. [63] The remains of about 332 bodies have been found at Herculaneum (300 in arched vaults discovered in 1980). [64] What percentage these numbers are of the total dead or the percentage of the dead to the total number at risk remain completely unknown.

Thirty-eight percent of the 1,044 were found in the ash fall deposits, the majority inside buildings. These are thought to have been killed mainly by roof collapses, with the smaller number of victims found outside of buildings probably being killed by falling roof slates or by larger rocks thrown out by the volcano. The remaining 62% of remains found at Pompeii were in the pyroclastic surge deposits, [63] and thus were probably killed by them – probably from a combination of suffocation through ash inhalation and blast and debris thrown around. In contrast to the victims found at Herculaneum, examination of cloth, frescoes and skeletons show that it is unlikely that high temperatures were a significant cause. Herculaneum, which was much closer to the crater, was saved from tephra falls by the wind direction, but was buried under 23 metres (75 ft) of material deposited by pyroclastic surges. It is likely that most, or all, of the known victims in this town were killed by the surges.

People caught on the former seashore by the first surge died of thermal shock. The rest were concentrated in arched chambers at a density of as high as 3 persons per square metre. As only 85 metres (279 ft) of the coast have been excavated, further casualties may be discovered.

History and eruptions

The activity between 79 AD and 1631: Vesuvius enters the history of volcanology with the eruption of 79 AD. It begins with the formation of a high column of gas, ash and lapilli, as described by Pliny, who from Miseno (20 km from the volcano), can observe it in all its development: “The cloud (…) in the shape of a pine, rose high into the sky and expanded as if emitting branches ”. Entire cities, including Pompeii and Herculaneum, are destroyed. The products erupted by Vesuvius cover the fields, fill the streets, houses and temples of the cities. After the eruption of 79 on Vesuvius a long silence falls and the first news of its persistent activity (“it emits a lot of ash that reaches the sea”) is reported in 172 by Galen, a Greek doctor who describes the properties of the air dry of the place created by underground fires. Dio Cassius reports of a violent eruption in 203, whose roars are heard as far as Capua, 40 km from Vesuvius. News of two other major eruptions that occurred in 472 and 512 are reported by Marcellino Comite, chancellor of the Emperor Justinian. He reports that on 6 November 472 “Vesuvius, a torrid mountain in Campania that burns with internal fires, vomited up its burnt bowels during the day it brought darkness with a minute dust on the surface of all of Europe “. The eruption of 512 is described in detail by Cassiodorus, a quaestor of King Theodoric, in a letter written to ask for tax exemption for the populations damaged by the eruption. He reports that “a burnt ash flies (…) which, after having formed pulverizing clouds, rains with drops of dust even on the overseas provinces (…). It is possible to see rivers of ash flowing like flowing liquids that drag hot sands (…) and the backs of the fields suddenly swell until they reach the treetops “. An explosive eruption, which took place between 680 and 685, is reported by Paolo Diacono in the Historia Longobardorum and others are reported in 787 and 968. Leone Marsicano, in the chronicles of the Abbey of Montecassino, speaking of the eruption of 968, refers to “A huge and unusual fire that reached the sea”. In this eruption there is perhaps the first evidence of a lava flow, defined as “sulphurous resin that with uninterrupted impetus rushed towards the sea”. Numerous authors speak of eruptions in 991, 993 and 999, but since those years were pervaded by the conviction of an imminent end of the world, any reference to catastrophes must be read with a certain margin of suspicion. In the chronicles of the Abbey of Montecassino another eruption lasting six days from 27 January 1037 and an explosive event between 1068 and 1078 is reported. L’ultima eruzione, prima di un lungo periodo di quiescenza, avviene agli inizi del giugno 1139 ed è riportata sia dalle cronache di Montecassino che da quelle dell’Abbazia di Cava dei Tirreni, nonché dal segretario di Papa Innocenzo II, Falcone Beneventano, il quale scrisse che il Vesuvio “gettò per ben otto giorni potentissimo fuoco e fiamme vive”. Non si conoscono testimonianze attendibili sull’attività del Vesuvio dopo il 1139. Intorno al 1360, Boccaccio scrive che dal Vesuvio “ora non escono ne’ fiamme ne’ fumo”. In un imprecisato anno del 1500, Ambrogio Leone da Nola riferisce di un’eruzione durata tre giorni, alla quale fece seguito la formazione di fumarole gassose. Un soldato spagnolo, salito al Vesuvio nel 1501 insieme alla Regina Isabella, descrisse il cratere come “un foro da 25 a 30 palmi di diametro e da cui esce continuamente del fumo” che, secondo alcuni “diventa la notte una fiamma vivissima”. Nel 1575, Stephanus Pighius, un ecclesiastico belga in viaggio in Italia, descrive il Vesuvio “rivestito da splendidi vigneti, e così anche i colli e i campi vicini”. In mezzo alla sua cima si apre una voragine, ma il vulcano “è freddo, ne’ sembra emettere alcun calore o fumo”. Dal 1500 1631 è dunque certo che il Vesuvio sia rimasto inattivo o quasi. La montagna si era ricoperta di coltivazioni e i paesi distrutti avevano ripreso a vivere, dimenticando rapidamente le eruzioni passate. Grossi alberi crescevano fino al Gran Cono, il cono all’interno della caldera del Somma, e tutto l’apparato era chiamato la montagna di Somma, dal nome della città che sorge ai piedi del Vesuvio.

An Overview of the History of Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius is a volcano that has allegedly had three major eruptions in the past 2000 years. They took place in 79AD, 472, and 1631. The eruptions of 79 and 472 are called “Plinian eruptions” due to the severity of the event. The eruption of 1631 is called a “small-scale Plinian eruption” due to its lessened but yet significant severity.

Vegetation can grow back as quickly as 20 years after an eruption. [5]

The following list contains a number of reported years that Mount Vesuvius erupted: 79, 172, 203, 222-235, 379-395, 472, 500, 512, 536, 685, 787, 968, 991, 993, 999, 1006/7, 1036/7, 1068-1078, 1139, 1150, 1306, 1500, 1570, 1631, 1660, 1682, 1694, 1698, 1707, 1737, 1760, 1767, 1779, 1794, 1822, 1834, 1839, 1850, 1855, 1861, 1868, 1872, 1906, 1926, 1929, and 1944.

Alfano (1924) analyzed 71 historical reports about Vesuvius and selected 11 as being validated. The following screenshot is from page 56 from the 1924 publication. The bolded numbers are the dates which Alfano believed to be validated by documentation.

The following chart is found in [2] and shows the activity of Vesuvius from 79AD-1631. For some reason unknown to me, it does not mention the eruption of 1500.

The table from [5] shows the 1500 date listed but not the 1570 date. Activity from 1306 is also listed in this table.

Another table from [5] shows the eruptions categorized into two categories.

The graph from [7] reports some dates of which I’ve never seen reported anywhere else. I include it here because it was the one of the first results when I Googled “historical activity of mount Vesuvius” and checked the images.

The graph from [8] shows the periods of activity and inactivity for multiple places. Vesuvius is the first one on the far left.

I have found the graph in [9] to be helpful in categorizing the eruptions.

The wiki reports, “The volcano became quiescent at the end of the 13th century and in the following years it again became covered with gardens and vineyards as of old. Even the inside of the crater was moderately filled with shrubbery.” Britannica reports, “Scientific study of the volcano did not begin until late in the 18th century. An observatory was opened in 1845…”.

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