The death of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 is probably the most famous disaster in human history. And the archaeological park of Pompeii is one of the most visited museums in Italy. But Pompeii is far from the only victim of that eruption. Volcanic emissions covered a large area around the volcano and for a long time buried many small and large agricultural estates, luxurious villas, settlements and towns. One of them is Herculaneum, to which our material is devoted.
City on the coast
Herculaneum is a city with a history as long as that of Pompeii, but due to various factors it has always been in some shadow of its neighbor.
The coast of the Gulf of Naples in the Roman Empire was considered a resort area. However, long before the Romans, this region was chosen by the Italians (Italic tribes) and the Greeks. It is believed that Herculaneum, located right on the coast, was founded by the Greeks.
The Romans told a legend about this, how Hercules, returning from a campaign to the western coast of Europe in fulfillment of his tenth feat, founded a city here, giving it his name. However, the foundation of Pompeii is also the merit of Hercules.
In both cities, the cult of Hercules has long existed, and in Pompeii, a temple was dedicated to Hercules, together with Athena Minerva, which we now call Doric.
The building of the College of the Augustals (priests of the imperial cult) in Herculaneum. The fresco in the center of the eastern wall depicts Hercules with Juno and Minerva, the rainbow above them is the embodiment of Jupiter
Like Pompeii, Herculaneum experienced all the stages characteristic of Campanian cities: the Greeks were pushed by the Italians, the Italians by the Romans, who gave Herculaneum the status of a municipality (in contrast to Pompeii, which had the status of a colony). This meant that the inhabitants of the Italic Herculaneum received the rights of Roman citizenship.
At the same time, a local administration of the Roman type appeared in the city: several magistrates who were replaced annually at the head of the council. This happened in the 1st century BC, and then the life of Herculaneum flowed so calmly that it is practically not mentioned in the ancient sources of that time.
Unfortunately, the city has not yet been fully excavated, so we do not know either its real size or even approximately the size of its population.
However, the latter is the problem of all ancient Roman cities, since even in the capital, Rome, the population census covered only free male citizens, modern scientists are forced to calculate the rest of the population using different methods.
Nevertheless, it is now believed to be established that Herculaneum most likely occupied an area of about 15-20 hectares, which is significantly less than the Pompeian 66 hectares, and about 5 thousand people lived in it (versus 20-30 thousand in Pompeii).
It is not entirely possible to clear Herculaneum from volcanic deposits - the archaeological zone is located right in the middle of the modern city of Ercolano, whose inhabitants are not inclined to part with their homes.
Modern Ercolano over ancient Herculaneum
Several years ago, the leadership of the archaeological site managed to come to an agreement with the city on the joint development of a plot of land northwest of the already excavated areas, but in general the situation with the city of Herculaneum, buried under modern Ercolano, will remain unchanged for a long period of time.
Another difference between Herculaneum and Pompeii is the thickness of the layer of volcanic deposits over the city and the nature of its death. Since the beginning of the eruption, Pompeii was covered with ash and lapilli - small light pieces of pumice. And only when the city plunged into this stone debris to a depth of several meters, pyroclastic flows - waves of gases of high temperature and speed - reached Pompeii.
Herculaneum, being on the leeward side of the source of the eruption, escaped the rain of lapilli, but not pyroclasts. They covered the city much earlier than neighboring Pompeii, and this allowed some of the preservation of organic items.
Thickness of volcanic layers over ancient Herculaneum
At the same time, since Herculaneum is located closer to Vesuvius, pyroclastic flows here brought with them much more eruption products than in Pompeii. Therefore, the layer of volcanic deposits above Herculaneum is 2.5 times higher.
And if it is burdensome to dig layers of small lapilli stones in Pompeii due to their "fluidity", then it took great effort to break through 30 meters of volcanic sediments in Herculaneum (only 5 meters of them belong to the eruption of 1631).
But pyroclastic waves with a temperature of 300-5000 degrees Celsius, depriving organic objects of oxygen, did not allow them to decay later and preserved for us wooden stairs and partitions inside houses, furniture, ropes on well gates, only charring these and other objects.
Preserved steps of a wooden staircase
The houses built using the opus craticium technique turned out to be very interesting. We know such houses as half-timbered houses. Their characteristic facades with visible timber frame elements have been perfectly preserved thanks to the high temperature of the pyroclastic waves.
Rope from the gate for a home well
Of course, due to carbonization, the bearing capacity of these houses was greatly weakened, and a thorough reconstruction was required before they took their place in the modern exhibition of Herculaneum.
Half-timbered house in Herculaneum - Casa a Graticcio
In the first centuries of excavations, it was believed that all the inhabitants of Herculaneum left the city before the arrival of pyroclastic flows, probably with the beginning of the eruption, since very few remains of victims were found in the city - only 32 bodies. However, when in the 1980s archaeologists got to the structures on the ancient coastline of Herculaneum, it turned out that this was not the case.
The so-called "boathouses" of Herculaneum
The purpose of a number of these structures is unknown. It is believed that these were some kind of coastal warehouses or boathouses for boats, although no items were found in them. There were no things, but people were - more than 300 Herculans were waiting here to be rescued from the sea, huddled very tightly inside several stone "hangars".
At the moment of danger, neglecting their personal space, men, women and children occupied rather cramped cells, 30-40 people in each. Here they were overtaken by pyroclastic waves. One must think that death was instantaneous - the speed of these gas streams was several hundred kilometers per hour.
The heat literally boiled people alive. Studies of the bones of people from Herculanean boathouses showed that their brains practically exploded and sintered under the influence of pyroclasts.
One of the "boathouses" with the remains of the dead townspeople
By the way, the study of the remains of the deceased inhabitants of Herculaneum is not limited only to fugitives from the "boathouses". In January of this year, the results of a study of the remains of a man who was waiting for an eruption in a house were published. It turned out that the tissues of his brain were vitrified, that is, they literally sintered into a vitreous mass.
True, this news rather adds to our knowledge about the course of the volcanic eruption and the processes that took place during it than about the ancient Romans.
The open part of ancient Herculaneum is the result of the work of excavators and archaeologists of the 18th – 20th centuries. At the same time, the excavations of the 18th and 19th centuries were rather short-lived and limited. So the main merit in how we now see Herculaneum, undoubtedly, belongs to the famous Italian archaeologist Amedeo Mayuri.
It was thanks to the leadership of the Mayuri in the XX century that 4.5 hectares of the ancient city were excavated, reconstructed and opened to the general public, which now make up the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum.
As already mentioned, this required a lot of work: the volcanic deposits over the city had to be literally pushed through. Excavations were carried out by laying narrow wells and tunnels - adits. Now in the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum there is an opportunity to look at these passages. However, walking on them is prohibited.
The adits in the unexcavated palaestra
The adits in the unexcavated palaestra
The city's sports facility - palestra - remained unexcavated, but it was partly explored using narrow tunnels. Palestra was a large open space with a cruciform pool in the center. At the edges of the space, porticoes were arranged - galleries, the roof over which was held by columns.
Nevertheless, over 250 years of excavations, we have learned quite a lot about ancient Herculaneum. Just like Pompeii, the city was divided into insulas by intersecting streets at right angles. For entertainment, there was a theater, baths and a palestra. To serve the gods and deified members of the imperial family - temples and colleges of priests.
Between the cult site, where the sanctuaries were located, and the Suburban Baths, a rectangular terrace area was arranged. Here the city council erected a marble altar and a statue of its fellow countryman, the politician and patron of the arts, Nonia Balba.
Terrace of Nonia Balba. The so-called "boathouses" are located under the terrace.
Mark Nonius Balbus is a very famous person in the Roman Empire, not a shtetl celebrity at all. It came from Nuceria, a city located 25 kilometers east of Herculaneum, now called Nocera.
What prompted him to move to Herculaneum is unknown. However, it was to this city, and not at all to his small homeland, that he remained faithful all his life, later becoming the patron of Herculaneum. How important and prestigious was the honor of being the patron of your city, we have already told in the material dedicated to Pompeii.
Unlike a Pompeian unknown to us, who refused this honor, Mark Nonius Balbus accepted the offer of the city council and did everything possible in this field.
Under Emperor Augustus, this native of Campania rose through the state administrative ladder to the position of proconsul of the province of Crete and Cyrenaica. He and his family have given Herculaneum many benefits, including the construction of a basilica.
The basilica in ancient Roman cities was intended for the conduct of court cases. Unlike Pompeii, in Herculaneum, archaeologists were able to explore this structure, and even then not completely, only from the inside, by punching tunnels.
Opening it completely does not allow the modern street laid directly above it. In the 1960s, only the eastern wall of the basilica was cleared of volcanic soil.
The theater suffered the same fate: it was found almost by accident far from the central part of Herculaneum and is still not only completely underground, but not even half explored.
In the 18th century, when aristocrats were engaged in excavation of ancient settlements in order to increase their own collections, this cultural structure was subjected, one might say, to natural plunder, however, on legal grounds. An Austrian officer by the name of d'Elbeuf, who served in Naples for the Spanish crown, bought a plot of land and quite legally organized a search for antiquities there.
Theaters in ancient Rome, being public and very popular places, have always been richly decorated. Therefore, it is not surprising that d'Elbeuf's workers almost immediately delighted him with three wonderful female statues.
Whom they represent is still unknown to us. Perhaps one of the local benefactors - priestesses or simply rich townspeople who donated funds to decorate the city. D'Elbeuf presented these sculptures to Prince Eugene of Savoy. After the death of the latter, they were bought by King August III, and now they are exhibited in the Dresden Museum.
Subsequently, the excavations of the theater were carried out by the Spanish kings from the Bourbon dynasty, under whose rule the Kingdom of Naples was at that time. It was on the basis of the Bourbon collections that the National Archaeological Museum of Naples was organized, a must-see for all lovers of Antiquity.
Free access to the part of the theater excavated with the help of tunnels is prohibited for obvious reasons. But the Archaeological Park of Herculaneum has been offering excursions there for some time now. They are usually held every two weeks during the summer.
The statue of Balba found on the forum is not the only one. The city was very grateful to the generous Nonias, which resulted in the installation of at least a dozen statues of members of this family, including in the basilica and in the theater.
Facial print of the statue of Nonia Balba installed in the theater
Of course, the townspeople weren't just decorating public buildings. The rich city villas and dwellings of shopkeepers - the tabernas - have preserved frescoes, mosaics and household items.
Genius of the place
In 1924, Amedeo Majuri became the manager of the archaeological site in Pompeii and Herculaneum. One of the innovations in organizing the archaeological zone as a museum was the idea to exhibit some of the finds, so to speak, "in interiors" - that is, to create from a set of objects excavated in different houses, the atmosphere of the place: a tabernas shop, a living room, a workshop.
Visitors to Herculaneum had the opportunity to view ancient Roman household items in an authentic setting. True, over time, most of these "installations" had to be abandoned for several reasons - both natural properties and in connection with the human factor. But something still remains.
Shelves with amphorae in the shop of the House of Neptune and Amphitrite
On the streets, you can look into the establishments of the ancient Roman public catering - thermopoly, in the counters of which large valleys, pots, from where simple cheap food was handed out, have been preserved. One of the thermopoly, which was badly damaged, was not reconstructed, and we have the opportunity to examine the ancient Roman counter "in section".
Thermopoly with a destroyed counter
It can be seen that the pots recessed into the rack were tightly cemented. They were not warmed up in any way, keeping warm due to the constantly added hot food.
It would seem that everything in Herculaneum is like in Pompeii, but on a smaller scale. However, it turned out that there are absolutely no electoral inscriptions on the walls, while 3500 of them were found in Pompeii. Didn't the Herculans use the most accessible way of transmitting information to a large number of people in a short time?
Of course they did - the Herculaneum Archaeological Park organized a multimedia program "Tweet from the Past", projecting inscriptions found by archaeologists on the same walls on the walls of Herculaneum during night excursions. For some reason unknown to us, there are no electoral slogans among them.
"Tweet from the past"
We have even received a formidable announcement for sluts - an edict from two city aediles on the inadmissibility of dumping feces and other slops near the water tower of the fountain. The ban is accompanied by an indication of imminent retribution: free citizens - a fine, slaves - flogging.
Announcement-dipinty on the pillar
Villa of the Papyri
And just 600 meters from the border of the excavated city is the pearl of the ancient Roman Neapolitan coast - the Villa of the Papyri, a private property with an area of almost 3 thousand square meters, to see all the luxury of which, alas, we are not given.
The villa was explored using the traditional tunneling method for the second half of the 18th century. It should be noted that the Spanish engineer Carl Weber, who supervised these "excavations", was scrupulous and methodical in documenting the information obtained in this way. This documentation for the researchers of the Villa of the Papyri is still relevant today.
Digital reconstruction of the Villa of the Papyri
But even the fact that thanks to the works of generations of archaeologists saw the light, speaks of the wealth and taste of the owner of this property. By the way, his name has not been established for certain. But on the basis of the decoration of the interiors and the content of the found papyri, the circle of interests of the owner of the villa was determined.
Among the "suspects" were representatives of noble Roman families - Calpurniev Pisons and Claudius Pulkhrov. By the way, one of the last - the consul of 38 BC - financed the construction of the Herculaneum theater.
The most stunning find of the Villa of the Papyri is the papyrus scrolls carbonized during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79. The nearly 2,000 scrolls that make up the villa's library are not a chaotic collection of books, but a carefully selected collection, most of which are works on the philosophy of the Epicureans.
Reading rolled and burnt papyrus seems to be an almost impossible task, but several generations of researchers have managed to familiarize themselves with their content.
Carbonized papyrus scroll from Herculaneum
In the 18th-19th centuries, they tried to read the manuscripts by unrolling the sintered scrolls, and only at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries, new, non-destructive methods of reading appeared: X-rays, studies using nuclear magnetic resonance, computed tomography and others.
For example, hyperspectral imaging helped to read the reverse side of the papyrus from Herculaneum, lead in ink made it possible to resort to the method of synchrotron radiation, and tomography helped to "unfold" ancient charred scrolls. The publication of the decrypted texts began almost immediately.
Nearly seven dozen sculptures and busts in bronze and marble found in the Villa of papyri now adorn the permanent exhibition of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.
There are quite detailed scientific reconstructions depicting what the Villa of the Papyri looked like before the eruption of Vesuvius. American billionaire oil industrialist Jean Paul Getty built an equally beautiful villa in Malibu in her image. True, he did not manage to live there, and now the antique collections of the Getty Museum are located in the villa.
Unlike Pompeii and the villas in Boscoreale and Stabiae, Herculaneum's archaeologists have since 2001 had a generous permanent sponsor, the Packard Humanities Institute. This foundation organized the Herculaneum Conservation Project, a public-private partnership that attracts funds and scientific organizations for the conservation and study of the ancient city.
In 2017, Herculaneum finally escaped from under the wing of Pompeii and acquired the status of a separate archaeological park.