Who were the people of Pompeii?

There is much to learn from the plaster casts that lie at Pompeii, recreating the last moments of the city’s most unfortunate citizens. 

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D caused over 20,000 deaths in the thriving city of Pompeii. The city was buried in a thick layer of volcanic ash, covering the city and its citizens until it’s rediscovery in 1599. It is a completely preserved ancient city, with buildings, artefacts, and human bodies found in the wreckage. Archaeologists have unearthed 1,150 bodies out of 2,000 in Pompeii’s wreckage, showing the past lives and final moments of Vesuvius’s victims. Unfortunately, the building that the plaster casts were originally housed in suffered extensive damage in World War II, and are now located in several places around the city. Here are just a few of the noteworthy attributes of the citizens of Pompeii.

  • The People’s Great Smiles

    After studying all the remains in Pompeii, archaeologists found that all the remaining individuals had a nice set of pearly white teeth. Despite dentistry not yet being a common practice, the victims of Mount Vesuvius’s victims were surprisingly healthy. With just the odd cavity, scientists have put down the remarkable condition of these people’s teeth down to their healthy diet. Rich in fruit and fibre, the citizens of Pompeii were consuming very low levels of sugar which were doing their teeth and bodies credit. The city’s water also had high levels of fluoride, another contributor to their strong teeth, as fluoride helps prevent cavities, in other words, tooth decay. This is something we could incorporate into our modern day lifestyles which are too often full of fizzy drinks, snacking and convenience food.

  • Baby diseases

    Archaeologists have examined an array of young people’s remains, discovering how some of Pompeii’s children barely survived childhood. Upon finding what looked like to be the exact same bones twice over in a cellar, scientists came across childhood twins aged around 10-12 years old. On inspecting the twins’ skeletal remains they discovered that the siblings shared the same abnormalities on their teeth, both showing signs of an unexpected disease – congenital syphilis. Unexpected because up until this point historians and other scholars had readily believed that congenital syphilis hadn’t reached Europe until the 15th and 16th centuries, with Christoper Columbus’s voyages. This would make the twins the first recorded case of syphilis by 1400 years.

  • The Two Maidens

    Famously named as the ‘two maidens’, are the skeletal remains of an embracing couple. Clasping onto to each other before their demise, their embrace is an everlasting one. They were originally thought to be two women, hence the name the ‘two maidens’, but following the extensive anthropological tests done on the duo’s bones and teeth, it was revealed that one was a young man aged about 18, and the other was an adult male aged 20 years older. Initially, this led to the assumption of a father-son embrace. But when further research showed they were not related, it caused speculation that they were perhaps in a homosexual relationship. Due to the tight embrace, scholars strongly believe that what we are seeing is a strong emotional attachment rather than a last spur of the moment thing caused by the thought of death. Sadly though this mysterious love story is unlikely to ever be solved. We can only guess and hypothesise.

  • The Shackled Slave

    Slavery was a common thing in the historic city of Pompeii. Ranging from sex workers, household servants, and concubines, the evidence of the cruel behaviour towards these victims demonstrate how limited a slave’s freedom was. Pompeii’s streets are flooded with brothels, as the historic city’s most popular activity was said to indulgence in the luxurious houses of pleasure. Although most of the remaining Pompeii artwork depicts these brothels as an erotic and exotic treat, the reality is very different. Majority of the sex workers were slaves, with only a tiny cell for them to please their clients and serve as their sleeping area. Slaves were also common in households, made to clean clothes in large tubs of urine. Salves were even chained, which is illustrated by the remaining bodies which were left shackled to the wall even in death. This victim had no hope of escaping the volcano’s eruption. He just had to sit and wait until the trauma hit. Luckily this wouldn’t have been long. His body lies face down on the ground, a sad image of a man who has accepted his fate.

  • The Guard Dog

    Another special artefact found in Pompeii’s ruins was the cast of a guard dog. He was left chained to a post when his owners must have run to flee the oncoming eruption. He was found outside the house of Orpheus, with the bronze studs around his neck being all that remained of his collar, implying his role as guard dog. As the pumice fall-out deepened, the dog climbed higher – until it eventually ran out of chain and was suffocated. Like other Pompeiians he died almost instantly. What stands out about this cast, is not only that it is of an animal, but that the dog is in such a distorted position, clearly showing his distress. Like other casts, it is the clear pain from these people’s figures and face expressions which makes Pompeii such an eery yet fascinating phenomenon.