Little Bits of History

February 5

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 5, 2017

62: Pompeii and Herculaneum experience an earthquake. Using evidence remaining today, it has been estimated to have had a magnitude between 5.2 and 6.1, this is an indication of the energy released during the earthquake’s most explosive moments. It has also been estimated to have reached a maximum intensity of IX or X on the Mercalli scale, a scale based on the effects of an earthquake which has a scale between I and XII. A scale of IX is considered violent while X is considered extreme. For comparison, the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was a XI, a higher level of extreme. In Italy, both Pompeii and Herculaneum were heavily damaged in the quake and it is believed to have been a precursor to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which destroyed the two towns in 79.

The fault line runs along the full length of the Apennines mountain chain and continuing into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Scientists today are looking for a connection between this event and the devastating volcano eruption seventeen years later. The theory surmises that this event as well as other earthquakes along the fault line were associated with the later massive event. Understanding the link between earthquakes and volcanoes is an ongoing area of study. The simple understanding of the event has been going on for nearly 2000 years. Seneca the Younger, sometimes just known as Seneca, wrote about the phenomenon in his series of books, Naturales quaestiones (Natural Questions).

Seneca, a philosopher, dramatist, and advisor to rulers (which was the cause of his death) was able to write a seven volume encyclopedia about natural wonders. The work was not systematic, but rather a matter of ideas which occurred to the author and were then explored, using the science of his time. He studied meteors, thunder and lightning, water, wind, snow, and ice along with various other related topics. His sixth book in the series was about earthquakes and the source of the Nile River. He used this event as the basis of his study and concluded the earthquake was caused by the movement of air.

The original quake along with aftershocks lasted for several days. The focal depth has been estimated to have been in the 5-6 km range (3-3.7 miles). The damages to both towns was extensive and at least partially repaired prior to their being buried by lava flow. Bas relief found in what is believed to have been the lararium of Lucius Caecilius Incundus’s house, have been interpreted as depictions of the damages caused by the earthquake on the Temple of Jupiter, the Aquarium of Cesar, and the Vesuvius Gate. Damages were reported as far away as Naples and Nuceria. Seneca also reported the death of 600 sheep, stating the flock’s demise was due to poisonous gases.

There are other special problems connected with the discovery of ancient cities. Alexandria was ravaged by fires and street fighting and its ancient waterfront is underwater. Some discoveries at Pompeii were not revealed for many decades, because the wall painting are so pornographic. – Norman F. Cantor

True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.- Seneca

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity. – Seneca

Constant exposure to dangers will breed contempt for them. – Seneca

Pompeii Disappears

Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 25, 2010

Ruins of Pompeii

August 24, AD 79: Mount Vesuvius erupts and buries Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplonti, and Stabiae under ash, preserving the ancient Roman cities in their final moments. Earthquakes began rocking the area 17 years prior to the eruption. Major quakes in 62 AD destroyed the aqueduct to the area along with damaging many buildings. During the volcanic eruption, Pliny the Elder was in the harbor and was killed while trying to rescue people from the area.

Pliny the Younger, his nephew, wrote an account of the disaster. He stated that quakes had been felt for several days prior the eruption, but many felt that this was no more than what had happened years ago. In fact, repairs were taking place when the volcano blew.

The beginning or plinian stage, named after Pliny the Younger and his descriptive writing, threw dust, ashes, cinders, and rocks high into the atmosphere, and lasted for hours. No lava flowed in this stage. The next stage was the expulsion of superhot steam and mud which flowed down the sides of the volcano. This stage covered Herculaneum, it took about four minutes for the boiling mud to reach the city – a distance of 7 km [4 mi]. It was buried under nearly 60 feet of superhot mud that dried nearly as hard as cement

Pompeii, with a presumed population of around 20,000, was also covered with the ash and then mud from the volcano. Survivors of the catastrophe tried to return after the mud cooled and retrieve goods by digging shafts into the mud, but gave up after many unsuccessful attempts.

The two cities were abandoned and forgotten. Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738 and Pompeii in 1746. The excavation of the sites revealed much about the everyday life of the ancient Romans – their devotion to art, their forums and amphitheaters, and their open sexuality, which has led to some censorship.

“We live too much in books and not enough in nature, and we are very much like the simpleton of a Pliny the Younger, who went on studying a Greek author while before his eyes Vesuvius was overwhelming five cities beneath the ashes.” – Anatole France

“The pattern is that every 2,000 to 3,000 years, there is a monstrous eruption (of Mount Vesuvius). And it has now been about 2,000 years.” – Michael Sheridan

“Nature, as we know her, is no saint.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The extent of the catastrophe that threatens gives the measure of the transformation that will be necessary in order to master it.” – Lewis Mumford

Also on this day, in 1869 the waffle iron is patented.
Bonus Link: In 1853, George Crum
invents potato chips.