The ancient city of Herculaneum with the modern-day comune of Ercolano in the background.
subject to phases of marine invasion and regression — a volcanic process known as ‘bradyseism’ caused by movements of magma beneath the Earth’s crust — a problem manifested, for example, in the partial blocking of ground-floor windows facing the sea. Quite apart from this, the archaeology of the Vesuvian sites reveals that redesign and redecoration were ongoing in the century or so before the eruption, as wealth poured into the towns and the elite engaged in competitive displays of what might be termed ‘cultural accumulation’. New mosaics were laid, frescoes repainted, statues commissioned, gardens rearranged, table services replaced, and so on. The dynamism of life is difficult to imagine in a tour of nowsilent plasterwork and propped-up timbers. Each of the people on the beach represented a life, but the osteology grants us only a glimpse, since we cannot match bodies with places and names.
The Past | April/May 2021