ancient Pompeii

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Ancient Pompeii timeline and history

The timeline of Pompeii's history is an extremely telling picture of the evolution of many urban centres falling under the influence of Rome. Clearly they all had their own particular differences driven by location and existing local culture but many saw similar development fate in terms of dynamics of relationships with Rome, cultural growth and economy. Pompeii's own timeline is heavily influenced by its position south of Rome, in a temperate climate and with open access to trade routes with the Mediterranean.

Few if any ancient cities have survived with the same degree of conservation as Pompeii which therefore yields a unique insight. The timeline of Pompei's development gives a strong sense of how such rural centres developed:

8th Century BC Oscan/Samnitic original settlement. Possibly of Etruscan infuence

Greek colonials across southern Italy

Etruscan power to the north, including Rome.

Whilst the origins of Pompeii clearly involved Samnitic locals, the position of the city and essentially Tuscan atrium style of the residential villas suggests there could have been Northern/Etruscan influence.
6th Century BC Greeks from Cumae take the city. Their progress north is hampered by Etruscans. Trade with locals and Etruscans.

Early settlement is about 8 hectares in the south western corner of the later city. Population = 2000 people?

5th Century BC 474 BC Etruscans defeated by Greek Cumae and Syracuse

Italic invasions of the whole region.

Oscan/Samnitic are local Italic peoples, related to the Latins. Like the Latins they are open to adopting foreign influence.
4th Century BC (343BC) Roman entry into the region.

Samnite wars

Roman expansion throughout the Italian peninsula.
3rd Century BC Pompeii and Campanian region is part of a league with Rome against Carthage (and against Hannibal). Victory places Campanian peoples amongst the first to take advantage of Roman expansion abroad. Punic wars against Carthage (north Africans who occupy part of Italy and Sicily). Resulting in Roman dominion of the Mediterranean.
90-89BC Social wars. Pompeii with other states fight to win citizenship. Pompeii sieged by General Sulla.  
80BC Sulla establishes Pompeii as a Roman colony. This is a significant turning point in Pompeiis destiny as direct link with Rome opens access to Romes political sphere. Old ruling class eliminated and the way is opened for those beneath.

As with every new Roman colony, Pompeii has a constitution + "democratic" governance system set in place.

31BC Augustan age: Pompeii well placed to reap the commercial benefits of the Pax Romana. Augustus beats Cleopatra and Mark Anthony at Actium, ending the civil wars and beginning of the golden age.
AD59 Riots at the amphitheatre cause some deaths. The senate in Rome decides to punish supporters with a 10 year ban of the games at the amphitheatre. Pompeian population has gotten into the full swing of Romanity whilst retaining their own local spirit: the hooligans were having a tussle with supporters from nearby Nuceria.
AD62. February 5th. Terrible earthquake with epicentre on the city. Pompeii has to be rebuilt. Many portions of it were still being reconstructed when the volcano erupted 17 years later.
AD79 August 24th Pompeii, Herculaneum and surrounding areas are buried and time frozen in a day. Population approximately 20,000?

Pompeiis golden period was after the war with Hannibal: between the second Punic war (202BC) and the concession of Roman citizenship to all Campanians. 120 years of continuous development during which Pompeii took the essential form and shape we see today. There was of course subsequent development but the city had already established itself in shape and form as had many of the large villas. For example much of the private construction took place during the latter half of the 2nd century BC and on through to the first century BC. Subsequent construction work was essentially restructuring.

Pompeii sided with Rome against Hannibal (2nd century BC) but then with the Campanians against Rome in their bid for full citizenship (1st century BC). This latter detail had double edged effects: on the one hand Pompeii was sieged by general Silla and turned into a colony, meaning that some 2000 families of Roman soldiers would have been introduced into the city, given lands and municipal control of the city. On the other hand Pompeii achieved the Roman citizenship it desired which hence tightened its relationships with the Capitol and removed the need to pay heavy tributes.

A further important influence was that Romes increasing wealth had brought a great deal of investment into this region from Romes elite, who chose this area as their favoured holiday resort and built their most sumptuous villas here. This in turn brought further impulse for the highly developed arts and crafts of the region, including architecture and construction. Historical evidence tells us of many eminent owners of coastal villas, "villae marittimae", in the region including Julius Ceasar, Pompey the Great, Lucullus, Cicero, Varro, Tiberius (he enjoyed Capri) and many others. Perhaps the most meaningful "neighbour" in terms of Pompeiis history was general Silla who had his villa near Puteoli.

Pompeii was situated on the fringe of this bustling activity: A rich provincial town, close enough to receive the benefits of the wealthy commerce and Roman patronage whilst retaining its essential print of provincial agricultural economy. It is interesting to imagine to what degree this countryside and rural life may have contributed the inspiration of the increasingly pervasive Roman moralising and poetic eulogy which proclaimed the beauty and beatitude of life as a farmer as opposed to the evils of wealth.

A glimpse of a the above can be had from a short letter written by Pliny the younger to his friend Minicius Fundanus where he extols the positive side of retiring from the city to his villa where he can sit in the company of his books, where the coast and sea are the place to find inspiration from the muses (goddesses of the arts). Interestingly it was Pliny the younger who in a similar letter described the eruption of Vesuvius.

Flat lowlands were planted over with vegetables, vines and olive groves which followed the meandering Sarno river inland from where it met sea. Sloping hills gradually took over and led up to the volcano which at its upper reaches was heavily wooded.

In the second century BC this countryside was in many ways idyllic, lush, with growing activity, infrastructure was being built as was trade and wealth. The produce of the region would be traded internationally with countries such as Britain, France and Spain. For the next couple of centuries a great deal of progress was to be made and many would become rich with their entrepreneurial skills.

The foreign military conquests of Rome not only opened up trade routes, brought slaves and treasures, but also implied the entry of new exotic species of plants, some of which would adapt to the local climate of Campania during the course of a century or so, for example the Peach and Lemon. This was of great significance to a society which was largely based on an agricultural economy.

For example, Pliny the Elder tells us that the Peach tree reached Italian shores around 40BC, by the time of the volcanic eruption in 79AD it had fully acclimatised as demonstrated by findings of peach stones and peach tree wood by archaeologists.

Archeological findings together with accounts such as the above show us how at the time of the eruption farms of varying size and wealth were dotted all over this countryside and formed the backbone of the local economy.

The future of Pompeii

It is difficult to imagine how Pompeii may have developed hadn't the eruption of Vesuvius wiped the city out. Certainly the eruption occurred at a moment in time where the tide might have turned against the Pompeian economy because of the increasing competition from other provinces of the Roman empire which had begun to produce and export wine (as can be seen by tracking and tracing amphora finds).

A further understanding of the Pompeian economy and daily life can be had by studying the city's structure, trades such as Ancient Roman wine, farms and villas of Pompeii.


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"ancient pompeii" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for - Rome apartments