Eye Witness to the Eruption of A.D. 79!


At the time of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79 the Roman fleet under the command of Pliny the Elder was stationed across the Bay of Naples at Misenum. Pliny launched ships and sailed toward the erupting volcano for closer observation and to attempt a rescue. No rescue was possible and Pliny himself died during the eruption, not in the streets of Pompeii, but across the bay at Stabiae.

Pliny's nephew, whom we know as Pliny the Younger, was with him at Misenum, but did not venture out on the ships with his uncle. He stayed back at Misenum and observed the events from there. He also received first-hand reports from those who had been with his uncle at his death. Based on this information Pliny the Younger wrote two letters to the historian Tacitus that recount the events surrounding the eruption of Vesuvius and the death of Pliny the Elder. The letters survive and provide a vivid account of the events.

Provided below are links to the two letters. They are translated by Professor Cynthia Damon of Amherst College and are part of her Web site for Classics 36 Pompeii and Herculaneum. The letters are used here with Professor Damon's permission.

Pliny Letter VI.16

Pliny Letter VI.20

Copyright 1997 by John J. Dobbins, all rights reserved
Document URL: http://www.iath.virginia.edu/pliny.html
Last Modified: Wednesday, 11-Jan-2006 15:48:19 EST