Have you heard of Herculaneum? This ancient site is located on the Western Side of Mount Vesuvius (a volcano located on the Gulf of Naples in Campania, Modern Day Italy).
Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD and destroyed the Roman towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabiae and various other settlements. When it comes to this eruption, Pompeii is the one that most people talk about – thousands of tourists flock there every year.
You probably don’t know much about Herculaneum, but today my aim is to change that…
Here are 21 Interesting Facts You Might Not Know about Herculaneum
1. Herculaneum was buried under volcanic ash and pumice in the Vesuvius Eruption of 79 AD.
2. The ancient city was actually re-discovered in 1709 – that’s 39 years before Pompeii was re-discovered.
3. In the classic narrative, the city’s rediscovery was an accidental occurrence while drilling a well. Nevertheless, traces of the city had been unearthed during previous excavation efforts. In the period after the site’s rediscovery, individuals in search of riches dug tunnels and removed historical artifacts.
4. Systematic excavations began in 1738 and have been sporadic ever since. Presently, only a small portion of the ancient site has been uncovered. The emphasis has now shifted towards conserving the already-dug sections of the city rather than further excavation.
5. The town of Herculaneum boasted a population of approximately 5,000 inhabitants, which was smaller than Pompeii’s population, yet it held a higher economic status. It served as a coastal haven for the Roman aristocracy, evident in the remarkable concentration of opulent residences adorned with vibrant marble facades.
6. The streets within the Herculaneum ruins are captivating in their own right, showcasing the meticulous urban planning employed by the Ancient Romans.
7. Among the remarkable attractions in Herculaneum are the thermal spas and bathhouses, the gymnasium, the House with the Mosaic Atrium, and the House of Neptune. However, the most renowned of them all is the Villa of the Papyri, which stood as one of the most opulent residences in the entirety of Herculaneum.
8. More sobering sites to visit include the so-called ‘boat houses’, in which the skeletal remains of at least 300 people were discovered in the early 1980s.
9. The precise origins of Herculaneum remain uncertain. While its name and organized urban layout hint at a potential connection with the Greek settlement in Naples, historical records reveal that the town primarily used Oscan and later Latin, both native Italic languages. This linguistic shift suggests the possibility of an originally Greek foundation becoming “Italicized” through conquest or cultural assimilation.
10. In the fourth century BC, Herculaneum was a part of the Samnite league but eventually formed an alliance with Rome. However, during the Social War of 91-87 BC, it sided with the Italian allies against Rome. The city became a Roman municipium in 89 BC.
11. Karl Weber, on the orders of King Charles VII of Naples, excavated the Villa of the Papyri between 1750 and 1765. Weber meticulously documented the villa through detailed drawings despite the challenges of exploring it through tunnels.
12. Among Weber’s astonishing discoveries were approximately 1800 fragmented scrolls, constituting the sole surviving library from the ancient Greco-Roman world. Numerous statues from the villa are presently housed in the Naples Archaeological Museum, while the Getty Museum in Malibu, California, has reconstructed the Villa of the Papyri, which originally housed this unique library.
13. Following a few modest attempts in the 19th century, comprehensive excavations were initiated and overseen by the renowned Italian archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri, who dedicated his work to the site from 1927 to 1961. Much of the site’s current appearance is attributable to his diligent endeavors.
14. During the 1990s, excavation efforts focused on the atrium quarter of the Villa of the Papyri, revealing at least two additional levels beneath the one initially explored by Weber. Additionally, the excavation trench created to access the Villa led to the discovery of previously unknown structures, as well as sculptures and furniture artifacts.
15. The layer of rock that has remarkably preserved Herculaneum for the past two thousand years also poses substantial challenges for excavation, far more so than in the case of Pompeii.
16. Another complicating factor is the existence of the modern town built atop the ancient one. Considerable efforts are needed to protect the uncovered remains. Consequently, Herculaneum stands as one of the most demanding yet thrilling prospects in the field of classical archaeology.
17. The beautiful city which now sits on the ancient ruins of the Herculaneum is called the Ercolano. It was built on top of the lava from Mount Vesuvius and was known as Resina during Medieval times.
18. UNESCO has designated the Herculaneum ruins, which bear witness to the effects of volcanic eruptions, as a World Heritage Site.
19. Herculaneum possessed an advanced infrastructure, encompassing a clever sewage system and a highly developed water distribution network.
20. While excavating Herculaneum, archaeologists unearthed a remarkably preserved ancient Roman vessel named the “Hercules.” This remarkable discovery offers valuable insights into the maritime trade and transportation of antiquity.
21. Tourists visiting Herculaneum have the opportunity to investigate exceptionally well-preserved structures, such as residences, storefronts, and communal bathing facilities. These sites offer a distinctive glimpse into the daily existence of the city’s ancient inhabitants.
Well, there you have it, 21 interesting facts you might not have known about Herculaneum. If I’ve left out something important, feel free to comment below.
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