In 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted, spewing huge waves of volcanic ash and debris over the thickly populated Bay of Naples. The eruption was noticed at the Roman Naval base at Misenum, and in response the fleet’s commander, Pliny the Elder, ordered the Roman fleet to rescue as many people as possible. This is one of the first recorded rescues by sea of civilians by a military force.
The exhibition reveals how the Roman navy came to dominate the Mediterranean, and how this control created a boom in maritime trade not seen again for a thousand years. Finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum – towns destroyed by the volcano – and from shipwrecks bear witness to the extent of this trade in raw materials and luxury goods. As this was the only naval force remaining in the Mediterranean, Pliny the Elder was free to use it to aid the people threatened by Vesuvius.
Objects displayed in Escape from Pompeii include jewellery, ceramics, sculptures, frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum, and artefacts recovered from ancient shipwrecks. It also features haunting body casts of some of Vesuvius’ victims.
The exhibition introduces the Roman navy through interactive multimedia and 3D animation, and evokes the formidable force of the volcano that destroyed Pompeii 2,000 years ago.