Wednesday, February 20, 2019


EVERYONE knows about the victims of Pompeii's Vesuvius eruption ... whose bodies were immortalized as plaster casts.

But what about the thousands of residents who successfully fled the doomed city? What happened to them?

Now historian Steven Tuck of Miami University says he has created a database of Roman last names which has helped him to track down the refugees from the disaster of 79 AD.

His database has led him to match up records from Pompeii and Herculaneum with records from the parts of Italy unaffected by the destructive power of Vesuvius. 

Tuck's goal in doing this work was not just to identify refugees but also "to draw conclusions about who survived the eruption, where they relocated, why they went to certain communities, and what this pattern tells us about how the ancient Roman world worked socially, economically, and politically."

In order to find refugees, Tuck needed to investigate inscriptions on public buildings and tombstones, because historical records only emphasized the physical damage of disasters.

"I looked for names at Pompeii that were prominent in the later years of the city and inscriptions that were as near as possible post-80 AD in the 'refuge communities'" elsewhere in Italy, Tuck explains.

As an example, there are six people from the family Caninia known from 2nd Century AD inscriptions at Neapolis (modern Naples).

That last name appears earlier at Herculaneum but essentially nowhere else, suggesting the family moved because of Vesuvius.

Tuck makes an even stronger connection, though, for a particular member of this family: Marcus Caninius Botrio, whose name is recorded in the Album of Herculaneum.

It is likely that Botrio "is the best surviving evidence of a specific individual from Herculaneum who resettled at Neapolis as a refugee, and then died there as attested by his tomb inscription," Tuck notes.

Another example Tuck presents comes from Roman Dacia, an area of the Empire that is now Romania and Serbia.

On a tombstone there dated to 87 AD, an inscription lists one Cornelius Fuscus, who was a citizen at Pompeii, lived at Neapolis, and was stationed in Dacia as a praetorian prefect who led five legions in Domitian's war. Fuscus "seems to have resettled from Pompeii to Neapolis after the eruption," Tuck concludes.

Tuck's combination of history and archaeology has produced strong evidence that it is possible to trace Vesuvian refugees.

He finds that many refugees settled on the north side of the Bay of Naples, and that families tended to move together and then to marry within their refugee community. 

These people probably "represent either those who fled at the first sign of the eruption," Tuck says, "or those who were away from the cities when the eruption occurred."

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