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Pliny the Younger, the eye witness of the eruption of the Mount Vesuvius in 79AD

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 was a scientist, a historian and a naturalist and he felt the need to get closer to observe the phenomenon of the eruption.

He decided to land in Stabia, where lived his friend, but he died because of the toxic gases.

Miseno_Stabia

The route taken by Pliny the Elder from Miseno to Stabia during the eruption in 79AD

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.

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Cape Misenum, the Rome foremost military port

Miseno

According to the mythology Misenum was named after Misenus, a companion of Hector and trumpeter on the Aeneas ship as recounted in Virgil’s poem.

Cape Miseno is the headland that marks the northwestern limit of the Gulf of Naples as well as the Bay of Pozzuoli in southern Italy. The cape is directly across from the island of Procida and is named for Misenus, a character in Virgil’s Aeneid.

Misenum was the largest base of the Roman navy, since its port (Portus Julius) was the base of the Classis Misenensis, the most important Roman fleet. It was first established as a naval base in 27 BC by Marcus Agrippa, the right-hand man of the emperor Augustus.

In 38 BC, Misenum was the site where a short-lived pact was made between Octavian and his rival Sextus Pompeius.

With its gorgeous natural setting close to the naval base and the nearby important Roman cities of Puteoli and Neapolis, Misenum became the site of Roman luxury villas.

Pliny the Elder was the praefectus classis in charge of the naval fleet at Misenum in AD 79, at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius visible to the south across the Bay of Naples.

Seeing the beginnings of the eruption, Pliny left for a closer view in Stabia and to effect a possible rescue, and was killed by the eruption.

The account of his death is given by his nephew Pliny the Younger, who was also resident in Misenum at the time.

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pliny_route

The Pliny’s route

In Miseno there is the biggest Roman cistern  of drinkable water ever built called Piscina Mirabilis, realized during the Augustan period. Entirely excavated in the tufa rock, it has a capacity of 12.000 cubic meter of water, it’s 15 meters high, 72 m long and 25 m wide and it is covered by a vault, supported by 48 enormous cruciform pillars to form five long naves. The cistern was built to collect water for the fleet of the Roman Empire that docked in Miseno’s harbour.

It represented the final tank of the Augustan aqueduct (Aqua Augusta) that, from its springs in Serino and for 100 kilometers, brought water to Naples and the Phlegrean Fields.

piscina mirabilis

Piscina Mirabilis at Miseno

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The Doryphoros of Polykleitos at the Archaeological Museum of Naples

The statue represents the spear-bearer. This statue is located at the Archaeological Museum of Naples and it is one of the best copies we receive from history. T

he original statue was executed in bronze by Polykleitos around 440 BC with the purpose to represent the ideal of harmony of the greek man, kalòs Kai agathòs (physically beautiful and intelligent).

The beauty of a body born from the exact proportion of all its parts.
The perfect anatomy of the figure follows a rhythm between tenance and flexing of the muscles, giving a shape reminiscent of the X, the letter chi in greek language.

This marble copy was found in Pompeii in the Samnite Gym , a building built in the second century BC This building was probably the seat of youth associations in which it recognized the heroic characteristics to mythical figures such as Achilles.

Pliny wrote: “..once the statues were dressed with a toga, but then liked the naked statue leading a spear that resembles that of the Efebi located in the gymnasiums, called Achilee …” (Pliny, Naturalis Historia, 34,10,84)

The spear was probably a javelin called akòntion.

The races javelin looked  like the exercises of war and hunting.

This sculpture seems to epitomize the ideal male human form. All of the body parts seem perfectly proportioned and the muscles are beautifully defined as if the image were of an athlete. The image is youthful with a calm demeanor. The right missing forearm looks as if it used to be resting at his side, while the left elbow was probably at a 90 degree angle, with the hand holding something. The slight bend in the left leg gives the impression of movement, as if the image was frozen while walking. The counterpoised stance adds an air of nobility to the "man".

This sculpture seems to epitomize the ideal male human form. All of the body parts seem perfectly proportioned and the muscles are beautifully defined as if the image were of an athlete. The image is youthful with a calm demeanor. The right missing forearm looks as if it used to be resting at his side, while the left elbow was probably at a 90 degree angle, with the hand holding something. The slight bend in the left leg gives the impression of movement, as if the image was frozen while walking. The counterpoised stance adds an air of nobility to the “man”.

the Doriforo

The Doryphoros, Archaeological Museum of Naples, from Palestra Sannitica, Pompeii

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The papyrus

roman papyrus

The Latin word chart, from the Greek  χαρτης describes a sheet made by juxtaposing and stacking thin layers made from the papyrus stem. The papyrus was common in swampy areas and warm climates. The romans perfected the process for treating it, which the Egyptians used as early as 3000 BC, described by Pliny the Elder. Romans made lightweight sheet with smooth surface on which they could write easily with a calamus, a pointed reed, dipped in ink, which was made of water, sap, squid ink, and soot.

Herculaneum papyrus

The Herculaneum papyri are more than 1,800 papyri found in Herculaneum in the 18th century, carbonized[clarification needed] by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. After various methods of manipulation, a method was found to unroll and to read them.
The papyri, containing a number of Greek philosophical texts, come from a single personal library associated with the Epicurean philosopher and poet Philodemus, who has been identified as the author of 44 rolls.

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