Mount Vesuvius is a volcano located along the Gulf of Naples in Campania, Italy. It is notoriously known for its eruption in 79 AD that destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabia, and several other towns. On August 24th of that year, Mount Vesuvius erupted a cloud of stones, ash, and gasses that killed about 2,000 people, possibly up to 16,000 in more recent estimates. It was a tragic event and some bodies were found frozen in shock and still holding onto valuable properties while trying to flee. Since then, Mount Vesuvius has erupted many more times and is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes due to the potential impact it would have on the most densely populated volcanic region in the world.
But what was the importance of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD? How would the world be different today if that natural disaster never happened?
First, very little would have been known about life in Ancient Rome. Interestingly enough, the specific timing of the eruption preserved much of the infrastructure of Rome. The quick “burial” of Pompeii helped it mostly stay intact until it was found in the 18th century. The excavation of the ruins revealed paintings and houses, creating a type of time capsule of the culture of Roman antiquity.
Second, Pompeii would still be inhabited and much more advanced. After the eruption, Pompeii was marked uninhabitable, and it is now a protected area where no one can reside. If Mount Vesuvius had not erupted, Pompeii would likely be prosperous and perhaps one of the largest cities in the world, because it had many attractions, such as entertainment centers, beaches, and bathhouses, that brought many visitors. It may have even become the capital of Ancient Rome, as it had fertile land, easy access to water, and lots of infrastructure. As a port city, Pompeii would have also been an important trade center.
Third, the cities, Herculaneum, Torre Annunziata, and Stabiae would not have been destroyed. Herculaneum was a nearby town with a population of about 5,000 people and was buried along with Pompeii in the eruption. It was an admired resort town and a lot wealthier than Pompeii. Torre Annunziata and Stabiae were cities that were destroyed as well. They were also seaside resorts and had many beautiful houses. These cities would have remained popular vacation destinations if the eruption had not taken place.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD was a devastating natural disaster that changed the Roman Empire. If the great eruption never occurred, it is likely that Pompeii and other cities would have continued to prosper and help strengthen the Empire. However, the ancient Roman art and architecture of these cities would not have been preserved in the important archeological site that it is today – a site that has led to greater interest in studying Roman history and culture.