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The Roman News: The News – text only version


Illustrated by ALAN FRASER


<Image on left of an old man, a young woman and a Roman soldier leading a horse, all fleeing the city gates in panic with dark ash clouds and fire behind crumbling buildings>

NO ESCAPE: People flee from the volcano’s deadly hail of stones and ash.

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MOUNT VESUVIUS is peaceful enough today, with its olive groves and grazing animals. Yet it was the cause of one of the worst disasters ever to hit our nation—the death of an entire town.


IN THE AFTERNOON of August 24, A.D. 79, Mount Vesuvius turned into a killer. The volcano erupted, spewing out vast clouds of ash and stones, and thick black smoke. The burning ash rained down on the bustling town of Pompeii, about 6 miles away. Choking and blinded by the smoke, people fled in terror, barely able to run as an earthquake shook the ground. Within hours, the ash had buried all but the tallest buildings. More than 20,000 people died that day, smothered by the ash. A once thriving town had vanished!


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ON THAT FATEFUL DAY, writer Pliny the Younger was less than 20 miles away, in the town of Misenum. Here is his firsthand account of fleeing from the disaster.


“WE SAW THE SEA sucked away and forced back by the earthquake. It had shrunk away from the shore, and many sea creatures were stranded on dry land. Ashes were already falling, although not yet very thickly. I looked around—a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood. ‘Let us leave the road while we can still see,’ I said, ‘or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark.’ We had scarcely sat down when absolute darkness fell—not the dark of a moonless of cloudy night, but as if a lamp had been put out in a closed room. You could hear the loud shrieks of women, the wailing of children, and the shouting of men. A curious kind of light appeared, not daylight but more like the light of a distant fire. Then darkness set in once more and ashes began to fall again, this time in heavy showers. We rose from time to time and shook them off, otherwise we would have been buried and crushed beneath their weight. At last, there was genuine daylight. We were terrified to see that everything was changed, buried deep in ashes like snowdrifts.”


<Image of Misenum and Mount Vesuvius 18 Miles away across the Bay of Naples> Map by CHRIS FORSEY – FALLOUT: The spread of ash from the volcano.


Extracts from The Roman News by Andrew Langley and Philip de Souza, Candlewick Press, reproduced with permission of Walker Books, text © Andrew Langley 1996.