The Missing Jewelry: A Story From Roman Pompeii by Theresa Welsh


[Image]Pompeii is famous for being the "city that disappeared". On the 24th of August, 79 A.D., volcanic ash spewed violently from Mt. Vesuvius, covering the towns of Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum. An earthquake in 62 was a warning that Vesuvius could come to life, but Romans did not understand it. As far as they knew, Vesuvius was a dead mountain.

The residents were still rebuilding from the earthquake damage when Vesuvius awakened in such a terrible and destructive manner. The volcano erupted on a hot summer day, first flinging hot stones down onto Pompeii, then raining burning ash that didn’t stop coming until it covered everything.

The Roman towns in the Bay of Naples were buried in lava and forgotten for more than 1600 years. Another town grew up over Herculaneum, while vines and grass covered Pompeii.

This beautiful part of Italy with its mild climate and lovely beaches was repopulated, the volcano forgotten, and once again became home to the wealthy. Its land, enriched by the volcanic ash, again yielded fruit and grazing land. Lovely villas again dotted the hillsides.

Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738 underneath a solidified layer of mud 26 feet thick. Ten years later, searchers dug on a hill known to local people as "la civita" ("the city") and discovered the remains of another buried city. An inscription was discovered that gave us the name of this place: Pompeii.

Because Pompeii was frozen in time, its excavation lets us see many details of daily life. The artifacts of life – dishes and cooking implements, a petrified loaf of bread, jewelry, coins --- show us how they lived. Their homes have been carefully unburied, and the beautful tiles and the art work painted and created in mosaic on the walls and floors are again visible. Their public buildings – the macellum, the temples, the baths – stand again in the open air for tourist and researcher to behold.

And, of course, the people are here too. The ash that filled their homes and streets covered their bodies and left molds in the petrified ash. By filling these cavities with plaster, archeologists have made casts of their bodies where they lay in their last moments. Many were clutching their valuables. Some families were found together. Many were found trying to flee the city, but trapped and unable to escape their fate on that terrible August day. Their pets are here too, entombed in ash with their owners.

The excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum took place over many years and continue to this day. In the eighteenth century, Europe became infatuated with the discoveries at Pompeii which helped inspire a cultural movement of philosophy, art, architecture, literature, and even fashion. The movement, called Neoclassic, had people seeking out everything Roman, imitating the luxurious way of life revealed by the uncovering of Pompeii.


Julia Felix is a real person who lived in Pompeii; so is Eumachia, who built the Fuller’s Building on the forum. Jucundus, mentioned in chapter one, is another real person. Julia Felix’s house has been excavated and is located near the ampitheater, as stated in the story.

The Ladonica family and all other characters are fictional. I have tried to be as historically accurate as I could in relating the events of daily life in Pompeii in the year AD 70.

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