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Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City

Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City

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Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City

Course No. 3742
Professor Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.
Miami University
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Course Overview

On August 24, in the year A.D. 79, Pliny the Younger looked up and saw a spectacle the world would never forget. As he later wrote down, "A cloud was ascending, the appearance of which I cannot give you a more exact description of than by likening it to that of a great pine tree, for it shot up to a great height in the form of a very tall trunk, which spread itself out at the top into a sort of branches. It appeared sometimes bright and sometimes dark and spotted, according as it was either more or less impregnated with earth and cinders."

Thus opened the sole eyewitness account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius—one of the most iconic natural disasters in the history of the ancient world.

Most people are familiar with this story. Over three harrowing days, the inhabitants of Pompeii experienced the full force of Mother Nature's fury in the form of blasts of superheated gases, rains of pumice stone and ash, and rivers of scorching mud.

Yet while the account of the eruption is compelling, Pompeii holds a much more intriguing story for historians: a tale of everyday 1st-century life, flash-frozen in time under mountains of sediment. The tragedy left a rich record of daily life as it was experienced by all strata of Roman society; housewives, slaves, merchants, and politicians were stopped in their tracks on that fateful day. Through careful excavations of Pompeii, scholars have revealed the hidden complexities of ancient life, unveiling the everyday activities of commerce, agriculture, politics, and private life otherwise lost to modern eyes.

In Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City, gain a tantalizing glimpse into this world, as eminent classicist and Professor Steven L. Tuck resurrects the long-lost lives of aristocrats, merchants, slaves, and other Roman people in this imperial city. The result is an unprecedented view of life as it was lived in this ancient culture—and your chance to discover intriguing details that lay buried for centuries. In 24 enthralling lectures, Professor Tuck unearths these everyday truths to create a full portrait of daily life in the ancient world.

In-Depth Information and Unexpected Insights

In the opening lectures of Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City, you'll consider the geology and geography of this region and learn about the area's pre-Roman settlers. Next, you'll hear how the city was rediscovered in the 1700s, and examine the cutting-edge excavation techniques used to uncover the city's buried treasures.

Then, Professor Tuck takes you on an in-depth tour of Pompeii with a side trip to neighboring Herculaneum. Finally, you'll get an account of the eruption itself, re-created from ancient writings, archaeological evidence, and the latest scientific insights.

Along the way, Professor Tuck offers surprising facts and dispels long-held misconceptions, including these interesting insights:

  • Only an estimated 5% of the residents of Pompeii perished in the eruption. Survivors can be traced as far away as Spain.
  • Despite the searing heat of Vesuvius, 1,800 carbonized scrolls were discovered in an ancient library in the nearby city of Herculaneum, and more than 50,000 bits of writing have been preserved as graffiti scattered throughout the remains.
  • The features that made Pompeii such an attractive site for human habitation—the richness of its soil, its mineral-rich hot springs—were the result of geologic forces that ultimately led to the city's destruction.
  • The preserved ruins at Pompeii display evidence of a disaster that was a precursor to the eruption in 79—a massive earthquake that rocked the town in the year 62.

"At Pompeii, the Dead Do Speak"

As Professor Tuck delves into Pompeii's archaeological riches, long-silenced voices will sound loud and clear. You'll hear them as you meet a variety of Pompeii's original inhabitants. In a series of lectures, Professor Tuck selects actual Pompeian residents and reconstructs a typical day in their lives. Here are a few of the journeys you'll take:

  • Follow Chryseis, a slave girl, as she accompanies her mistress to the public baths.
  • Trace the steps of two city officials as they survey major civic structures and carry out their duties in local government.
  • Attend the elaborate funeral procession of the exalted priestess Eumachia.
  • Visit a fullonica—the ancient equivalent of a dry-cleaner—and meet the owner, a freed slave named Stephanus.
  • Witness the rituals experienced by a young bride on the night before her wedding.

Taking the perspective of these diverse viewpoints, you'll gain remarkable insights into agriculture, commerce, civic planning, entertainment, local government, private life, and other aspects of the Pompeian experience.

Walk the Streets of an Ancient City

Professor Tuck also provides a virtual tour of the city that reflects the diverse lives of Pompeii's residents. As you visit cliff-top villas, local businesses, civic buildings, and private homes, you'll examine the intriguing clues these structures hold about the lives of everyday individuals.

Imagine, for example, the splendor of Pompeii's amphitheater, the site of gladiatorial games, and its Roman-style forum, seat of the city's government. You'll also explore commercial spaces, such as the only preserved brothel of Pompeii and the Praedia of Julia Felix, a massive rental structure housing baths, shops, and garden dining rooms.

To bring these structures to life, Professor Tuck shares exclusive photos he's taken of the surviving ruins and art, later artists' renditions of Pompeian life, videos, and remarkable computer reconstructions of these ancient structures, including the House of the Faun, home of the Roman Patron of the colony.

Your walk through Pompeii also reveals the marvels of Roman architecture and technology, as you explore the public baths, water systems, and other details of civic planning. Finally, you'll relive the cataclysmic eruption of 79 through computer reconstructions, images, and maps that trace the impact of Vesuvius on the surrounding communities.

Travel Back in Time to Ancient Pompeii

As Professor Tuck says, "The real treasure of Pompeii is how it can operate for us as a sort of time machine." You'll have no better guide than Professor Tuck. A noted scholar and expert on the classical world, Professor Tuck offers intriguing insights, allowing you to inhabit the lives of the people of the ancient Roman Empire.

Whether you're planning to visit Pompeii or you're simply curious about what ancient life was like, don't miss this rare opportunity to walk in the footsteps of these Romans whose city perished nearly 2,000 years ago.

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24 lectures
 |  29 minutes each
Year Released: 2010
  • 1
    Reflections on and of Pompeii
    No archaeological site in the world has such an evocative name as Pompeii. And yet, when most people hear this name, they think of destruction. In this introduction, gain an overview of the course and begin to consider why the remains of Pompeii offer more than just a story of a cataclysm. x
  • 2
    Geology and Geography on the Bay of Naples
    Both the land and humankind helped to shape Pompeii. Examine the violent geological forces that forged the distinctive region of the Bay of Naples, trace its influence on the surrounding geography, and learn about the various cultures that contributed to life in this area. x
  • 3
    The Rediscovery of Vesuvian Lands
    Archaeological finds from the area were unearthed starting around 1594—centuries after the eruption that buried them. Uncover the history of Pompeii's excavation in the 1700s, from the kings who plundered its artwork to the modern scholars who sought another kind of treasure: information. x
  • 4
    Etruscan Pompeii—5th Century B.C.
    While the last days of Pompeii have attracted popular attention, the city was a thriving cultural center centuries before its destruction. In this lecture, delve deep into Pompeii's remote Etruscan history and explore what life was like in this ancient pre-Roman settlement. x
  • 5
    Samnite Pompeii—2nd Century B.C.
    Centuries after the establishment of Etruscan Pompeii, the city was invaded by a new people, the Samnites. Witness the conquest of the city by these invaders and consider how Pompeii was redefined and expanded by its new inhabitants. x
  • 6
    Building the Roman Colony—80 B.C.
    Encounter the first Roman inhabitants of Pompeii. Learn how Pompeii became a Roman colony and take a tour of the city as viewed through the eyes of two of its chief magistrates. x
  • 7
    Villa of the Papyri and Life with Piso
    Despite its history of conquest and invasion, ancient Pompeii was not all mayhem and military occupation. See a different side of Roman elite culture by visiting one of the grandest and best-preserved private dwellings from the ancient world: the Villa of the Papyri. x
  • 8
    Marriage and Mysteries—Rites of Dionysus
    In the first of three lectures investigating women's lives in Pompeii, explore the rituals of marriage. Follow along as a Roman girl is initiated into the worship of Dionysus on the eve of her wedding, and then attend the nuptials. x
  • 9
    Eumachia, Public Priestess
    Continue your exploration of the lives of Pompeian women as you attend the funeral of a powerful priestess. Learn about her background, achievements, and aspirations, and gain insights into the roles available to women in Roman culture. x
  • 10
    A Female Slave in Pompeii
    After examining the exalted life of a priestess, move to the other end of the social scale and follow a day in the life of a slave girl, Chryseis. As she carries out her duties, gain a grasp of the role of the lowliest workers in this culture and trace the contours of everyday life in Pompeii. x
  • 11
    Governing in the 1st Century A.D.
    What made a Roman city run? Discover the answer to this question by focusing on two levels of officials in Pompeii, the duoviri (chief magistrates) and the aediles (their assistants). Follow these officials as they perform their typical tasks of government. x
  • 12
    Games and Competition for Offices
    One of the most familiar images of ancient Rome is the clash of the gladiators. Go behind the scenes with one Pompeian politician as he plans a gladiatorial spectacle to help launch his son's career. x
  • 13
    Riot in the Amphitheater—A.D. 59
    Continue your consideration of the gladiatorial games and learn about a major crisis in Pompeian life: a riot in the amphitheater that was sparked between the city's inhabitants and fans from a rival city. Trace the factors that led to this catastrophe, the event itself, and its aftermath. x
  • 14
    The House of the Tragic Poet
    Tour the house that was the setting for the famous historical novel The Last Days of Pompeii, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Trace the activities of the owner, guests, and visitors, and consider how the design and artwork of the house reflect the life of prosperous Pompeians. x
  • 15
    Pompeii's Wool Industry
    In the first of two lectures exploring the industrial life of Pompeii, enter the world of wool workers by visiting a typical fullonica—the ancient equivalent of a modern dry-cleaner. Investigate the methods, tools, and workspace used by these service people. x
  • 16
    Pompeii's Wine and Vineyards
    Continue your consideration of Pompeii's key industries with a tour of two preserved vineyards. Gleaning information from these two farms, as well as handbooks from the day, investigate the process of growing, pressing, and fermenting grapes, and storing wine. x
  • 17
    Earthquake—A.D. 62
    In a precursor to the eruption that would later bury the city in A.D. 79, Pompeii experienced a cataclysmic earthquake. Uncover evidence of this quake and look further afield at its effects, including a tsunami that crippled Rome's food supply. x
  • 18
    Rebuilding after the Earthquake
    After the destructive earthquake of A.D. 62, the officials of Pompeii undertook a remarkable rebuilding effort. Survey the structures that post-date this event, and examine what the rebuilding efforts suggest about the changing culture of Pompeii at the time of the quake. x
  • 19
    Wall Paintings in the House of the Vettii
    The House of the Vettii at Pompeii is one of the best-decorated and best-preserved domestic spaces from the ancient Roman world. Explore what the house and its wall paintings can tell us about the former slaves who built a prosperous life there. x
  • 20
    A Pompeian Country Club
    Take a tour of the Praedia of Julia Felix, a large complex that included a remarkable collection of baths, shops, and garden dining rooms, all decorated with an amazing selection of paintings, statues, inscriptions, and furnishings. x
  • 21
    Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum
    When Vesuvius erupted, it also buried Pompeii's neighboring town of Herculaneum. With local priest Aulus Lucius Proculus as your guide, explore the city's public spaces, including the city baths, a wine shop, and a shrine to the Roman emperor. x
  • 22
    Visiting a Villa at Stabiae
    Perched high atop the cliffs of the Bay of Naples, the spectacular villa at Stabiae offers a unique opportunity to glimpse elite life in ancient Rome. Imagine the life of the privileged residents as you trace the villa's complex architectural design and examine its decor and artwork. x
  • 23
    Pliny Narrates the Eruption of Vesuvius
    Thanks to the letters of Pliny the Younger, the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 is the only ancient natural disaster for which we have an eyewitness account. Follow the harrowing narrative of destruction and compare the effects on Pompeii to the experience of the inhabitants of nearby Herculaneum. x
  • 24
    The Bay of Naples after Vesuvius
    The majority of Pompeians did not perish in the eruption that buried their city. Examine efforts by the imperial government under the emperor Titus to aid and resettle refugees, and follow the experiences of a family after the eruption. x

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  • 120-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Steven L. Tuck

About Your Professor

Steven L. Tuck, Ph.D.
Miami University
Professor Steven L. Tuck is Professor of Classics at Miami University. After earning his B.A. in History and Classics at Indiana University, he received his Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. He held the postdoctoral Arthur and Joyce Gordon Fellowship in Latin epigraphy at The Ohio State University. An esteemed teacher, Professor Tuck received the 2013 E. Phillips Knox Teaching Award,...
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Reviews

Rated 4.9 out of 5 by 63 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Labor of Love I was a docent at the museum when the Pompeii exhibit was here, and I learned a lot about the city getting ready for that exhibition. As much as I knew and as fascinated as I was by the exhibit, Dr. Tuck knew so much more and was so much more enthusiastic. I enjoyed this very much, not the least because of the excellent outline the professor developed and the way he showed artifacts to explain his points. June 27, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by Explosively Fun This is great fun for a fan of Roman history, and this course easily ranks among the best Great Courses I have watched so far. First, let me explain what this course is not. The course is not a 24 lecture course detailing the eruption of the volcano in 79 AD in thorough detail. Only one lecture is really dedicated to the eruption. The course also is not a 24 lecture course on the archaeological methods used to explore the city, though there is some time dedicated to this topic with a depressing description of the destruction caused by early excavation efforts. Instead, this course is fundamentally about life in a Roman city during the height of Rome's power and dominance. The professor takes the audience into houses, businesses, and public buildings to show how Romans of all social classes lived, worked, and worshiped. The professor includes significant amounts of information regarding the broader picture of Roman history without venturing too far off the topic of Pompeii. My favorite part of this course is how the professor presents the information in context. I have seen countless documentaries about Pompeii on television, but all of them focus only on the most sensational aspects of the city, such as the preserved body cavities and brothels. Consequently, these television documentaries miss the broader picture of daily life and the context of the discoveries. This course covers the famous aspects of the city but takes the time to fit them into a much broader context, walking the viewer through the entire city while explaining the importance of each area. Every lesson had something new and exciting to learn. This course is definitely worth the time to watch. May 2, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by Inspirational I have become addicted to The Great Courses and Dr. Tuck's lectures on Pompeii are just one of the reasons why. I'm really impressed with the universal appeal of the material which is appropriate to all levels of interest in the topic, Dr. Tuck's exploration of the Etruscan roots of Pompeii was so engaging I have purchased his lectures on the Etruscans. But, while he does adequately touch on the lives of the various social strata in Pompeii, it is in the art, artifacts and archaeology that he provides the meat of the lectures. The series is so compelling I am determined to visit Pompeii. For me, the highlight of the course was the lecture on The House of The Tragic Poet. Not only is the art magnificent, the theme insists that the viewer engage with it on so many levels. I admit to being dissatisfied with only a half hour lecture. I can envision a graduate paper on the topic. In the interim I have watched that single lecture several times. While I appreciated the personal photographs that Dr. Tuck included, I wish he didn't have a tendency to overexpose his pictures. Anyone who plans to visit Pompeii should take this course before going. February 1, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by KUDOS, KUDOS, KUDOS. Dr. Tuck's presentation of 24 lectures, in "Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City", make this by far the most outstanding of the numerous Great Courses that we have purchased. January 20, 2016
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