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Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City

Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City

Course No.  3742
Course No.  3742
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  29 minutes per lecture

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.

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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
  • 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

Lecture Titles

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Steven L. Tuck
Ph.D. Steven L. Tuck
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, Miami University’s highest honor for innovative and effective undergraduate teaching. In addition, the Archaeological Institute of America, North America’s oldest and largest organization devoted to archaeology, presented him with its Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2014. He also has been named a Distinguished Scholar and an Altman Faculty Scholar at Miami University.

Professor Tuck has conducted archaeological fieldwork and research in Italy, Greece, England, and Egypt. He has directed more than a dozen study tours in Italy, concentrated on the city of Rome and the area around the Bay of Naples, including Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Island of Capri. He has given more than 50 public lectures, including as a national lecturer for the Archaeological Institute of America.

Professor Tuck is the author of numerous articles featured in international journals on such topics as the lives of sailors in the Roman navy, the schedule of gladiatorial games at Pompeii, the decorative program of the amphitheater at Capua, the professional organizations of spectacle performers, Roman sculpture, and triumphal imagery across the ancient Roman world. He is the author of the forthcoming A History of Roman Art, a lavishly illustrated introduction to the topic.

Professor Tuck has taught two previous Great Courses: Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City and Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity’s Greatest Empire.
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Reviews

Rated 4.9 out of 5 by 49 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Amazing Course This course far exceeded my expectations. Professor Tuck holds your attention with interesting narrative, pictures, computer animation, etc. History has always bored me, but Pompeii is another story. I find Pompeii fascinating. I fully expected this course to be a drudgery with the back story of Pompeii, but found myself enthralled with each lecture. Instead of having to force myself through one lecture after another, I couldn't wait to play the next one! After Professor Tuck's first Pompeii lecture in this course, I was hooked! What a great combination of visual graphics, stories and history. Love, love it!!! I can't wait look up his other lectures to see what other learning opportunities await me in other subjects that he teaches. August 31, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City This is an excellent course. Professor Tuck is humorous, and very knowledgeable. One can tell that he loves this subject and he passes on that love in this course. I will certainly study this and related subjects in more depth and with more understanding after this course. Thank You! June 20, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Pompeii: The Complete Experience! Experientially, this course combines a thrilling amusement park ride with time spent in a prestigious museum. Professor Steven L. Tuck draws upon his personal archive of photographic materials for a resplendent “virtual tour” of one of the most famous cities of the ancient world. Most documentary programs on Pompeii focus on the day of the catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. By contrast, this lecture series reserves that moment for the end. The unique approach of this course is the detailed exposé of an ancient city in Italy during the Pax Romana. Because Pompeii was carefully preserved and buried for centuries in the wake of the natural disaster, it is possible for us to climb aboard a time machine and journey back to the city as it was frozen in time on August 24 in the year 79 CE. As the lecturer indicates, “Pompeii allows us to explore elements of the Roman world we simply can’t see anywhere else.” A thesis explored by the professor is that as a result of the volcanic eruption, we are able to understand hundreds of years of evolution of the city of Pompeii. As unearthed by archaeologists, starting with Giuseppe Fiorelli in the nineteenth century, it is possible to see influences of Greeks, Etruscans, and Samnites, who had occupied the city prior to the Romans. Of course, the central image of Mount Vesuvius looming in the background is the haunting reminder of the eventual fate of this thriving community. In one of the most fascinating visual images of the course, the 6,000-foot, cone-shaped mountain is depicted in the way Mount Vesuvius existed prior to “blowing its stack,” losing its cone, and getting reduced to its present height of 3,000 feet. In every lecture, the course permits us to go far beyond the experience of a casual tourist. The Course Guidebook indicates that Professor Tuck was “granted special access to many of the closed areas of the site by Italy’s archaeological authorities.” The professor's exemplary photographs help to illustrate all facets of life in Pompeii. By the end of the twenty-four lectures, it becomes clear that this city may serve as a microcosm for Roman history in its various developmental stages. Beyond the abundant photographs and insights of Professor Tuck, the technical staff of the Great Courses has gone the extra mile to enhance the presentations with lavish technical recreations of the city. The computer-generated floorplans of buildings and cutaways of villas serve to recreate the living and working spaces of the people of Pompeii. The viewer is able to experience the daily lives of patricians and an emerging class of industrious freedmen, as well as those of the plebeians and slaves who worked as wool manufacturers, vintners, and personal servants. The extremely clear and detailed maps were helpful in providing colorful reference points for the topography of Pompeii and the surrounding cities in the Bay of Naples. The remarkably fertile land and the physical beauty of the region are juxtaposed with the cataclysmic experience of the volcano that changed forever the lives of the people of Pompeii. In reflecting on the bustling life of ancient Pompeii, it is impossible not to see similarities in the daily experience of our lives two thousand years later. In his June 10, 1963 commencement address at American University, President John F. Kennedy stated that “we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.” The exploration of life in Pompeii, as magnificently presented in these programs, reminds us of the universal concerns we share with human life past and present on this small planet. COURSE GRADE: A January 20, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by A Riveting History Narrative (DVD format). I had visited Pompeii twice and Herculaneum once before taking this course, so I was familiar with the setting, sights and sounds (silence -except for conversations) that this course so well introduces. In short, this is a terrific course that should be of interest to anyone, even non-travelers. The story of Pompeii is one of the most fascinating historical narratives of the past few centuries. Dr Tuck was the right person to tell this story. It comes across in his passion for the topic, his vast knowledge of art history, the unique organization of the course, and the professionalism of the lectures. After having viewed this course, I now intend to re-visit Pompeii and the Bay of Naples again! This is my ultimate compliment. Best regards, jkh November 24, 2013
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