When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and other villas were buried underneath tons of ash from the volcano. While the exact number is unknown, it is believed that approximately 2,000 people living in Pompeii were killed and as many as 16,000 overall deaths were associated with the volcanic eruption.
And now archaeologists in Italy think that they have correctly identified one of the victims. Back in the 1980s, approximately 300 human remains were discovered in Herculaneum which included a male who was found face-down in the sand with his arms bent forward. It was initially thought that the man had been a soldier; however, based on the objects found beside his body, it is now believed that he was a senior officer who was part of a rescue mission sent by a Roman naval commander and historian named Pliny the Elder.
In an interview with the Ansa news agency, Francesco Sirano, who is the director of Herculaneum’s archaeological site, reiterated this by stating, “He may be an officer of the fleet that took part in the rescue mission launched by Pliny the Elder to help the people in the towns and villas nestled on this part of the Bay of Naples.”
The man had twelve silver and two gold denarii coins which would have been equal to about a month’s worth of wages for members of the Praetorian Guard. He was wearing a leather belt that was decorated with gold and silver plates. He had a sword with an ivory handle as well as a dagger on the other side of his body. Inside of his bag were tools that would have been used by a faber navalis (a naval engineer with the Praetorian Guard who was a carpentry expert).
The presumed officer, who is known only as “skeleton no. 26”, was thought to have been between the ages of 40 and 45 when he died. While he was in good health, the blast from the eruption would have thrown him to the ground which was where he died. Since a boat was discovered close to the hundreds of skeletons, it has been sadly suggested that the 300 or so other victims found on the beach were extremely close to being saved by the rescue mission.
Excavations are scheduled to continue at this very important and historical site. Pictures of the man’s skeleton and the items found with him can be viewed here.