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Old September 11th, 2012, 06:02 AM   #1

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Firefigthers in Rome


8mt under the streets of Rome there is an ancient Roman station of Firefighters with a votive fountain in front of it.

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Barracks of the VII Coorte of the Vigiles.

But, who were the ancient Roman Firefighters?

The "VIGILES" [Vigiles Urbani, very similar to the Italian modern definition of "Vigili urbani" but these last ones are not Firefighters, but traffic officers] were a city corp created under Augustus.

At the beginning the corp was made by slaves [according to different sources from 500 to 600 and at the end of the reign of Augustus they were about 7,000] under the command of one of the "aediles".

In the city the organization of the vigiles was almost military and the barracks were deployed in a way to cover all the areas of the urban territory. The commander of the corp was the "Praefectus vigilum".

Not only Firefighters ...

A curiosity about the ancient Roman Firefighters is that they were not intended only to face fire, but also to patrol the streets during the night and to take care of public order.

They already used axes [like modern Firefighters] and they knew the technique to suffocate the flames by means of wet mats [sometime soaked with vinegar].
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Old September 11th, 2012, 06:12 AM   #2
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Wasn't the fortune of the third of the triumvirs based on fire-fighting? As I recall, his brigade would turn up and begin to haggle as the flames rose, normally giving him the offer of a cheap price for the buildings they saved. That's how it was done! SPQR!
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Old September 11th, 2012, 06:25 AM   #3

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In Mediolanum [Milan], the triumvirs knew also the risks connected with the management of the fires in the city: they were condemned to death [and executed] by the tribunes of the plebe because they intervened late [there is still a writing remembering the street: "Sagra" and the 3 unlucky triumvirs: Marco Malvio, Caio Lollio, Lucio Sestilio].

Last edited by AlpinLuke; September 11th, 2012 at 07:44 AM.
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Old September 11th, 2012, 06:53 AM   #4

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There is a well-preserved firefighters barracks in Ostia as well.

A reconstruction:

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Old September 11th, 2012, 06:57 AM   #5

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Are there any signs of these units in Pompeii?
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Old September 11th, 2012, 07:14 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucius Vorenus View Post
Are there any signs of these units in Pompeii?
Not entirely sure if they were all firefighters, but I believe there were references to some accounts that there was considerable effort to keep fires beaten back from the dock and vessels to help in evacuations, panicked as they were. Might have been at Herculaneum, though.
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Old September 11th, 2012, 10:11 AM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucius Vorenus View Post
Are there any signs of these units in Pompeii?
I doubt they were a general Roman phenomenon. I suspect they only existed in Rome, on account of the massive population density as well as its governmental importance, as well as in Ostia to protect the all important grain warehouses that was a major key point in the grain import to Rome.
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Old September 11th, 2012, 05:14 PM   #8

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Here is an article you may like. It addresses the very real threats of brigandage and fires, and also the methods that were used to curtail the dangers, including the formation by Augustus of the Vigiles (watchmen of the city).

LacusCurtius ? Rodolfo Lanciani ? Ancient Rome ? Chapter*8
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Old September 12th, 2012, 02:51 AM   #9

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I always think of Crassus' firefighters.
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