Re: Vesuvius Eruption
thought I'd throw in a few points, plus my experiences from a field trip to the site a few years back.
Firstly, to answer a question above. People didn't know, there wasn't an understanding of vulcanism that we have now. Indeed when Pliny reported the erruption and described it people didn't believe him. It was only when erruptions were recorded and witnessed that they realised he wasn't embellishing the truth.
Even if the signs were they can span decades prior to an erruption. There had been an earthquake in the region years before, which now would raise eyebrows. However, to the occupants of the region it was just another earthquake.
Initially the erruption was something which was really quite visual, but not really that impacting. It's all quite spectacular, that is until gravity gets its way. For many the overarching visual from an erruption is the flowing lava, in reality it's far nastier.
To start with the clouds of ash and debris that had been soaring merrily upwards would have started coming down. The ash has two main effects, it caused buildings to cave in, a few inches of ash can cause a roof to collapse. The second is that it mildly suffocates, the ash would have soaked up any moisture in the air, plus when it gets into your lungs it isn't nice. Long term death would be from some form of lung cancer, the short term death is through what is known as dry-drowning. The body senses irritants in the lungs and tries to wash it out.
Then you'd have lava bombs, these are gobs of lava which have hardened in mid air but retain a mushy core. Great idea for a sweet. One of these lands on you it could easily bring you down.
Of course this is all foreplay for the big act. The Nue Ardent. When the column of ash starts to run out old man gravity gets his way and it collapses. It surges down the volcanoe and hugs the contours of the land, it's effectively a superheated wall of gas moving around 100 miles an hour and heated to around several hundred degrees.
These clouds have been know to boil fish in harbours and reduce forests to a series of what looks like upstanding burnt matches.
As I mentioned some people sussed that the erruption wasn't goo news. People escaped, there aren't too many pack animals in Pompeii suggesting that some simply up and went. Some people died in their homes, others in the vaults by the (then) coastline.
It's a macabre thing - but we can learn plenty from the way people died. Slaves were found holding the bodies of infants, indicating that there was a sense of family belonging. A very elaborate female skeleton (with jewellery) was found in with a bunch of gladiators. The remains themselves were so well preserved that casts revealed literally the faces of the dead.
As such people forget that it is one big cemetery, it can be quite spooky. One woman on the trip had a mild psychic ability, she saw a few things - i.e children playing. She saw one group of kids in a room and ran out - we only knew that such a group were found after calming her down. Perhaps she knew beforehand, unlikely as it took a bit of research.
Amusingly there are the phalli carved into the floor which, if followed, lead you to the red light area. The brothel rooms are even funnier - if you think our modern civilisation own the "your mother" jokes then you might get a surprise.
Anyway - I babble on. If you get the chance then go, great place, but remember what happened there. It gives everything a slightly more grounded feel. No ancient site is like any other, but this one even less so.