History : Apr-May 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 57 In the Villa of the Mysteries it was not only the owners and their servants who died. Six work- men who had been renovating the house were caught there, perhaps while rebuilding sections damaged by the tremors that preceded the erup- tion. Death also came to a group of painters who were decorating a building now known as the House of the Painters at Work. Elsewhere many victims were found trying to escape through passageways and skylights, or simply scrambling over the layers of volcanic debris. All met atro- cious deaths as they struggled in vain to protect themselves with their clothes or their arms. Politicians, Priests, Gladiators Vesuvius dealt out death irrespective of wealth or social status. Publius Paquius Proculus was a distinguished citizen and politician killed in the eruption along with seven children of his household who were crushed when the building’s roof collapsed. It seems that Vesuvius brought an abrupt end to a promising political career. Excava- tions of the city have revealed surprisingly well-preserved electoral posters that sug- gest Pompeii was embroiled in an election campaign between this same Proculus fami- ly and the Holconii, the city’s richest family. In fact, the Holconii were the “godfathers” of Pompeii, descended from a famous political dynasty, and in a.d. 79 Marcus Holconius Priscus was following in the family foot- steps when a thick blanket of ash abruptly ended his life. Priests fared no better. The priests of the Temple of Isis were having breakfast in the refectory when the catastrophe struck. One attempted to salvage, or perhaps steal, the temple treasury. Encumbered by its weight, he died while turning the corner of a street. Other priests were crushed under a falling pillar from the temple itself. The most daring of all smashed through three walls with an ax, desperately fighting his way out before death engulfed him. For all their brawn, the gladiators, in their bar- racks, could not save themselves. More than 60 bodies have been found, some still in chains. With them was the incongruous body of a ILLUSTRATIONS:GIOVANNICASELLIKAOS/FOTOTECA9X12 NO ESCAPE The casts of the bodies of Pompeians attempting to flee the eruption of Vesuvius. They fell, overwhelmed by the cloud of volcanic ash that enveloped the city, with no distinction of class, age, or sex.