How Many People Were Killed When Vesuvius Erupted in Pompeii?

The eruption allowed modern archaeologists to clearly determine Pompeii's structure.
... Hemera Technologies/ Images

Mount Vesuvius is a volcano located in Italy near the Bay of Naples. The volcano became famous because of an eruption that happened in 79 A.D. that blanketed the city of Pompeii in volcanic ash. The Pompeii volcano death toll reached almost 2,000 people, but that isn’t why Pompeii is well-known. For archeologists, the layer of volcanic ash that trapped Pompeii worked a little magic. It preserved a tableau of daily life in the Roman city, allowing scholars to learn more about the ancient world and Pompeii history than they had ever known before.

1 Pompeii History Uncovered

Ancient Greek settlers traveled to the Italian peninsula in the 8th century B.C., and some of them settled in the area around Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. By the first century, Pompeii itself had become a bit of a resort town for these ancient travelers. Pompeii’s history is a lot more opulent than you might think. Before the eruption, almost 20,000 people lived in the city, where they could visit bathhouses, cafes, shops and more.

2 The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius

The volcano’s famous eruption that covered Pompeii wasn’t its first. As close as 16 years before the eruption, a telling earthquake shook the town, but no one took any precautions. The famous eruption rocked the bay in 79 A.D., blasting stone and ash into the sky. As the debris fell, Pompeiians could have run, and historians believe that some did. But those who stayed behind were trapped under fallen debris and collapsed buildings. Many remained frozen there, entombed for millennia.

3 Pompeii’s Volcano Death Toll

The Pompeii volcano death toll varies depending on the source. According to some scholars, approximately 2,000 people died in the eruption. About 1,150 of those bodies have been discovered. In the past, researchers believed that the bodies found in Pompeii belonged to people who were trapped and suffocated to death under the ash. However, some archeologists believe that many of the people died from trauma, some simply having been hit on the head by falling objects, like large pumice stones sent flying by the erupting volcano. Researchers have been studying the remains of the Pompeiian victims of Mount Vesuvius since the 1700s in order to learn not only more about their way of life but about how they died as well.

Rebecca Renner is a teacher and freelance writer from Daytona Beach, Florida. Her byline has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Magazine, Glamour and elsewhere.