Latest coin finds from Pompeii

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Bart9349, Jun 19, 2021.

  1. Bart9349

    Bart9349 Junior Member

    (Suspected ancient snack bar known as a thermopolium)

    Regio V is the latest excavation site at the Pompeii ruins. The coins found may shed some interesting insights on life in Ancient Rome.

    First, Roman coins from three different centuries were found in a single victim’s purse:


    “The individual clutched at least 20 silver and 2 bronze coins close to his chest, stored in a small purse.”

    ” At first glance it would appear that twenty silver denarii and two bronze asses with a nominal value of eighty and half sesterces have been found. Such a quantity of money at the time could maintain a family of three for 14-16 days.

    The coins exhibit a highly varied chronology.

    It has been possible to examine 15 - mostly Republican - coins, dating from the middle of the 2nd century BC. One of the latest Republican coins is a legionary denarius of Mark Antony, commonly found at Pompeii, with the indication of the XXI Legion. Among the few Imperial coins identified, we have a likely denarius of Octavian Augustus and two denarii of Vespasian. “

    Although this person was moving with either his coin collection or savings, this might also be an indication that coins centuries-old freely circulated in the Empire. Once the Roman Empire debased the currency, however, it is unlikely that more pure silver coins would have been as easily found.

    These are exciting times at the Pompeii excavation:

    Interestingly, one coin (along with other evidence) found years ago at another site at Pompeii had suggested that we had gotten the presumed August date of the eruption of Vesuvius wrong:

    ”An inscription reinforces other evidence that scholars believe point to an October rather than August event: charred autumn fruit, bodies with bulky, warm clothing, wood-burning braziers, wine from the harvest in sealed jars, and a coin that was probably not issued until September A.D. 79. Historians blame confusion over the date on potential errors made in translations and transcriptions in Pliny’s famous letter. “

    The problem I have with that “discovery” is the lack of photographic evidence of this later coin (which would necessarily be during the reign of Titus after Vespasian’s death in June AD79).
    (see discussion below).

    Nevertheless, these are other examples of numismatists’ helping to shed light on ancient Roman history.

    “The writing, discovered on the wall of a villa during a new series of excavations in the Regio V, reports the date of 17th October (16th day before the Calends of November), which supports the theory that the eruption happened a week later, on the 24th of October 79 AD. As Massimo Osanna, head of Pompeii Archaeological Site stated “the charcoal, is extremely fragile and evanescent so it could not last a long time […] it is more than likely that it was written in 79 AD shortly before the eruption itself”.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2021
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  3. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    20 silver denari is a lot of money to be carried in a day to day life! (nearly a month's worth of wage).
    I assume the person was either rich or a someone who took all the silver coins in their 'cash register' or a safe and took a run for it, ultimately succumbing to the disaster.
    hotwheelsearl likes this.
  4. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    I don't even have close to 20 denarii!
    That guy was $$$$.
    I am guessing he probably was running with his savings trying to escape the eruption.
  5. Pickin and Grinin

    Pickin and Grinin Well-Known Member

    Maybe the man just decided he was best off handling his savings instead of an institution.
  6. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    The famous coin (a denarius) in question has been conclusively shown by Richard Abdy of the British Museum to read IMP XIIII not IMP XV as believed. This places it before the month of September and not later in the autumn of year 79.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2021
    finny, Broucheion, Pellinore and 5 others like this.
  7. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    The victims at Pompeii had substantial warning. This purse almost certainly represents a life savings. Many Republican denarii were still in circulation even after Nero reduced the net silver content of the denarius. If I remember correctly, it was really the debasement under Trajan that finally drove the earlier coins out of circulation. Smart savers in AD 79 would have selectively put away Republican and early imperial denarii while spending the more recent coins which had less intrinsic value.
  8. Bart9349

    Bart9349 Junior Member

    Thank you for reading my post.

    I’m no longer confident that the victims of Pompeii had much time to escape, however. I imagine if they did, we would have more reports of people escaping.

    Last edited: Jun 19, 2021
  9. dltsrq

    dltsrq Grumpy Old Man

    Pliny the Younger reports attempted rescues by sea on the first day of the eruption. The infamous pyroclastic event seems to have occurred in the early morning hours of the second day. I remember a documentary film several years ago describing a mass of bodies found frozen in time, crowded onto the docks at Herculaneum.
    Pellinore likes this.
  10. Bart9349

    Bart9349 Junior Member

    Thank you for reading my post. I no longer believe those in Pompeii had much time to react and most people quickly died. Those in Herculaneum, however, had more time to flee and more people survived, but many seemed to have suffered the same fate.

    “Although located some 3 [more like 1-2] miles closer to Mount Vesuvius than Pompeii, the small wealthy seaside town of Herculaneum managed to dodge the majority of the ash and pumice fall from the first eruption, thanks to prevailing winds blowing the volcanic cloud southeast towards Pompeii and the surrounding area. The apocalyptic scene unfolding in front of their eyes, however, was enough to convince the majority of the citizens of Herculaneum to flee from their city. They were the wise ones, as Mount Vesuvius was far from done yet.”

    Last edited: Jun 22, 2021
    Limes likes this.
  11. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    A couple of things to note here:

    1. Pompeii is not a city "frozen in time", as the evidence of post eruption looting indicates, both in antiquity and modern times.

    2. The residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum had plenty of warning signs and time to flee. The paucity of human remains (only several hundred bodies recovered from Pompeii out of an estimated population of 10,000 - 20,000!) is evidence that either an increase in seismic or volcanic activity prior to the main eruption would certainly have been noticed by the local inhabitants.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2021
  12. Bart9349

    Bart9349 Junior Member

    Thank you for reading my post and responding to this thread:

    I will develop my theory that many thousands did die when I can find time to respond.

    Before I do, the excellent Professor Tuck of Classics from Miami University agrees with your point:

    “Public infrastructure projects that sprung up about this time, likely to accommodate the sudden influx of refugees, also provided clues about resettlement, Tuck said. That's because between 15,000 and 20,000 people lived in Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the majority of them survived Vesuvius' catastrophic eruption.“

    “One of the survivors, a man named Cornelius Fuscus later died in what the Romans called Asia (what is now Romania) on a military campaign. "They put up an inscription to him there," Tuck told Live Science. ‘They said he was from the colony of Pompeii, then he lived in Naples and then he joined the army.’”

    I assume neither you nor Professor Tuck live in a place like California where earthquakes and tremors are just a part of daily living:

    During 2020, California was shaken by 1 quake of magnitude 6.5, 12 quakes between 5.0 and 6.0, 101 quakes between 4.0 and 5.0, 903 quakes between 3.0 and 4.0, and 6794 quakes between 2.0 and 3.0. There were also 64561 quakes below magnitude 2.0 which people don't normally feel.

    Source: Earthquake Archive

    Living in such a setting as this, most of us have resigned ourselves to the fact “the Big One” will occur someday soon, but few of us are prepared for the aftermath and even fewer of us have escape plans.

    To be continued….
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2021
  13. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    I thought this sounded familiar.
    Bart9349 likes this.
  14. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    Volcanologist Haraldur Sigurdsson's ground breaking study of the volcanology of the 79 AD Vesuvian eruption has shown there was a minor ash fallout either the night before or in the early morning hours prior to the main event near midday. This certainly would have alerted the locals (along with the increasing tremors) that all was not well and would have given them ample time to act accordingly.


    This information along with the absence of thousands of human skeletal remains is strong evidence that the people living around Vesuvius had ample time to evacuate the area and indeed did so.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2021
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  15. Bart9349

    Bart9349 Junior Member

    Thank you for bringing up some interesting points. Here is my rebuttal.

    First, a little background information:

    There was a large earthquake in the region 17 years earlier in AD 62, devastating both Pompeii and Herculaneum. The ever-growing population, however, seemed to have little concern about a potential disaster, actively enjoying a diversified and thriving economy.

    Several days before that fateful eruption in AD 79, there had even been several small earthquakes, increasing in frequency as the days went on. Romans in this region, however, had become accustomed to such seismic activity and probably took little heed of these warnings.

    Now, a few thoughts:

    Although only 1500 bodies have been found in Pompeii and Herculaneum, this is almost certainly an underestimation of the number of deaths. Many thousands more of residents could’ve been pulverized by the explosive force of the eruption or vaporized by the later pyroclastic flow, leaving little or no remains to be examined or accounted for. The bones and plaster cast remains of those who died may have been just a small fraction of the total number of people who died from the eruption. The extreme temperatures of rocks and gas inside pyroclastic flows is estimated to be between 200°C and 700°C (390-1300°F). These would be unfavorable conditions to find identifiable remains.

    A more recent, but less powerful eruption of Vesuvius in 1631 resulted in more than 3000 (maybe more than six thousand) deaths. Several days before the destructive eruption, there had been increased seismic activity similar to the eruption of AD 79. I assume by the 1600s the people were aware of the dangers of Vesuvius. It’s hard to believe that fewer people would have died during the more powerful eruption of AD 79.

    Even the modern eruption in Mount St. Helens, Washington in 1980 resulted in 57 deaths. This modern eruption occurred in a more sparsely populated area. Also, there were two months of prior volcanic activity in the area, modern warning systems, and faster transportation to escape. Despite these advantages, the death toll was surprisingly high.

    The evidence that Professor Tuck presented in the above article, although interesting, is certainly not definitive. Noting, for example, that the inscription of the legionnaire Cornelius Fuscus was from Pompeii does not mean he survived the eruption of AD 79. He could have been on military campaign elsewhere or on vacation in Rome on that fateful day. Also, one would expect the inscription would have mentioned the fact that he survived one of the great cataclysms of the age.

    Herculaneum, although a couple miles closer to Vesuvius than Pompeii, had escaped the initial eruption’s ash and pumice fall because of prevailing winds. One would expect that all the inhabitants of Herculaneum would have had time to escape after witnessing and escaping this initial explosion. The archaeological evidence proves otherwise.

    Few historians take into account the probable tsunami that would typically be an aftermath of an eruption of this nature. (The eruption of Vesuvius in 1631 was followed by a Tsunami, for example.) This would further add to the deaths by drowning of escaping residents. Their bodies would be lost forever.

    Finally, only 3/4 of Pompeii and less than 1/3 of Herculaneum have been excavated so far. Who knows what future excavations in Pompeii and Herculaneum will reveal.

    Great discussion. I just believe many thousands more died as a result of Vesuvius in AD 79 than the mere 1500 victims whose remains we have found almost two thousand years later. Thank you, again, for your response .
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2021
    PeteB likes this.
  16. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    Of course there are many more victims to be found, after all the surrounding countryside has not been largely excavated. However, there is no evidence that people were 'pulverized', 'vaporized', or drowned in a tsunami.

    Please read Estelle Lazar's Resurrecting Pompeii concerning the skeletal evidence from Pompeii. You will see that much of the above conjecture is pure Hollywood fantasy.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2021
    Etcherman likes this.
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