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Ancient city

Ancient sources and archaeological evidence show how the development of the ancient town of Herculaneum was influenced by the various populations which settled in the area: the Osci, Etruscans, Greeks, Samnites and Romans. In fact, Herculaneum only became a Roman city in 89 BC. The remains of the town which can still be seen today mostly date to the Augustan period, when the city underwent an important phase of reconstruction and development. Herculaneum was rebuilt after the earthquake of AD 62 which had heavily damaged the city and this also had a significant impact.

The town enjoyed a favourable position on the sea and was situated on the coastal road from Pompeii to Neapolis (modern Naples) and the large commercial area of Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli). While Herculaneum was not the largest or most important town in the area, it did have prestigious monuments, a safe harbour and good fishing, and its hinterland was heavily cultivated, including grapes and olives grown on the slopes of Vesuvius.

The eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, which lies only 7km from Herculaneum, destroyed the town and the surrounding area, including Pompeii, Stabiae and Oplontis. Unlike Pompeii, which was buried by only a few metres of volcanic material, Herculaneum was hit by a hot cloud of gas and volcanic material at a temperature of over 400°C, which arrived at the town at a speed of over 70km per hour, killing the more than 300 people who had sought refuge on the ancient shoreline. The town was buried by successive surges and flows of volcanic material for a depth of between 9 and 21 metres.