Friday 10 July 2020


I was recently at the Moesgård Museum to see the exhibition on Vesuvius' eruption in October 79 AD. The exhibition is going round the world and is organised from the museums of Napoli, Herculaneum and Palermo. It is a bit of a stretch to get the Egadi ram into such an exhibition, maybe, but not one I would complain about! Especially as the exhibition also includes supplementary naval material to set the ram in context.

See intro vid HERE (Danish text)


The famous excavations and finds from the buried towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii need no introduction. The main thing for me was to see them in reality. The quality of the presentation was excellent in most respects and allows one to get close to the artefacts themselves.

After seeing the Pompeii it in books since I first became interested in archaeology and the classical world, it was great to see the most famous burnt toast in history....

The exhibition had some dioramas giving an idea of the towns as they were before the big bang. Very nice HO building projects. The work in these models illustrates the gulf that there should exist between gaming terrain and a museum diorama. I cannot see the point in using more time and money on the table rather than the models for gaming. 'Good enough' is the principle I follow...

There are some spectacular pieces illustrating the trading links of the towns, the layout of the town and the individual houses.

Reconstructed wall-painting

This cupboard makes one think about the vanished contents of ancient homes

An amazing bronze fountain in the form of a tree with serpents entwined on it which spouted water from their mouths.

A bunny ..and the famous statue of a peeing Hercules.....


Up to 16,000 people died in the few minutes it took for the town to be engulfed in a nuee ardente eruption. The people did not suffer - the details are available online if you care to look for them. Martinique suffered the same fate in modern times. (see HERE)

The exhibition includes some of the famous casts of hollows in the ash made in the nineteenth century which revealed the forms of some of the dead citizens. These are quite moving when one sees them in reality. Even more poignant are skeletons from the more recent discoveries made in a boathouse on the foreshore of Pompeii where many people died hiding from the ashfall. The skeletons of huddled townsfolk, a soldier in his military equipment and a mother with her children are pretty tough to see even though one knows they died 2000 years ago. I did not photograph any of these because it felt rather trivialising to do so.
A gravestone showing an earlier earthquake


Pliny the Elder was the uncle of the author of the famous correspondance. P the E wrote the famous encyclopedia of natural history - which included human achievements - as well as many other works now lost to us. The exhibition has a nice projected video presentation which shows how the eruptions happened and repeats the long-since debunked (150 years..), but romantic, story that P the E, who was prefect of the fleet at Misenum, led a valiant rescue mission across the bay of Naples to Pompeii but was overwhelmed by the eruption.

Pliny to the rescue! (with oars and sails together...)

All the exhibits are staged in areas made to look like the interiors of Pompei, the harbourside, in the streets of the town or even under the descending ash cloud. All very atmospheric.


There are two sets of nautical exhibits. One is the story of the towns' marine trade activity and the other is the Egadi ram and its supporting material.


There are many wall paintings in the better houses of the towns and these often include seaside or harbour scenes. Good use is made of these as projected backgrounds for the sea-trade exhibition.

Ships come and ago across the wall. It is just a pity some of them are a little strange. There is a series of panels illustrating different types of merchant and war- ship and these are ok if rather unspecific.

This never sailed anywhere..
The exhibits themselves are excellent. Amphorae,.Various scattered goods shown as they lay on the seabed for recovery by archaeologists. An anchor stock. Bronze vessels and other objects add up to a display of high quality without being overpowering.

How to cook at sea.. a ceramic charcoal burner.


Two things grate with me about the exhibition. Two things which are hard to get away from in today's museums.

Visitors today are not expected to want to know anything beyond all but the most basic information about exhibits. A memorial inscription for a naval officer is here.... but without a translation. Famous mural fragments are shown, again without much information or explanation. I think the supposed dumbing-down of the public is also a function of reduced expectations by museums.OK we should buy the expensive book of the exhibition but isn't the job of the museum to inform? Educate even ? - while we are in the museum, not reading a book at home.
At least, with a travelling exhibition one can excuse the modern trend for omission of aquisition numbers or precise find locations.

Second, is the disease of today's humanities. References to defunct modern concepts of multiculture and globalism do not belong in discussion of the Roman world. The Romans did not go into the world seeking to be absorbed and enchanted  by all the quaint local tribes and customs they encountered. THEY CONQUERED THEM ! They tolerated local and personal custom and religion but to get on in the Roman Empire you had to adopt the prevailing customes and mores. ASK THE JEWS! ASK THE EARLY CHRISTIANS ! The empire plastered baths complexes all the way from mountain tops in Cumbria to the deserts of Arabia. Roman military boots trod in the faces of Scots, Mauretanians and Armenians. They made no distinction if you went against the status quo. Tolerance was in short supply. Lucan died for quoting Nero whilst on the bog for goodeness sake! The confusion between globalism and imperialism would be laughable if it was not so disingenuously done. Well, in Roman times everyone got along from one end of the globe to the other, surely we can do so again ? Pilae!

Tiffin break !

The maritime Pars Secunda...

Monday 6 July 2020

Fast Falls the Eventide...

Coming soon. To a blog near you.