A Programme on BBC1 About Pompeii

An aside, for a change from political shenanigans.

Regular readers might know about my interest in Pompeii. Pompeii was a town in Italy which was buried by an eruption of the volcano, Vesuvius, in AD 79. I visited Pompeii a few years ago, but it was only a day trip from the cruise which we went on where my granddaughter was married by the ship’s Captain. (Very posh!). In fact, we could only spend half a day looking round, which was far, far too short to do Pompeii justice.

When I saw that BBC1 was transmitting a programme about Pompeii at 9 pm this evening, I determined to watch it, come what may (aka objections from herself, but, in the event, she did not object and watched it with interest).

I was somewhat disappointed. The presenter was somewhat frivolous. She took the opportunity to introduce a certain amount of feminism and anti-slavery stuff. She said that there had been big scientific break-throughs, but these break-throughs were hardly worth mentioning. What they amounted to was the discovery, using a ‘magnetic resonance imaging machine’ (?), that some of the dead bodies uncovered were younger than first thought. For example, a body thought to be an old beggar was suggested to be a young, well-off man. Also, the technique seemed to suggest that one child, which was thought to be related to the people that it was near when it died, was not so related. So what?

What I had hoped for and expected was tour through some of the villas which the wealthier inhabitants of Pompeii owned. When we visited, those villas were closed to the public. You can understand why that is (thousands of people traipsing about would do them no good), but it is interesting to observe that the town brothel was not so precious. We were permitted to pass through it, and see the ancient pictures on the walls depicting various forms of intercourse, and the cubicles where the ‘clients’ were entertained. The presenter said that the prostitutes were slave-girls, and they may have been, but, as far as my readings about Pompeii is concerned, there is no evidence that they were. She also said that the wealthier inhabitants would not have frequented the brothels because they had their own slave-girls to satisfy their needs. Again, no evidence from Pompeii that that was true.

The presenter was pictured inside some of the villas, but only spasmodically. One was ‘The House of Julia Felix’ (‘Felix means much the same as ‘lucky’ of ‘fortunate’). The presenter implied that a lot was known about Julia Felix, but the reality is that absolutely nothing is know about her. Nothing.

One curious thing, which the presenter mentioned, is that Pompeii used to be a seaside resort. Now it is two kilometres away from the Mediterranean sea. Either the sea has shrunk or the land has risen, or both. 2,000 years is a split second in geological time. It might have been worth exploring that fact more closely.

As I see it, the programme was not even of much help to people who have never had any interest in Pompeii or what life was like 2000 years ago. But there are indications of what life was like which come from the most unlikely sources. Those sources are graffiti. It seems that the population were at least sufficiently literate to scrape messages on the walls of the town. For example, there were messages like, “Vote for X – he is a good man”, and, “Don’t vote for Y – he is a scoundrel”. Sounds much the same as our MSM today, do you not think?

I would like to have seen a proper tour around a couple of the villas. Even on the net, as far as I can see, there is no such tour. There are only isolated pictures, even though there are plenty of them. All the villas were designed on much the same architectural principles of the day. Now is not the time to go into detail. Suffice to say that buildings were designed so that the inhabitants spent most of their time in sheltered outdoors.  This is hard for us to imagine. It is like having your living room with the exterior wall removed. Imagine a big wall around your property with a small gateway, a walk through a garden area and then walking into the wide-open living room. One can only assume that the climate in those days was extremely temperate, even in winter. Maybe that was the reason that Pompeii was so close to the sea. Maybe the global temperature was much higher than today, and that the polar icecaps had melted somewhat. Who knows? What is very obvious is that the climate change advocates must be charlatans since such evidence of retreating sea levels since Pompeii was excavated cannot be ignored. But there is always the possibility that the subterainian pressure of the chamber below Mount Vesuvius has forced the surrounding lands up higher. Who knows? It ought to be possible to calculate such events by reference to other seaside places nearby.

But real ‘scientists’ are excluded. Only emotion is presented. For example, the presenter said that there was a new discovery at ‘The House of Julia Felix’ which was, in effect, a series of dungeons below ground where slaves lived. It would have been nice if she had presented evidence that such was the case in the form of pictures of preserved mattresses and such. Not every room or place was filled with lava or dust.


It is sad that Pompeii was raided to some extent long before excavations began in the 1700s. The raiders were, presumably, looking for valuables. But what was worse was that the benign efforts to excavate in the 1700s caused more problems than leaving Pompeii buried. The structures revealed by the excavations at that time rapidly deteriorated in the weather since the excavators were not interested in preservation. Even if they were not specifically  intent upon grabbing treasure, the excavators made little attempt to conserve what they had dug out. (Personally, I think that all they were interested in was finding treasure) The site was excavated and then abandoned for decades.

But there are also villas which were outside Pompeii – out in the countryside. There are images on the walls which suggest some weird practices.


I would absolutely love to go to Pompeii again for several days, but such a visit would be pointless without access to the villas. Here are images from ‘The House of Julia Felix’:


My eldest daughter’s name is Julia. I love the name ‘Julia’. I also love the names ‘Nicola’ and ‘Andrea’. I suppose that my classical education is the reason that I do so. There is something heroic about those names. I don’t know why.

Perhaps you can see why I was disappointed by the BBC programme. It was on for an hour, and made much of the fact that there was an amphitheatre where ‘games’ took place. It ignored the fact that such games in Pompeii were banned by Emperor Nero for ten years because of fan troubles which resulted in several deaths. Imagine what would happen if ManU’s ground was shut down for ten years by decree because there was a riot outside the ground after a match in which a couple of fans were killed.


The craziness of the modern world is the assumption that bans will ‘cure’ the problem. For example, it is assumed that a sugar tax will stop fatties eating too many burgers and chips.


If there is a lesson to be learnt from Pompeii, it is that we are all doomed. That lesson might be unpalatable to Cameron et al, but it is true. We are all doomed.

But that does not means that we cannot enjoy our lives, and look forward to Eternity. Even D Cameron is doomed. His slick hairstyle will not save him.


The critical thing about Pompeii is that it froze the moment, horrible that it might have been at the time. It was shameful for the BBC to feminise it.



7 Responses to “A Programme on BBC1 About Pompeii”

  1. michaeljmcfadden Says:

    If this image of Julia’s house is accurate she must have been pretty wealthy! See: http://www.mmdtkw.org/ALRIVes0713JuliaFelixHouse.jpg

    – MJM

    • junican Says:

      It seems that the Julia Felix House was quite a big complex with shops,bars and stuff. Perhaps Julia was not so much ‘felix’ as canny.

  2. Rose Says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Junican.

    I saw the programme and was very irritated by all the speculations created from taking an entirely modern perspective.
    There was an entirely different interpretation possible for every “secret” that was supposedly exposed.

    For instance, dungeons for slaves? Looks more like cold storage to me.
    From Cornish Fogous to ice houses, until the advent of refrigeration we have always had the same problem.
    I thought the holes in the roof were a dead give away, that’s how ice houses were filled, from the top.

    How did they keep cool in summers of old? They used ice taken from ponds and rivers in winter and stored in underground chambers, writes Sophie Campbell.

    “At least 2,500 ice houses of various types still exist in Britain. The first recorded example in this country, according to Elizabeth David, was a snow pit built for James I in Greenwich in 1619. This was pitifully late: the Chinese had been using snow and ice for millennia; the Turks had long had ice houses; the Persians built shade walls for making ice – and ziggurats in which to store it. The Italians and French, too, got going miles before we did – the Sicilians even had a niche market in snow banditry, attacking shipments coming down from Mount Etna.”

    “However, being open at both ends, a fogou could provide ideal conditions for food storage, especially the drying of meat or storage of dairy products such as milk, butter and cheese where natural moulds would assist in preservation of perishable foodstuffs. Ashpits found at Trewardreva and in the circular side-chamber at Carn Euny were probably for preserving gulls’ eggs, as was done on Saint Kilda in Scotland. A layer of black greasy mould with charcoal, animals and bird bones at Treveneague is also very suggestive of food storage.

    Diodorus Siculus stated that Iron Age people in Britain stored their grain in “underground repositories”, adding contemporary evidence to the speculation that they were mainly used for food storage.”

    • junican Says:

      I noticed the holes without giving them much thought. They would not be there if they did not have some purpose. Well spotted!
      What I dispute is that slaves were ill-treated. I’m not sure, but I am reasonably confident that some of the top people in Rome had many slaves. How would those top people be viewed if the had ragged, starving, unkempt slaves carrying them to the Senate? Also, if slaves were employed to row ships, would it not be in the interests of the ship owners to ensure that they were fit and reasonably fed?
      There is evidence from Pompeii that slaves and citizens were sheltering together when they were overcome by heat – a pyroclastic flow of super-heated water vapour (steam) mixed with dust, for lack of a better word. Bones of victims only recently discovered suggest that it was heat which killed them and not gasses.
      But what really, really annoyed me was the politicisation of the programme. There was no need.

      • Rose Says:

        Imagine the difficulties of having to carry ice blocks down steps and through corridors, then piling them up from the bottom, if, as reported, Julius Caesar was drinking wine cooled with snow in Rome, the customers at the house of Julia Felix would expect no less.

        But yes, the politicisation of an interesting subject was very annoying.

  3. Radical Rodent Says:

    An interest I, too, share with you. I visited Pompeii a couple of years ago, but the day was so hot, all I really wanted was air-con. I did drag myself around the place, and it was utterly fascinating; next time, I will go when it is cooler, as much of what I saw did not sink in. My recollection is already very hazy.

    Perhaps more interesting is the nearby Herculaneum. This was buried deeper, and with a different material (details escape me, now), but the preservation of materials is even better than at Pompeii. It has not been as extensively dug out; work is still in progress. However, my visit there was also ruined by oppressive heat.

    What you say about the climate of the day is also interesting – until climastrology got hold of it, the Roman Warm Period was acknowledged as warmer than present; now, it is denied. Curious.

    Will the BBC ever learn that trying to bend facts to their own particular mind-set is a good way of putting people off? Give us facts, Auntie, and keep your opinions to yourself.

    • junican Says:

      My daughters ‘did’ both Herculanium and Pompeii on a holiday – not on the same day! I think that the difference between the burying of Pompeii and Herculanium was that P was buried in loose bits of pumice stone whereas H was buried in lava. But I don’t know for sure. Lava makes no sense since it would pushed building over. I do not know. But I know that Herculanium was better preserved. Perhaps that was because the excavators were more aware of the idea of preservation for the future.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: