Pompeii – Italy

Historical Significance

Pompeii was founded in the late 7th Century BC by the Oscan tribe – a native Italian people.  Apparently built for defensive purposes, the Oscans selected the area due to the steep volcanic slopes.  

Within a century or so, the Greeks occupied the area.  The Etruscans in turn, followed them. Their dominance only lasted from 524 BC till 474 BC.  The Etruscans were defeated in a naval engagement by the more native Cumeans and Syracusans not too far from Pompeii.  Control for a while reverted back to the Greeks as a result. It was around this point that the city began to expand.

It wasn’t too long before the Samnite people moved into the region.  By 424 BC, they had wrestled most of the control of the area away from the Greeks.  The Samnites viewed Rome as a threat and began to further fortify Pompeii. For the next three centuries the city flourished under Samnite control and became a center of trade and commerce.

In 90 BC, Pompeii joined with other Samnite towns and fought the Marsic War (a.k.a., the Social War) against Rome.  In 312 BC, the Romans had first constructed the Appian Way to enable its troops to move against the Samnites. So, the Samnites were traditional adversaries of the Romans.  Eventually, Rome laid siege to Pompeii and secured the city for itself in 80 BC. It remained that way until the Mount Vesuvius catastrophe of 79 AD.  

The material produced by Vesuvius covered Pompeii fully.  As such, it served as a great preservative in keeping structures and their contents relatively in tact.  Even, the bodies of those killed were kept in a certain state of preservation – at least with respect to their shapes.  At the same time, because the area was so thoroughly filled in – it was only a few generations before the location of the city (and to some extent, its existence) was lost to the people of the area.

It would be another 1500 years before Pompeii was located again. In 1595, excavations began primarily motivated by a desire to find artifacts.  Who knows how much might have been looted from the site. Formal archaeological work didn’t begin until the mid 1800’s.  

Scriptural Significance

Pompeii’s Scriptural Significance is two-fold.  The first has to do with who died here during the Vesuvius eruption.  Josephus writes in his Antiquities that the son of Felix and Drusilla perished here.  His name is given as Agrippa and it would seem that his wife also was killed during the event.

But for the marriage of Drusilla with Azizus, it was in no long time afterward dissolved upon the following occasion: While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla, and fell in love with her; for she did indeed exceed all other women in beauty; and he sent to her a person whose name was Simon one of his friends; a Jew he was, and by birth a Cypriot, and one who pretended to be a magician, and endeavored to persuade her to forsake her present husband, and marry him; and promised, that if she would not refuse him, he would make her a happy woman. Accordingly she acted ill, and because she was desirous to avoid her sister Bernice’s envy, for she was very ill treated by her on account of her beauty, was prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry Felix; and when he had had a son by her, he named him Agrippa. But after what manner that young man, with his wife, perished at the conflagration of the mountain Vesuvius, in the days of Titus Caesar, shall be related hereafter.

Josephus, Antiquities; Book XX, Chapter 7, Verse 2

Felix was the Roman Governor in Judea @ 57 AD who heard Paul’s defense at Caesarea Maritima as recorded in Acts 24.  His wife, Drusilla, also was present during the trial:

But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.” So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him. And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him. But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.

Acts 24: 22 – 27

The second way in which Pompeii’s Scriptural significance can be seen has to do with the public immorality on display at the time.  Experts have determined that there were at least 25 brothels or ‘lupinare’ in the city.  ‘Lenos’ (i.e., those who bought the girls from the slave market) managed the brothels.  Many of these were from parts due East (chiefly, Greece).  Often, there were paintings of graffiti depicting the particular sexual acts the prostitutes specialized in.  The customer would then select the type of activity they wanted by pointing to the picture. In Pompeii, at least 120 such paintings have been found – including the oldest depiction of lesbian activity in antiquity.  There are also other depictions of homosexuality and group escapades.

This brings to life the world Paul was writing to and about in his letter to the Romans:

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.

Romans 1: 24 – 28