Readers of Robert Harris’ thriller Pompeii might think they know a great deal about the devastating eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD but they will learn even more from the exhibition – Escape from Pompeii: the untold Roman rescue – currently at Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour (until 3 September & Fremantle from 22 September). Brought together by the Museum itself, this fascinating exhibition draws on the collections of some of Italy’s leading institutions; taking as its starting point the eye-witness account written by Pliny the Younger, nephew of Pliny the Elder, the unlikely commander of the Roman Navy’s fleet. The uncle ordered the fleet to sail on a rescue mission from its base across the Bay of Naples at Misenum directly into danger, towards Pompeii and Herculaneum. Huge waves of volcanic ash swept through Vesuvius while a few hours later a cloud of ash and debris collapsed onto Herculaneum killing the residents within seconds.
Many know of the effect on this catastrophe in preserving the two cities and the remains of their residents for 2000 years, but few would know of the Roman navy’s attempted evacuation or, indeed, of its important role, since its establishment by Augustus, in the success of the Roman Empire. All is made vividly clear in this splendid exhibition which is as entertaining as it is educational. Objects and inter-actives clearly demonstrate that by 74AD Rome controlled the entire Mediterranean, the only time in history.
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