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2,000 Years ago, the Roman Empire, the greatest empire the world has ever known, was shaken to its
core by the worst natural disaster to strike the ancient world.
to the/its/etc core: so that the whole of a thing or a person is affected

Casts of victims buried in the ash preserve their dying moments.

cast: an object that is made by pouring hot liquid metal, etc. into a MOULD (= a specially shaped

Pompeii lies in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

in/under the shadow of: very close to

But this volcano has been quiet for over 1,500 years.

Minor earth tremors plague the city.

(earth) tremor: a small earthquake in which the ground shakes slightly

They're one of the signs that Vesuvius is stirring.

stir: awaken

The land around Pompeii is fertile, rich with minerals spewed out by the volcano thousands of years
spew (out): stir: to flow out quickly, or to make sth flow ojut quickly, in large amounts

Deep beneath the ground, through a weak spot in the earth's crust, molten rock, or magma, has been
crust: a hard layer or surface, especially above or around sth soft or liquid
molten: heated to a very high temperature so that it becomes liquid
magma: very hot liquid rock found below the earth’s surface

A thick plug of rock in the neck of the volcano blocks its exit.

As the underground pool of magma grows, so the explosive pressure mounts.

The land swells and earth tremors become more frequent.

swell: to become bigger or rounder; to curve out

Around 1:00 p.m. on August 24, A.D. 79, Vesuvius roars back to life.
AD / A.D.: used in the Christian calendar to show a particular number of years since the year when
Christ was believed to have been born (from Latin ‘Anno Domini’)
BC / B.C.: used in the Christian calendar to show a particular number of years before the year when
Christ is believed to have been born

Trapped in a super-heated pressure cauldron for 1,500 years, the molten rock has turned not to lava,
but to foam.
cauldron: a large deep pot for boiling liquids or cooking food over a fire
foam: a mass of very small air bubbles on the surface of a liquid

Ejected at supersonic speed, it forms a churning column that rises into the sky.
churning: moving around violently

Just minutes after the eruption, the column of super-heated rock and gas has climbed 15km into the


The top of the column loses its upward thrust as it climbs and then crawls across the sky.
thrust: a sudden strong movement that pushes sth/sb forward
crawl: to move forward very slowly
Propelled high into the atmosphere, the boiling rock mixes with air, cools, solidifies, and then begins to
propel: to move, drive, or push sth forward or in a particular direction
solifify: to become solid

It takes about half an hour for the fallout to reach Pompeii.

fallout: dangerous (radioactive) dust that is in the air after a (radioactive) explosion

Cooled, but still full of air, the magma has formed pumice stones.
magma: very hot liquid rock found below the earth’s surface

Cold, dense rocks have been torn from the inside of the volcano.
tear tore torn: remove sth from sth else by pulling it roughly or violently

Falling at 200 kmph, they strike with deadly force.

By mid-afternoon, Vesuvius has already thrown over 100 million tons of pumice and ash on Pompeii.
pumice: a type of grey stone that come from volcanoes and is very light in weight. It is used in powder
form for cleaning and polishing, and in pieces for rubbing on the skin to make it softer.

Pumice continues to bombard the city.

The weight of pumice on balconies and roofs creates a new danger.


As the pumice continues to fall, it blocks doorways, trapping those sheltering inside.

The pumice and ash suck moisture from the air, parching the throat and mouth.
ash: the grey or black powder that is left after sth, especially tobacco, wood or coal, has burnt
parch: make dry

Now heavier with denser rock, part of the column collapsed and cascaded down the mountain in a
great wave.
collapse: to fall down or fall in suddenly, often after breaking apart
cascade: to flow downwards in large amlounts

Super-heated ash and molten rock churned down the volcano in a racing, burning avalanche.
avalanche: a mass of snow, ice and rock that falls down the side of a mountain


It’s now known as a pyroclastic surge.

pyroclastic surge: a fluidized mass of turbulent gas and rock fragments which is ejected during some
volcanic eruptions. It is similar to a pyroclastic flow but contains a much higher proportion of gas to
rock, which makes it more turbulent and allows it to rise over ridges and hills rather than always travel
downhill as pyroclastic flows do

This blistering wave headed straight towards Herculaneum and the people on the beach.
blistering: extremely hot in a way that is uncomfortable

Five times hotter than boiling water, this cloud of gas and ash incinerates everything and everyone in
its path.
incinerate: to burn sth until it is completely destroyed

The searing heat is so intense, death is instantaneous.

searing: so strong that it seems to burn you
The people on the beach do not just burn, they turn to charcoal.
charcoal: a black substance made by burning wood slowly in an oven with little air. Charcoal is used as
a fuel or for drawing.
People died from thermal shock
thermal shock: name given to cracking as a result of rapid temperature change. Glass and ceramic
objects are particularly vulnerable to this form of failure, due to their low toughness, low thermal
conductivity, and high thermal expansion coefficients. However, they are used in many high
temperature applications due to their high melting point
As the boiling surge cloud settled on their bodies, their soft tissues vaporized.
vaporize: to turn into gas
soft tissue: the parts of the body that are not bone, for example the skin and muscles

Teeth and bone shattered like fragile glass under boiling water.
shatter: to suddenly break into small pieces

Their brains boiled, then exploded.

When the eruption finally stopped, Herculaneum and its victims lay buried under 25 meters of volcanic
debris /də'bri:/(AmE); /'debri:, 'deɪbri:/(BrE): pieces of wood, metal, brick, etc. that are left after
sth has been destroyed.

Pompeii faces a similar fate.

But in the early hours of the morning, it's still the falling pumice that causes the most distress.
distress: a feeling of great worry or unhappiness; great suffering.

This massive earthquake signals another deadly change in the eruption.

earthquake: a sudden, violent shaking of the earth’s surface

At the heart of the volcano the magma chamber has collapsed.

magma chamber: a large underground pool of molten rock found beneath the surface of the Earth.
The molten rock in such a chamber is under great pressure, and given enough time, that pressure can
gradually fracture the rock around it creating outlets for the magma. If it finds a way to the surface,
then the result will be a volcanic eruption; consequently many volcanoes are situated over magma

It triggers another pyroclastic surge.

trigger: to make sth happen suddenly

This time it heads straight for Pompeii.

head for: go toward

Miraculously, the surge cloud runs out of energy just short of the northern wall.

The city is spared.

spare: to allow sb/sth to escape harm, damage or death, especially when others do not escape it

But a cloud of toxic gas carried by the surge quickly spreads through the streets and houses.

Carbon dioxide, suffocating and deadly.

carbon dioxide (CO2): a gas breathed out b y people and animals from the lungs or produced by
burning carbon
suffocating: making it difficult to breathe normally
Hydrogen chloride and acid that burns the eyes and throat.
hydrogen chloride (HCl): a colorless, fuming, corrosive, suffocating gas, used in the manufacture of

They form a lethal cocktail.

From the side of the column, a blistering wave of ash and rock explodes.

Scorching and smashing everything in its path, it hurtles downwards.

scorch: to burn and slightly damage a surface by making it too hot.
hurtle: to move very fast in a particular direction

Nothing else that comes from a volcano is so hot or moves with such devastating power.

Traveling at more than 100kmph, it will take just a few minutes for the pyroclastic surge to reach


Death for the people of Pompeii was not instantaneous.

The first breath inhales hot gas and ash, causing the lungs to fill with fluid.
inhale: to take air, smoke, gas, etc. into your lungs as you breathe

It’s like swallowing fire.

The second breath mixes ash with the fluid, creating a wet cement in the lungs and windpipe.
windpipe: the tube in the throat that carries air to the lungs (syn. trachea)

The third breath thickens the cement, causing the victims to gasp for breath and suffocate.
thicken: to become thicker
gasp for breath: to have difficulty breathing
suffocate: to die because there is no air to breathe; to kill sb by not letting them breathe air
drown: to die because you have been underwater too long and you cannot breathe; to kill sb in this

But Vesuvius has one final horror to unleash.

unleash: to suddenly let a strong force, emotion, etc. to be felt or have an effect.

After 18 hours of eruption, the bottom section of the column collapses spectacularly.

The final and greatest surge travels right across the bay of Naples in a black cloud of death.

The final surge kills thousands who had fled into the countryside.
flee fled fled: to leave a person or place very quickly, especially because you are afraid of possible


Pliny's description of the surge clouds that swept from Vesuvius were so bizarre, it was not believed.
sweep swept swept: (of weather, fire, etc.) to move suddenly and/or with force over an area or in a
particular direction

Only in recent years has science vindicated him.

vindicate: to prove that sth is true or that you were right to do sth. especially when other people had a
different opinion

We now know that these explosive volcanic events can happen just as he described.

They're known as Plinian eruptions.

Plinian eruption: Also known as 'Vesuvian eruptions', are volcanic eruptions marked by their similarity
to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 (as described in a letter written by Pliny the Younger, and
which killed his uncle Pliny the Elder). Plinian eruptions are marked by columns of gas and volcanic ash
extending high into the stratosphere, a high layer of the atmosphere. The key characteristics are
ejection of large amount of pumice and very powerful continuous gas blast eruptions.

In just 18 hours, Vesuvius spewed out more than 10 billion tons of pumice, rock, and ash.
spew: to flow out quickly, or to make sth flow out quickly, in large amounts.

A rescue attempt was launched from Rome, but the devastation was simply too great.

The ash had formed a seal around the city like a time capsule, preserving temples, shops, streets, and
seal: a substance, strip of material, etc. used to fill a crack so that air, liquid, etc. cannot get in or out

But most poignant of all are the casts – victims whose bodies decayed, leaving only their shapes
preserved in the ash that smothered them.
poignant: having a strong effect on your feelings, especially in a way that makes you feel sad
smother: to cover sth/sb thickly or with too much of sth

Mount Vesuvius still dominates the bay of Naples.

dominate: to be the largest, or most obvious thing in a place

Vesuvius has never again erupted with the same apocalyptic force as on that hot summer's day in A.D.
erupt: when a volcano erupts or burning rocks, smoke, etc. erupt or are erupted, the burning rocks, etc.
are thrown out from the volcano.
apocalyptic: describing very serious damage and destruction in past or future events; like the end of
the world

According to the experts, Plinian eruptions of this scale only happen every 2,000 years.

The next one is due.