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Survivors of ancient Vesuvius eruption focus of Sienkewicz Lecture

Barry McNamara
09/18/2019
MONMOUTH, Ill. – The eruption of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD is believed to have killed around 2,000 residents of the city of Pompeii, among its overall toll of as many as 16,000 who succumbed to the deadly lava and ash.

But what about those who survived the horrific natural disaster?

Steven Tuck, a professor of classics at Miami (Ohio) University, will answer that question when he delivers Monmouth College’s third annual Thomas J. and Anne W. Sienkewicz Lecture on Roman Archaeology.

Tuck will present the lecture at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 in the Pattee Auditorium on the lower level of the College’s Center for Science and Business. Titled “Where Did the Pompeians Go? Searching for Survivors from the Eruption of Vesuvius, AD 79,” his talk is free and open to the public.

“The goal of this project is to attempt to answer definitely whether people from Pompeii and Herculaneum survived the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 and, if so, whether survivors can be located in the Roman world,” said Tuck.

Tuck’s work will be published this year under the title “Harbors of Refuge: Post-Vesuvian Population Shifts in Italian Harbor Communities” in the journal Analecta Romana. It has already been profiled in several other publications, including Forbes and Archaeology.

After creating eight categories of evidence that might indicate refugee resettlement – including individuals whose movement is documented, Roman family names, voting tribes, refugee intermarriage, new infrastructure and cultural evidence – Tuck created databases of family names from Pompeii, Herculaneum and other prospective refuge cities. Analysis of the material across the eight categories found that the coastal communities of Cumae, Naples, Puteoli and Ostia provide the best support for refugee resettlement.

“For example, at Cumae, two members of the Sulpicius family recorded at Pompeii late in the life of the city died at Cumae in the late first century,” said Tuck. “They were joined there by members of the Pompeian branches of the Licinii and Lucretii, who intermarried in the new city.”

Tuck said the patterns indicate that more people survived from Pompeii than from Herculaneum, that most stayed in coastal Campania, and that government intervention and support came after resettlement, but it did not drive it.

The author of A History of Roman Art and many articles and chapters on Roman art, especially Roman sculpture, Tuck also publishes on Latin epigraphy and on spectacle entertainments in the Roman world. He has received nine honors for undergraduate teaching, including the Archaeological Institute of America Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award. Tuck earned his doctorate in classical art and archaeology from the University of Michigan.

The Sienkewicz Lecture series was created last year by an anonymous donor to honor longtime Monmouth classics professor Tom Sienkewicz and his wife, Anne.

“The generous donor who has endowed the Sienkewicz Lecture series has allowed Monmouth to bring in some of the most prominent Roman archaeologists in the field to share their fascinating research,” said Monmouth classics professor Bob Simmons, who succeeded Sienkewicz as chair of the department.

Sienkewicz was the Monmouth Minnie Billings Capron Chair of Classics from 1985-2017. During his first year on the faculty, he founded the Western Illinois Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, which has hosted scores of archaeological lectures on campus. From 2012-17, Sienkewicz served the Classical Association of the Middle West and South as its chief executive and financial officer.

Anne Sienkewicz has been a loyal supporter of archaeology and over the years has hosted countless speakers.