Pompeii: Lost for 1,684 Years or Known through the Ages?

A popular notion has entrenched itself in the minds of the general public. The notion is that the city of Pompeii in Italy was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD, and that its location was lost until the 18th century. The other cities which were reportedly destroyed alongside Pompeii were Herculaneum, Stabiae, Oplontis, and Villa Boscoreale. In this article, I address some issues pertaining to the aforementioned notion.

There are six pieces of evidence which I show below that raise issues with the idea that Pompeii was lost in 79 AD and rediscovered in 1763. They are; the Peutinger Table, Leone’s Map of 1514, Ligorio’s Map of 1570, Lafreri’s Map of 1575, Cluver’s Map of 1603, and Mascolo’s Record of 1633. My final conclusion is that the popular (official) narrative is not accurate.


“Rediscovering” Pompeii

“During a period of 1669 years Pompeii remained buried and entirely forgotten, not withstanding that its site, probably ever since its destruction, had always borne the name of Civita, or the City. … Ruins were also discovered in 1689, and even an inscription with the name of POMPEI; but these indications were disregarded like the former.”
Thomas H. Dyer, Pompeii: Its History, Buildings, and Antiquities[1, p.47]

The book quoted above was published in 1867. It reports that Pompeii had been given the name of “the City” probably since the time it was destroyed. Further on, it reports that even after the ruins were rediscovered during the 17th century, it was not yet identified as Pompeii. The following quote reports on haphazard excavations and a misidentification of Pompeii as Stabiae.

“1740: Originally thought to be the city of Stabiae, it was later discovered that the buried city was Pompeii. The city was crudely plundered after excavations began. For decades, there was no attempt to record or preserve the site and countless objects were destroyed. The finest frescoes and artifacts went into the royal collection, which is currently housed in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.”
Arizona Science Center and California Science Center

“For 1676 years Pompeii remained buried under ashes. The first indication of ruins were observed in 1689, but the excavations did not commence till 1755.”
William Clarke, Pompeii., page 62

In 1763, eight years after the excavations began, inscriptions were located that prompted officials to declare the location as the lost city of Pompeii. This city has tremendously impacted historical studies because of the pristine condition in which it had been preserved. Herculaneum was officially rediscovered in 1711, and Stabiae in 1749.


When was Pompeii “Lost”?

1 – The Peutinger Table

The Peutinger Table shows the locations of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. There were multiple owners of the map prior to the 18th century, and copies were dispersed to Germany, France, and Switzerland. Although the Table can only be traced with certainty to 1508 when Konrad Celtes bequeathed the map to Konrad Peutinger, it is believed to have been made in the 13th century. If this date of creation is correct, and if everyone who viewed the Table didn’t notice the three cities, then we may believe that the last person who knew their locations lived in the 13th century. The following quote reports that between the publication of the Table and the official rediscovery of the cities is when they fell into obscurity and were lost.

“In between the publication of this map (the Peutinger Table) and the early 18th century when Herculaneum and Pompeii were re-discovered and identified correctly as such, the ancient Campanian towns fell into oblivion and the area which lied over the buried Pompeii came to be called ‘la Civita’.”
Marcel Brion, Pompeii and Herculaneum: The Glory and the Grief, page 39

Pompeia and Herculaneum on the Peutinger Table.

The above quote supports this article’s first quote; being that Pompeii was only known as “the City” during its slumber under the ashes. This notion faces issues when confronted with other evidence.

2 – Leone’s Map of 1514

Ambrogio Leone published De Nola opusculum: distinctum, plenum, clarum, doctum, pulcrum, verum, graue, varium, & utile in 1514. The book contains information about Nola, Italy, its history, description, and more. In it is a map which depicts many cities, among which are Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae [3].

Pompeii, Stabiae, and Herculaneum on Leone’s Map of 1514.

3 – Ligorio’s Map of 1570

Pirro Ligorio‘s map of 1570, Regnum Neapolitanum, depicts Pompeii. This map appeared in what is commonly known today as the “First Modern Atlas”, Abraham OrteliusTheatrum Orbis Terrarum. Unless Ortelius overlooked the name of the city, I believe he also saw and knew the location of Pompeii, raising the number of people with this knowledge (based on this article so far) to four.

Pompeia on Ligorio’s Map of 1570.

4 – Lafreri’s Map of 1575

There are two versions of this map. Antonio Lafreri made a map titled Regno di Napoli which was published in 1575. There are two versions of this map. One version [4] names Pompei, while the other version [5] names the same location as Popei.

M. Vesuvio and Pompei [4]
M. Vesuvius and Popei [5]

5 – Cluver’s Map of 1603

Philipp Clüver published Italia Antiqva in 1603 [6]. It shows the location of Pompeii directly south of Nola, and southeast of Napoli. Once more showing the location of Pompeii during a time when allegedly nobody knew of its location.

Cluver’s Map of 1603

6 – Mascolo’s Record of 1633

Giovonni Battista Mascolo lived from 1582 to 1656. He recorded Vesuvius’ eruption of 1631 in two parts; before and after [7]. The images appear to be from the north of Vesuvius, as Herculaneum is named and then Pompeii further back. Beyond Pompeii, it looks to me like Scafati is named.

Pompeii and Herculaneum are both depicted as built cities, not lost or destroyed. Mascolo writes in his book, “…Everything on the way was swept away by this storm and the fire whirl. Stocks and flocks were drawn and scattered around, fields, woods, huts, houses, towers were destroyed and thrown about. Two of these fire flows were very quick, one of them vigorously ran down to Herculaneum, the other one ran to Pompeii (the cities once recovered from the ashes, I do not know if they will be alive again)… And about Herculaneum and Pompeii (this is how I call both the ancient city and the one next to it) I will tell you a little bit later.”

He indicates that the cities were alive at the time of the 1631 destruction when he comments on how he does “not know if they will be alive again”. I believe this is evidence that supports the idea that the authors of the maps above were not drawing solely on the “ancient” records, but that they knew the location because it was a living city that had not been lost or destroyed yet.

Mascolo writes later in the book, “What to tell about Pompeii?… Now, on the contrary, it was not only horrified by the roaring bicorn Vesuvius but was buried without a splendid burial procession under the ashes, and there is probably not [even one] eyewitness of this misery left from the city of Annunciate, as its called now . And such a great disaster did not happen during Nero when [the city] was damaged by an earthquake and when during a theatrical performance a casual argument between Nucerians and Pompeians became the reason for a bloody wrangle, first with stones and then with knives. And now the Pompeii itself looks really miserable…”

I think the above passage reveals evidence that the chronology of Pompeii being called Pompeii prior to its destruction and then after its destruction being called the City may be correct. It has been called the City, the city of Annunciate, and the Fabulous Cities (Pompeii and Herculaneum). All-in-all, the name was never fully lost.


The cities may have been lost for some throughout the ages but there have been people throughout the ages that knew and spread the names and locations of the cities in question. The above evidence shows that the names and locations were known at least as early as the 16th-17th centuries. To logically maintain the notion that they were lost between 79 AD and their official rediscovery in the 18th century cannot be done without ignoring the evidence presented above.



[1] – Dyer, Thomas Henry. “Pompeii : its history, buildings, and antiquities, an account of the destruction of the city, with a full description of the remains, and of the recent excavations, and also an itinerary for visitors” (1868). https://archive.org/details/pompeiiitshistor00dyeriala/page/n8. Accessed 2 Nov. 2019.

[2] – https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3200m.gct00126/?sp=84&r=-0.339,0,1.677,0.667,0. Accessed 2 Nov. 2019.

3 – Ambrosio, Leone. “De Nola opusculum : distinctum, plenum, clarum, doctum, pulcrum, verum, graue, varium, & utile” (1514). https://archive.org/details/denolaopusculumd00leon/page/n13. Accessed 2 Nov. 2019.

4 – http://www.pompeiiinpictures.com/pompeiiinpictures/Maps/Plan%20Regno%20di%20Napoli%201575%20Lafrery%201%20Credit%20Library%20of%20Congress,%20Geography%20and%20Map%20Division.jpg. Accessed 2 Nov. 2019.

5 – https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3200m.gct00087/?sp=11&r=0.284,0.403,0.164,0.065,0. Accessed 2 Nov. 2019.

6 – https://www.davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~284900~90057407:Italia-antiqva;JSESSIONID=32a20828-21ef-4098-8989-49fc617fece1?qvq=q%3Acluver%3Bsort%3APub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No%3Blc%3ARUMSEY%7E8%7E1&sort=Pub_List_No_InitialSort%2CPub_Date%2CPub_List_No%2CSeries_No&mi=0&trs=1. Accessed 2 Nov. 2019.

7 – http://www.lib.luc.edu/specialcollections/exhibits/show/jesuitsciences/item/52. Accessed 2 Nov. 2019.


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