For the first time, the complete DNA of a Vesuvius victim could be examined. The man bears a close resemblance to modern Italians, suffered from tuberculosis and is believed to have come from Sardinia.

For the first time it has been possible to sequence a victim of the Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD. The DNA was taken from two people who were found in the “Artisan’s House”, the “Casa del Fabbro”. From the shape and structure of the skeletons, it was concluded that one of the victims was a male of about 35 to 40 years old. The other remains belong to a woman in her 50s.

The team led by Gabriele Scorrano of the University of Rome was able to extract the DNA from both bodies, but they were only able to fully sequence the genome of the male remains because the woman’s DNA had gaps. The researchers write the DNA survived so long because the molten materials from the eruption kept out oxygen and water. Unlike the neighboring city of Herculaneum, Pompeii was hit by a 500-degree pyroclastic heat wave. This is a type of “tongue” of extremely hot gas erupting from the volcano. There is no escaping it because it is spreading at around 700 km/h. Those who were reached by her died immediately from the heat shock.

Instant Death

The bodies being examined were both reclining on a triclinium – a low couch – in the corner of the dining room. Death overtook them before they could get up. In Herculaneum, lava and rock took a long time to reach the city. Those who fled early or left accidentally escaped the inferno. Later, people had time to flee to the shore and port. There the commander of the Roman fleet, the scholar Pliny the Elder, attempted to evacuate the unfortunate. More recently, investigations had been carried out into the “last fugitive” at the seawall and a Praetorian officer who died on the beach. To set an example for his men, the stout and sickly Pliny went ashore himself, and he too was killed.

man from Italy

The man’s DNA bears similarities to both modern Italians and other people who lived in Italy during the Roman Empire. Further evidence suggests that the man came from Sardinia. ‘Our results demonstrate the possibility of extracting ancient DNA from human remains from Pompeii, thus providing further insight into the genetic history and life of the population,’ the team wrote. Before the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, Pompeii was a thriving city with a population of up to 20,000. In terms of settlement, however, it was not a typical city. Like Herculaneum, it was a summer resort for the rich upper class, who escaped the oppressive climate of the Urbs of Rome and the sometimes strict moral laws of the capital.

Disease of Wet Cities

Analysis of the genome showed that the man was suffering from tuberculosis at the time of his death – the researchers discovered DNA sequences of the tuberculosis pathogen. “The fact that tuberculosis was endemic in the Roman Empire is already known from writings and ancient descriptions,” say the researchers. The increasing population density in the densely built-up cities of the empire favored the spread of tuberculosis throughout Italy. The “craftsman’s house” is one of the modest dwellings in the city. But it is precisely in it that a large number of objects have been preserved that allow an insight into the life of the simple Romans. There was also a love graffiti on the outside wall of the house: “Secundus greets his primate, wherever she may be: I beg you, my lady, love me!”

What: Scientific Reports