History lovers who missed the opportunity to visit the British Museum’s blockbuster 2013 exhibition, “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum,” in person are in luck. Beginning today, the London cultural institution will stream Pompeii Live—a previously recorded tour of the groundbreaking show—for free via YouTube and Facebook.
In the film, presenters Bettany Hughes and Peter Snow guide audiences through a private tour of the 2013 show’s highlights. Cut with reenactment footage, expert commentary and live performances, the 88-minute feature tells the story of daily life in the neighboring cities, revealing how Mount Vesuvius’ 79 A.D. eruption transformed the communities in just 24 hours, reports Zoe Paskett for the Evening Standard.
Originally aired in cinemas, Pompeii Live brings victims’ “world back to life,” historian Mary Beard tells the Evening Standard.
Adds Beard, “Pompeii and Herculaneum let us shine a very bright and intriguing light onto the world of ancient Rome, from its posh palaces to its mean streets, from the slaves to the grandees, from the luxurious dining to the cheap takeaways—and the sex and the lavatories.”
As Jonathan Jones writes for the Guardian, the ancient people living in the volcano’s shadow viewed it as a boon, not a threat. Its fertile soil was excellent for growing grape vines, and it hadn’t been active for hundreds of years.
The 2013 exhibition united more than 200 artifacts from archaeological sites at Pompeii and lesser-known Herculaneum, offering viewers a lens into the pair of seaside settlements prior to the eruption. Among other items, reported Richard Dorment for the Telegraph in 2013, the show highlighted fountains, statues, bottles of garum sauce, jewelry, portraits, mosaics and frescoes.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted, thick layers of superheated pumice, ash and gas descended on Pompeii, killing all they touched. As bodies decayed underneath the rock, they left impressions in the volcanic residue. Archaeologists later used these cavities to produce plaster casts depicting Pompeiians in their final moments. Casts of a family that died together while crouched underneath a staircase were featured in the exhibition’s final galleries, according to the Telegraph.
In nearby Herculaneum—a coastal town one-third of Pompeii’s size—a flood of hot gases and molten rock incinerated bodies and left only skeletons behind, reported Joshua Hammer for Smithsonian magazine in 2015. Food, leather and wooden furniture in Herculaneum were carbonized, or turned into charcoal, per the Guardian.
“We can’t imagine the horror of that day, but we can see what people did. Some of them were practical, taking a lantern or a lamp to help them stumble through the total darkness of the volcanic blizzard,” curator Paul Roberts explained in a 2012 statement released in advance of the exhibition’s opening. “One little girl took her charm bracelet with pieces from all over the Roman world and beyond, such as cowries from the Indian Ocean, amber from the Baltic, rock crystal from the Alps, faience from Egypt. She had this with her when she died on the beach at Herculaneum with hundreds of others.”
Objects included in the show give viewers a glimpse into the everyday routines of Pompeii and Herculaneum’s residents: the bread they ate, the cradles where their babies slept, the frescoes that decorated their homes.
“We had to have the death of Pompeii and Herculaneum to know so much about the people who lived there, but it’s their lives that we will be celebrating in this exhibition,” said Roberts.