It was with great pride of accomplishment that we celebrated the opening of the Australian tour of “Escape from Pompeii, the Untold Roman Rescue” at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney in March 2017.
Many know that in August in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted in one of the most infamous catastrophes of ancient history, resulting in the burial and obliteration of the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Few know however of the untold tale of the heroic rescue attempt launched by Pliny the Elder, commander of the Roman fleet stationed across the Bay of Naples at Misenum. We know of the rescue attempt through the letters of his nephew Pliny the Younger. Around 17 years old at the time, he was living with his uncle at the naval base. Many years later, he wrote about what happened to his uncle on that fateful day – it is the only surviving firsthand account of the disaster and the attempted rescue of civilians by the Roman navy.
This is the portal that leads into this special, in-depth exhibition that illustrates not only the cataclysm that hit Pompeii and the world it buried – from a simple loaf of bread to fine jewelry, from frescoes to mosaics – but also the prowess, dominance, bravery of the Roman navy in the larger Mediterranean theater; bravery that Pliny embodied. When his helmsman advised to turn back, Pliny replied “Fortune favors the brave …”.
The exhibition explores in depth the special relationship between Ancient Rome and the Mediterranean Sea. The narrative is built around the interaction between navigation and major themes such as war and conquest, wealth and trade, Roman society and lifestyle. Themes are illustrated by a rich selection of original archaeological artifacts from major Italian collections, enhanced by modern models and scientific documentation, as well as interactives, suggestive set design and other innovative, multimedia devices.