Mount Vesuvius near Naples, Italy, famously erupted in 79 AD and destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. But how many times has Mount Vesuvius erupted in total?
Mount Vesuvius has had around 40 series of eruptions since the first recorded eruption in 79 AD, which destroyed Pompeii. Prior to this, Mount Vesuvius was dormant for centuries, although it would have erupted many times before as it is around 200,000 years old as a volcano.
To find out more about Mount Vesuvius and the impact of its eruptions, read on.
About Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius, or Vesuvio as it is known in Italian, is an active volcano by the Bay of Naples in the south of Italy that is best known for the eruption in 79 AD that led to the destruction of the nearby towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
People have been drawn to the area throughout history due to the extremely high quality of the volcanic soil, also being well known for its wines. Its proximity to the sea and the defensive nature of the Bay of Naples have made the area highly attractive for human settlement, with two million people living in the vicinity of Mount Vesuvius.
Nearby Naples, for example, is the third-largest city in Italy with a population of close to one million people, which is a testament to the quality of the area for human settlement. However, this proximity to a volcano can lead to disaster, as occurs in many other volcanic regions.
The volcano is around 4,200 feet tall (although this height varies considerably following eruptions) and it likely emerged around 200,000 years ago, making it a relatively young volcano.
It arose due to a subduction boundary, with the African tectonic plate pushing into the Eurasian plate, which melted in the earth’s mantle and caused magma to rise and form the volcano. This also led to the Apennines mountain range that runs through Italy and often leads to significant seismic activity in the region.
The 79 Eruption
Prior to 79, Mount Vesuvius is thought to have been dormant for centuries, with the quality of the soil and sea making it an ideal area for human settlement. However, on August 24, 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted on a gigantic scale and buried the nearby Roman towns of Pompeii, Oplontis, and Stabiae with ash and volcanic rocks, while Herculaneum was destroyed in the subsequent pyroclastic flow.
This is likely the earliest volcanic eruption in history to be described in detail, documented by Pliny the Younger in his letters to Tacitus, able to see the destruction while staying in the west of the Bay of Naples. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, had been killed in the eruption trying to help people evacuate, as had an estimated 2,000 other people.
Buried under ash, Pompeii was extremely well preserved and was rediscovered in the 1700s, showing what life had been like in the early Roman Empire in great detail.
It revealed mosaics, artworks, graffiti, ovens baking bread, people preserved while seeking shelter, and many more scenes of life in the city. The discovery of Pompeii helped to play a role in the neoclassical revival movement in the late 18th century, with people being able to decorate their homes in a Roman fashion.
Other Notable Eruptions
Since the most famous eruption of 79 AD, around 40 eruption series have been recorded at Mount Vesuvius. Notable eruptions occurred in 203, 472, 512, 685, 787, 968, 991, 999, and 1007, with people living in the area even being exempt from paying taxes to the Ostrogothic Kingdom in 512 due to the eruptions.
From around the 11th century to the 17th century, the volcano is thought to have been calm, before entering into another eruptive cycle on December 16, 1631. Like in the eruption of 79, many nearby towns were destroyed, and an estimated 3,000 people were killed.
Since then, the volcano has entered into a cycle of calm and then a series of eruptions, with major eruptions in years including 1660, 1694, 1707, 1737, 1767, 1794, 1834, 1855, 1861, 1872, 1906, 1929, and 1944. The volcano has not erupted since 1944 when it killed 27 and displaced around 12,000 people, but Mount Vesuvius remains active and is overdue for an eruption.
In summary, Mount Vesuvius has erupted an enormous number of times over its long 200,000-year history, but it has not erupted since the eruption of 1944.