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Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City

Explore a fabled city, frozen in time and buried for centuries, and gain a riveting and unprecedented view of life as it was lived in ancient Roman times.
Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 139.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than Being There? On his tour of Pompeii, Professor Tuck identifies important objects amidst fields of "similar" things and explains why they are where they are. He not only knows his subject, he has been a professorial tour guide for Far Horizons. For example, Tuck (see Lecture 19=L19) holds a post-doctoral degree in Latin Inscription, so he reads the Pompeian inscriptions (that are meaningless to most of us). He and TGC have done an enormous amount of work with brilliant, spot on maps, drawings, diagrams, and animations. While "being there" is always a life privilege, being there without Tuck would probably only present mostly piles of rubble and undecipherable inscriptions. "Pompeii" is not just about the remains of a Roman population after Vesuvius. It is about a regional geological convergence that remains active and inhabited today, The course follows Greek settlements in the Bay of Naples of the 770s B.C., the subsequent Etruscan "Altstadt" defensive hilltop acropolis of Pompeii, the 5th Century BC Samnite expansion of Pompeii, and its establishment in the 80 BC as a Roman veteran settlement. It is also about the most important Roman Republic port in the Puteoli harbor (where Rome's Navy was stationed), the nightmares of Pompeii's "aediles" (responsible for water systems and the oversight of criminals serving decades-long "community service"), etc. His tour includes ancient "snack bars", the dual public/private nature of homes, and the why lions were not found in the Pompeian amphitheater. Tuck beautifully ties all this in with the wider Roman world. For example, he somehow knows that the rectangular entryway to Eumachia's Concordia mimics a unique entryway in Rome itself because he has identified the flowers circumscribing both of them as carved by the same artisan! Lecture 12 & 13 are about gladiatorial Referees and the “Man-In-Blue" with a hammer (dressed as the Etruscan deity who provides for the transitions of souls to the underworld) who is responsible for dispatching "unworthy" arena fighters. There are also game musicians, and game sponsors (rich and political powerful men). These latter throw wooden tokens into Amphitheater crowds, which could be redeemed for bushels of wheat or even a slave. TV's sports ads today often seem similarly sponsored by rich, politically manipulative corporate sponsors…not much has changed? Tuck describes a sports riot similar to those seen at our own World Cup games. He documents this via describing details found in a painting that, without his expertise, an average tourist would totally miss. This riot led to Tacitus' writings on its political repercussions: the exile of its sponsor. He nicely includes comments on sports violence from TGCs “History of Ancient Rome" by Fagan. Tuck reads a complex grave marker of a game sponsor for us, using it to walk us through the Amphitheater itself. L14’s tours of the pre-earthquake House of the Tragic Poet, the pre-eruption Vetii (L19) and Villa at Stabiae show the Pompeian wealthy leaving after the earthquake, while the Freedmen could not afford to leave before the eruption. L15: The area’s potent Wool Guild showed that guilds were present LONG before the smaller-scale guilds of the Middle Ages (see L24 of TGC’s: Late Middle Ages by Daileader). Men were paid to “contribute” urine into amphora set outside wool shops for the ammonia used in wool processing! L18 documents the astounding 1st century Roman shift away from ancient uninvolved gods to more involved deities (Example: Isis who offered life after death). This change “prepared the way… (for Christianity to) … “become the norm” by the 2nd century. A visual pun (L19) shows Eros (the god of love) wrestling down Pan (meaning “all"): i.e., "love conquers all”. Pliny-the-Younger's narration of the eruption of Vesuvius (L23) includes his uncle (who was in charge of the Roman navy) dying from poisonous volcanic gas. “The sudden retreat of the sea" had stranded his ship as Pompeii’s geological convergent zone created an instant tsunami - driving water away from the coast. Meanwhile 5 rivers of pyroclastic flow traveling 450 mph incinerated Herculaneum. Yet many escaped. Tuck would later (L24) stand on a hill in Northern Campania with the TGC's beloved Professor Rufus Fears (now deceased) as Fears suggested that the evidence of construction there "points to their (the Pompeian’s) resettlement"…what a marvelous visual to end the course! CONCLUDING REMARKS: While well done, the Guidebook gives no hint of the course’s in-depth, visuals. Tuck's marvelous humility and humorous sidebars are outstanding. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2023-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must before visiting Pompeii We watched these videos before visiting Pompeii, and even with an archeological guide, they provided so much more detailed information for seeing the city. The in-depth background and more detailed descriptions were invaluable. An absolute must to truly learn about and appreciate Pompeii.
Date published: 2022-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a blast! First class delivery and presentation. The course was well structured and comprehensive in its scope.
Date published: 2022-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Pompeii Comes Alive I toured Pompeii years ago as a student. I wish that back then I had access to a course like this. The course is rich in detail and the rate and clarity of the professor's lectures made the course rewarding.
Date published: 2022-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Stuff The lectures were well written and presented. Well illustrated and the photos and graphics were top notch.
Date published: 2022-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A vivid illustration of life a long time ago After returning from Italy where I had visited Pompeii, I noticed this course in the Great Courses catalogue and bought the streamed video. Stephen Tuck is an engaging teacher and made good use of his own research. The course gives a vivid illustration of life during Roman times using evidence from Pompeii, Herculaneum and other sites in the Bay of Naples. As well as engaging (sometimes even humorous) snapshots of life back then, Stephen Tuck also talks in detail about the seismic event that ended Pompeii and Herculaneum, the aftermath and the archaeology of the area since the 18th century.
Date published: 2022-06-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The program itself is very good, however, the video seems very low resolution. There does not seem to be a way to increase it. I have a brand new PC and the resolution should be great. When lectures are sold there should be good resolution with it.
Date published: 2022-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course I cannot believe that someone would take issue with pictures of Obama when commenting on this course. This is a fantastic course through and through and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in ancient history.
Date published: 2022-04-22
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In the 24 enthralling lectures of Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City, eminent classicist and Professor Steven L. Tuck resurrects the long-lost lives of aristocrats, merchants, slaves, and other individuals from this imperial Roman city-made famous for its demise after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The result is an unprecedented view of life as it was lived in this ancient culture and an opportunity to discover intriguing details that lay buried for centuries.


Steven L. Tuck

We're going to introduce the visual markers that serve to tell Romans about class interaction and the importance of urban spaces that create and impose Roman imperial identity and serve in ways that we would use literate works.


Miami University

Professor Steven L. Tuck is Professor of Classics at Miami University. After earning his B.A. in History and Classics at Indiana University, he received his Ph.D. in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. He held the postdoctoral Arthur and Joyce Gordon Fellowship in Latin epigraphy at The Ohio State University.

An esteemed teacher, Professor Tuck received the 2013 E. Phillips Knox Teaching Award, Miami University’s highest honor for innovative and effective undergraduate teaching. In addition, the Archaeological Institute of America, North America’s oldest and largest organization devoted to archaeology, presented him with its Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2014. He also has been named a Distinguished Scholar and an Altman Faculty Scholar at Miami University.

Professor Tuck has conducted archaeological fieldwork and research in Italy, Greece, England, and Egypt. He has directed more than a dozen study tours in Italy, concentrated on the city of Rome and the area around the Bay of Naples, including Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Island of Capri. He has given more than 50 public lectures, including as a national lecturer for the Archaeological Institute of America.

Professor Tuck is the author of numerous articles featured in international journals on such topics as the lives of sailors in the Roman navy, the schedule of gladiatorial games at Pompeii, the decorative program of the amphitheater at Capua, the professional organizations of spectacle performers, Roman sculpture, and triumphal imagery across the ancient Roman world. He is the author of the forthcoming A History of Roman Art, a lavishly illustrated introduction to the topic.

Professor Tuck has taught two previous Great Courses: Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City and Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity’s Greatest Empire.

By This Professor

Cities of the Ancient World
Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City
The Architecture of Power: Great Palaces of the Ancient World
The Mysterious Etruscans
Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City


Reflections on and of Pompeii

01: Reflections on and of Pompeii

No archaeological site in the world has such an evocative name as Pompeii. And yet, when most people hear this name, they think of destruction. In this introduction, gain an overview of the course and begin to consider why the remains of Pompeii offer more than just a story of a cataclysm.

33 min
Geology and Geography on the Bay of Naples

02: Geology and Geography on the Bay of Naples

Both the land and humankind helped to shape Pompeii. Examine the violent geological forces that forged the distinctive region of the Bay of Naples, trace its influence on the surrounding geography, and learn about the various cultures that contributed to life in this area.

30 min
The Rediscovery of Vesuvian Lands

03: The Rediscovery of Vesuvian Lands

Archaeological finds from the area were unearthed starting around 1594-centuries after the eruption that buried them. Uncover the history of Pompeii's excavation in the 1700s, from the kings who plundered its artwork to the modern scholars who sought another kind of treasure: information.

29 min
Etruscan Pompeii-5th Century B.C.

04: Etruscan Pompeii-5th Century B.C.

While the last days of Pompeii have attracted popular attention, the city was a thriving cultural center centuries before its destruction. In this lecture, delve deep into Pompeii's remote Etruscan history and explore what life was like in this ancient pre-Roman settlement.

30 min
Samnite Pompeii-2nd Century B.C.

05: Samnite Pompeii-2nd Century B.C.

Centuries after the establishment of Etruscan Pompeii, the city was invaded by a new people, the Samnites. Witness the conquest of the city by these invaders and consider how Pompeii was redefined and expanded by its new inhabitants.

29 min
Building the Roman Colony-80 B.C.

06: Building the Roman Colony-80 B.C.

Encounter the first Roman inhabitants of Pompeii. Learn how Pompeii became a Roman colony and take a tour of the city as viewed through the eyes of two of its chief magistrates.

28 min
Villa of the Papyri and Life with Piso

07: Villa of the Papyri and Life with Piso

Despite its history of conquest and invasion, ancient Pompeii was not all mayhem and military occupation. See a different side of Roman elite culture by visiting one of the grandest and best-preserved private dwellings from the ancient world: the Villa of the Papyri.

29 min
Marriage and Mysteries-Rites of Dionysus

08: Marriage and Mysteries-Rites of Dionysus

In the first of three lectures investigating women's lives in Pompeii, explore the rituals of marriage. Follow along as a Roman girl is initiated into the worship of Dionysus on the eve of her wedding, and then attend the nuptials.

29 min
Eumachia, Public Priestess

09: Eumachia, Public Priestess

Continue your exploration of the lives of Pompeian women as you attend the funeral of a powerful priestess. Learn about her background, achievements, and aspirations, and gain insights into the roles available to women in Roman culture.

29 min
A Female Slave in Pompeii

10: A Female Slave in Pompeii

After examining the exalted life of a priestess, move to the other end of the social scale and follow a day in the life of a slave girl, Chryseis. As she carries out her duties, gain a grasp of the role of the lowliest workers in this culture and trace the contours of everyday life in Pompeii.

28 min
Governing in the 1st Century A.D.

11: Governing in the 1st Century A.D.

What made a Roman city run? Discover the answer to this question by focusing on two levels of officials in Pompeii, the duoviri (chief magistrates) and the aediles (their assistants). Follow these officials as they perform their typical tasks of government....

29 min
Games and Competition for Offices

12: Games and Competition for Offices

One of the most familiar images of ancient Rome is the clash of the gladiators. Go behind the scenes with one Pompeian politician as he plans a gladiatorial spectacle to help launch his son's career.

31 min
Riot in the Amphitheater-A.D. 59

13: Riot in the Amphitheater-A.D. 59

Continue your consideration of the gladiatorial games and learn about a major crisis in Pompeian life: a riot in the amphitheater that was sparked between the city's inhabitants and fans from a rival city. Trace the factors that led to this catastrophe, the event itself, and its aftermath.

30 min
The House of the Tragic Poet

14: The House of the Tragic Poet

Tour the house that was the setting for the famous historical novel The Last Days of Pompeii, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Trace the activities of the owner, guests, and visitors, and consider how the design and artwork of the house reflect the life of prosperous Pompeians....

28 min
Pompeii's Wool Industry

15: Pompeii's Wool Industry

In the first of two lectures exploring the industrial life of Pompeii, enter the world of wool workers by visiting a typical fullonica-the ancient equivalent of a modern dry-cleaner. Investigate the methods, tools, and workspace used by these service people....

29 min
Pompeii's Wine and Vineyards

16: Pompeii's Wine and Vineyards

Continue your consideration of Pompeii's key industries with a tour of two preserved vineyards. Gleaning information from these two farms, as well as handbooks from the day, investigate the process of growing, pressing, and fermenting grapes, and storing wine.

29 min
Earthquake-A.D. 62

17: Earthquake-A.D. 62

In a precursor to the eruption that would later bury the city in A.D. 79, Pompeii experienced a cataclysmic earthquake. Uncover evidence of this quake and look further afield at its effects, including a tsunami that crippled Rome's food supply.

32 min
Rebuilding after the Earthquake

18: Rebuilding after the Earthquake

After the destructive earthquake of A.D. 62, the officials of Pompeii undertook a remarkable rebuilding effort. Survey the structures that post-date this event, and examine what the rebuilding efforts suggest about the changing culture of Pompeii at the time of the quake.

29 min
Wall Paintings in the House of the Vettii

19: Wall Paintings in the House of the Vettii

The House of the Vettii at Pompeii is one of the best-decorated and best-preserved domestic spaces from the ancient Roman world. Explore what the house and its wall paintings can tell us about the former slaves who built a prosperous life there.

30 min
A Pompeian Country Club

20: A Pompeian Country Club

Take a tour of the Praedia of Julia Felix, a large complex that included a remarkable collection of baths, shops, and garden dining rooms, all decorated with an amazing selection of paintings, statues, inscriptions, and furnishings.

30 min
Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum

21: Worshipping the Emperors at Herculaneum

When Vesuvius erupted, it also buried Pompeii's neighboring town of Herculaneum. With local priest Aulus Lucius Proculus as your guide, explore the city's public spaces, including the city baths, a wine shop, and a shrine to the Roman emperor.

29 min
Visiting a Villa at Stabiae

22: Visiting a Villa at Stabiae

Perched high atop the cliffs of the Bay of Naples, the spectacular villa at Stabiae offers a unique opportunity to glimpse elite life in ancient Rome. Imagine the life of the privileged residents as you trace the villa's complex architectural design and examine its decor and artwork.

28 min
Pliny Narrates the Eruption of Vesuvius

23: Pliny Narrates the Eruption of Vesuvius

Thanks to the letters of Pliny the Younger, the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 is the only ancient natural disaster for which we have an eyewitness account. Follow the harrowing narrative of destruction and compare the effects on Pompeii to the experience of the inhabitants of nearby Herculaneum.

30 min
The Bay of Naples after Vesuvius

24: The Bay of Naples after Vesuvius

The majority of Pompeians did not perish in the eruption that buried their city. Examine efforts by the imperial government under the emperor Titus to aid and resettle refugees, and follow the experiences of a family after the eruption.

29 min