25 October, AD 79

I thought about my friends in Pompeii. How many of them had left in time to escape? And what about Uncle, on his farm? 'I will live and die on this farm,' he had told us. Tears filled my eyes, but I rubbed them away. Uncle did not want them. I stared up at the mountain furiously. Hateful Vesuvius! Then I blinked, bewildered. Here and there on the mountain, flames were leaping up, as if torches or fires were being lit. Surely not.

Then, as my eye travelled across the mountain, I saw something else. Something so frightening that I can still see it, in my mind's eye.

Vesuvius seemed to be shrinking. And out of that vast black column of whirling rock and ash a roiling mass of flame emerged, like a huge glowing furnace. I shut my eyes, terrified. What was it I had seen? Vulcan' s forge itself? All around me I could hear screams. I opened my eyes again. A fiery cloud was hurtling down the side of the mountain. Faster and faster it sped. How loud it sounded – even to us, some miles away.

High over Vesuvius, flames rent the sky, like huge flashes of lightning, as they had in my dream, so long ago. But this was no dream. I could smell burning in my nostrils. Mother was crying that the gods had forsaken us.

'It is heading for Herculaneum,' Father shouted hoarsely. I hid my face in my hands. I could not bear to look any more. When I dared to look back again, I could see nothing but blackness where Herculaneum had been. I cried out. The town seemed to have vanished – snuffed out like the wick on my lamp.


It's August AD 78 and Claudia is at the Forum in Pompeii. It's a day of strange encounters and even odder portents. When the ground shakes Claudia is convinced it is a bad omen. What does it all mean? And why is she so disturbed by Vesuvius, the great volcano that looms over the city.

Sue Reid on the background to Pompeii . . .

I went to Pompeii many years before I wrote Pompeii, but I've never forgotten it. Even then the great volcano Vesuvius, which erupted and destroyed the city thousands of years earlier, felt full of menace. I could quite understand how uneasy my heroine Claudia felt when she looked at it.

At that time though the inhabitants of Pompeii and nearby towns like Herculaneum - which was also destroyed in the volcano's eruption - were quite unaware of the danger that threatened them. They didn't know that they were living in the shadow of an active volcano. Even if they had, they didn't have the scientific knowledge and instruments we have now to measure volcanic activity and help predict when a volcano is likely to erupt.

I spent a day at Pompeii. I walked around the streets, peering into houses and the Roman baths. I saw the amphitheatre where long ago packed audiences had watched the gladiators fight, and I tried to imagine what Pompeii had been like when it was a thriving town. Here and there I saw the casts of humans and animals who hadn't managed to escape. What must people have felt when the ground suddenly began to shake? Some must have left, fearing another great earthquake like the one that had caused the city so much damage years before. Many more took refuge, huddling together in their homes when the volcano finally erupted. Others fled, some fighting their way down to the coast to try and escape by ship, or streaming out of the city along one of the roads.

New Research

For two thousand years people thought that Vesuvius had erupted on 24 August, AD 79. But as I was working on my story, I learnt that this was wrong. New research suggests that the eruption happened later in the year, probably on 24 October. I had always thought it a strange coincidence that Vesuvius had erupted the day after the Romans celebrated the Feast of Vulcan, the god of blacksmiths and volcanoes. My book is just one imaginary account of a family living in Pompeii, in the year before the town vanished for ever. I loved writing it, and hope you will enjoy reading it.


Publisher: Scholastic
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1407103083
ISBN-13: 978-1407103082
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"... what a beautiful book Pompeii is...it brought a lump to my throat near the end."
From a fan's letter