Centre for Continuing Education

History Course: A Day in Pompeii

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

The town of Pompeii, destroyed in AD79 by an eruption of Vesuvius, is one of the best preserved and best known of Roman sites, but also one of the most misrepresented. Popular accounts of the last days of Pompeii stress the sensational rather than the factual, but this study day will take a critical stance in the interpretation of the sometimes limited evidence. We will examine the scientific studies of the eruption and its human victims, and the problems of dating the event. In turn we will look at key aspects of life in the ancient town – political life and public buildings, trade and commerce, sport, leisure and entertainment, religion and housing. We will conclude with an up-to-date survey of the conservation problems of the site and the current work of the Great Pompeii Project.


This course aims to develop your understanding of Roman civic life in a provincial town. It offers you the opportunity to examine and discuss some of the written material – inscriptions, graffiti and painted notices – that have survived and evaluate what they tell us about politics, trade, religion and social groups. This course also encourages critical thinking about recent scientific and interpretative scholarship on Pompeii, life as it was lived in the town and the nature of its destruction.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify the key features of Roman public and private buildings of Pompeii and provide examples
  • identify the key features of Roman houses and demonstrate a knowledge of common variations
  • distinguish between the different social classes in Pompeii
  • demonstrate a critical awareness of how recent scholarship has challenged, revised or modified much of what was previously written about Pompeii
  • debate the contentious issues surrounding conservation of the site in recent times
  • evaluate the work of the Great Pompeii Project.


This course covers the following topics:

  • the eruption, destruction and scientific work on the victims of Vesuvius
  • political, social and economic life in the town (with source material)
  • leisure and entertainment in the town. Varieties of religious culture and belief
  • housing in Pompeii – from the simple to the luxurious
  • conservation of the site – examples of work undertaken by the Great Pompeii Project.

Intended audience

Suitable for those with an interest in Roman history and would particularly appeal to HSC teachers of ancient history, or those planning a trip to Pompeii and Vesuvius.

Delivery style



Handouts include translations of inscriptions, graffiti and painted notices, and detailed bibliographic references.

Recommended reading

Beard, M 2009, _Pompeii: The Life of A Roman Town, London.

Beard, M 2010, The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found, Cambridge, Mass.

Coates, V G et al. 2012, The Last Days of Pompeii, Los Angeles.

Cooley, A 2003, Pompeii, London.

Cooley, A and Cooley, M G L 2004, Pompeii A Sourcebook, London.

Richardson, L. 1988, Pompeii An Architectural History, Baltimore.

Wallace-Hadrill, A 1994, Houses and Society In Pompeii and Herculaneum, Princeton.

Zanker, P 1996, Pompeii: Public and Private Life, Cambridge, Mass.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Free, expert advice
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

What others say.

  • A fascinating subject, well presented.
We acknowledge the tradition of custodianship and law of the Country on which the University of Sydney campuses stand. We pay our respects to those who have cared and continue to care for the Country.