I studied this picture, and it took me a long time to figure out how I could be looking down on the main setting of my story in Threatened Loyalties. I knew Herculaneum was an extremely popular beach town in Ancient Rome. Just take a look at how high I was when I took this picture.
Then I discovered , as I was walking into this ancient site on Vesuvius’ (in the background), that I was standing on volcanic vomit (also called lahar) that had buried this town and pushed its shoreline back four acres on August 22, AD 79.
Below is a picture of what I was standing on … volcanic vomit to the height of 30’. That wall beside the building was not there when my story takes place.
This picture should have been of a beachfront, with lapping waves on a pebbly beach of the beautiful Mediterranean sea that looks off into the beautiful horizon at sunset or sunrise. What’s more, it buried people in fishing huts along this same beach. See the skull.
Yes Vesuvius buried people alive and boiled them like lobsters to the tune of 300 degreesF. During this research I realized just how horrid volcanoes can be.
Through my characters Messalina and Alexius, I take my readers through Herculaneum so they can experience what I did that day I walked these ancient streets. I want them to know what it was like: shopping along the main street, meeting people as Marcus Nonius Balbus and family, visiting his thermae, seeing his funeral statue, seeing the centurion who was buried in the street, and visiting the Villa of Papyrus. I want them to experience what it was like before and during this hellish day.
I also discovered that J. Paul Getty, like me, loved Ancient Rome. Fortunately, he found a floor plan of this ancient villa of Papyrus and built a replica of it in Malibu CA, USA, which you can visit for free. In my story Alexius and Messalina encounter a serious plot twist while Balbus’ guests enjoy an auction around the beautiful garden and pools. You can imagine all this happening in this duplicated villa. I know. I’ve done it.
This is my picture from Getty’s villa. If you are around Los Angeles, CA, and have the opportunity add this visit to your trip. It is amazingly wonderful, however keep in mind that most of the original villa remains covered with the vomit of Vesuvius.
Now, Vesuvius erupted much like Mt. St. Helens. First, a lateral blast came from the side of the volcano that shot over Herculaneum. Then, the prevailing winds blew the ash toward Pompeii, burying it like a snowstorm. Meanwhile, the people of Herculaneum panicked and attempted to flee the city on galleys/ships. However, unlike Pompeii, theyhad hours before pyroclastic flows (similar to lava but moves more quickly) reached the city, eventually burying it under lahar or vomit and shoving the beachfront back…as I said, four acres.
Over time, the city of Ercolano was built on top of the hidden ruins of Herculaneum. No one knew it was there. One day while men were digging for a well, they broke into Balbus’ theater, and this ancient Roman seaside city was discovered. If Ercolano were to be removed the rest of Herculaneum could be uncovered, but it’s unlikely that people, other than Roman historians, would appreciate it. Furthermore, Vesuvius is still an active volcano which adds the danger that it could go off yet again.
I made a video of Getty’s villa that was used in my story. I hope you enjoy it as well as the story of Messalina and Alexius… Threatened Loyalties.
#Marcus Nonius Balbus
#J. Paul Getty