Pompeii (Pompee'i; Ital. pron. Pompay'yee), once a seaport at the mouth of the Sarnus, on the Neapolitan Riviera, founded about 600 b.c. by the Oscans, and, after them, occupied by the Tyr-rheno-Pelasgians, and by the Samnites, till these, about 80 b.c., were dispossessed by the Romans. From that time down to its destruction, 79 a.d. , it became (with Herculaneum) a sort of Rome-super-Mare, frequented by the aristocracy; and its public monuments were out of all proportion to its size. On February 5, 63 a.d., by an earthquake, these buildings were all but levelled with the ground, and some years elapsed ere the fugitive citizens recovered confidence to re-occupy and rebuild. Reconstruction was carried out with haste and tawdriness. The city had relapsed into more than its former gaiety and licentiousness, when on the 23d August (or, more probably, on the 23d November) 79, with a return of the shocks of earthquake, Vesuvius was seen to throw up a column of black smoke, expanding into a great swarthy cloud, dense with ashes, pumice, and red-hot stones, which settled down on the doomed cities with a force increased by the rain-torrents that intermittently fell. Amid the impenetrable gloom the panic of the citizens was aggravated by repeated shocks of earthquake, and for three days the flight continued till Pompeii was abandoned by all who could effect their escape. The Emperor Titus organised relief on an imperial scale, and even undertook the rebuilding of the city. This attempt was soon abandoned, and Pompeii remained a heap of hardened mud and ashes, gradually overgrown with grass - the wall of the great theatre and the outline of the amphitheatre alone marking its site - till 1592, when the architect Fontana, in cutting an aqueduct, came on some ancient buildings. Unsystematic, unscientific excavations proceeded fitfully from 1748 till 1860, when the Italian kingdom took in hand the unearthing of the city. This was carried out with admirable ingenuity, care, and success; and the wonderfully preserved remains of" temples, theatres, shops, and dwelling-houses attract pilgrims from all lands to study these unique object-lessons of the public and private life of antiquity.
See works by Neville Rolfe (1884), Mazois (Paris, 1812-38), Nissen (Leip. 1877), Overbeck- Mau (Leip. 1884), and Bagot Molesworth (1903); also Bulwer Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii.