Escape from Pompeii

The Untold Roman Rescue

Escape from Pompeii The Untold Roman Rescue

International exhibition featuring 2,000 year old artefacts from Pompeii, Sicily, Naples and Rome.



    Western Australian Maritime Museum, Fremantle WA 
    22 September 2017– 18 February 2018


    Many people know of the tragic eruption in 79 AD that buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum under huge avalanches of volcanic ash and debris, preserving them and the eruption’s victims for 2000 years. Few, however, would know that the Roman navy attempted to evacuate people affected by the eruption or its important role in the success of the Roman Empire.

    The fleet was led by the fleet’s commander Pliny the Elder, who was not a military man – he was famous for his writings, not for any warlike exploits. In 79 AD he had just completed his Natural History, an encyclopedia of how the Romans understood the world around them – a reference work for the masses that would continue to be used for the next 2,000 years.

    We know of the rescue attempt through the letters of his nephew Pliny the Younger. Around 17 years old at the time of the eruption, he was living with his uncle and his mother at the naval base at Misenum, across the bay from Pompeii. He was asked many years later to write an account of what happened to his uncle on that fateful day – it is the only surviving firsthand account of the disaster and the attempted rescue of civilians by the Roman navy.

    The exhibition uncovers the role of the Roman navy and its importance to the Roman Empire. Discover how a non-military man like Pliny the Elder could be its commander, what its ships were like and who crewed them. It looks at Pompeii as a maritime and riverine port, and how it tapped into the trade boom brought about by Rome’s mastery of the sea – thanks to its navy.


    The exhibition brings to Australia rare artefacts from sites from around the Bay of Naples: Pompeii, Herculaneum and lesser-known ones such as Baiae, Puteoli and Misenum. They give insight into the lives of sailors of the Roman fleet and to the people who lived on the Bay of Naples, considered by many Romans to be the most beautiful place on earth – that was, until the eruption.

    Visitors will see:

    • a Roman rostrum, used to ram enemy ships
    • a helmet from the Battle of the Aegates in 241 BC, which marked Rome’s entry as a maritime superpower
    • sculptured reliefs celebrating Rome’s naval victories
    • a military diploma bestowing Roman citizenship on a serviceman
    • trade goods from Pompeii – both workaday items and luxuries – including sculptures, mosaics, frescoes, jewellery, glassware and tableware sourced from throughout the empire
    • everyday objects preserved in the eruption, such as a loaf of bread and figs from Herculaneum, and items taken by the fleeing victims
    • haunting body casts of the victims themselves – Pompeiians, captured in their final moments.

    Play Pompeii Trader

    Play the Pompeii Trader Game

    Play our online game Pompeii Trader and get a glimpse at what life was like in a busy Roman port, and learn about the items imported and exported all across the Roman Empire.

    Hear what Pliny the Elder had to say about Garum (fish sauce) from Rome and Emeralds from Egypt. Play Pompeii Trader.

    Keep in touch

    Receive our e-newsletters for the latest news including special offers, advance bookings, sneak previews and more.

    Escape from Pompeii is developed by the Australian National Maritime Museum and Western Australian Museum in association with Expona and Contemporanea Progetti.  

    Developed with

    expona logo contemporanea logo
    Cast of two victims from the House of the Cryptoporticus, Pompeii. © Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismoCast of a victim, possibly a woman, Pompeii. © Ministero dei Beni Culturali e del Turismo - Museo Archeologico di NapoliCast of a pig, Villa Regina, Boscoreale. © Soprintendenza Archeologica di PompeiLoaf of bread from Herculaneum carbonised by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  79 AD.  Museo Archeologico Nazionale di NapoliBracelet, in the form of a snake, from Pompeii.  Gold, 1st century AD.  Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli Fresco of Narcissus from Pompeii.  1st century AD.  Museo Archeologico Nazionale di NapoliPlate found with fruit seeds from the Roman port of Ostia.  4th century AD. Scavi di Ostia AnticaPompeii Diorama Pliny the Elder  The Roman Naval Base at Misenum, around 1 pm, 24 August 79 AD  Diorama by Geoff Barnes and Roger Scott Pompeii Diorama Merchant Ship - The Roman Naval Base at Misenum, around 1 pm, 24 August 79 AD  Diorama by Geoff Barnes and Roger Scott
  • Foxtel – History Channel

    Foxtel – History Channel

    The museum has partnered with our friends at Foxtel's HISTORY channel to produce a range of short videos exploring some of the key themes of the exhibition.

    In this series – to be aired on HISTORY – and also available here online - we delve into ancient maritime archaeology from the bay of Naples, uncover the life of Pliny, and gain a better understanding of the surprisingly sophisticated life of the citizens of Pompeii.

    Foxtel History channel logo

  • Lenders

You might also like