Volcanism in the ancient world

Dr Robert Sturm (Austria) In the ancient Greek and Roman world, volcanism was recognised as a divine phenomenon standing in close connection with the fire god, Hephaestus or Vulcan. Although there did not exist any term corresponding to the modern word “volcano”, people were aware of the destructive power arising from volcanic eruptions. Some early natural philosophers were already able to identify individual volcanic processes, such as lava flow and the generation of huge and extremely hot dust clouds. In the ancient Greek language, lava masses streaming downhill were simply named “rhea” (ῥύαξ or flow), whereas the Latin words “Vulcanius amnis” (Vulcanic stream), “saxa liquefacta” (liquefied rocks) and “massa ardens” (blazing mass) were used for the same phenomenon. Volcanoes were of enormous importance for the ancient Mediterranean world, because their eruptions caused the destruction of adjacent settlements and even the annihilation of entire civilizations. According to our present historical and archaeological knowledge, three volcanoes had an immense influence on the development of Mediterranean cultures: (1) the volcano of Thira-Santorini, which left behind the huge caldera visible today; (2) Vesuvius near the city of Naples; and (3) Etna on the island of Sicily (Fig. 1). Fig. 1. A satellite map of the Mediterranean region, including the position of the three volcanoes covered in this article. Despite the Thira-Santorini volcano being situated in the Aegean Sea, Vesuvius near Naples and Etna on Sicily, they are all considered to be part of the western Mediterranean Sea. (Photo: ©NASA.) In this article, I intend … Read More

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