Pompeii's Living Statues

Ancient Roman Lives Stolen from Death
Eugene Dwyer

An intriguing look at contemporary views regarding the casts of victims from Mt. Vesuvius' eruption


In AD 79, Mt. Vesuvius erupted in two stages. While the first stage was incredibly destructive, it was the second stage, a so-called pyroclastic flow, that inundated Pompeii with a combination of superheated gases, pumice, and rocks, killing tens of thousands of people and animals and burying them in ash and mud.

During excavations of the town in 1863, Giuseppe Fiorelli, the director of the dig, poured plaster of paris into a cavity under the soil revealed by a workman's pick. When the plaster set and the mound was uncovered, all were amazed to see the secret that the ground had held for 1,800 years: a detailed cast of an ancient Pompeian such as no one had seen before, frozen in the instant of dying and complete in every respect, including outlines of the clothes he was wearing at the time of the destruction. The bodies, photographed and exhibited in the specially built Pompeii Museum, completely changed the world's ideas of life in ancient Italy.

Pompeii's Living Statues is a narrative account, supported by contemporary documents, of the remarkable discovery of those ancient victims preserved in the volcanic mud of Vesuvius.

Eugene Dwyer examines these casts and related records, the originals of a number of which (along with their museum) were lost in World War II bombing. As he considers the casts as archaeological and cultural pieces, he also discusses Pompeii and its artifacts in the context of Italian unification and party politics, the development of modern excavation methods, and the challenges of maintaining a very large archaeological site. Dwyer's clear organization and writing style, combined with a collection of photographs and engravings, make for a fascinating exploration of Pompeii and its victims.

Jacket design by Paula Newcomb

Jacket photo of Pompeii Museum by Roberto Rive, courtesy of the author

Eugene Dwyer is Professor of Art History at Kenyon College. Trained at Harvard and the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, he has contributed articles to numerous volumes on Italian architecture and archaeology published by presses including Cambridge University Press, Getty Publications, and the University of Michigan Press. He is the author of Pompeian Domestic Sculpture: A Study of Five Pompeian Houses and Their Contents.

Praise / Awards

  • "Scholars and armchair travelers alike will be fascinated by this distinctive book."
    Library Journal

  • "Written in a lively style with all foreign language texts translated, the book will appeal to readers at all levels."
    Choice (Highly Recommended)

  • "Dwyer's scholarship is sound, his writing engaging."
    —John R. Clarke, University of Texas at Austin, American Journal of Archaeology

  • "This delightful volume is a welcome contribution to understanding what made Fiorelli and his methods so important, and to show how intimately archaeological method is linked to political and ideological change."
    —A. Wallace-Hadrill, Journal of Roman Archaeology

Look Inside

Copyright © 2010, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: UMP Author Podcast Series: Eugene Dwyer | MP3 | 6/30/2010

Read: Eugene Dwyer on Fiorelli's Finds | Wonders and Marvels Blog | 8/1/10

Read: Q&A with Eugene Dwyer | PDF | 6/30/2010

Read: Review | Blogging Pompeii | 5/21/2010

Read: Review | Libraryjournal.com | 6/9/2010

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 200pp.
  • 49 B&W images, 1 map, 1 diagram.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11727-7

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  • $64.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03550-2

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  • $28.95 U.S.



  • Pompeii victims, excavation,casts, albumen, photography, museum, Fiorelli, Sommer, tourism