Herculaneum, an ancient Roman city by the Bay of Naples and at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. It was about 5 miles (8 km) southeast of Neapolis (now Naples) and 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Pompeii. Many well-to-do Romans had homes in Herculaneum. The city was severely damaged in 63 A.D. by an earthquake. In 79 Vesuvius erupted. Ash and pumice covered Pompeii, and a mudflow more than 65 feet (20 m) deep in spots hardened over Herculaneum.
Herculaneum lay almost undisturbed until excavations were begun in 1738. A magnificent marble theater was uncovered, capable of seating 8,000 persons. Further digging uncovered a forum, several temples, and many splendid villas. Many marble and bronze statues and busts of artistic merit were excavated and eventually placed in the National Museum at Naples. Other objects—coins, jewelry, mosaics, mural paintings, furniture, pottery, and glass—are also on exhibit at the museum.
A library of about 1,800 papyrus rolls was found in one villa. Hundreds of volumes, mainly minor works of Epicurean philosophy, have been unrolled. Others are badly chaired and must be handled carefully to avoid crumbling.
After an interval of about 50 years, large-scale digging was renewed in 1927 and continued intermittently thereafter. Excavations beginning in the early 1980's have uncovered more than 100 skeletons of people who were trapped in passageways and on the beach trying to escape by boat. This discovery overturned a long-held belief that the residents of Herculaneum had all escaped before the city was covered.