Pompeii: The City Destroyed by God

Many times does it happen that we turn on the television to find the breaking news that such and such place has just been stricken by a natural disaster resulting in the loss of countless lives and the total annihilation of the region belonging to the poor residents. If we were living 1900 years ago and had the technology we have today, we would have turned on our televisions one morning to learn about the horrific story of the destruction of a city called Pompeii. We would have been informed that the notorious Volcano, Mount Vesuvius, had exploded not only showering the nearby settlements with lava and ash and killing thousands but preserving the city in such a way so that passersby be forced to stop and ponder.

Mankind has witnessed many a place getting destroyed by unforgiving earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, hurricanes and meteorites. But in this article, I will be specifically focusing on the destruction of the city of Pompeii. Moreover, I will try to answer the question: was the destruction of Pompeii the wrath of God? But before I venture into the details of this topic, I must inform the reader that we hold no position to label every single place destroyed by a natural disaster to be Divine Chastisement, rather if in the Holy Scriptures, God Almighty Himself declares that such and such town became the recipient of His wrath, then can it be established as a fact. Moreover, the Holy Qur’an, Ahadith and sayings of the Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" is our tool for judging whether a certain place was indeed destroyed due to Allah’s wrath, or whether it was just a natural disaster.

To better understand this, a Divine law has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an which states that Allah the Exalted does not destroy any nation until a warner or His true message reaches the people.

وَمَا كُنَّا مُعَذِّبِينَ حَتَّى نَبْعَثَ رَسُولًا

“We never punish until We have sent a Messenger”

The Holy Qur’an (7:38)
وَمَا أَهْلَكْنَا مِنْ قَرْيَةٍ إِلَّا لَهَا مُنْذِرُونَ

“And never did We destroy any township but it had Warners”

The Holy Qur’an (26:209)
وَمَا كَانَ رَبُّكَ مُهْلِكَ الْقُرَى حَتَّى يَبْعَثَ فِي أُمِّهَا رَسُولًا يَتْلُو عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتِنَا وَمَا كُنَّا مُهْلِكِي الْقُرَى إِلَّا وَأَهْلُهَا ظَالِمُونَ

“And thy Lord would never destroy the towns until He has raised in the mother town thereof a Messenger, reciting unto them Our Signs; nor would We destroy the towns unless the people thereof are wrongdoers”

The Holy Qur’an (28:60)

The verses above inform us of the two reasons why Allah the Exalted destroys a town. The first reason is if the people of a town or city receive the true message from a prophet or his followers and refuse to believe in it. The second reason why Allah destroys a nation is if it is dedicated to sin, and transgression amongst other vices run rampant as if it were the beating heart of the society and if in such a case the town is so deep in the waters of darkness that it has become impossible for it to see the light of repentance. A glance upon history tells us that any city which became the target of Divine wrath either rejected and showed unforgiving hostility to its Prophet or it was indulged in sin to such an extent that it had to be destroyed like a faulty limb has to be amputated.

Keeping this law in mind we shall now examine Pompeii, its life, culture, inhabitants, religion and habits so we may learn which of the two laws stated above were infringed leading to the destruction of the city.

Life in Pompeii

If Pompeii existed today it would have probably looked like Dubai. Lavish villas, exotic gardens, huge palaces, colossal residences and enormous markets was something of the norm. The upper classes and aristocrats lived in beautiful palaces located in the suburbs and constructed by the finest architects whilst the lower end of Roman society had to dwell within the tight living spaces within the city. The people of Pompeii enjoyed a huge variety of foods some being imported from as far as Indonesia; they spent many hours in the public baths featuring all the facilities that we would find in a modern day spa; they would amuse themselves by watching gladiators fight in the Amphitheater and spend money like water at the markets which would offer amazing merchandise from all over the world, but, the primary entertainment was indulging in promiscuity and alcoholism till one became lost.

The lifestyle in Pompeii was one which was over-rewarding for the rich, excellent for the middle classes and bad for the poor. It was a place where the upper echelons of Roman power would retire for their vacations in their luxurious villas overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was a town bustling with over 10,000 people. It attracted many Romans from all over the empire as it was the place where a simple man could become wealthy so much as to begin competing with the upper classes.

An ancient Roman bar or Thermopolium, at Pompeii, showing a wonderful mural on the wall.

Pompeii was located just off the foot of Mount Vesuvius, granting its citizens access to extremely fertile agricultural land which they made use of. The bay of Pompeii was crowded with trade ships importing and exporting goods from all over the world. Pompeian wine was also a source of income as it was very famous. Recent archaeological findings have shown that jars of wine with the Pompeian trademark was even found as far as North Africa and France. But of course, the main source of income was the first-class shops that lined the city streets, each with modern-day shutters which were used to close the shops at night. A wide range of merchandise was made available in the city shops so that the citizens could have the best of not only the Roman Empire but the world. Pompeii was truly the jewel in the crown of the Roman Empire.

Since the focus of this article is upon the aspects of a nation’s life which can attract Divine wrath, I shall briefly present such aspects of the Pompeian culture which will make it clear to the reader that Pompeii was a place of unparalleled promiscuity and liberation in the city that knew no bounds.

When the city was excavated in the middle ages, to the horror of the archaeologists, such disgusting frescoes, symbols, inscriptions and even household items were found which were so obscene that they were classed as pornographic and were locked away in the Secret Museum in 1821. To be sure that they would not become public, even the doorway leading to the collection of excavated material was bricked up in 1849. Only decades later in Pompeii, where locked metal cabinets had been constructed over these frescoes, did some of this material start to be seen by the public. Only mature males who were considered to possess good morals and were educated could view the excavated material at request for a modest fee. The excavations drew the interest of research scholars – who gathered an idea – from historical documents and the archaeological findings of what life in Pompeii was like. If this idea were to be translated into an image, it too would be as grotesque and sickening as the art found in the city.

The Pompeians worshipped an idol called Priapus, who himself had been depicted in a manner that makes a sane man tremble upon the thought of a whole nation worshipping such a foul god.‘Pleasures and excesses’ in A history of Private Life: from Pagan Rome to Byzantium Phillipe Aries and Georges Duby When a nation’s religion becomes promiscuity then what can be expected of their daily conduct? A man walking the streets of Pompeii would find that he is surrounded by images depicting all kinds of vices along with the statues showing complete disregard for humility, dignity and all other com- memorable virtues. If that man were to get lost and decide to follow a signpost he would find there as well unimaginable signs and symbols.Pompeii Life of a Roman Town, Mary Beard Page 58. It was as if every wall, brick and stone of the city was advocating lust and immorality.

All of this points towards the one fact that the citizens of Pompeii were obsessed with not only indulging in but also spreading debauchery which was weaved into the very fabric of society. There was no difference between a pub or a house of prostitution which would be littered with graffiti, disgusting images and frescoes. If the eyesore of the streets was not enough, one would find more of these disturbing images in the average household. There would not be a single room that would not have a large, expensive image framed in the best wood portraying explicit behaviour. Even if one were to stumble across what seemed like a perfectly normal image it would not be long till the themes and messages portrayed would become clear only to reveal that the image is inciting more and more dissipation. Statues, which according to the Pompeian, depicted heroism, in reality, were nothing more than the lowest kind of sin that one can commit but it would still be labelled as ‘great valour’ and ‘courage’. In short, a large amount of the art in Pompeii promoted adultery, elopement and domestic disruption.Roman Town, Mary Beard Page 14

The upper-classes had access to the town halls which were built for the satisfaction of carnal passions. A building called ‘The House of Chaste Lovers’ was excavated in which every wall was decorated with the usual debauchery. But apart from this, an image was excavated showing a scene from this house itself which to no surprise shows a group of people indulged in fulfilling their carnal desires.

A question may be posed here with regards to the accuracy of the conclusion drawn from the data found in Pompeii. The account given above describing all the vices that the Pompeians engaged may be applied to many societies of today’s time, however, we do not see such places being bombarded with volcanoes or being overcome by Divine Chastisement?

The answer to this question is simple. If we take a look at the nation of Prophet Lut asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him", we find that the sin of homosexuality, amongst a list of others, committed by them was not one which was limited to a few individuals or a certain part of the town. Rather the whole nation partook in the committing of this sin which was not kept a private matter, but propagated through practice and looked upon proudly. When this became a national habit and it was practised on every street of the town and was as if this was their only business day and night, then did the wrath of God finish them. In the same way, God does not destroy a nation it is bent upon not discarding certain practices which violate the Divine Law. Pompeian society, as has already been described, was full of immoral behaviour.

When a nation comes to such a point that the path leading towards repentance has been sealed shut, then it becomes liable to be punished. The case presented above shows how Pompeii was so much indulged in promiscuity that it even surpasses modern day times in which people claim that liberalism is at its height.

Other evidence for Pompeii being the wrath of God

I shall now present historical evidence which points towards the fact that Pompeii was destroyed due to the wrath of God.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius happened in 79 C.E, nine years after the siege of Jerusalem which saw the destruction of the Second Temple under Emperor Titus. The Romans punished the Jews for rebelling four years earlier and lay waste to the city of Jerusalem destroying the Temple of Solomon and killing thousands of innocent people. Ten years had not passed in this incident that the Roman Empire saw the destruction of Pompeii. Historical documents show that it was a generally held view at the time that it was God who destroyed the city due to two reasons. Firstly, because the town was indulged in extreme promiscuity and secondly, to punish the Romans for destroying the Second Temple. As Tertullian, known as the ‘father of western Theology’ states in his work De Pallio:

Dehinc, ut Deus censor est et impietas ignium meruit imbres, hactenus Sodoma et nulla Gomorrha et cinis omnia et propinquitas maris iuxta cum solo mortem uiuit. Ex huiuscemodi nubilo et Tuscia Vulsinios pristinos deusta, quo magis de montibus suis Campania speret, erepta Pompeios.

Tertulliani De Pallio (3, 2.4) Translated by Hunink 2005.
Siege of Jerusalem
The siege of Jerusalem in which the Roman army killed countless Jews. It is believed by some that God destroyed Pompeii to punish the Romans for what they did.

Subsequently, now that God is censor and impiety has earned rains of fire, so much for Sodom and there is no Gomorrha anymore. All has turned into ashes and the soil is living its death along with the nearby sea. Due to a parallel cloud Etruria was also set ablaze in her ancient Vulsinii, a fact that should make Campania expect even more of her mountains, now that she has been bereaved of Pompeii.

Meaning that Pompeii was like Sodom- the nation of the Prophet Lut asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" – who, due to its impiety became recipients of divine chastisement and were consequently destroyed by a rain of fire.

The Sibylline Oracles

The Sibylline Oracles are a collection of oral utterances made by Sibyls who were, according to their contemporaries, righteous women who uttered divine revelations. Though the oracles were compiled much later, they contained some prophecies made by the Sibyls which came to be true. The oracles openly reject idol worship and propagate the unity of God along with good morals and piety. Surprisingly, in one of the passages the way that God is bestowing revelation matches closely to the description of how revelation comes to an individual as described by the Promised Messiah asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" in ‘the Need for the Imam’. Amongst these prophecies was the prophecy of the destruction of Pompeii. The fourth book of this oracle which was compiled at least a hundred years before the destruction of Pompeii by Alexandrian Jews states:

And out of Syria shall come Rome’s foremost man,

Who having burned the temple of Solyma,

And having slaughtered many of the Jews,

Shall destruction on their great broad land.

And then too shall an earthquake overthrow

Both Salamis and Paphos, when dark water

Shall dash o’er Cyprus washed by many a wave.

But when from deep cleft of Italian land

Fire shall come flashing forth in the broad heaven,

And many cities burn and men destroy,

And much black ashes shall fill the great sky,

And small drops like red earth shall fall from heaven,

Then know the anger of the God of heaven,

For that they without reason shall destroy

The nation of the pious. And then strife

Awakened of war shall come to the West,

Shall also come the fugitive of Rome,

Bearing a great spear, having marched across

The passage above alludes to Emperor Titus burning the Temple of Solomon and killing many pious Jews who lived in Jerusalem. The section: ‘But when from deep cleft of Italian land Fire shall come flashing forth in the broad heaven, And many cities burn and men destroy, And much black ashes shall fill the great sky’ specifically speaks of Pompeii as it was destroyed a fire which originated from within the land and the ash and debris showered Pompeii with fire.

These oracles are often presented as evidence in support of the destruction of Pompeii being a Divine punishment from God such as in the Biblical Archeology Review. Even though Emperor Titus was responsible for the invasion and siege of Jerusalem and the Second Temple of Solomon Pompeii, one would assume that Rome should have been destroyed as it was the capital. But we should remember that Pompeii was the abode of the Roman elite. A place valued by the upper echelons of power to be like the most prized possession of the Empire and since the Romans had attacked and destroyed the heart of Jewish faith it was befitting that Pompeii should be destroyed.

More Evidence

Some historical records even point towards the fact that Pompeii was to be destroyed regardless of the Roman siege upon Jerusalem because the nation’s sins escalated to such an extent that they were bound to be punished. Historical records show a great comet that orbited the sky for seven months in 60 C.E. This was considered to be a bad omen that greatly disturbed the people. The Romans had a heavy belief in Astrology and would interpret celestial activity to be a reflection of what is about to take place on earth. Furthermore, what made people even more afraid was a great earthquake which hit Pompeii on the 5th of February 62 C.E and had an estimated magnitude of five or six which caused severe destruction to the city. The philosopher Seneca the Younger has described the damage done in one of his works titled ‘Naturales quaestiones De Terrae Motu.’

Furthermore, it is believed that Emperor Titus himself died an abrupt and sudden death a few years after Mount Vesuvius desecrated Pompeii. According to one source, he died of fever. But historians have speculated that he was poisoned by his brother who then became emperor. Titus’ final words were:

I have made but one mistake

Suetonius, The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Titus 10

According to the Babylonian Talmud, Titus suffered a horrific death which came after a huge amount of pain. It is recorded, that a gnat entered his nose and knocked against his brain for seven years and caused a slow and torturous death. It also states, different to other sources, that Titus’ final words were:

Burn me and scatter my ashes over the seven seas so that the God of the Jews should not find me and bring me to trial.

Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Gittin 20-19

It has now become clear that people of the time, and even after, held the view that Pompeii was destroyed because of their excessive sins and/or because the Romans had attacked the Temple of Solomon. Moreover, right after the ash had settled and the streets of Pompeii had become silenced with death everywhere, a man returned to the city and having walked through the streets and seen the desecration of the ‘Jewel of the Empire’ picked up a piece of charcoal, and scratched on the wall in large Latin letters the words ‘SODOM GOMORRAH’. According to this man, Pompeii had just been destroyed exactly in the same way and because of the same reason that the nation of Prophet Lot asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" was destroyed.Carlo Giordano and Isidoro Kahn, The Jews in Pompeii Herculaneum, Stabiae and in the Cities of Campania Felix 3rd ed., Wilhelmina F. Jashemski, trans. (Rome: Bardi Editore, 2003), pp. 76–75.

The phrase written upon one of Pompeii’s walls. It was believed that Pompeii was destroyed due to the same reason why the nation of Lut asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" was destroyed.

This is further supported by the close relationship with how Prophet Lot’s asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" nation and Pompeii was destroyed as it is stated in the Holy Qur’an:

فَلَمَّا جَاءَ أَمْرُنَا جَعَلْنَا عَالِيَهَا سَافِلَهَا وَأَمْطَرْنَا عَلَيْهَا حِجَارَةً مِنْ سِجِّيلٍ مَنْضُودٍ

“So when Our command came, We turned that town upside down and We rained upon it stones of clay, layer upon layer.”

The Holy Qur’an (11:83)

This account has also been presented in the Bible:

Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

Genesis (19:25)

However, when one looks at the way destruction came upon the people of Pompeii one finds a close resemble between how Pompeii was destroyed and other cities who transgressed were destroyed. Allah the Exalted mentions in the Holy Qur’an regarding the nation of Prophet Shu’aib asabbreviation for "Peace be upon him":

فَأَخَذَتْهُمُ الرَّجْفَةُ فَأَصْبَحُوا فِي دَارِهِمْ جَاثِمِينَ

“So the earthquake seized them and in their homes they lay prostrate upon the ground.”

The Holy Qur’an (7:79)

This verse paints a picture that perfectly fits in with how the people of Pompeii met their end. The image below demonstrates this description and in some cases, bodies were even found trying to get up and run, but the pyroclastic flow and ash from the Volcano was so quick to put an end to all life that some people’s bodies were preserved with facial expressions of extreme pain clearly visible. Moreover, the excavations unearthed a town that had been frozen in time. A family having a meal did not even have the chance to run from the catastrophe and were left petrified. Similarly, some bodies were preserved whilst still engaged in the act of intercourse with some couples being of the same gender. How quick the death of these people must have been to not even get a chance to take cover from the disaster which struck. This kind of sudden annihilation has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an with regard to those nations which faced the anger of God. It is stated in the Holy Qur’an:

إِنْ كَانَتْ إِلَّا صَيْحَةً وَاحِدَةً فَإِذَا هُمْ خَامِدُونَ

It was but a single blast and lo! they were extinct.

The Holy Qur’an (36:30)
Human remains found during excavations in Pompeii (Lancevortex, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Moreover, the eyewitness account presented by the historian Pliny the Younger, who watched the death of his uncle before him along with the end of thousands of Pompeians, portrays a strong sense that the destruction of the town was indeed a punishment from God as he describes the people being totally helpless and being in such a state in which, out of the unfathomable fear, they realise their wrongdoings.

Pliny the Younger observed the destruction from a distance and wrote an eyewitness account of it later. His description of the way Pompeii was destroyed matches closely to the towns that were destroyed by God.

Ashes were already falling, not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood. ’Let us leave the road while we can still see, ’I said,’or we shall be knocked down and trampled underfoot in the dark by the crowd behind. ’We had scarcely sat down to rest when darkness fell, not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.

Allen, G.B. (editor), Selected Letters of Pliny, (1915)

The phrase ‘more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness’ shows the heartfelt fear of the people of Pompeii. The exact same fear which overcomes disbelievers, causing them to naturally cry out to the true God for mercy when such a calamity occurs striking horror into the hearts.

The eruption of Vesuvius, by Johan Christian Dahl

This chilling account of the destruction of Pompeii leaves the reader feeling what Pliny the Younger must have felt as he watched the city get destroyed.

The scenes from Pompeii befit the Qur’anic description of how the residents of cities which faced divine wrath came to an end, hence, it can be argued that the destruction of Pompeii must have been a result of divine wrath.


This article was originally published in the Annual Printed Edition of Majallatul Jamia

Nauman Hadi

Nauman Hadi

Read Next

Nooruddeen Jahangir

Jehovah’s Witnesses

As Muslims it is our firm belief that all major religions are from God Almighty; be it Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or Sikhism. All these religions

Read More »