Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

The industrial city of Pompeii and the wealthier seaside town of Herculaneum were buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. In the face of such death, this show celebrates the lives of the inhabitants, through miraculously preserved artefacts.

Forget the emperors, gladiators and legionaries, the British Museum has brought together 250 objects that allow us to get closer to the professional class, the slaves, children and powerful women.

Twenty of the works come from the museum's collections, and the rest are the result of a close collaboration with the Archaeological Superintendency of Naples and Pompeii. Many have never before been seen outside Italy.

Don't miss

Some of the most arresting exhibits will be casts of the inhabitants of pompeii. The ash that covered the city turned to rock before their flesh decayed. By pouring plaster into the gaps in the volcanic deposit, we can recreate the final poses of those caught in the tragedy – many cowering in places of refuge or shielding children. The famous cast of a dog struggling to break its chain will be displayed alongside a mosaic, found on the threshold of a nearby house, of a guard dog on a lead.

There will be a range of carbonised wooden furniture from Herculaneum, including a preserved baby's crib that still rocks from side to side. The volcanic eruption affected both cities differently, and these pieces would not have survived in Pompeii.

Particularly interesting is a Pompeiian wall painting of the baker Terentius Neo and his wife, holding writing materials showing that they are literate and cultured. Their poses suggest that they are equal partners, in business and in life.

Venue details

British Museum Great Russell Street London WC1B 3DG 020 7323 8299

Entry details

50% off with National Art Pass - £7.50 (standard entry charge is £15)

Daily, 10am – 5.30pm (Fri until 8.30pm)

Closed 24 – 26 Dec and 1 Jan

Call 020 7323 8181 or book online at the British Museum's website.

What the critics say


This exhibition is overflowing with beautiful art. And yet no one will leave it talking about art history. Art here is an accessory to life.


I can only tell you that nothing I’ve seen or read before tells the story [of Pompeii and Herculaneum] in the way the British Museum does.