Pompeii was probably founded by the Oscans around the 8th century BC. This ancient Italic people settled on the southern slopes of Mount Vesuvius along the banks of the Sarno River, which was navigable at the time. Pompeii became an important commercial center early on, catching the interest of the invading Greeks and Etruscans. The Etruscans were conquered on the waters off Cuma, and the city came under domination by the Samnites in the 5th century BC.
As a Samnite city, Pompeii entered into the Nucerine League and the tufo stone city walls were both expanded and fortified, allowing the city itself to grow. Pompeii became known as an important exporter of olive oil and wine, benefiting from the Mediterranean free market under Roman protection.
After the end of the Samnite Wars in 80 BC, the city came under Roman dominance and in 89 BC Publius Cornelius Silla took up residency there along with a group of veterans, renaming the city Colonia Venerea Pompeianorum Sillana.
During its Roman period, the city reached its architectural and economic peak, transforming into one of the most popular recreational and resort towns of the Roman aristocracy. During the Imperial Age, many wealthy Roman families moved to Pompeii, and buildings like the Temple of Fortuna Augusta and the Building of Eumachia are testimony to this influx.
Under the Emperor Nero, the city was seriously damaged due to a strong earthquake in 62 AD, and rebuilding immediately began. Work was interrupted on 24 August of 79 AD by the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Visiting the Crater on Mount Vesuvius
A cloud, from which mountain was uncertain, at this distance (but it was found afterwards to come from Mount Vesuvius), was ascending, the appearance of which I cannot give you a more exact description of than by likening it to that of a pine tree, for it shot up to a great height in the form of a very tall trunk, which spread itself out at the top into a sort of branches; occasioned, I imagine, either by a sudden gust of air that impelled it, the force of which decreased as it advanced upwards, or the cloud itself being pressed back again by its own weight, expanded in the manner I have mentioned; it appeared sometimes bright and sometimes dark and spotted, according as it was either more or less impregnated with earth and cinders."
(Pliny the Younger)
Excavation of Pompeii began in 1748 under King of Naples Charles III of Bourbon, who was interested in the project's prestige for the royal house and did not undertake the dig with particular scientific or systematic vigor. During the French occupation at the beginning of the 19th century, work at the excavation increased, though was halted almost completely with the return of the Bourbon kings. During this period, the discovery of the House of the Faun, with its excellent mosaic depicting the Battle of Alexander at Issus created such a stir that archaeological work began again at the site, this time using scientific methodology, careful record keeping, and plaster casting. From 1924 to 1961, work was overseen by Italian archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri and included important discoveries.
Over recent years, excavations of new areas in the site have been halted and work is concentrated on restoring and maintaining buildings already unearthed.