A skeleton of a soldier that was unearthed in the 1980s was recently reevaluated, and it is now believed that the man was a high-ranking officer who was in Herculaneum to help evacuate the Roman citizens fleeing from Mount Vesuvius, NBC News reported.
The man is believed to have been between 40 and 45 years old and in good health. The eruption threw the man, who was found face down, to the ground, BBC News reported.
The key to the new information was not the skeleton itself, but instead what was found near him.
The remains had a leather belt on. Next to the man was a sword with an ivory hilt, a decorated dagger and a bag of coins, NBC News reported.
A closer look at the man’s belt showed it had once been decorated with a lion and cherub made of silver and gold. The sword’s scabbard had an oval shield mark on it.
“All these clues suggest that he was not a simple soldier, more likely a high-ranking officer, even a praetorian,” Francesco Sirano, the archaeological site’s director said. He said the elite soldiers who served as bodyguards to Roman emperors wore oval shields, and the value of coins was the same as what a praetorian was paid each month.
Sirano said he has no doubt that the man was in the city as part of a rescue mission, NBC News reported.
The man was found on the beach with about 300 other remains and just a few feet from what had been a boat.
A rescue mission had been led by Pliny the Elder, who died during the rescue. His nephew, Pliny the Younger, documented the mission in detail.
He told the historian Tacitus, “The ash already falling became hotter and thicker as the ships approached the coast and it was soon superseded by pumice and blackened burnt stones shattered by the fire.
“Suddenly the sea shallowed where the shore was obstructed and choked by debris from the mountain,” NBC News reported the accounts as saying.
The remains of Pliny the Elder were discovered when scientists performed DNA tests on a skeleton found on the beach 100 years ago. It was found with similar artifacts as the officer’s remains.
Sirano said his teams are now DNA testing the other skeletons found in that area.
Excavations in the area where the skeleton was found 40 years ago are expected to begin again in the next few weeks, BBC News reported.
Last year, archaeologists found the remains of what they said they believe were a man and his slave in a building that had been a villa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, The Associated Press reported.
It is believed that the two men survived the first ash that rained down from the volcano, but died when the mountain exploded the next morning in 79 A.D., the AP reported in November.
Examination of the men’s bones led archaeologists to believe that one of the men was between 18 and 25 and had a spine that had compressed disks, leading them to the conclusion that he was a young man who did manual labor like a slave, the AP reported.
The other man was estimated to have been between 30 and 40 years old, and had a robust chest.
The fabric they were wearing left impressions in the ash. The younger man was wearing a short, pleated tunic that may have been made of wool. The older man was also wearing a tunic and a mantle over his left shoulder.
They were found near each other in a side room in an underground area called a cryptoporticus that had once led to the villa above. The home was destroyed in the eruptions, the AP reported.
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