Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Museum

Ah, the British Museum, how I've missed you. Before I went travelling I'd come here fairly regularly to have a wander around the free exhibitions or just to sit in the foyer and chill to pass some time, but since returning to the UK I hadn't been back. That all changed thanks to my lovely friend C, who has membership, and very kindly invited me to come with her on members' night yesterday. The museum's current big exhibit is on Pompeii and Herculaneum, which I was really keen to see, especially as I'm currently working on a novel about the Romans so having the extra information was really helpful.

The exhibition mainly focuses on the everyday life of Pompeii and Herculaneum - which, for a quick history refresher, were both destroyed within a 24 hour period by Mount Vesuvius erupting in AD 79 - to show the stark contrast between the people of the towns just going about their normal lives and then the devastation caused by the volcano. It's themed around a typical house in Pompeii, beginning with the street outside, including the shops that many residents had attached to their houses and the local tavern, and then going on into the house and the individual rooms.

What really surprised me was how well preserved things were - the furniture, for example, which was mostly from Herculaneum as the way the eruption affected the towns was different, was all carbonised and mostly still intact. There's a particularly beautiful garden fresco in one room that is largely intact, and is completely and utterly gorgeous. Even things like the colours in the paintings and the delicate mosaics and jewellery have lasted so well for something that's almost 2,000 years old. That beauty really contrasts with the many parts of it that are quite stark and shocking, such as the opening display with the preserved body of a dog and then you see a dog mosaic from the house where the body was found later on in the exhibition. I got particularly sad over the perfectly preserved baby's cradle.

Overall though it was a brilliant exhibition - really interesting to see just the sheer amount of things that had survived and also what typical Roman life was like, but equally very thought-provoking in terms of not wasting a moment of your life because you don't know what's around the corner. If you're into Roman history then I really can't recommend it highly enough.

If you'd like to go to the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition, it's on until the 29th September and tickets are £15 each or free for members (which is £35 a year if you're under 26) - they are quite limited though so it's best to turn up on the day and see what you can get, but I promise you it's worth it.

Have you been to the Pompeii exhibition? What did you think of it? And which London museum is your favourite? Let me know in the comments and have a great day!


  1. Love the British Museum! Went to see The Terracotta Warriors a few years ago, so had to return for Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum. I went in June.
    The cradle was a particularly sad item, and the cast of the dog. But the family towards to end of the exhibit. I stood and starred for minutes, trying to imagine the horrors of their last minute.
    A very poignant exhibit and worth visiting before it ends.

    Good write-up Laura.

    Jemma xx

    1. Hi Jemma, thanks for your comment :) Very jealous of you getting to see the Terracota Warriors! What was that like?

      I agree that the family at the end were particularly sad - it really threw it all into context, with these people going about their everyday lives and then how quickly things changed, and I think the curators did a great job in keeping you immersed in their world and then suddenly it was all gone. I can only imagine how they must have felt, and the pain they must have suffered. It was certainly a very poignant and thought-provoking moment to end the exhibition on.

  2. It was very good. Plenty of Terracotta Warriors were on show, including some of the horses and a carriage as well as lots of smaller artefacts that i think most people wouldn't associate with the Terracota Warriors.

    I got that feeling too. At the beginning you were introduced to life there, everyday things - like the part which explained how the streets and shops were laid out - and then moved on to the eruption and the aftermath. Really well planned and laid out by the museum.
    It was, especially to see how they stuck together in fear until the end. Very moving.

  3. Hi there! I have just seen your blog and really love the idea behind it :) I went to Pompeii in Italy and it was so interesting to see. I haven't been to the British museum but I'd definitely like to go :) x

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! :)

      I'm very jealous of you getting to go to Pompeii, I was going to go as part of a sixth form trip to Italy but we didn't get there in the end :( What was it like? I can imagine it's a lot different to actually be there than just see it in a museum.

      Also you should definitely go to the British Museum if you have the chance, they have so many interesting things and most of it is free to get into (it's only the special exhibitions you have to pay for). I find it a great place to spend some time when I'm in that part of London and need somewhere to wander or just sit and people watch. The Lewis chessmen and Sutton Hoo exhibits are my favourite, I just love all the amazing detail and work that's gone into the items.