During the catastrophic Vesuvian eruption in 79 ad, Pliny the Elder set sail from Misenum with the quadriremes of his fleet to rescue the coastal populations threatened by the volcano. The knowledge of his humanitarian efforts was largely obscured by the death of the admiral himself, since such an event was the focus of the story written by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, our main source. However, the limited and fragmentary elements available allowed a cautious historical reconstruction of this rescue expedition, by linking the literary witnesses with the archaeological and volcanological evidence along the entire Vesuvian coast, with the concurrence of many other relevant disciplines, including Roman maritime history, psychology, nautical science, meteorology, oceanography and the art of naval command. The result is a complete representation, in broad outline, of this first major civil protection operation in history, carried out by the Roman ships within a terrifying cataclysm, with superhuman courage and with such determination to achieve results of great importance, taking into account the remarkable containment of the number of victims in the populous area buried by the eruption.
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