History Stories

Archaeologists who discovered the imprint of a horse killed in the Pompeii disaster have now cast a full-size plaster replica of the horse’s body print, the first to be found in the wreckage at Pompeii.

The horse with no name met its fate in 79 A.D., when the Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted, killing around 2,000 people in and around Pompeii. Though it’s far from the deadliest volcanic disaster ever recorded—that’d be Mount Tambora’s 1815 eruption, which killed roughly 100,000 people—archaeological discoveries have made it one of the most famous.

Researchers have already captured the final poses of some of the people who died in the Pompeii disaster by locating cavities where ashes formed around their now-decomposed bodies, and then injecting the cavities with liquid plaster. Now, they’ve used this technique to recreate the final pose of a horse that died in a stable in Civita Giuliana, outside the gates of Pompeii.

(Photo: Parco Archeologico di Pompei)

(Photo: Parco Archeologico di Pompei)

The horse was just under five feet tall, measured from the ground to its withers, or the base of the neck. That makes it a little smaller than modern horses (the famous racing horse Secretariat stood at five feet,six inches). But this isn’t surprising because the average size of horses increased over time as smaller types—like Dawn horses, which were closer to the size of modern dogs—became extinct. In fact, the Pompeii horse may have been larger for its time.

Researchers are certain this animal was indeed a horse because of the clear imprint that its ear made in the ground. They also think it may have been bred to be a parade horse, based on fragments of an iron and bronze harness found near its head.

Archaeologists have previously unearthed donkey and mule skeletons from the Pompeii disaster, but they’ve only successfully cast a few animals, like a pig and a dog. There are far more casts of humans, a preservation method that the archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli started in 1863.

The human casts are especially affecting because of their detailed facial expressions, preserved for 2,000 years by ash that hardened around their bodies. Because of this, preserving them in plaster isn’t just a way to record information about how the people of Pompeii lived; it also puts a literal human face on an ancient tragedy.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.