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August 3 2019
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Pompeii, House of the Chaste Lovers, a fresco dating to 45–79 A.D., from an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

On a cool autumn morning in AD79, at a café bar in Pompeii, a slave we will call Festus was preparing a pot of beans and onions in readiness for the lunchtime rush. The barmaids would soon be arriving — the bar doubled as a bordello and the price for extra favours from each of the women was scribbled on the wall beside the counter.

Stirring idly, Festus noticed that the sky had darkened and a roaring noise was building to the north of the city. Whatever was going on felt threatening; he put down his spoon and fled.

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