I'm curious to know whether the Romans had a word for "volcano", and, more specifically, whether they thought of Mount Vesuvius as a volcano.1 After the eruption of AD 79, I'm sure they had some choice words for what happened... what words did they use to describe the eruption and particularly the volcano? Feel free to offer evidence on any eruptions predating the one of AD 79, as after skimming the Wikipedia page on Mount Vesuvius, there seem to have been eruptions before then, or at least, descriptions by Greek and Roman writers of its fiery nature.

1 I found one option on William Whitaker's words, i.e. vulcanus, but I'm not sure if this word is attested from descriptions of Vesuvius, or even if it was widely used.

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    “There is no Greek or Latin term to be found in ancient literature corresponding to the modern 'volcano'; nevertheless, individual volcanic phenomena are identified, such as lava-flow: Greek ῥύαξ/rhýax (< ῥέω/rhéō, 'to flow'; cf. also Theophrastus's Perì rhýakos toû en Sikelíai mentioned in Diog. Laert. 5,49), Lat. Vulcanius amnis ('Vulcanic stream', Claud. Rapt. Pros. 172; from Latin Vulcanius, 'pertaining to Vulcan and his works'), saxa liquefacta 'liquified rocks' (Verg. Aen. 3,576) or massa ardens 'blazing mass' (Iuv. 10,130)” (Sonnabend, Holger (Stuttgart), “Volcanoes”, Brill’s New Pauly)
    – Alex B.
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 12:45

1 Answer 1


According to this article the Romans didn't have a word for volcano: "Before the Age of Discoveries ... Apparently no need was felt for a generic word to describe a mountain that emitted fire"

Apparently the Romans referred to Vesuvius as a mons. See here for examples. (Thanks for noting this, Rafael!)


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