A review of compositional data of the major explosive eruptions of Vesuvius is presented, comparing compositions (major elements) of whole rock with glass shards from the proximal deposits, hopefully useful for long-distance correlation. A critical review of published and new geochronological data is also provided. All available 14 C ages are calibrated to give calendar ages useful for the reconstruction of the volcanological evolution of the volcanic complex. The pyroclastic deposits of the four major Plinian eruptions (22,000 yr cal BP "Pomici di Base", 8900 yr cat BP "Mercato Pumice", 4300 yr cat BP "Avellino Pumice", and A.D. 79 "Pompeii Pumice") are widely dispersed and allow a four-folded, Plinian to Plinian, stratigraphic division: 1. B-M (between Pomici di Base and Mercato); 2. M-A (between Mercato and Avellino); 3. A-P (between Avellino and Pompeii); 4. P-XX (from the Pompeii Pumice to the last erupted products of the XXth century). Within each interval, the age, lithologic and compositional features of pyroclastic deposits of major eruptions, potentially useful for tephrostratigraphic purposes on distal areas, are briefly discussed. The Vesuvius rocks are mostly high Potassic products, widely variable in terms of their silica saturation. They form three groups, different for both composition and age: 1. slightly undersaturated, older than Mercato eruption; 2. mildly undersaturated, from Mercato to Pompeii eruptions; 3. highly undersaturated, younger than Pompeii eruption. For whole rock analyses, the peculiar variations in contents of some major and trace elements as well as different trends in element/element ratios, allow a clear, unequivocal, easy diagnosis of the group they belong. Glass analyses show large compositional overlap between different groups, but selected element vs. element plots are distinctive for the three groups. The comparative analysis of glass and whole rock major element compositions provides reliable geochemical criteria helping in the recognition, frequently not obvious, of distal products from the different single eruptions. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.