20120227-Pompei market stalls.jpg
Pompei market stalls
In ancient Rome there were no corporations, no stocks and bonds, and real estate was rarely put up for sale. There are examples of branding from ancient Rome. The statement “Miscenius Ampilatus makes [this] in Salone” was found in modern-day Croatia on a mold that used make bread or cakes sold during gladiator contests."

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Roman commerce covered all known lands and seas, though Italy had little export trade. Pliny the Elder tells us that the trade with India and China took from Rome $5,000,000 yearly. The West sent more raw materials than the East, and fewer finished articles. Bankers (argentarii) united money-changing with money-lending. Money-changing was very necessary in a city into which came all the coins of the known world; money-lending was never looked upon as entirely respectable for a Roman, but there can be no doubt that many a Roman of the highest respectability drew large profits from this business, carried on discreetly in the name of a freedman. The bankers took deposits, paid interest, and made payments on written orders. They helped their clients to find investments, and through their foreign connections could supply letters of credit to travelers. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The wholesale trade was to a large extent in the hands of the capitalists (equites); the retail business was conducted chiefly by freedmen and foreigners. The supplying of food to the city must have given employment to thousands, but the producer seems to have dealt directly with the retailer, as a rule, and there were few middlemen. The clothing trade has been mentioned already. No factory system seems to have developed there. The spinning and weaving were probably done at home by women who may have contracted for the disposition of their work with the large dealers, the fullers, perhaps, as the cloth had to go through their hands for finishing. There are not many traces of a regular factory system, but something of the sort seems to have been developed in iron at Puteoli, in fine copper and bronze work at Capua, perhaps also in silverware and in glass, and at Rome in brick and tile. |+|

“Building operations were carried on to an immense scale and at an immense cost. Public buildings and many of the important private buildings were erected by contract. There can be little doubt that the letting of the contracts for the public buildings was made very profitable for the officer who had it to do, but it must be admitted on the other hand that the building was well done. Crassus seems to have done a sort of salvage business. When buildings seemed certain to be destroyed by fire, he would buy their contents at a nominal sum, and then fight the flames with gangs of slaves that he had trained for the purpose. The slave trade itself, though disreputable, was very considerable, and large fortunes were amassed in it. The heavy work of ordinary laborers was performed almost entirely by slaves, and much work was then done by hand that is now done by machinery. The book business has been mentioned.” |+|

“For a most important passage relating to the Roman attitude toward trade and business see Cicero,De Officiis, I, 150-151.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Equites: Roman Capitalists


Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “The name of knight (eques) had lost its original significance long before the time of Cicero. The equites had become the class of capitalists who found in financial transactions the excitement and the profit that the nobles found in politics and war. Under the Empire certain important administrative posts were turned over to the equites, and there came to be a regular equestrian cursus honorum, but the equites continued to be on the whole the business class. It was the immense scale of their operations that relieved them from the stigma that attached to working for gain just as in modern times the wholesale dealer may have a social position entirely beyond the hopes of the small retailer. From early times their syndicates had financed and carried on great public works of all sorts, bidding for the contracts let by the magistrates. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“Though “big business” never exerted the power at Rome attributed to it in modern times, in the later years of the Republic the equites as a body exerted considerable political influence, holding in fact the balance of power between the senatorial and the democratic parties. As a rule they exerted this influence only so far as was necessary to secure legislation favorable to them as a class, and to insure as governors for the provinces men that would not look too closely into their transactions there. For in the provinces the knights as well as the nobles found their best opportunities. Their chief business in the provinces was collecting the revenues on a contract basis. For this purpose syndicates were formed, which paid into the public treasury a lump sum fixed by the senate, and reimbursed themselves by collecting what they could from the province. While the system lasted, the profits were far beyond all reason, and the word “publican” became a synonym for “sinner.” Besides farming the revenues, the equites “financed” provinces and allied states, advancing money to meet the ordinary or extraordinary expenses. Sulla levied a contribution of 20,000 talents (about $20,000,000) in Asia. |+|

“The money was advanced by a syndicate of Roman capitalists, and they had collected the amount six times over, when Sulla interfered, for fear that there would be nothing left for him in case of future needs. More than one pretender was set upon a puppet throne in the East in order to secure the payment of sums previously lent to him by the capitalists. The operations of the equites as individuals were only less extensive and less profitable. The grain in the provinces, the wool, and the products of mines and factories could be moved only with the money advanced by them. They ventured also to engage in commercial enterprises abroad that were barred against them at home, doing the buying and selling themselves, not merely supplying the money to others. They lent money to individuals, too, though at Rome money-lending was discreditable. The usual rate of interest was twelve per cent, but Marcus Brutus was lending money at forty-eight per cent in Cilicia, and trying to collect compound interest, too, when Cicero went there as governor in 51 B.C., and he expected Cicero to enforce his demands for him.” |+|

Small Tradesmen in Ancient Rome

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Little is to be found in literature about the small tradesman or the free laborer. From the excavations at Pompeii, however, we may form some idea of the shops and the business done in them. It has been said already that the street sides of residences might be rows of small shops, most of which were not connected with the house within. Such a shop was usually a small room with a counter across the front, closed with heavy shutters at night. The goods sold over the counter were often made directly behind it. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The shoemaker (sutor) had his workbench and his case of lasts (formae), and made, sold, and repaired shoes. Some masonry counters have holes for several kettles, where the hot food prepared in the shop was kept for sale. In one case change was found lying on the counter as it was left in alarm at the time of the eruption. Locksmiths, goldsmiths, and other craftsmen had the necessary equipment and sold their own goods. There were also retail shops where goods were sold that were produced elsewhere on a larger scale, as the red glazed Arretine ware from Arretium and Puteoli, the copper and bronze utensils from Capua, and so on. The shopkeeper might work alone in his small room by day and sleep there at night. |+|

“The plan of the house of Pansa shows that there were also larger establishments of several rooms, as the bakery, for instance, which, as usual, included mills for grinding the grain, because there were no separate mills. Some shops have stairways leading to a room or two in the floor above, where the family, we may suppose, lived over the shop. Shoppers drifted along the street from counter to counter, buying, bargaining, or “just looking.” Martial describes a dandy in the fashionable shopping district at Rome going from one shop to another. He demands that the covers be taken off expensive table-tops and that their ivory legs be brought down for his inspection, he criticizes objects of art and has certain ones laid aside, and, leaving at last for luncheon, buys two cups for a penny and carries them home himself!” |+|

Trade and Business at Vindolanda

Vindolanda was a Roman auxiliary fort just south of Hadrian's Wall in northern England. Over 400 tablets, with readable Roman-era letters and messages, have been found there. Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “Another fabulous, long and very well preserved letter, from Octavius to his brother Candidus, gives us the names of these two brothers and portrays them as a couple of local wide-boys, with their fingers in as many pies as possible (Tab. Vindol. II 343): “Octavius to his brother Candidus, greetings. The hundred pounds of sinew from Marinus, I will settle up. From the time when you wrote about this matter, he has not even mentioned it to me. I have several times written to you that I have bought about 5,000 modii of ears of grain, on account of which I need cash. Unless you send me some cash, at least 500 denarii, the result will be that I shall lose what I have laid out as a deposit, about 300 denarii, and I shall be embarrassed. So, I ask you, send me some cash as soon as possible. The hides which you write are at Cataractonium, write that they be given to me and the wagon about which you write. And write to me what is with that wagon. I would have already have been to collect them except that I did not care to injure the animals while the roads are bad. See with Tertius about the 8½ denarii which he received from Fatalis. He has not credited them to my account. Know that I have completed the 170 hides and I have 119(?) modii of threshed bracis. Make sure that you send me some cash so that I may have ears of grain on the threshing room floor. Moreover, I have already finished threshing all that I had. A messmate of our friend Frontius has been here. He was wanting me to allocate(?) him some hides, and that being so, was ready to give cash. I told him I would give him the hides by the Kalends of March. He decided that he would come on the Ides of January. He did not turn up, nor did he take the trouble to obtain them since he had hides. If he had given the cash, I would have given him them. I hear that Frontinius Julius has for sale at a high price the leather ware(?) which he bought here for five denarii apiece. Greet Spectatus and ...and Firmus. I have received letters from Gleuco. Farewell. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, November 16, 2012 |::|]|

fabric merchant

“Candidus was obviously so well known in the fort that his brother did not need to put his name on the back for whoever was delivering the note. The two seem to have the supply of grain to Vindolanda sewn up (which is interesting when you consider that the military granary of Corbridge was just down the road). The regular allocations to Macrinus and Crescens are probably rations doled out to individual unit centurions: since a Crescens is named as a centurion of III Batavorum. In that case, who are Firmus and Spectatus? Clearly Firmus is a key individual, as he has the authority to allocate grain to a detachment of legionaries in the fort; yet does this mean that he is a senior centurion of one of the cohorts, or is he just a middle-man? Since Spectatus uses grain as a loan to Victor, it seems most likely that they were agents of the brothers (though this does not necessarily stop them being soldiers). |::|

“I think it is clear that the two brothers were civilian entrepreneurs, and when you consider that the annual pay of an auxiliary soldier at this time was about 300 denarii, they were obviously not in the little-league if they could fork out 500 denarii for their grain supplies. The fact that they had Roman names can tell us little, since anyone who wanted to get on is likely to have 'Romanised' by this time. One possibility does come to mind. Given the Roman penchant for farming out public services (like tax-collecting and mining) to individual entrepreneurs, it is possible that these two men had the contract for supplying grain to the army from Corbridge. Flavius Cerialis and his family |::|

The other great strength of the Vindolanda tablets is the insights that they give into the personal lives of some of the people who inhabited the fort. Naturally, this is most graphic for the officers of the fort, especially since the majority of the tablets were found in a rubbish tip linked to the commander's house, but there are things they can say about the lesser individuals who lived and worked in the vicinity also.” |::|

Pompeii Inscriptions and Wax Tablets Related to Business and Properties to Rent

The historian William Stearns Davis wrote: “There are almost no literary remains from Antiquity possessing greater human interest than these inscriptions scratched on the walls of Pompeii (destroyed 79 A.D.). Their character is extremely varied, and they illustrate in a keen and vital way the life of a busy, luxurious, and, withal, tolerably typical, city of some 25,000 inhabitants in the days of the Flavian Caesars. [Source:William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 260-265]

vegetable seller

Inscriptions from Pompeii About Properties to Rent: 1) “Inn to let. Triclinium [dining room] with three couches.” 2) “To rent from the first day of next July, shops with the floors over them, fine upper chambers, and a house, in the Arnius Pollio block, owned by Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius. Prospective lessees may apply to Primus, slave of Gnaeus Alleius Nigidius Maius.” 3) “To let, for the term of five years, from the thirteenth day of next August to the thirteenth day of the sixth August thereafter, the Venus bath, fitted up for the best people, shops, rooms over shops, and second-story apartments in the property owned by Julia Felix, daughter of Spurius.” Business Transactions on Wax Tablets from Pompeii: “Umbricia Januaria declares that she has received from Lucius Caecilius Jucundus 11,039 sesterces which sum came into the hands of Lucius Caecilius Jucundus by agreement as the proceeds of an auction sale for Umbricia Januaria, the commission due him having been deducted. Done at Pompeii, on the 12th of December, in the consulship of Lucius Duvius and Publius Clodius. [56 A.D.]. (Many witnesses follow).”

“On the 18th of June in the duumvirate of Lucius Veranius Hypsaeus and Lucius Albucius Justus, I, Privatus, slave of the colony of Pompeii, declared in writing that I had received from Lucius Caecilius Jucundus 1,675 sesterces, and previous to this day, on June 6, I received 1000 sesterces as rent for the public pasture. Done at Pompeii in the consulship of Gnaeus Fonteius and Gaius Vipstanus “[59 A.D.]. (Many witnesses follow).

The Sulpicci Archives is a collection of 127 tablets dated between A.D. 26 and 61. They record transactions at the port of Naples. The Sulpiccis were a family of bankers and moneylenders. The tablets give insight into banking and financial services in the Roman era. Most of the documents are payment orders, receipts and IOUs.

The Sulpicci Archives also shows evidence of lawsuits, guarantees for loans in the form of pledges of goods and slaves, cosigned loans and agreements that if a debt wasn't paid in time the creditors had the right to auction the pledged goods. One of the tablets described a loan of 10,000 sesterces given with a collateral of goods — 61,000 liters of Alexandrian wine and 35,000 liters of chickpeas, emmer wheat and lentils — held in storage until the debt was repaid.

Forums in the Roman Empire

The forum was the main square or market place of a Roman city. It was the center of Roman social life and the place where business affairs and judicial proceedings were carried out. Here, orators stood on podiums pontificating about the issues of the days, priests offered sacrifices before the gods, chariot-borne emperors rode past worshipping crowds, and people milled about shopping, gossiping and simply hanging out.

Dr Joanne Berry wrote for the BBC: Pompeii's forum was “the political, commercial and social heart of the town, as in all other Roman towns. As was typical of the time, most of the most important civic buildings at Pompeii - the municipal offices, the basilica (court-house), the principal temples (such as the Capitolium), and the macellum (market) - were located in or around the forum. [Source: Dr Joanne Berry, Pompeii Images, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Recent archaeological work has demonstrated that in the years immediately before Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii, building work was taking place to improve the appearance of the forum. Wall-paintings in one of the houses excavated illustrate scenes from the forum, such as bustling market-stalls set up in the colonnade fronting many of the forum buildings. Such evidence highlights the importance of this area in the everyday lives of the town's inhabitants.” |::|

shopping for belts and pillows in ancient Rome

Shopping Malls, Shopping Lists and Shoplifting in the Roman Era

It has been asserted that the Romans invented the shopping mall. Andrew Handley wrote for Listverse: “Trajan’s market was a massive open building in ancient Rome that is probably one of the world’s first examples of something we usually associate with the 20th century—a shopping mall. And while today’s malls probably wouldn’t stand up against even a mediocre hurricane, the Roman building is still standing more than 2,000 years later. [Source: Andrew Handley, Listverse, February 8, 2013 ]

“The two level building was located in the center of what used to be the main city of Rome, and is large enough to hold roughly 150 different shops. The reason it has weathered so well is because of the innovative way Romans made concrete for their structures—they were one of the first to start mixing lime in with concrete to protect it from corrosion.”

An inscriptions from Pompeii reads: “A copper pot has been taken from this shop. Whoever brings it back will receive 65 sesterces. If any one shall hand over the thief he will be rewarded”.

In 2001, Oxford historian Dr Roger Tomlin deciphered a document dated to A.D. 75-125, found near Hadrian’s Wall that was determined to be a shopping list for a Roman soldier. It said that for the soldier to buy a clothing outfit at auction would require him to pay 8 percent of his yearly income (25 denarii). He would have had to fork out another 10 percent for a cloak to protect him from Britain's hostile climate.” [Source: Anna Salleh, ABC Science Online, March 5, 2001]

Roman Forum

The Roman Forum (between the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Capitoline Hill) is a huge jumble of weathered arches, fallen columns, broken pedestals, stone blocks and buildings still in the process of being restored. Set up like a big park, it is a good place to stroll around admire Roman architecture and watch cats fight.

Situated in a long green valley that was originally a swamp, it was used by the predecessors of the Etruscans to bury their dead. The Etruscans and Greeks set up a market there. The early Romans established a village where Romulus held a meeting on 753 B.C. that led to the rape of the Sabine women. In Imperial Rome, , the Forum was sort of like New York's Park Avenue and Washington D.C.'s Mall all rolled into one. It was the political and economic center of Rome and the main gathering place for Rome's people.

Roman Forum

People came here to chat and gossip with their friends; to listen to orators and politicians, who stood on podiums pontificating about the issues of the day; to worship and make sacrifices to their pagan Gods; and to shop for foodstuffs and items brought in from as far as Africa and Persia. Emperors and noblemen built their palaces on the hills surrounding the Forum.

For 500 years, until the middle of the 5th century when Rome was sacked, every emperor raised new monuments in the Forum. After Rome was claimed by Barbarian tribes, the Forum was abandoned and ignored. When archeologists began excavating it in the 19th century it was covered by 20 feet of soil and cattle grazed on the grass above it.

The Forum today is divided into the Civic Forum (Capitoline Hill side of the Forum), Market Quare, the Lower Forum, the Upper Forum (Colosseum-side entrance of the Forum), the Velia and Palantine Hill. As is true with the Colosseum, most of the buildings are the brick superstructures of the originals, whose marble facades were dismantled and carted away and used to make other building in Rome such as St. Peter's Basilica. Some of the pieces of stone have numbers on them to identify their position. The Temple of Mars Ultor (mars the Avenger) is dedicated to the god of war for evenging Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar.

Bakeries and Bread-Sellers in Ancient Rome

Dr Joanne Berry wrote for the BBC: A wall-painting from Pompeii “depicts the sale of bread - loaves of bread are stacked on the shop counter, and the vendor can be seen handing them to customers. It is thought that the inhabitants of Pompeii bought their daily bread from bakeries rather than baked it themselves at home, since ovens rarely are found in the houses of the town.” The high “number of bakeries that have so far been excavated tends to support this belief. Bakeries are identified by the presence of stone mills to grind grain, and large wood-burning ovens for baking. [Source: Dr Joanne Berry, Pompeii Images, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

“Bread may have been bought directly from the bakery, but it is likely that it was also sold from temporary stalls set up at different parts of the town. Two graffiti discovered on the precinct wall of the Temple of Apollo are an indication of this. They read Verecunnus libarius hic and Pudens libarius, which can be roughly translated as 'Verecunnus and Pudens sell sacrificial bread here'. |::|

20120227-Pompei bakery 2.jpg
Pompeii bakery
Lava mills and the large wood-burning oven identify” a building “as a bakery. Each mill consists of two mill-stones, one stationary and one hollow and shaped like a funnel. The funnel-shaped stone had slots, into which wooden levers could be inserted so that the stone could be rotated. Each mill would have been operated either by manpower or with the help of a donkey or horse (in one bakery, the skeletons of several donkeys were discovered). In order to make flour, grain was poured from above into the hollow stone and then was ground between the two stones. In total, 33 bakeries have so far been found in Pompeii. The carbonised remains of loaves of bread were found in one, demonstrating that the oven was in use at the time of the eruption in A.D. 79.” |::|

Charles King wrote in his website “A History of Bread”: “A Bakers’ Guild was formed in Rome round about the year 168 B.C. From then on the industry began as a separate profession. The Guild or College, called Collegium Pistorim. did not allow the bakers or their children to withdraw from it and take up other trades. The bakers in Rome at this period enjoyed special privileges: they were the only craftsmen who were freemen of the city, all other trades being conducted by slaves. [Source: Charles King, “A History of Bread” |~|]

“The members of the Guild were forbidden to mix with ‘comedians and gladiators’ and from attending performances at the amphitheatre, so that they might not be contaminated by the vices of the ordinary people. We suppose that the bakers, instead of being honoured by the strict regulations, must have felt deprived by them.” |~|

Thermopoliums: Roman Fast Food Restaurants?

Pompeii was filled with thermopolia — small shops or 'bars' that are thought to have sold food. Dr Joanne Berry wrote for the BBC: “ They consist of terracotta containers (dolia) sunk into a masonry counter (sometimes covered with polychrome marble) that are believed to have contained hot food that was sold to customers. Some thermopolia have decorated back rooms, which may have functioned as dining-rooms. [Source: Dr Joanne Berry, Pompeii Images, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“In one thermopolium, the remains of a cloth bag were discovered in one of the dolia, along with over a thousand coins; these are thought to represent the day's takings and demonstrate the popularity of the establishment. Lararia (domestic shrines) are a fairly common feature of thermopolia, and sometimes depict Mercury and Dionysus, the gods of commerce and wine respectively. |::|

Stephen Dyson, one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient Rome and a professor of classics at the University of Buffalo, likened Roman thermopolium to a cross between “Burger King and a British pub or a Spanish tapas bar.” Open to the street, each had a large counter with a receptacle in the middle from which food or drink would have been served. “Dyson said, “Italy’s vibrant street and bar scenes today, along with the often multipurpose design of homes with bedsteads stacked in a corner, or kitchenettes in surprising places, reflect the wonderful, slightly chaotic, aspects of early Roman life.” [Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, June 20, 2007]

marble-surfaced counter of a thermopolium in Pompeii

Vetutius Placidus's thermopolium in Pompeii is perhaps the most famous ancient Roman restaurant. Named after its owner, it was best known for its house-speciality – baked cheese smothered in honey and the L-shaped counter in its triclinium, or dining area. Michael Day wrote in TribuneNews: “Inside, as in many modern cafés and bars, visitors are greeted with a large, L-shaped, decorated counter where customers stood to enjoy a quick lunch. Cylindrical holes in the bar contained glass dolia, or jars, displaying food. Archaeologists working at the site also found a jar full of coins, amounting to about two days’ income. They speculate that the owner may have left them in a last-ditch attempt to save his wealth as he fled the doomed city. [Source: Michael Day, TribuneNews March 21, 2010]

“The thermopolium used to open directly on to a main street, the Via dell’Abbondanza. All sections of Pompeii society would call by for snacks or a light Mediterranean lunch...Sweet, calorie-filled desserts were the real stars of the snack bar. Its creations — named mostaccioli and globe — were filled with sticky honey and ricotta cheese have direct descendants in the cafés of nearby Naples today. Dr Annamaria Ciarallo, an environmental biologist and researcher at Pompeii, said: many of the snack bar’s customers would have grabbed snacks and light meals as takeaways: “There wasn’t a lot of ceremony. Often people, especially the busy ones, would have eaten outside.” “But for customers who preferred to sit, the thermopolium had a triclinium, or dining area, with couches. The house of the owner and his family adjoined the premises.” [Ibid]

Skeletons, Coins Found in Shop Near Pompeii

In 2016, Italian and French archaeologists announced that they had discovered four skeletons and gold coins in the ruins of an ancient shop on the outskirts of Pompeii. The skeletons included that of a an adolescent girl, who perished in the back of the shop when Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered Pompeii in ash in A.D. 79. [Source: Associated Press, June 24, 2016]

Associated Press reported: “Three gold coins and a necklace's pendant were scattered among the bones. In the workshop was an oven which archaeologists think might have been used to make bronze objects. The excavation of that and a second ancient shop started in May near a necropolis in the Herculaneum port area. Archaeologists are puzzling over what kind of business the second shop did. It features a circular well accessible by a spiral staircase and dug out of the terrain.

“Officials said there was evidence the shop had been ransacked by clandestine diggers after the eruption, presumably "on the hunt for treasures buried under the ashes." The coins and the gold-leaf-foil pendant, in the shape of a flower, apparently escaped the eyes of those pillaging the shop, the archaeologists said.”

Ancient Roman Inns

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “There were numerous lodging houses and restaurants in all the cities and towns of Italy, but all were of the meanest character. Respectable travelers avoided them scrupulously; they either had stopping-places of their own (deversoria) on roads that they used frequently, or claimed entertainment from friends and hospites, whom they would be sure to have everywhere. Nothing but accident, stress of weather, or unusual haste could drive them to places of public entertainment (tabernae deversoriae, cauponae). [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

“The guests of such places were, therefore, of the lowest class, and innkeepers (caupones) and inns bore the most unsavory reputations. Food and beds were furnished the travelers, and their horses were accommodated under the same roof and in unpleasant proximity. The plan of an inn at Pompeii may be taken as a fair sample of all such houses. The entrance (a) is broad enough to admit wagons into the wagon-room (f), behind which is the stable (k). In one corner is a watering-trough (l), in another a latrina (i). On either side of the entrance is a wine-room (b, d), with the room of the proprietor (c) opening off one of them. The small rooms (e, g, h) are bedrooms, and other bedrooms in the second story over the wagon-room were reached by the back stairway.

“The front stairway has an entrance of its own from the street; the rooms reached by it had probably no connection with the inn. Behind this stairway on the lower floor was a fireplace (m) with a water heater. An idea of the moderate prices charged in such places may be had from a bill which has come down to us in an inscription preserved in the Museum at Naples: a pint of wine with bread, one cent; other food, two cents; hay for a mule, two cents. The corners of streets, especially at points close to the city walls, were the favorite sites for inns, and they had signs (the elephant, the eagle, etc.) like those of much later times.” Innkeepers inscribed wine lists and prices on the wall of their facilities. |+|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons and Roman Forums

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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