Cities of Vesuvius

- Syllabus Content -

Everyday life: leisure activities, food and dining, clothing, health, baths, water supply and sanitation
Food and Dining

"Shops (Tabernae)" p.97; "Dinner Parties" p.125-127

For Shops go to the Shops page.


There is much evidence in Pompeii and Herculaneum for the types of food eaten.

Still-life frescoes in many houses depict the food that could be served to guests. Below are frescoes from the House of the Deer in Herculaneum.


Mosaics from the House of the Faun in Pompeii depict marine life. Sea food would have been widely available in Pompeii and Herculaneum.


Garum was a specialty product of Pompeii.

Epigraphic evidence
  • A list from the atrium of the house at IX.7.24-5 shows a wide range of food that may have been available at the attached shop or had been bought for the household: cheese, bread, oil, wine, onions, porridge, beef, sausages, leeks.
  • A person recorded his expenditure on a wall of a cubiculum of the house VII.2.30: items include bread, cabbage, beetroot, mustard, mint and salt.
  • A graffito in the large palaestra refers to lard, wine, cheese, oil, bread and pork.
  • Labels on various amphorae in Pompeii show the contents: Barley, bay, chick peas, fennel, figs, honey, lentils, nuts, olives, pepper and pickling brine. For example, an amphora fragment from the peristyle of VII.7.5 is labelled: “Honey of Gavia Severa from bees fed on thyme”.

Carbonised food has been found in various parts of the cities. Types of food are loaves of bread, figs, dates, prunes, almonds, chestnuts, walnuts, olives and pomegranates. Below are carbonised nuts and olives on display in the Antiquarium at Boscoreale.


Most people ate simply. Petronius’ The Satyricon and the 4th or 5th century cookbook by Apicius are not reliable sources for dining in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Not all houses had kitchens. Food would have been bought from the thermopolia, taken home and kept warm on a brazier. Below are a square and a round brazier on display at the National Archaeological Museum at Naples.

For the wealthy households, dining was a different matter. A dining room was called a triclinium. The triclinia from the large houses are lavishly decorated, and often open onto the peristyle, showing the importance of entertaining and impressing guests.

The triclinium below is a reconstruction – note that it does not come from Pompeii or Huculaneum.


Below is a 19th century reproduction of a wall from the Ixion room in the House of the Vettii. The room is thought to have been a formal dining room. It opened onto the peristyle garden with statues and water features.


Dinner was a long drawn-out business:
  • Gustatio
  • Fercula
  • Mensae secundae

See p.125-6 for arrangement of diners on the three couches of a triclinium and a description of dinner parties.
Food was eaten lying down, from small table in front of the couches.
Slaves served and cut food, and poured wine.
There was entertainment and heavy drinking.

Graffiti from the House of the Moralist (III.4.2-3):
Let water cleanse your feet and a slave boy wipe them;
Let a cloth cover the sofa, take care of our linens.
Remove lascivious expressions and flirtatious fawning eyes
from another man’s wife; may there be decency in your expression.
... put off to another time your troublesome quarrels if you can,
or leave and take them with you to your own house. (CIL IV 7698a-c)

The silverware from the House of Menander.