Cities of Vesuvius

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Private buildings: villas - houses - shops

  • Shops that once existed in Pompeii can be recognised by a wide opening onto the main commercial thoroughfare, with long grooves out the front of them where doors of shutters would have been.
  • Many of these shops had a back room or area, which was usually the living quarter of the shopkeeper.
  • It is quite possible that cloth merchants, gem cutters, or perfume vendors were adjacent to greengrocers, garum sellers, wine and hot food bars, or rag-and-bone vendors.
  • These shops were among grand residence entrances in the insula behind. Shop and workshop owners would advertise their businesses with trade signs, which were often hand painted, or advertisements painted straight onto the walls of many buildings.
  • This thoroughfare was also the best location for political slogans.

Eating and Drinking

  • In Pompeii, about 200 public eating and drinking places have been identified.
  • Some of these places were no more than fast food snack bars, which are easily recognised as having large marble counters which had dolia placed inside of them (devices used for holding hot drinks and meals).
  • Food was usually taken away and eaten at home, or it was eaten standing up.
  • One of the largest places found in Herculaneum, opposite the palaestra, had two humongous entrances, where its counter was ‘faced with irregular pieces of polychrome marble and eight large jugs… Other jugs and amphorae may have been used for other types of oil or for sauce. A stove behind the counter was in use: varied dishes were kept simmering in terra-cotta casserole dishes over the charcoal fire.’

Bars and Taverns

  • Wine bars and taverns have been found scattered throughout Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • In Pompeii they were mostly concentrated near the gates leading to the town, and near the entrance to the amphitheatre.
  • Some of these had rooms in the back with chairs and benches for clients to sit at.
  • Others had couches for the wealthier clients to use whilst eating or drinking.
  • From various graffiti and wall writings, it has been implied that Pompeian’s were heavy drinkers. “Cheers! We drink like wineskins” and “Suaris demands full wine jars, please, and his thirst is enormous” are among the examples of graffiti in some of the taverns.
  • A well-known tavern was one that was owned by a woman named Asellina.
  • She employed foreign waitresses, who were believed by some to be prostitutes.
  • Sums displaying debts or tabs of customers can be seen scribbled across the walls of this tavern, and political slogans were painted on the outside walls, displaying Asellina’s interest in upcoming elections.


  • The markets of Pompeii, which were owned by the city, flanked each side of the forum.
  • They were administered by magistrates (aediles), who were in charge of making sure that the markets:
  1. Ran smoothly
  2. Had accurately measured goods
  3. Maintained a high standard of quality
  4. Upheld city regulations
  • The Macellum was another busy market in Pompeii, specialising in the selling of fish, meat and possibly fruit and vegetables.
  • Its location, on the northeastern side of the Forum, was chosen so that its busy pedestrian life would not disturb the normal life of the main Forum Square.
  • It had a large arcaded courtyard, which was filled with shops wedged between the marble columns of the portico on the southern side.
  • The fact that this was a market is backed up by a representation of a roman market on a coin found from the time or Nero.
  • A variety of different meats, including fish, lamb, beef, veal, pork and poultry, were all for sale in the Macellum.
  • It was a closed roof market that featured beautifully decorated panelled painting, with statues of an emperor and Pompeian dignitaries (who would have most likely financed the building.
  • Documentary evidence indicates that Saturday was considered “market day” in Pompeii.


  • Thirty or so bakeries have been identified in Pompeii.
  • This would have saved Pompeians from going through the hard process of baking bread themselves, which was a basic foodstuff.
  • Bakeries often did their own grain refining in lava stone mills, set in a paved courtyard with a table for kneading the dough, and a brick oven.
  • Ovens for baking were heated by burning vine faggots, and once they were hot enough, they were cleaned out and prepared for baking the loaves of bread.
  • These loaves were then sold to other various smaller shops and stalls in the surrounding streets.
  • Some Bakeries had an adjoined area for selling their own bread, but there are some that did not.
  • 84 loaves of bread have been recovered from the bakery of N. Popidus Priscus, still in the oven where they were placed on the day of the eruption in AD 79.
  • 25 bronze baking pans have been found on the premises of Sextus Patulcus Felix in Herculaneum.

Other Industries

  • From evidence that has been provided by epigraphy and painting, it is known that there are workshops of carpenters, plumbers, wheelwrights, tanners, tinkers, ironmongers, goldsmiths and silversmiths, marble workers, stonemasons, gem-cutters and glassmakers in Pompeii.
  • The commercial activity of Herculaneum was based on the work of skilled craftsmen, particularly carpenters, for whose work there was high demand.
  • After the earthquake of AD 62, there was an increased demand for bricks and tiles for rebuilding.
  • Many wine producers also owned the brick and tile factories.