In this week’s lesson, I started by showing you Oxford’s Westgate, before showing you the Pompeian equivalent! We saw how the shop fronts opened to the main thoroughfare, and their entrances were often combined with entrances to living accommodation too. A good example of this was the “Pistrinum of Sotericus”. This was one of thirty-three bakeries found in Pompeii, and its entrance contained a seating area for patrons of the bakery, which led both into the house and the bakery itself.
There was a large mill hall, with mills operated by donkeys or slaves. There was also a very large oven, and a room that was probably used for working the dough and storage, since it looked as if it contained fixtures for shelves and a large stone table. A mural from the House of the Baker depicts what looks like a bakery stall, where circular bread loaves are being given out – this may have been the “annona” – or bread dole distributed for free to citizens.
There were two types of bread available at our virtual ‘pistrinum’ – a type of barley biscuit called “mazas”, and a rice flour bread called “orindes”. Everyone found these reasonably tasty!
The next shop was the “thermopolium”, which literally means “the place selling hot things”. These were another common type of business in Pompeii and Herculaneum (although it rarely seems to have been called that by the Romans themselves who preferred “caupona”. These shops had counter tops with large storage jars called “dolia” sunk into them. These contained snack foods like nuts. The shops served ready-to-eat food, and sometimes had seating areas, and even guest rooms upstairs. They were generally frequented by the poor who did not have kitchen facilities, or travellers. The thermopolium of Asselina is the most well-preserved example in Pompeii, and many amphorae, oil lamps and other items were found here.
The “popina” was a wine bar, and these places tended to have a bad reputation – people went there to drink, gamble and play games, and also perhaps to pick up prostitutes. At our “popina”, you could sample a range of (non-alcoholic versions of) some wines, such as “Falernian”, which had a high alcohol content, “Cretan” which was very sweet, and “Posca”, which was sour, as it was made from vinegar, and often drunk by soldiers. Wine (‘vinum’) was a big industry, and lots of wines were locally made, as well as being imported. There was even a wine that had been called “Vesuvinum”, perhaps as a pun!
Finally, we looked at the garum maker, Umbricius Scaurus. The house of Umbricius Scaurus had mosaics depicting his garum amphorae and his garum industry was an important aspect of the Pompeian economy. The factory has not yet been uncovered, and may have been located outside the city walls, due to the smells it would have produced. We talked about garum itself – a popular Roman sauce made from fermented fish intestines and blood. The sauce was used as a condiment, and the most sought-after garum could cost up to a year’s wages for two litres!