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Earning a Living

Goods and Services

Whilst Pompeii was more industrialised and Herculaneum residential, citizens in both towns still had to earn a living.

The propertied classes

Some of the estates around Pompeii and Herculaneum were country retreats for wealthy Roman citizens. Others were working estates, cultivating the fertile slopes of Vesuvius, where cereals and vegetables were grown between rows of vines and olive trees. The rearing of animals also flourished. The money earned through the land was concentrated in the hands of a few important families who, through this, gained both economic and political power.

Basic Foodstuffs

Basic foodstuffs were mainly produced by small tradesmen but, occasionally, they were also produced by wealthy landowners.

Bread was produced daily in local bakeries. The Pistrinum on Cardo V in Herculaneum is a fine example of a bakery, in which the whole cycle of breadmaking from milling to baking the bread was performed. After baking, bread was then generally sold in an adjoining shop.

As both Pompeii and Herculaneum were on the sea, fishing will have provided a source of income for many of its inhabitants, not only in the provision of fish for direct consumption, but also as the main constituent in garum.

Garum, a favourite of the Roman palate, was a strong smelling fish sauce made from dried fish, with salt added as a preservative. Its quality depended very much on the type of fish used; tuna and mackerel for the more expensive varieties, and anchovies for the not so refined.

Spinners, fullers and dyers

The production of wool and woollen goods employed any number of artisans. The raw wool, supplied by local landowners, was processed in very much the same way as it is today, initially being washed, degreased and then carded.

Spinning and weaving the wool was often carried out by the female slaves of a household. The finished cloth would then be sent on to the final process - fulling and dyeing. The cloth would be subjected to a pounding in a large vat of fuller's earth mixed with potash, soda and urine. Having rinsed and dried the cloth it could then be bleached white by sulphur fumes, or dyed, before being put up for sale.

Shopkeepers, Small-traders, Employees and Slaves

At the Forum, along the pavements, in open spaces, there would have been a host of smalltraders, hawking their wares, be they shoes or fabrics or pottery. Doctors, musicians, teachers, et al could be found there too, providing their services to the passing public.

There would also be employment for general labourers, freedmen or slaves on the land or in town (especially in the building trade where re-construction of the fabric of the town was still continuing after the earthquake of 62AD).

The Cost of Living

However money was earned, it was a necessary evil in order to buy goods and merchandise. The Roman currency was comprised wholly of coins which included asses (copper), dupondii (bronze), sestertii (bronze), denarii (silver) and aurei (gold) where, at the time of the eruption:

1 dupondius = 2 asses
......1 sestertius = 2 dupondii
......1 denarius = 4 sestertii
..........1 aureus = 25 denarii

Other denominations used at various times were the quadrans,the quinarius argenteus and the quinarius aureus.

The cost of living in Pompeii seems to have been relatively low. Judging by the sums of money found on the bodies of its inhabitants (over 25 carried between 3,000 and 10,000 sestertii while 60 others carried in the order of 200 sestertii) Pompeii had some plainly wealthy citizens.

Some examples of basic costs are:

Foodstuffs A measure of ordinary wine 1as

A loaf of bread
2 asses

A pound (0.33kg) of oil 2 dupondii

A modius (6.5kg) of wheat 15 dupondii
Utensils Pot
1 as

1 as

Drinking cup
2 asses

9 asses
General Laundering a tunic
4 sestertii

A new tunic
15 sestertii

1 mule
130 denarii

1 slave
630 denarii

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