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Shops and Businesses


Map of Pompeii Showing a Selection of Commercial Premises


Bread in Pompeii was produced daily in local bakeries. The Pistrinum on Vicolo Storto (Reg VII, Ins 2, 22) belonged to N. Popidius Priscus and is a fine example of a bakery in which the whole cycle of breadmaking from milling to baking the bread was performed (pictured right).

After baking, the bread, which came in several different varieties, was then generally sold on in an adjoining shop, although this was not always necessarily so.

In this establishment the equipment for the production of bread consisted of four millstones made from porous lava, a very hard wearing stone that wouldn't lose fragments and spoil the flour produced.
To the left of the millstones in the top picture and centre in the picture on the right can be seen the oven which was used for baking the bread.
The form of the millstones resembled an hourglass with a hollow catullus rotating above a cone-shaped centre set on a masonry base.

Driving the milling process were mules or oxen yoked to a beam inserted into a slot in the catullus.
Two rooms next to the oven were used for storage of the newly baked bread and as a granary. In this pistrinum there was no adjoining shop, so the bread must have been sold on to other shops or itinerant vendors.

The pistrinum on Cardo V in Herculaneum is very similar in style as can be seen by the photograph on the left above.


There were several laundries in Pompeii of which the Fullonica of Stephanus (Reg I, Ins 6, 7) is a fine example. (A research paper, based on fullonicas at Reg VI, Ins 8, 20-21 and Reg VI, Ins 14, 21-22 is included here as Appendix F of the Bibliography and is well worth a read).  The Fullonica of Stephanus, formally a private house, had been completely altered to form the laundry. It was excavated in 1912 and found to be in excellent condition, allowing the whole process of laundering clothes to be examined.
The laundry was then put in larger tubs where the clothes were again trampled in a mixture of water and degreasing substances such as soda and human or animal urine.
Containers for the urine used in washing were found near these tubs. Fullonicae generally invited passersby to urinate in amphoras set in the lanes and near the entrances to the premises.

Dirty clothes generally arrived at the rear of the fullonica: more delicate materials were washed in the former atrium of the property, using a tub where the original impluvium had been. The less delicate clothes were processed at the rear of the building. Heavily stained clothes were initially trampled by workers in tubs (pictured left) before joining the rest of the laundry.

The next step in the process was to soften the fabrics which had become hardened by the urine by treating them with a special type of clay (cretae fullonicae), followed by a thorough rinsing. Clothes were then hung out to dry on the roof terrace of the building. These procedures were then followed by carding to raise the nap, clipping brushing and finally pressing.

Officina Coriariorum

However notorious for its unpleasant smell, the tannery, or officina coriariorum, was also part of urban life. Two have so far been identified, one near the Building of Eumachia, the other in a more appropriate location in the outskirts near the Stabia Gate. This tannery was the officina coriariorum of M. Vesonius Primus (Reg I, Ins 5, 2). Skins typically arrived at the tannery dried stiff and dirty with soil and gore. The tanners would soak the skins in water to clean and soften them. They would then pound and scour the skin to remove any remaining flesh and fat. Next, the tanner would loosen the hair fibres by soaking the skin in urine, before scraping them off with a knife.

Once the hair was gone, the tanners would remove the outer protein layer by pounding dung into the skin or soaking the skin in a solution of animal brains. Among the kinds of dung commonly used were that of dogs or pigeons. Sometimes the dung was mixed with water in a large vat, and the prepared skins were kneaded in the dung water until they became supple.

It was this combination of urine, animal faeces and decaying flesh that made ancient tanneries so malodorous.

Owning a tannery was not without its rewards though, as evidenced by some magnificent finds. The picture (left) is of a mosaic tabletop from the triclinium of the tannery of M. Vesonius Primus (now in Naples). The skull is crowned with a carpenter's square and plumb-bob, which dangles before its empty eyesockets (death as the great leveller), while below is an image of the ephemeral and changeable nature of life: a butterfly (the soul) atop a wheel (fortune). On each side, kept in balance by death, are the symbols of wealth and power on the left (the sceptre and purple) and poverty on the right (beggar’s scrip and stick).

Garum Production

Fish sauce was a staple of Roman cuisine and could be used as a condiment with almost anything.  It was made by the crushing and fermentation in brine of the intestines of fish such as eel, anchovies, tuna and mackerel. Different varieties of sauce were produced depending on the ingredients  used. The clear liquid that came to the top after fermentation was complete was the garum. The sediment left in the bottom of the fermentation vessel was the allec which could also be used in cooking. A brine known as muria was another bi-product.

The production of garum must have been carried out at Pompeii as Pliny notes that the city was renowned for its garum. Because its production created such an unpleasant smell, its fermentation was relegated to the outskirts of cities as must have been the case with Pompeii as no evidence of its production has been found within the city walls. The Garum Workshop found in Regio I, insula 12 was concerned with its distribution rather than its production. The sauce was stored in bulk in the workshop and decanted into amphorae and smaller vessels (pictured above) for sale. Much of the garum business in Pompeii was controlled by Aulus Umbricius Scaurus and family.


The Lupanar (Reg VII, Ins 12, 18) is one of well over thirty possible 'houses' of prostitution known in Pompeii, although it is believed to be the only one purpose built for such use.

The others are to be found on the first floors of inns or taverns or even in private houses, or consisted of a room with a bed, accessible directly from the street. As illustration, a few of the brothels are marked on the map above.

The lupanar had ten rooms, five on the ground floor and five larger ones on the upper floor accessed by a wooden staircase (see photograph opposite). The rooms had built in masonry beds onto which mattresses were placed.

Erotic scenes were painted above each door and the walls bore a large number of inscriptions (over 120) scratched by the clients and the working girls.
The prices were very low, one of the reasons being that these brothels were frequented by the lower levels of society and by slaves. On average the cost of a sexual service was two asses, the equivalent of the cost of a loaf of bread.

Like many areas of Roman society, prostitution was highly categorised: the delicatae and the famosae were far above the level of common prostitutes, able to entertain the best customers; others were associated with the places of their trade; the bustuariae practised their profession in the area of the necropolis; the
scorta erratica plied their trade on the streets; there were also the Aelicariae, Amasiae, Amatrix, Ambubiae, Amica, Blitidae, Casuaria, Citharistriae, Copae, Cymbalistriae, Diobolares, Diversorium, Doris, Forariae, Fornix, Gallinae, Lupae, Lupanaria, Meretrix, Mimae, Noctiluae, Nonariae, Pergulae, Proseda, Prostibula, Quadrantariae, Scortum, Stabulae, Tabernae, Tugurium, and Turturilla.

An appendix
to a book by Thomas A.J. McGinn on 'The Economy of Prostitution in the Roman World' entitled 'A Catalog of Possible Brothels at Pompeii' is included here as Appendix K. In addition to recognised brothels, many wealthy families rented out small rooms in their own homes as miniature brothels, known as cellae meretriciae. To the number of possible brothels mentioned in the appendix (23+) can be added the number of cellae meretriciae (13) that have so far been identified.


A thermopolium was the equivalent of a modern day cafe/bar. Hot and cold food was sold from what was usually an 'L' shaped masonry counter containing terracotta vessels.
The map above shows the location of mainly thermopolia but sometimes the exact nature of a building becomes blurred, so some of the properties marked could very well be a mixture of both of these facilities.
This varied from a caupona, which was more like an inn or tavern where hot meals were served to diners seated around a table.

There are more than 160 thermopolia in Pompeii, of which almost half have marble surfaced counters (above left). For a detailed study of these bars, there is a paper by J. Clayton Fant which is well worth reading. It is included here as Appendix J of the Bibliography.

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