This painting shows a man leading a donkey with a pack on its back.  Pack animals were useful for transporting merchandise around and out of Pompeii.  Pompeii’s economy revolved around the production of several key goods.  Archaeologists use pollen, root shapes, and carbonized fruit and wood to identify kinds of agricultural products grown in Pompeii (Descoeudres 5). 

In the Roman world, diet largely consisted of cereals, like wheat and barely.  According to Jongman, “cereals were of almost entirely local production” (77).  Olive oil and wine were also a part of the typical Roman diet.  The diet of the wealthy would include meat, usually pork, and some vegetables.  Pork was easier to produce than other meats, because pigs occupy minimal amounts of land and feeding them did not require large scale production of hay and grain (Jongman 79)

The fields of Campania, the region surrounding Pompeii, were known for their fertility and are praised by both Strabo (V 4.3) and Pliny the Elder (N.H. III 60).  There is much evidence for the production of olive oil and wine in Pompeii and the surrounding areas.  Jongman points out that the amount of wine that could be produced in the agricultural areas of Pompeii exceeded the amount needed by a city of its size (2004, 6).  Some amount of oil and wine, which could be produced in mass quantities using a small amount of space, was exported from Pompeii (Jongman 2004, 7).  Evidence of wine exported from Pompeii comes from a number of Pompeian amphorae discovered in Ostia, a port city near Rome. 

It is unlikely that the agricultural space in Pompeii was entirely devoted to vineyards and wine production.  In order to provide food for the densely populated city, Jongman believes that production of cereals, which required a great deal of land, must have had priority over growing grapes (99).  Literary sources suggest that vineyards were usually placed on hills and cereals were grown in the plain.  The land around Pompeii is mostly flat plain, which may indicate that much of the land was devoted to cereal growth.  Jongman suggests that cereal production may be overlooked by archaeologists because grains would be produced on small farms, while the surviving elements of vine production are highly visible (2004, 6).

Pliny the Elder in his Natural History writes: "As to the wines of Pompeii, they have arrived at their full perfection in ten years, after which they gain nothing by age: they are found also to be productive of headache, which often lasts so long as the sixth hour of the next day." (XIV 70).  This may indicate that Pompeian wine was not extremely popular and that, as Jungman suggests, exporting wine was only a minor part of the city's economy. 

Most of the goods produced in Pompeii were probably consumed within the city.   The forum of Pompeii funtioned as a market where merchandise was bought and sold.  Because this painting is a part of a larger group of paintings, all focused on the Pompeii forum, it is likely that this man is using his donkey to transport merchandise into the forum or to move purchased items back to his home.