Pompeii take-away delights archaeologists

Archaeologists who partly unearthed a Roman take-away in Pompeii in 2019, have shared more information as they continue to work on the spot. This “snack bar” is not unique, for Pompeii had over one hundred of them. What does delight archaeologists: the shop is fairly complete and unlike at other ‘take-away’ shops, its frescoes are preserved.

Pompeii thermopolium fresco

Cave Canem? Or were dog owners allowed to ‘park’ their pets here?

The well preserved and very colourful frescoes around the counter of the thermopolium include images of a Nereid riding a sea-horse, amphorae, as well as animals. There are a rooster, goats and ducks; as well as what seems to be a watch-dog: Cave Canem?

This early take-away did not sell anything resembling  KFC buckets, Burger King hamburgers, or MacDonald’s quarter pounders. Research revealed its serving pots must have once contained various dishes including fish and Roman versions of escargots. Excavation director Massimo Osanna explained to journalists, this gives a glimpse of how ordinary, less well-off inhabitants of Pompeii lived.

For people who visited these take-away shops, did not own kitchens. They would visit the thermopolia to buy warm, ready-to-eat food which is why such shops are compared to our fast food chains. As for the wealthy Romans, with kitchens manned by slaves: they looked down upon anybody buying snacks at the counters of thermopolia.

You undoubtedly know Vesuvius erupted in 79. Herculaneum and Pompeii were covered during this disastrous eruption. Layers of ash ensured the towns remained well preserved.Many houses of well-to-do citizens in Herculaneum and Pompeii have impressive frescoes and mosaics; but shops?

Pompeii thermopolium

Pompeii, part of the decorated counter showing dead ducks and a rooster.

According to Osanna, the preserved frescoes around the counter served to attract the attention of potential customers; like modern advertising. “We don’t understand the details of these frescoes, but we can see they were trying to tell a story to customers and passers-by”.

Leiden University’s archaeologist Miko Flohr, who researches shops in Pompeii, explained the decorations in this shop must have been expensive. He remarked the location of this shop is a surprise as well. “We all thought we knew Pompeii, but in this relative remote corner of the town – where I don’t think anyone expected to discover surprises – this thriving food shop turns up.” The Roman snack bar is located in ‘area V’

Osanna stated it seemed as if the owners suddenly shut their snack bar and left in a hurry. As described by contemporary sources, people did not take early rumblings as serious warnings of a pending disaster. Not far from the location of this thermopolium, two bodies of men buried in ashes were found in what was once a road. Both were in their fifties.

This Roman take-away is the latest find in a series of recent discoveries. Towards the end of November, archaeologists discovered the bodies of two men lying on the ground together in a downstairs room of a villa. Possibly they were a Roman and his slave, who probably presumed they could sit out the eruption in safety.

Want to visit? All sites are closed to tourists till further notice, due to the COVID pandemic. Keep an eye on the official websites to see if and when and under which conditions Pompeii and Herculaneum will reopen.

Italy, Pompeii official website: the snack bar of Regio V

Guardian, 2019-03-27: Fast food bar unearthed
Guardian, 2019-10-11: Pompeii dig unearths fighting fresco in ‘gladiators’ tavern’
Yahoo, 2020-12-26: Snack Bar unearthed


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