2,000-Year-Old Fast Food Shop Uncovered in Pompeii

Archaeologists have unearthed a frescoed thermopolium (a hot-food-drink shop) in Pompeii, an ancient Roman city frozen in time after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.

The 2,000-year-old thermopolium in the Pompeii archeological park, near Naples, Italy. Image credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei.

“Thermopolia, where drinks and hot foods were served and stored in large dolia (jars) embedded in the masonry counter, were widespread in the Roman world, where it was typical to consume the prandium (the meal) outside the house. In Pompeii alone there are 80 thermopolia,” Dr. Massimo Osanna, interim director general of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, and colleagues said in a statement.

“As well as being another insight into daily life at Pompeii, the possibilities for study of the newly-discovered thermopolium are exceptional, because for the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety, and it has been possible to carry out all the analyses that today’s technology permits.”

The ancient thermopolium in Pompeii near Naples, Italy. Image credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei.

The multi-sided thermopolium was unearthed in the Regio V of Pompeii, between Vicolo delle Nozze d’Argento and Vicolo dei Balconi.

The counter had deep terracotta jars for hot food and its front was decorated with a number of exquisite frescoes, depicting a nymph astride a horse, two ducks, a rooster, and a dog on a leash.

“The decorations on the counter comprise the image of a Nereid riding a seahorse in a marine setting on the front, while the shorter side features an illustration which is probably of the shop itself, like a kind of trademark,” the archaeologists said.

The 2,000-year-old thermopolium reveals some favorite dishes of Pompeii citizens. Image credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei.

They also found the 2,000-year-old remains of duck, goats, pigs, fish, and land snails in the containers embedded in the counter.

“The first analyses confirm that the paintings on the counter depict, at least in part, the foodstuffs and drinks which were actually sold inside the thermopolium,” they said.

“The paintings on the counter include two mallard ducks, and indeed a fragment of duck bone was in fact found inside one of the containers, alongside pigs, goats, fish and land snails, indicating the great variety of products of animal origin used in the preparation of the dishes.”

The 2,000-year-old traces of food were found in terracotta jars. Image credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei.

“A mocking inscription can be found scratched onto the frame which surrounds the painting of the dog: Nicia cinaede cacator — literally ‘Nicias (probably a freedman from Greece) shameless shitter!’,” they added.

“This was probably left by a prankster who sought to poke fun at the owner, or by someone who worked in the thermopolium.”

The depiction of a dog on a leash served as a warning. Image credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei.

The scientists also found ground fava beans, used to modify the taste of wine, at the bottom of a wine container.

“In his De re Coquinaria, Apicius explains the reason for this, asserting that the beans were used in order to modify the taste and color of the wine, bleaching it,” they said.


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