Industry in Ancient Herculaneum

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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Although it was smaller than Pompeii, Herculaneum was a wealthier town. It was a popular seaside retreat for the Roman elite, which is reflected in the extraordinary density of grand and luxurious houses with, for example, far more lavish use of coloured marble cladding.

The thick layer of ash that blanketed the town also protected it against looting and the elements. Unlike Pompeii, the mainly pyroclastic material that covered Herculaneum carbonized and preserved more wood in objects such as roofs, beds, and doors, as well as other organic-based materials such as food and papyrus.

Commercial Establishments


Grand Taberna
The Grand Taberna (Grande Taberna), in Herculaneum was one of the town's thermopolia, essentially a Roman fast food outlet. It was probably the largest and richest shop so far discovered in Herculaneum, with two wide entrances, the larger on the decumanus and the smaller on the cardo. The selling counter, with a double podium faced with polychrome marble fragments, is placed well inside the shop so as to offer shelter and rest to customers instead of compelling them to remain on the pavement outside. There are eight dolia fixed into the base of the counter, which contained cereals and vegetables.


The Priapo Taberna
The Priapo Taberna (Taberna di Priapo) was apparently a tavern, but the building was so named for the paintings Priapus on its walls. The archaeologists worked out the function of the building by identifying storerooms and the remains of wine jars and walnuts preserved by ash.


"Ad Cucumas" Wine Shop
It was most likely a wine-shop, inferred from a painted relief of pitchers (inspect) or jugs naming and pricing the drinks sold here together with the shop sign AD CVCVMAS (Ad Cucumas). It was the shop of a seller and also bronze-maker of jugs for oil; but this time the Bourbon tunnellers had cleaned out the shop so well that, without a beautiful sign painted outside with the depiction of the vases and the genius protector of the company, we would not have known what merchandise it was.


Taberna Vasaria
The Taberna Vasaria most likely belonged to a wine merchant rather than the caupona of a small retailer judging by the large number of amphorae found there. The Taberna Vasaria was located on Cardo IV, and was also accessible from the Decumanus Inferior. Shop with mezzanine used as living quarters. Latrine to rear. Amphorae in shop suggest property was not a tavern but a shop selling amphorae and terra-cotta ware.


Pistrinum and Workshop of Sextus Patulcius Felix
The Pistrinum, or bakery, occupies a central location on the east side of Cardo V. Inside the bakery, the whole cycle of bread-making from milling the grain to baking the bread, which came in a variety of forms, was carried out. The pistor (baker) was possibly Sextus Patulcius Felix, as evidenced by a signet ring found here. On the south side of the main room are two flour mills. The mills consist of a catullus rotating on a cone-shaped centre set on a masonry base. In this particular bakery it can be assumed that the mills were turned by mules or donkeys due to the discovery of their remains on the premises.


Thermopolium (Insula II)
The counter is faced with sheets of marble and embedded with dolia, which would have contained the liquids and other edibles. At the rear of the counter is the doorway leading into the two rear rooms. In the rear rooms of this bar, many amphorae were found.


Thermopolium (Insula Orientalis II)
This thermopolium located in the Insula Orientalis II, was a shop with a selling counter and the remains of decoration with a yellow background. In the rear room of the shop a number of amphorae were found both upright and upside down, inserted within one another. Guidobaldi notes that this was a thermopolium with a rear shop-room and dwelling on the upper floor. This shop had a sales counter with four dolia built into it, and a number of amphorae stacked in the backroom, one carrying the address label "M. Livi Alcimi Herclani", Marcus Livius Alcimus of Herculaneum.


Thermopolium (Insula VI)
The thermopolium, located north of the House of the Tuscan Colonnade, was a single-roomed shop, with storage jars but no decoration.


Thermopolium (Insula V)
The thermopolium, is located at the northern corner of Insula V, directly adjacent to the entrance the House of Apollo the Citharist, and probably belonged to the owner of the house. According to Maiuri, in this shop the big pots set into the ground can be seen, which preserved cereals and dried vegetables. For the same purpose the little porch of the pavement on the western side was used, a lot of cereals were actually found here. A deposit of grain was found in fact, on the upper floor, on the gallery which protruded onto the portico of the pavement along the roadway; making that gallery a kind of hanging silo perhaps to better protect the wheat from the humidity of the lower floor.


Shop of Messenius Eunomus
The Shop of Messenius Eunomus (Bottega di Messenius Eunomus), bears the name of its owner Messenius Eunomus, an Augustale whose name was graffitied on one of the columns of the Seat of the Augustales, has been hypothesized due to the discovery of a bronze seal bearing his name. Found in this workshop, was a considerable quantity of grain and some nuts.

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