Booming business: Pompeii as a trading centre
Its fertile and well-drained volcanic soil and mild climate made Pompeii an agricultural hub, and her port and geographic position gave her easy access to markets near and far. The savvy Pompeians took advantage of these natural assets to make their town, and themselves, into a trading power in the Mediterranean.
The wines of Pompeii were well known in the Roman world (although according to the historian Pliny, they produced equally notable hangovers). Wine must have been produced in great quantity as archaeologists still discover rustic villas complete with wine presses throughout the region, and amphorae bearing trade stamps from Pompeii have turned up as far away as Gaul (modern day France), Spain and even Carthage in North Africa.
Pompeian farmers also specialised in growing vegetables, especially onions, for which the town was famous, and olives for oil. Herders raised sheep for their meat and milk as well as their wool – another important Pompeian product, which was cleaned, dyed and made into felt at numerous fulleries (fullonica) in the city. Pompeii’s coastal location also made it a popular producer of garum, a fish sauce which was in great demand as a relish; jars containing Pompeian garum have been found as far afield as Gaul.
Shops of all kinds lined the bustling main streets of Pompeii; even today, they are identifiable by the remains of the sliding shutters which merchants used to close their storefronts at night. The shopping in Pompeii was world-class for its time: when tallying customers’ purchases, shopkeepers used standardised weights which had to be periodically checked against the official weights kept in the Forum. The bakery was a daily stop for most residents; many bakeries contained mills to grind their own grain, and the bread was baked and sold on the same premises. Bars (cauponae) selling snacks and drinks were also common; they consisted of an L-shaped counter in which were sunk large jars, or dolia, containing foodstuffs. Sometimes they offered a back room for customers to eat a meal, drink and perhaps even gamble. A number of inns probably offered more intimate entertainment in the form of prostitution, and archaeologists have even discovered a large purpose-built brothel, complete with small cubicles and wall paintings showing the variety of services offered.