What’s your go to dinner on a Friday night? Do you whip something up or, like many families around the Australia (including mine) the end of another busy week is a good excuse to get a take away. In the little town I grew up in we were limited to fish and chips, dimmies and chiko rolls, pizza (not delivered), or Chinese. Getting pizza delivered TO MY HOUSE still blows my mind. And it turns out, the Ancient Romans were partial to a take away too.
Thermopolia were essentially ancient take-aways which sold hot food. These food shops are thought to have been the preserve of low to middle classes, many of whom didn’t have kitchens in their small homes or apartments. In the city of Pompeii, famously destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, at least 89 thermopolia have been excavated.
These beautifully preserved frescoes hint at what may have been served at this thermopolia, and the cooked food is thought to have been kept warm in pots resting in the round chambers in the counter. This food, aimed at societies poorer members, would have been cheap, unlike take away today (fish and chips is a pricey treat!).
The thermopolium pictured above is the most complete example of this type of shop ever found in Pompeii. Serving dishes held bone fragments of duck, goat, chicken, pig, and fish, as well as the remains of snails. These foods most likely would have been served with some type of grain (the staple of the Ancient Roman diet), and beer or wine. The remains of two people, and a small pet dog, were also discovered.
While history tends to focus on the big names (Caesar, Mark Antony, Nero, Augustus), it’s these vignettes of everyday life that fascinate me most. Over two thousand years ago, in a country far from mine, families long dead got a take away, talked, laughed, argued, and lived a life similar to ours in many ways. It’s everyday history that, I think, is so fascinating to our students.