Thermopolium in Herculaneum

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, a thermopolium (plural thermopolia), from Greek θερμοπώλιον, i.e. cook-shop,[1] literally "a place where (something) hot is sold", was a commercial establishment where it was possible to purchase ready-to-eat food. The forerunner of today's restaurant, the items served at the thermopolia are sometimes compared to modern fast food. These places were mainly used by the poor or those who simply could not afford a private kitchen, sometimes leading them to be scorned by the upper class.


A typical thermopolium would consist of a small room with a distinctive masonry counter in the front. Embedded in this counter were earthenware jars (called dolia) used to store dried food like nuts (hot food would have required the dolia to be cleaned out after use, and because they are embedded in the counter, it is believed that they were not used to store hot food, but rather dried food where cleaning wouldn't be necessary). Fancier thermopolia would also be decorated with frescoes.

Well-preserved ruins of thermopolia can be seen in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Thermopolium of Asellina

A thermopolium in Pompeii

The Thermopolium of Asellina is one of the most complete examples of a thermopolium in Pompeii. Complete jugs and dishes were found on the counter, as well as a kettle filled with water. The ground floor in the Thermopolium of Asellina was used for people to eat and drink, and some stairs led to guest rooms on the second floor.

It had a typical structure consisting of a wide doorway open to the street, a counter with holes where jars were set into it (dolia) for food or wine. It had shrines for the Lares (household gods), Mercury (god of commerce) and Bacchus (god of wine), as these were the most important gods for this occupation. Upstairs, there were guest rooms as well, so this may have also been used as an Inn, however, some think that this may have been a brothel due to the names of many women written on one of the walls of the Thermopolium. Another theory is that these were the slave-girls who worked as barmaids.

Further reading


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