The Romans were very fond of public eating establishments. A great many of these have been partially excavated in Pompeii. By finally digging one out completely, archaeologists have revealed not only what they looked like, but started the process of determining what was for sale.
Despite centuries of digging in the volcanic debris that covered Pompeii in 79 BCE, archaeologists still have plenty of treasures to find. Since 2019 they have been slowly extracting the Thermopolium of Regio V from the pumice and ash that buried and preserved it, and this week revealed their finds to the world.
Thermopolium means a place for selling hot items. Eighty of them, such as the Thermopolium of Asellina, have been found in Pompeii alone, which when Vesuvius erupted had a population of roughly 20,000.
Analysis of Regio V's samples has just begun but Dr Valeria Amoretti, an anthropologist with the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, reported early results from containers include a fragment of duck bone. Animals revealed to have been eaten at the site include pigs, goats, fish, and snails, with DNA left behind in pots on the counter, sometimes sharing the same container. Inevitably, traces of wine were found, laced with beans the Romans used to change the color of their favorite drink.
“As well as being another insight into daily life at Pompeii, the possibilities for study of this 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 Park's Interim Director General Massimo Osanna said in a statement.
Like other Thermopolia, Regio V is covered in murals, which presumably acted as a form of advertising. In particular, it has an image of a Nereid (sea nymph) riding a sea horse on its front. Other murals show some of the animals eaten there, such as a rooster and two upside-down mallard ducks. A dog on a lead is thought to have represented a warning against misbehavior. The threat may have been exaggerated, however, as the dog found buried at the site alongside patrons and staff was more of a lapdog, just 20-25 centimeters (8-10 inches) high at the shoulder.
Proving some things never change, someone scratched "NICIA CINAEDE CACATOR" in the frame around the image of a dog, which translates as “Nicias shameless shitter!” It is thought Nicias was the owner or a worker at the Thermopolium who had displeased a customer. A warning, perhaps, that if you annoy the patrons with slow service or backtalk you may find yourself unwittingly commemorated forever.