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Exploring the Ancient Past

A Herculaneum Caupona

By Natasha Sheldon

The shop attached to the House of Neptune and Amphitrite in Herculaneum is the best preserved example of an ancient caupona. 

Situated next door to the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, the name of this caupona is lost to us. It is the best preserved shop in antiquity and contains a wealth of information about the facilities, food and layout of an everyday Roman caupona. It also shows how commercial properties co existed besides well to do houses.

 

The Caupona and the House.

 

Archaeologists have estimated that the caupona was built ten years before the destruction of Herculaneum. It was situated at the front of the house of Neptune and Amphitrite to the right of the entrance and was connected to that property by an internal door. This makes it very likely that both properties were owned by the same person.

 

It is however, unlikely that the owner of the house ran the bar himself. Instead, he probably rented the space out to someone else. This was common practice in the roman world, where commercial properties often fronted high status roman town houses.

 

The Remains of the Caupona.

 

The property is extremely well persevered. Its wooden furnishings and fittings were carbonised and preserved by the eruption of 79AD. The remains of three skeletons were also found in situ by one of the stoves at the back of the shop.

 

It was a simple caupona with a basic cement floor and wall paintings.  A counter stretched out at the front, enabling the patron to serve customers straight off the street or from within the bar itself. Seating would have been limited to a small area to the right of the shop.

 

The serving area was divided from the storage and cookery area at the back of the shop by a small partition that limited the view whilst still allowing access. In this back area, a series of wine racks were found fixed to the south wall, with wine amphorae still in place. A balcony area on the next wall provided extra storage space. In the south east corner remains an arched support for one of the caupona’s three stoves that were used to serve warm food and drink to its patrons.

 

Typical Roman Bar Snacks.

 

Some of the caupona’s bar snacks were preserved by the eruption. While they may have been cheap, they would have also been nutitious. Large storage dolia were found containing carbonised legumes such as chickpeas and fava beans, which were possibly served stewed in stock or olive oil.

 

Sources.

 

Pirozzi, Maria Emma Antoinetta. Herculaneum: The Excavations, Local History and Surroundings. Electra. Naples.