Macellum

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The Macellum in Pompeii
Pompeii, Italy, 1895. The Macellum. (Forum). Brooklyn Museum Archives, Goodyear Archival Collection

A macellum (plural: macella) is an ancient Roman indoor market building that sold mostly provisions (especially fruits and vegetables). The building normally sat alongside the forum and basilica, providing a place in which a market could be held. Each macellum sold different kinds of produce, depending on local availability, but it was not uncommon to import these comestibles, especially at ports like Pompeii.

Physical features[edit]

A macellum is a fairly easy building to identify from its design. A macellum provides shops arranged around a courtyard which contains a central tholos. The tholos is a round structure, usually built upon a couple of steps (a podium), with a ring of columns supporting a domed roof. A macellum is usually square in shape. The central courtyard of the macellum is surrounded by tabernae, shops, all of the same size. It was also possible to extend the macellum upwards to include upper stories. Entrance to the macellum was either through central gates on each of the four sides or through some of the tabernae themselves. It appears that the tabernae set aside for butchers were together in one area of the macellum where they were provided with marble counters, presumably to keep the meat cooler, and drains for the removal of water and fluid waste. It has been suggested that the central tholos, also well provided with water and drains, was where fish was sold (due to excavated fish skeletons), although other uses for the central tholos have been suggested, such as the place where official weights and measures were held for reference or as shrines to the gods of the market place (due to excavated coins). Some macella had a water fountain or water feature in the centre of their courtyard instead of a tholos structure. It is the presence of this central water feature which seems to denote a building a macellum.

Macellum of Pozzuoli[edit]

The Macellum of Pozzuoli was first excavated in the 1750s, when the discovery of a statue of Serapis led to the building being misidentified as the city's serapeum or Temple of Serapis. Standing columns with bands of boreholes left by marine molluscs showed that the height of the buildings had varied in relation to sea level, and made it the subject of debate in early geology. Subsequent excavations exposed the characteristic plan of a macellum.

History[edit]

The macellum was a food market, particularly for meat, fish and delicatessen. Plautus mentioned such a macellum in the second half of the 3rd century BC. The macellum was modeled after the agora of Greek and Hellenistic cities, except that there was no wholesale trade. The last macella were still in operation in Constantinople in the 6th century AD.