In the ancient Greco-Roman world, a thermopolium (plural thermopolia), from Greek θερμοπώλιον (thermopōlion), i.e. cook-shop, literally "a place where (something) hot is sold", was a commercial establishment where it was possible to purchase ready-to-eat food. In Latin literature they would also be called popinae, cauponae, hospitia or stabula, but archaeologists call them all thermopolia. Thermopolia being the forerunners of today's restaurant, the items served are sometimes compared to modern fast food. These places were mainly used by those who simply could not afford a private kitchen, often inhabitants of insulae, sometimes leading them to be scorned by the upper class.
A typical thermopolium would consist of a small room attached to, but not accessible from, a house, with a distinctive masonry counter in the front. An example of this can be seen in Ostia in the House of the Painted Vaults. 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). A dolium in the thermopolium attached to the House of Neptune and Amphitrite in Herculaneum had the carbonized remains of nuts. Fancier thermopolia would also be decorated with frescoes.
Thermopolium of Asellina
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 and a counter with holes where four 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 as a part of an election notice on one of the outside walls of the thermopolium. Another theory is that these were the slave-girls who worked as barmaids. Behind the bar were remains of wooden racks suspended from the ceiling to stack amphorae.
The Thermopolium of Regio V
Another Pompeiian thermopolium, containing eight dolia, was completely unearthed in 2020. In addition to frescoes reflecting foods available, one fresco depicts a dog with a collar on a leash, possibly a reminder for customers to leash their pets. The complete skeleton of an "extremely small" adult dog was also discovered that "attest to selective breeding in the Roman epoch to obtain this result." Archaeologists also revealed about 2,000-year-old foods available in some of the deep terra cotta jars, drink shop, a decorated bronze drinking bowl known as a patera, wine flasks, amphora, ceramic jars used for cooking stews and soups.
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