Food

An Ancient Roman Snack Bar Was Unearthed in Pompeii

Is this the Pompeian McDonald’s?
December 29, 2020, 8:37am
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This picture released on Dec. 26, 2020 by the Pompei Press Office shows a thermopolium, a sort of street "fast-food" counter in ancient Rome, that has been unearthed in Pompei, decorated with polychrome motifs and in an exceptional state of preservation. The counter frozen by volcanic ash had been partly unearthed in 2019 but the work was extended to best preserve the entire site, located at the crossroads of rue des Noces d'Argent and rue des Balcons. Photo: AFP / POMPEI PRESS OFFICE

Buried under a blanket of ash from the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, the ancient city of Pompeii is still yielding fascinating finds nearly 2,000 years later. The latest? A thermopolium, described as the Roman version of a fast food counter or restaurant.

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The counter was partially unearthed in 2019, but was soon after completely excavated and unveiled on Saturday, making global headlines and drawing comparisons to street food stalls in modern cities. 

Inside, archaeologists found duck bone fragments and various dining materials including nine amphorae, a bronze drinking bowl called a patera, two flasks and a ceramic jar. Human bones were also discovered behind the structure, belonging to a person who was at least 50 years old. 

Photographs show the counter decorated with colorful images of a sea nymph riding a sea-horse, two ducks hanging upside down, and a rooster. Other paintings depicted pigs, goats, fish and land snails, all of which indicate ingredients used in the meals sold there.

An illustration of a dog on a leash is also seen on the side of the counter, said to serve as a Cave Canem, or “Beware of Dog” warning. 

Snack bar unearthed in Pompeii

Photo: AFP / POMPEI PRESS OFFICE

Thermopolia, derived in part from thermos, the Greek word for heat, were widespread throughout Rome, where hot food and wine were served and stored in large jars embedded into the masonry counter. Patrons who frequented these shops were often those who did not have cooking equipment in their homes, or people simply looking for a quick lunch to eat on the go. 

There have been some 80 thermopolia found in Pompeii, but this is “the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety,” Massimo Osanna, Interim Director General of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, said in a press release

Pompeii was home to an estimated 12,000 people when Mount Vesuvius erupted and killed at least 2,000 of its inhabitants, though higher tolls have been estimated. The onslaught of lava, ash and fire is largely responsible for the preserved state of the town, which sits in the Campania region of Italy, southeast of Naples. 

It was later deemed one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world but it has not having erupted since 1944

The thermopolium is the latest of many discoveries and preservations related to Pompeii recently. These include the remains of two men who were scalded to death by the volcanic eruption, the body of an ancient horse, as well as graffiti that changes what we once knew about the historic event.