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Attitude of Roman elite to bars, cafes and eateries

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Thermopolium in Pompeii
Thermopolium - an ancient street bar

The Roman elite despised and worried about what the rest of the population did in their free time. Although the Romans coming from the upper classes had a negative attitude to shows and performances, where large numbers of people gathered, the bars, cheap cafes and eateries were worse anyway.

Drastic images of the people one could meet there were portrayed. The Roman satirical poet Juvenal, for example, describes a dingy drunken lair in Ostia, whose customers are, he claims, sailors, thugs, thieves, runaway slaves and executioners.

There are evidence of multiple attempts to impose taxes or legal restrictions on these establishments. Emperor Tiberius was to forbid the sale of baked goods; Emperor Claudius reportedly closed down “taverns” and banned cooked meat and hot water; Emperor Vespasian reportedly decreed that bars could not sell any food except peas and beans.

Author: Piotr Pietrych
  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016

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