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Shops of ancient Romans

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Trajan's halls in Rome
Trajan's halls in Rome

What is a store and what is done in it probably everyone knows. It may come as a surprise to some that shops already existed in ancient Rome.

Roman shops, which were called tabernae1, were largely family businesses where the seller was the owner or his slave. Interestingly, each store had to have a kind of permission to trade in certain products. The owner was obliged to forge this permission and place it in a visible place. Roman shops had signs like today, although they were much smaller. They were located mainly just above the entrance to the store. Signboards were wooden, terracotta or marble, each of these types was carved with items that could be purchased in a given shop or something that symbolically represented a range of products that could be purchased, e.g. a goat meant that you could buy goat milk in this shop. In addition, the signs were painted in bright colors, of course, to attract the eyes of passers-by.

However, to attract a larger group of customers, the owners of Roman shops also hung something on the streets that can be called banners today.

What products were sold in such stores?

As I mentioned goat milk, an interesting fact is that the curd was wrapped in fig leaves. The wine bars sold – surprise – wine, but in addition to the standard wine bars there were also special wine bars. In them, the client entered with his own vessel, chose the type of wine, then paid, then the seller poured the type of wine purchased by the client into his vessel2. There were also herbal shops and butchers.
There were also fabric shops, rarely seen today, where various types of fabrics such as wool, linen or silk were sold. However, both today and then there were jewelry shops where you could buy what you can buy today, i.e. bracelets, rings or necklaces, and buy utensils from a potter.

However, the most interesting type of shop was the perfumery. What kind of perfume did the Romans use? They used, among others, the essence of saffron and crushed thyme, palm oil, mint, marjoram, and the so-called. olibanum, a type of resin that served as both incense and a highly prized type of perfume.

In addition to the usual shops, there were also taverns where you could eat a meal, and the menus were displayed outside, as restaurants do today.

Certainly, the name of the ancient shopping center deserves an interesting building, the so-called Trajan’s Halls. It is a building consisting of six levels, where there were shops that offered various products.

Author: Piotr Szuba (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  1. Singular - taberna
  2. Por. Alberto Angela, Imperium, wyd. Czytelnik Warszawa 2019, str. 261-262
  • Alberto Angela, Imperium, Warszawa 2019
  • Wikipedia

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