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New Student Pub Guide - but the Pubs are 2,000 years old

Originally Published - 14 December 1999

University of Warwick research student James Andrews is compiling a guide to over 200 pubs and inns in the Bay of Naples, Italy. However the pubs he details are almost 2000 years old, most of them were buried under Volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius, and some of the ancient "establishments" he lists suggest the facilities in many cases left a lot to be desired.

James, a research student in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick is researching a range of eating and drinking types establishments in the ancient roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. These include stabula (the Roman equivalent of the coaching inn), hospitia (a kind of hotel or lodging house, without stabling facilities), popinae and cauponae (cookshops, snack-bars and pubs) and lupanaria (brothels).

In cataloguing the full range (around 200) of such establishments across the two ancient towns. He discusses a number of "graffiti" found in the establishments, many of which were actually scribbled by customers onto the walls of the rooms they were staying or eating in. In a brothel at Pompeii, the clientele scribbled their enjoyment on the wall, or boast how many girls they had enjoyed. At one inn, a traveller complains of having to urinate in his bed, because the landlord had provided no chamber pot! At another famous tavern, a series of wall paintings portray tavern scenes: men drinking, gambling, and one being thrown out by the innkeeper for cheating! At other inns, customers complain of the landlords adding too much water, or too little water to their wine. To serve it neat was not done.

Roman pubs and eating establishments also faced the same sort of political driven food legislation as we face today. In picture on this page , James can be seen in a "Popinae" (a sort of snack bar) in Herculaneum. The large ceramic urns (which you can see embedded in counter) would have held cereals or pulses, but the Emperor Vespasian actually made the sale of pulses in such places illegal. James suggests however there was even more politics involved in this food legislation than today pointing out that the legislation may have been aimed at restricting the operation of the eating establishments as guilds or working men's clubs met in such places, and these were groups that were highly political and had been involved in dangerous uprisings in the first century BC in Rome. In addition, many establishments outside walls were used as political billboards in local elections, in some cases the landlords themselves recommended people for office.

For further information please contact:

James Andrews, The Timbers, 7 Woodmancourt
Godalming, Surrey, GU7 2BT, Tel 01483 424013