Archaeologists Discover an Ancient Roman Snack Bar in the Ruins of Pompeii

Have you ever won­dered what gen­er­a­tions hun­dreds or thou­sands of years hence will make of our strip malls, office parks, and sports are­nas? Prob­a­bly not much, since there prob­a­bly won’t be much left. How much medi­um-den­si­ty fibre­board is like­ly to remain? The col­or­ful struc­tures that make the mod­ern world seem sol­id, the gro­cery shelves, fast food coun­ters, and shiny prod­uct dis­plays, will return to the saw­dust from which they came.

Back in antiq­ui­ty, on the oth­er hand, things were built to last, even through the fires and dev­as­ta­tion of the erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius in 79 AD. Archae­ol­o­gists will be dis­cov­er­ing for many more years every­day fea­tures of Pom­peii that sur­vived a his­toric dis­as­ter and the ordi­nary rav­ages of time. In 2019, a team ful­ly unearthed what is known as a ther­mopoli­um, a fan­cy Greek word for a snack bar that “would have served hot food and drinks to locals in the city,” the BBC reports. The find was only unveiled this past Sat­ur­day.

Images from

You can see the exca­va­tion in a sub­ti­tled vir­tu­al tour at the top con­duct­ed by Mas­si­mo Osan­na, Pompeii’s gen­er­al direc­tor and the “mas­ter­mind,” Smith­son­ian writes, behind the Great Pom­peii Project, a “$140 mil­lion con­ser­va­tion and restora­tion pro­gram launched in 2012.”

Rich­ly dec­o­rat­ed with bright­ly-col­ored paint­ings, pre­served by ash, the Ther­mopoli­um of Regio V, as it’s known, fea­tures a scene of a nereid rid­ing a sea-horse. Sur­round­ing her on all sides of the counter are illus­tra­tions of the food for sale, includ­ing “two mal­lard ducks shown upside down, ready to be cooked and eat­en,” notes the offi­cial Pom­peii site, “a roost­er,” and “a dog on a lead, the lat­ter serv­ing as a warn­ing in the man­ner of the famed Cave Canem.”

Unde­terred and spurred on by the Romans’ famed love of graf­fi­ti, some­one scratched a “mock­ing inscrip­tion” into the frame around the dog: “NICIA CINAEDE CACATOR—literally ‘Nicias (prob­a­bly a freed­man from Greece) Shame­less Shit­ter!’” The mes­sage may have been left by a dis­grun­tled work­er, “who sought to poke fun at the own­er.” Also found at the site were bone frag­ments in con­tain­ers belong­ing to the ani­mals pic­tured, as well as human bones and “var­i­ous pantry and trans­port mate­ri­als” such as amphorae, flasks, and oth­er typ­i­cal Roman con­tain­ers.

Despite its elab­o­rate design and the excite­ment of its dis­cov­er­ers, the ther­mopoli­um was noth­ing spe­cial in its day. Such coun­ters were like Star­bucks, “wide­spread in the Roman world, where it was typ­i­cal to con­sume the prandi­um (the meal) out­side the house. In Pom­peii alone there are eighty of them.” Will future archae­ol­o­gists thrill over the dis­cov­ery of a Cinnabon in a thou­sand years’ time? We’ll nev­er know, but some­how I doubt it. Learn much more about this dis­cov­ery at the offi­cial site for Pom­peii, which hopes to reopen to vis­i­tors in the Spring of 2021. All images come via

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Watch the Destruc­tion of Pom­peii by Mount Vesu­vius, Re-Cre­at­ed with Com­put­er Ani­ma­tion (79 AD)

See the Expan­sive Ruins of Pom­peii Like You’ve Nev­er Seen Them Before: Through the Eyes of a Drone

High-Res­o­lu­tion Walk­ing Tours of Italy’s Most His­toric Places: The Colos­se­um, Pom­peii, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • giancarlo artese says:

    I love open­cul­ture. And I love the irre­sistible need Amer­i­cans have to bring back every­thing to their cul­ture and cus­toms, which are also ours, after all (thermopolium…snack bar… Star­bucks). But beware, triv­i­al­iza­tion is around the cor­ner…;-)

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