Greek and Roman “Restaurants”

In an earlier post, I wrote:

So, where did the word restaurant come from?
This eating establishment, as we know it today,
originated in Paris, France in the 18th century.


This is not to say that there were no restaurants before the establishment of bouillon houses in Paris.  If you will re-read the above words, I qualified my statement about restaurants with the words as we know it today.


Long before the French Revolution, there were already food establishments that could pass as fore-runners of fast-food shops.

In ancient Greece and Rome and in other areas where their cultures spread, there were thermopolia (places where something hot is sold) in the centers of town.  The typical thermopilium had counters with sunken areas for large vessels that held food for sale. These food-selling establishments were the fore-runners of modern “to-go” restaurants.

Citizens — often the poor who didn’t have facilities for cooking in their small dwellings — bought what we may now consider as take-outs, or fast food.

By Aldo Ardetti at Italian Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0


A year ago, I had the good fortune to visit HERCULANEUM, a Unesco World Heritage site under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.  Our Mediterranean cruise took us from Rome to Athens, Greece and then to Istanbul, Turkey, with the last stop being the Campania Region of Italy, where Naples, Herculaneum, and Pompeii are located.

Herculaeum was named after the Greek divine hero Hercules.  The seafaring Greeks used it as trading post due to its proximity to the Bay of Naples.



At around 1 pm on August 24, 79 A.D., Mt Vesuvius erupted after a dormancy of 800 years.  The map below shows the extent of the damage wrought by the eruption.

The first pyroclastic surge, formed by a mixture of ash and hot gases, went over the town of Herculaneum at the speed of about 100 miles per hour, burying some buildings, causing limited damage in some and preserving certain structures.

Excavations from 1927 to 1942 exposed about four hectares of the ancient city in the archaeological park that is visible today.  Many public and private buildings are yet to be excavated.  However, because Herculaneum is situated right below the volcano, it is in constant danger of being buried again in ashes.  Vesuvius, after all, is a very active volcano.

Our tour guide said that property owners have been offered compensation by the government if they would move out of the area, but there are few takers.


Herculaneum is located on the coast of the Bay of Naples, an area known for fertile land, bountiful fishing grounds, and mild winters.  Garum, a fermented fish sauce (PATIS!), was one of the primary exports of the area.  It was used as a dressing for many types of Roman food, including pasta.

The homes of ancient Herculaneans had small kitchens (culinae) with portable stoves.  They didn’t do much cooking; fresh produce was brought in from the agricultural areas, and prepared hot food was purchased from thermopolia in many intersections of town.


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