Think fast food is a modern fad? Archaeologists say such eateries were common in ancient times. Discoveries in one uniquely preserved Roman city confirm that and support the biblical truth that “there is nothing new under the Sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
The city of Pompeii stood near Naples, Italy, from before Jesus’ birth. In A.D. 79, nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted. The blast buried Pompeii under about 20 feet of volcanic ash.
Pompeii has fascinated archaeologists and scholars ever since. Much of the ancient city still lies unexcavated. Buildings and the detailed spaces left by bodies are frozen in time. The site is one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions.
Pompeii Archaeological Park’s longtime chief, Massimo Osanna, says that about 80 fast-food eateries have been found at Pompeii. But recently, excavators completely unearthed a thermopolium for the first time.
A thermopolium is “a place where (something) hot is sold.” Pompeiians could buy ready-to-eat food—much like modern fast food. Scholars believe only travelers and those who couldn’t afford private kitchens frequented thermopolia (plural), not upper-class citizens. Ancient writings indicate that thermopolia were mostly visited by lower classes, including gamblers and criminals.
A typical thermopolium was a small room with a stone counter out front. The counter held earthenware jars (called dolia) for food embedded in the rock. (Think of soup containers nestled into modern-day salad bars.)
Some excavated thermopolia reveal decorated dining areas too, complete with colorful fresco wall paintings.
In recent digs in Pompeii, archaeologists found such a counter. Plant and animal specialists are still analyzing remains from the site. But they already know that the operator of this ancient eatery found a good spot: a small square with a fountain just outside and another thermopolium nearby.
Frescoes of an undersea nymph astride a horse, two upside-down mallards, and a rooster decorated this Pompeiian eatery. The vibrant frescoes likely served to communicate menu items: seafood, duck, and chicken.
Anthropologist Valeria Amoretti says researchers unearthed a bronze ladle, nine ancient jars, flasks, and a ceramic oil container. They also found duck bone fragments in one container and remains from goats, pigs, fish, and snails.
Referring to Pompeii’s ruin, Osanna says, “We know what they were eating that day.”
Another fresco depicts a dog on a leash. Scholars don’t believe the dog was a menu item. (Eeeewww!) Instead, the fresco provided ancient evidence that humans across the centuries are alike: All need a reminder for patrons to leash their pets.