Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero

The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii

Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero

The Wine Trade


The Bay of Naples’ long history of grape cultivation and wine consumption can be traced to the arrival of Greek colonists in the eighth century BC. That tradition was drastically disrupted in AD 79. The Roman poet Martial writes of how saddened he was by the loss of the spectacular vineyards that had once stretched over the slopes of Vesuvius, all of them wiped out by the tragic eruption of the volcano.

As today in the Mediterranean, wine drinking featured prominently in everyday life. Pompeii, like most Roman towns, had its share of taverns and bars serving wine. Ancient architects invariably designated spaces for eating and drinking in modest houses in the city as well as in the elite villas circling the Bay.

The consumption of wine produced in the Vesuvian region was not limited to Pompeii. Writing in the years leading up to the eruption, Pliny the Elder suggests that Vesuvian wines had gained a solid reputation and popularity. He also notes, however, that the Pompeian variety did not improve with age, and he laments the long-lasting headache it could produce. Nevertheless, it found wide distribution, as proven by the Pompeian wine amphorae (large terracotta shipping jars) that have been discovered as far away as Carthage on the coast of North Africa and in the eastern Mediterranean.

The large-scale operation of wine-bottling and shipping at Oplontis B provides vivid insight into the empire-wide Roman wine trade in Vesuvian as well as other wines.


The Roman World in 44 BC

Roman Dominions


Traders and Consumers

The terracotta container seen here (left) was produced in Central Italy near the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Other examples recovered from Oplontis B were manufactured more locally in the area around Mount Vesuvius. Northern Italy, Iberia, and the Eastern Mediterranean were also home to workshops fabricating Dressel 2-4 jars.

The overwhelming majority of the shipping containers (amphorae) found at Oplontis B—well over ninety percent—are of the Dressel 2-4 type, a type generally used for transporting wine. Recent analysis of the residue inside a small number of these jars has confirmed the presence of both wine and pitch.

The flat-bottomed Gauloise 5 amphora (center) comes from Fréjus in southern France. It might have contained wine or fish sauce (garum). Garum was a popular condiment in Roman cuisine made from salted and fermented fish parts.

The pear-shaped Dressel 8 amphora (right) was produced on the coast of the Bay of Cádiz in Spain. It was used to transport garum.


Traders and Consumers

Traders and Consumers

Amphorae from Oplontis B

The bottling and exporting of wine was a major, though seasonal, activity at Oplontis B. The many other goods that were traded and consumed here give us a fuller picture of the empire-wide commerce conducted at Oplontis B as well as the nature of residential life in this complex.

The residents and workers in this settlement were also consumers of goods, as is evident from the kinds of products and wares they used in daily life. Excavators have found large amounts of pottery, ceramic and wooden building materials (brick, tile, wooden doors, and fencing), decorative marble and fresco fragments, metal objects (nails, hinges, coins, keys, and locks), and carbonized plant remains (pomegranates, hay, grape pips, fruit pits).

Preliminary results from an inventory of these materials have greatly enlarged our understanding of Oplontis B and its connections not only to neighboring settlements such as Pompeii and other production sites in Campania and Central Italy but also to overseas trading centers in Asia Minor (Turkey), Crete, Iberia (Spain/Portugal), North Africa, and Gaul (France). Analysis of the different types of wood used to make the doors, shutters, and fencing at Oplontis B will further refine our understanding of the local, regional, and Mediterranean sources of these goods.

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