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Bill Thayer

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p258 Cauponaa

Unsigned article on pp258‑259 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

CAUPONA, signified, 1. An inn, where travellers obtained food and lodging; in which sense it answered to the Greek words πανδοκεῖον, καταγώγιον, and κατάλυσις. 2. A shop, where wine and ready-dressed meat were sold, and thus corresponded to the Greek καπηλεῖον. The person who kept a caupona was called caupo.

Thayer's Note: Smith's Dictionary also has an article Caupo, chiefly concerned with the legal liabilities of innkeepers.

It has been maintained by many writers that the Greeks and Romans had no inns for the accommodation of persons of any respectability, and that their cauponae and πανδοκεῖα were mere houses of shelter for the lowest classes. That such, however, was not the case, an attentive perusal of the classical authors will sufficiently show; though it is, at the same time, very evident that their houses of public entertainment did not correspond, either in size or convenience, to similar places in modern times.

Greek Inns.— The hospitality of the earliest times of Greece rendered inns unnecessary; but in later times they appear to have been very numerous. The public ambassadors of Athens were sometimes obliged to avail themselves of the accommodation of such houses (Aeschin. De Fals. Leg. p273), as well as private persons (Cic. de Div. I.27, Inv. II.4). In addition to which, it may be remarked, that the great number of festivals which were celebrated in the different towns of Greece, besides the four great national festivals, to which persons flocked from all parts of the Hellenic world, must have required a considerable number of inns to accommodate strangers, not only in the places where the festivals were celebrated, but also on the roads leading to those places (Becker, Charikles, vol. I p134).

The word καπηλεῖον signified, as has been already remarked, a place where wine and ready-dressed provisions were sold. Κάπηλος signifies in general a retail trader, who sold goods in small quantities, whence he is sometimes called παλιγκάπηλος, and his business παλιγκαπηλεύειν (Dem. c. Dionysodor. p1285; Aristoph. Plut. 1156; Pollux, VII.12); but the term is more particularly applied to a person who sold ready-dressed provisions, and especially wine in small quantities (Plat. Gorg. p518). When a retail dealer in other commodities is spoken of, the name of his trade is usually prefixed; thus we read of προβατοκάπηλος (Plut. Pericl. 24), ὅπλων κάπηλος (Aristoph. Pax, 1175), ἀσπίδων κάπηλος (Id. 439), βιβλιοκάπηλος, &c. In these καπηλεῖα only persons of the very lowest class were accustomed to eat and drink (Isocr. Areiop. c18; Becker, Charikles, vol. I p259, &c.).

Roman Inns.— A Roman inn was called not only caupona, but also taberna and taberna diversoria, or simply diversorium or deversorium. Along all the great roads of Italy there were inns, as we see from the description which Horace gives of his journey from Rome to Brundisium (Sat. I.5), though the accommodation which they offered was generally of a poor kind. We also find mention of public inns in Italy in other passages (Cic. pro Cluent. 59, Phil. II.31; Hor. Ep. I.11.11; Propert. IV.8.19; Acts of the Apostles, xxviii.15).b At Rome, there must have been many inns to accommodate strangers, but they are hardly ever spoken of. We, however, find frequent mention of houses where wine and ready-dressed provisions were sold, and which appear to have been numerous in all parts of the city. The houses where persons were allowed to eat and drink were usually called Popinae and not cauponae; and the keepers of them, Popae. They were principally frequented by slaves and the lower classes (Cic. Pro Mil. 24), and were consequently only furnished with stools to sit upon instead of couches, whence Martial (V.70) calls these places sellariolas popinas. This circumstance is illustrated by a painting found at Pompeii in a wine-shop, representing a drinking-scene. There are four persons sitting on stools round a tripod table. The dress of two of the figures is remarkable for the hoods, which resemble those of the capotes, worn by the Italian sailors and fishermen of the present day. They use cups made of horn instead of glasses, and from their whole appearance evidently belong to the lower orders. Above them are different sorts of eatables hung upon a row of pegs.

[image ALT: An engraving of four men sitting on stools around a three-legged table. They are drinking, and a small child appears to be bringing them more. It is an 18c reproduction of a fresco in a tavern or 'caupona' in Pompeii, itself depicting a tavern scene.]

The Thermopolia, which are spoken of in the article Calida, appear to have been the same as the popinae. Many of these popinae were little better than the Lupanaria or brothels; whence p259Horace (Sat. II.4.62) calls them immundas popinas. The wine-shop at Pompeii, where the painting above was found, seems to have been a house of this description; for behind the shop there is an inner chamber containing paintings of every kind of indecency (Gell's Pompeiana, vol. II p10). The Ganeae, which are sometimes mentioned in connection with the popinae (Suet. Tib. 34), were brothels, whence they are often classed with the lustra (Liv. XXVI.2; Cic. Phil. XIII.11, Pro Sext. 9). Under the emperors many attempts were made to regulate the popinae, but apparently with little success. Tiberius forbad all cooked provisions to be sold in these shops (Suet. Tib. 34); and Claudius commanded them to be shut up altogether (Dion Cass. LX.6). They appear, however, to have been soon opened again, if they were ever closed; for Nero commanded that nothing should be sold in them but different kinds of cooked pulse or vegetables (Suet. Nero, 16; Dion Cass. LXII.14); and an edict to the same effect was also published by Vespasian (Dion Cass. LXVI.10).

Persons who kept inns or houses of public entertainment of any kind, were held in low estimation both among the Greeks and Romans (Theophr. Char. 6; Plat. Leg. XI. pp918, 919); and though the epithets of perfidi and maligni, which Horace gives to them (Sat. I.1.29, I.5.4), may refer only to particular innkeepers, yet they seem to express the common opinion entertained respecting the whole class (Zell, Die Wirtshäuser d. Alten; Stockmann, De Popinis; Becker, Gallus, vol. I pp227‑236).

Thayer's Notes:

a An entire book may be found online devoted to the subject of inns in Antiquity. Entertaining and full of information, but as with any book, or maybe a bit more so, tread carefully and check what you read in it: W. C. Firebaugh (sort of), The Inns of Greece and Rome.

b Properly, the passage in Acts is not a reference to an inn but to a place called Tres Tabernae; where taberna, the origin of our word tavern, may mean "inn" or "tavern" — but more usually means "shop" or "cookshop".

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