What Crops Did They Grow in Pompeii?

Pompeii was once a rich and prosperous land, home to bustling markets, wealthy villas, and eager holidaymakers. Why was Pompeii so popular? What was the source of its success?

Pompeii was known for its rich and flourishing lifestyle, home to some of the best-trading markets in the country. This was due to their close range to the coast, making it easy for ships to arrive to sell, purchase, or exchange goods. But more importantly, it was due to the city’s fruitfulness in produce, home to a rich and thriving land overflowing with a range of crops.

Why was the land so fertile?

Their prosperity came from the land’s fertility, all due to the neighbouring Mount Vesuvius volcano. Although the volcano was the cause of the city’s destructive demise, beforehand it was the reason for Pompeii’s success. With the volcanic ash that spread throughout the land creating a soil rich in nutrients that promoted plant growth. These nutrients included the likes of zinc, chlorine, iron, cobalt, nitrogen, boron, and many other properties, which together act as a stimulant for plant growth. Plants prefer a more acidic environment, and lucky for the people of Pompeii they received the benefits of the volcanic soi without even knowing! Although, ultimately this is what caused their downfall. Not having the science and technology that we have now to be aware of the danger they were in, or how to prepare. Before the eruption occurred however, the people of Pompeii benefited from these nutrients, which led to Pompeii’s productive farming, agriculture and popular growth.

The Crops

The crops produced in Pompeii was used for food, drink, and textiles, with a range of different plants used throughout the city. Pompeii’s drier hillsides of Pompeii were home to fruit, nut, and grain crops. Each plant had a different purpose, with fruits being used fresh, dried for sweet treats, or juices extracted for wine. They used olives and other similar products to create thick oils, with wheat and barley grains used to produce bread. What is interesting about Pompeii is that almost all citizens had the same varied diet. With such a prosperous land to feed and nourish them, the main differences between the diet of the rich and the poor was the food that was imported – which went to the rich. But otherwise, rich and poor ate the same oven-baked bread, fruit, nuts and fish. Fish was a common and healthy resource made possible by the nearby coast.

The Wild Animals

Due to the land’s rich plant life, the area was not just a wonderland for the ancient humans but had swarms of both wild and owned animals frolicking around. The coastal shore was brimming with marine life, with fish and crustaceans up for grabs. Smaller game roamed the hilltops and grassland, such as a wild rabbit. With even larger animals such as wild boars and goats. This gave way to salted meats and a high fish diet. How do we know all this you may ask? Well, the raining volcanic ash not only preserved people and houses but also drains and shop fronts. This means whole bits of bread and even eggs have been found whilst excavating the ancient city. As for meat and fish, this part of their diet was revealed when sewers and cesspits were discovered under the city. You may turn your nose up at this, but by sifting through 2,000-year-old human waste, historians have found unprecedented insights into the everyday life of the ancient Roman Empire. Fish bones, fig, fennel, mutton and chicken remains show the diverse and healthy diet of the ordinary townspeople. More unusual remains were found in the drains of more significant properties, such as stuffed dormice, shellfish and even a giraffe leg. This suggests that Roman’s elite also enjoyed more exotic delicacies from far flung regions like Indonesia and Africa.

What did the people exchange their produce for?

As Pompeii was overflowing with the harvest, with grains, fruits, nuts, lentils, fish, and chicken eggs coming out of their ears. Although poor citizens usually stuck to this diet, richer residents were able to engage a lot of their share for foreign products. Purchasing expensive meat and salted fish from Spain, and a range of spices from other Asia. The more your diet varied, the richer you seemed, with citizens showing off their wealth by presenting the most exotic meats and sweets they could purchase. Eating foreign seafood, exotic flamingos, and even giraffe meat up for grabs! But how did they pay for their food? And what did they pay with? Well, not unlike us today, the citizens of Pompeii used money in exchange for goods and merchandise. The Roman Currency was comprised wholly of coins (not notes) which included asses (copper), dupondii (bronze), sestertii (bronze), denarii (silver) and aurei (gold), For example 1 aureus equated to 25 denarii. Other denominations used at various times were the quadrans, the quinarius argenteus and the quinarius aureus. Looking back, this cost of living appears relatively low, but it’s clear from jewels and other rare finds that Pompeii had some very wealthy citizens.

Related article: What did the people of Pompeii look like?