Who Did The Shopping In Ancient Rome


Shopping has been a common daily activity in civilizations for many centuries, but there have been varied forms of obtaining goods throughout different time periods. Ancient Rome, the capital of one of history’s greatest empires, has surely gone through its own series of changes in terms of shopping and commerce. This article seeks to bring attention to this topic and provide a better understanding of the practices of shopping in Ancient Rome.

Daily Shops

In Ancient Rome, it was common to find shops in almost every corner of the city. These so called “street shops” or “pedestrian shops” were located in the busiest streets and sold mainly basic items like food and clothing. The vast majority of sellers were small merchants, with a few larger ones, who opened their shops from early morning until dusk. These shops were the main source of shopping for the city’s population, and most purchases were handled through barter.
Consequently, it was rare to find a household without its own supply of food. Everyone grew crops, had chickens and cows to provide food for their family. This allowed for easy access to basic goods, and therefore for most families, shopping was rarely needed for food and other daily necessities.

Markets & Trade Centers

The markets and trade centers in Ancient Rome were places of large-scale activity. Not only did they offer far more items than the daily street shops, but they also served as meeting points between merchants and individuals.
Within these markets, goods of higher quality were displayed and sold than what could be found in the daily shops. In addition to common items such as food and clothing, merchants also sold art and other luxury items.
As well as bartering, coins were also used in Ancient Rome as a means of payment shis influenced how the population bought goods. Coin was a safer means to use, as it was not so easily counterfeited, unlike barter. It also allowed transactions to be completed much more quickly, a welcomed advantage during such a busy period.

Online Shopping

Although it may sound surprising, Ancient Rome had a form of “online shopping” that was known as the “Direct Selling” system. This system allowed customers to buy goods directly from the manufacturer, without having to go through a merchant. Merchants advertised their goods through catalogues and pamphlets, which allowed buyers to find out about items from the comfort of their own home if they did not have the necessary time to visit the market. Many customers preferred this way of shopping instead of going to the market, as it gave them a more personal touch.


Aside from the common street shops, trade centers and online shopping, Ancient Rome had a great presence of retailers too. Although most of these shops were located in the city’s down-town area, some were scattered all throughout the city. Retailers sold, for example, jewellery, furniture, and luxury clothing items, but also houseware and beauty products. This was another way for people to buy goods without having to rely on the markets or street shops.


Apart from the merchants, there were also craftsmen in Ancient Rome. These skilled individuals specialized in making goods and they often operated their own workshops to create products such as furniture and jewellery. They usually accepted payments in barter or coin and provided the buyers with goods of their own making. This was a widely used form of shopping since specialized items could not be found in the common street shops, meaning that customers had no choice but to purchase these products from craftsmen.


In Ancient Rome, shopping was quite an extensive activity. It involved both bartering and coin payments depending on the goods that were being bought. Although daily shops were the most popular form of consumption, merchants, craftspeople and retailers also played an important role in providing customers with a variety of items. Additionally, the “direct selling” system was a new and innovative innovation at the time, and it allowed shoppers to acquire items without having to visit the markets. Shopping in Ancient Rome was an everyday activity that often involved both luxury and basic items.

The Impact Of Social Status On Shopping

Social status and wealth played an important role when it came to shopping in Ancient Rome. Merchants and traders often treated and charged different customers differently depending on their social class. Wealthier individuals were more likely to be able to purchase goods of better quality, as well as luxury and fine items that were not available to the general population. This meant that, for many people, being able to access and purchase these goods was quite difficult.

Types of Commodities

The type of commodity that could be obtained in Ancient Rome varied greatly depending on the item and its price. This meant that, while some goods were easily accessible by all, there were some products that could only be bought by the wealthier members of society. Common items like basic home goods and clothing were accessible to all, but luxury and fine items such as jewellery, furniture and works of art were usually out of reach for most of the population.

Shopping Habits in Ancient Rome

In Ancient Rome, shopping was a regular activity and it was important for people to obtain the necessary goods for everyday life. For many, this meant that they had to go to the markets and street shops, as well as the occasional retailer for luxury items. Nonetheless, the way that goods were purchased did vary depending on the type of product and the social status of the buyer. The wealthier members of society were more likely to be able to purchase higher quality items, whereas the poorer population had no choice but to look for basic necessities in the daily shops.

Clothing Shopping

Clothing was one of the most important items to purchase in Ancient Rome. Clothing was mainly sourced from the daily shops, but there were some merchants who specialized in luxury clothing items. These tended to be in the form of fabrics and materials, as opposed to the everyday ready-to-wear items. Wealthy members of society were more likely to be able to purchase luxury fabrics, as well as fashion items such as jewellery. As with food and other commodities, clothing was usually sold in the form of barter or coin.

The Significance Of Shopping

Shopping was an important activity in Ancient Rome and it had an influence on both the economy and the culture of the time. Not only was it a necessary activity for people to obtain the necessary goods for everyday life, but it also served as a way for people to connect and find new items. Additionally, it helped to bridge the gap between different social classes, as it allowed people to come in contact with items that were previously not accessible to them.

Shopping Practices as Currency in Ancient Rome

Although coin was a common means to pay for goods in Ancient Rome, bartering was also a frequent practice. This was mainly done between merchants and traders, and it mainly consisted of exchanging goods of similar value. This was a practical way of obtaining items that might not have otherwise been possible, and it helped to bridge the gap between different social strata. As a result, it was a common practice in Ancient Rome, as it provided a way of attaining items and services without using money.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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