. . . During the Late Republic

Over two thousand years ago, Rome had shops almost like ours. While not so modern, Roman shops did resemble shops that might have been commonly found in our major U.S. cities up through the early twentieth century.

Roman shops were generally small, family run operations, with the family typically lived behind or above the shop. But, unlike more modern shops, Roman shops had no windows on the ground floor (glass wasn't used in windows until the Empire emerged from the ashes of the Late Republic), just shutters which opened up, revealing the front of the shop to passersby on the street. Some shops had small, enclosed serving rooms. However, in most establishments, the shopkeeper served his customers from behind the counter, with the customers staying on the streetside of the counter. Some shops had signs, usually painted on the front wall of the building, which advertised the shop's main product. For instance, a butcher shop might have had a leg of pork painted on front wall. Most shops produced all their goods-for-sale on the premises.

There were also vendors who hawked their goods in the street, much like their counterparts seen in major U.S. cities today. Some of these sold sausages and pease-puddings from trays carried on their heads.

Security was a real concern in Late Republican Rome. No police force existed, so shopkeepers had to be very cautious (Rome didn't have its first police force until the time of Augustus.). So most shops closed down at dusk, when shopkeepers would secure their shop's wooden shutters to the pavement with strong padlocks.

Some of the shops that existed in Rome were for:

One of the most lucrative shops a Roman could operate was one that sold oil (typically olive oil). Oil was used for cooking, for unguents, as the main fuel for lamps, and for bathing (used instead of soap). Tremendous quantities of oil changed hands each day in the Roman marketplace.

The Rome of the Late Republic had banks too, called tabernae argentariae, which mainly handled currency exchange. But Bankers also took deposits, paid interest, and made payments on written orders. They helped clients with investments and through their foreign connections supplied travelers with letters of credit. Although lucrative, money lending wasn't considered a respectable occupation.