The economies of Pompeii and Herculaneum in A.D. 79 were extensively influenced by their geographical location at the bay of Naples and on the fertile volcanic soils of Vesuvius. As a result the economies are primarily based on agricultural production and fishing it is also clear that the two cities differed greatly in size and population thus influencing the dynamics of their economies, Herculaneum being little more than a quite fishing or resort town, whereas Pompeii appears to have been a bustling commercial centre. By scrutinizing a variety of evidence, both literary and archaeological, and synthesizing research from differing fields, it is possible to develop an understanding of what the economy of Pompeii and Herculaneum was like in the years leading to their demise in A.D. 79.
Agriculture was arguably the largest industry of the Vesuvius area. The fields of Campania, the region surrounding Pompeii and Herculaneum, were known for their fertility and are praised by both Greek geographer Strabo and Pliny the Elder. There is much evidence for the production of olive oil and wine in Pompeii and the surrounding areas, for example an ornamental wine press (source 3) found in the Villa of Mysteries, Pompeii which implies that generally, the profitable cultivation of vine yards and olive groves could only be undertaken by wealthy landowners such as the one living in the Villa of Mysteries. The elaborately carved ‘ram-head’ press supports the notion that the manufacture and distribution of wine and oil was exclusively for the wealthy. Historian Willem Jongman points out that the amount of wine and oil that could be produced in the agricultural areas of Pompeii exceeded the amount needed by a city of its size which indicates that wine and oil were exported. Evidence of small scale wine and oil exportation can be seen in a number of Pompeian amphorae found outside the Campanian region.
Another major agricultural aspect of the Vesuvius area was the production of cereals, predominately wheat and grain for the manufacture of bread which was a staple of the Roman diet. Bakeries (source 2) were a significant feature of the streetscape of both Pompeii and Herculaneum. The 30 or so bakeries identified at Pompeii as well as a number of bakeries excavated at Herculaneum saved householders from buying the grain, milling it into flour and baking their own bread. Evidence suggests that bread in Pompeii and Herculaneum was produced daily, which along with the sheer number of bakeries and the scale of their production, reveals the importance of bakeries and the production of bread during the time of eruption. The bakeries contained millstones (source 2) which were made of hard basalt lava, from the local Vesuvian region. A wooden beam was inserted into the upper stone of the mill, which allowed it to be turned by mules, skeletons of which were found in a mill in Herculaneum (source 7). This suggests the presence of domesticated animals and animal husbandry at the time.
Fishing was also an important industry in the area especially in the seaside town of Herculaneum. A large volume of fishing nets and net mending tools (source 6), bronze hooks, and sinkers have been discovered at Herculaneum, primarily in the boat sheds. This reveals that fishing techniques were highly developed and differed little from those still practiced today. These, together with the descriptions passed down by classical writers and in artistic portrayals, offer us a complete overview of how the Romans gathered food resources from the sea.
One major aspect of the fishing industry was the manufacture and export of garum, a fermented fish condiment for which Pompeii was extensively renowned for. It was made by the crushing and fermentation in brine of the intestines of fish such as eel, anchovies, tuna and mackerel. Different varieties of sauce were produced depending on the ingredients used. Pompeii was a major centre for…