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A design for life: The lived experience of the Roman bar

Lock, Paula (2018) A design for life: The lived experience of the Roman bar. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.73953) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:73953)

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Ancient Roman bars are one of the more obvious aspects of commercial activity in the urban environment. The archaeological remains and the written evidence are testament to their central role in the economic and social life of the city. From the lower classes who frequented them on a daily basis to the elite who vehemently disparaged them, they were an important part of everyday life. However, these establishments are, in many ways, only superficially understood, an issue this thesis aims to correct. Through a detailed assessment of remains at Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia, I rationalize bar design, decoration, spatial layout and physical distribution. Taking a multidisiplinary approach, this study uses fieldwork and a comprehensive survey of the archaeological remains, along with mining of the ancient literature and analysis of the iconographical evidence to gain new insights into commercial design practices.

Pushing beyond existing scholarship, this thesis investigates the sensory experience of the bar to get a detailed picture of the lived experience. With the development of new methodologies, such as sensory profiling, I bring fresh analytical tools to the study of the senses to uncover as yet untapped knowledge streams to provide a nuanced understanding of non-elite culture. The result is a fresh perspective on this key component of Roman life that puts the people back into the ancient ruins and considers the sights, sounds, tastes and smells ordinary Romans experienced on a trip to a bar.

This study reveals that it is possible to track and identify decisions made by the ancients regarding the design and layout of the bar and that, although there are core features common to all of the bars, there are also clear local and temporal variations. An investigation of the ergonomic practicalities of the design provides insight into how the bars functioned and demonstrates that often fixtures and fittings were not optimised for comfortable working conditions. This study also finds that, contrary to the elite portrayal of the bars as 'greasy cookshops', their sensory landscape was in fact varied, differing from bar to bar and across the three sites.

This research provides a framework upon which the literary and archaeological data can be interrogated to gain insights into the commercial landscape and urban development. Furthermore, the application of sensory profiling and fingerprinting offers an objective foundation that has the potential to significantly broaden and enrich our understanding of many aspects of the Roman world and, indeed, many other contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Laurence, Ray
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.73953
Uncontrolled keywords: Ancient Roman bars, Roman social history, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia, Sensory studies, Design
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D51 Ancient History
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 28 May 2019 12:25 UTC
Last Modified: 28 Jul 2022 08:25 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Lock, Paula.

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