Sunday, 25 January 2009

Bars and brothels

This one from Rogue Classicism:

'According to Clare Kelley Bazeby, there is material evidence that the Ancient Greeks may have been opening up bars and brothels in their private residences to supplement their income. She looked at items dating from the period 475 B.C. down to 323 B.C. from sites as diverse as the Villa of Good Fortune at Olynthus to Building Z in Athens. Bazeby dixit:

“This has a real impact on how we view the economy in classical Greece … A lot of trade and industry was based within the home.”

“If you look at the remains coming from ancient Greek homes, it seems very clear to me that these buildings had another function, that some areas were used for commercial purposes … It’s amazing how entrenched people in the field are. We are trying to change archaeologists’ minds by pointing out that houses could be used economically as well being residences.”

“There was nothing to stop part of a house being utilized for commercial gain by using a room fronting onto the street as a shop, or indeed from using the household courtyard for business transactions.”

“My research shows that a lot of trade was embedded within the domestic walls. It also changes our perception of who was drinking wine, and where they were doing it. Women, slaves and foreigners as well as ordinary Greeks, would all have enjoyed time and wine in a classical tavern …”

Added Allison Glazebrook:

“There is no evidence of any purpose-built brothels for ancient Greece. We should not expect brothel spaces to look that different from houses in the material record because girls lived in brothels in which they worked.”

See Rogue Classicism for links to newspaper articles about the papers.

I know this is not 'Roman', but I've got to say that the idea of the house being used habitually for commercial gain fits with my own views on domestic space. All sorts of craft and trade activities could have taken place within the house (all types of houses, too, big and small) on a normal day-to-day basis, without this being anything noteworthy or unusual. I haven't really considered that bars or brothels might have been opened up inside houses, but perhaps this is something worth thinking about. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?


S.E. Craver said...

To relate these ideas to a Roman context, I think they suggest that we are on the right course--a course charted mainly by A.W.H. years ago--towards a new understanding of the term 'domus'. I happen to be knee-deep in this question at the moment, as part of my work on urban property investment at Pompeii. Suffice it to say that I am convinced that 'domus' was a term in an antiquity *nearly* devoid of any architectural association whatsoever; it was, above all, a reference to the habitational status of certain buildings, a status (which its root suggests)that derived from the inhabitant. Function, in other words, was not the primary determinant of nomenclature.

Miko Flohr said...

I noticed the same when I studied the workshops of Pompeii for my BABesch article (2007): about half of all archaeologically identifiable workshops seems to be related to atrium houses and, typically, these are predominantly the larger workshops that required more investment to be built. More interestingly, almost all houses that had a workshop in their back yard or even in their atrium do not seem to have lost their domestic function. Probably the best example is the fullonica of Vesonius Primus, that at the same time got a fullonica installed in the back yard and a beautiful marble fountain in the atrium. In other words: it was normal at Pompeii to do your work in the place where you lived and while the atrium house was a good place for self representation if you needed it, it could also be a good place to do the business that earned you a living. The concept of the atrium house was much less clearly defined than we usually tend to assume. I think that even AWH underestimated how deeply embedded work was in domestic space; the point is not that only a few large houses contained workshops (which by the way is true) - the point is that many workshops were situated in rather large houses!
I think that we should not be so surprised about that: after all, Pompeii is a preindustrial town in which all kinds of activities took place next to each other. We should perhaps rather be surprised that it has taken archaeologists so long to acknowledge this - in spite of all the evidence - and that, for example, the idea of Maiuri that virtually all evidence for urban production was a sign of the deteriorating living conditions at Pompeii after the AD 62 earthquake, could be so influential for so long a period.

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