Hotels and Restaurants in Ancient Rome: A Look into the Past

Discovering the lifestyle and culture of ancient Rome is a fascinating journey. From their clothing to their architecture, the Romans had a unique way of living that still captivates us today. But what about their hospitality industry?

Were there hotels and restaurants in ancient Rome? Did they have places to stay and eat while traveling or conducting business?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Yes, there were hotels and restaurants in ancient Rome. But let’s explore this topic further and understand what the hospitality industry looked like in ancient times.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the hotels and restaurants in ancient Rome. We’ll delve into their history, their architecture, and their menus. So, let’s dive in and explore the past!

The History of Hotels in Ancient Rome

When it comes to hospitality, the ancient Romans were no strangers to the concept of providing lodging for weary travelers. In fact, the history of hotels in ancient Rome dates back to as early as 52 BC, when the Roman politician and philosopher Cicero built a villa in the coastal town of Cumae, which he used as a place of retreat and repose.

The Origins of Roman Hotels

As the Roman Empire expanded, so did the need for lodging for travelers and merchants. This led to the emergence of hospitium, which were essentially inns or guesthouses that provided basic accommodations for travelers. These hospitium were often located near major roads and were run by innkeepers who provided food, drink, and a place to sleep for a fee.

Over time, the hospitium evolved into more elaborate establishments, with some offering private rooms and even baths. These early hotels were frequented by wealthy travelers and visiting dignitaries, and often served as meeting places for business and politics.

The Structure of Roman Hotels

Roman hotels were typically multi-story buildings that featured a central courtyard or atrium, which served as the main gathering area for guests. Private rooms were located off of the atrium, and were often decorated with frescoes and mosaics. Some hotels even had private balconies and terraces for guests to enjoy.

One unique feature of Roman hotels was the presence of a tablinum, which was a room where guests could conduct business or hold meetings. This room was often decorated with fine artwork and furnishings, and was considered a symbol of the hotel’s prestige.

The Amenities and Services of Roman Hotels

Despite being thousands of years old, Roman hotels offered many of the same amenities and services that modern hotels do today. These included:

  • Food and drink: Roman hotels often had their own kitchens and dining areas, where guests could enjoy a variety of dishes and wines.
  • Baths: Many Roman hotels had their own public or private baths, which were considered essential for maintaining cleanliness and good health.
  • Entertainment: Some hotels featured theaters or gladiatorial arenas for guests to enjoy.
  • Security: Roman hotels had a reputation for being safe and secure, with guards and locks to protect guests and their belongings.

While the amenities and services of Roman hotels may seem basic by today’s standards, they were innovative for their time and played an important role in shaping the hospitality industry as we know it today.

The Architecture of Roman Hotels

The design and layout of Roman hotels

Roman hotels, commonly known as “cauponae,” were designed to provide food, accommodation, and entertainment for travelers. The layout of these hotels was primarily based on the location, size, and target market. For instance, hotels located near the city center were designed to attract business travelers, while those located near the countryside were designed for leisure travelers and tourists. The hotels had several floors, with the upper floors reserved for accommodation and the lower floors for dining and entertainment.

The materials and construction of Roman hotels

Roman hotels were constructed using durable materials such as brick, stone, and concrete, and were designed to withstand the test of time. The walls of the hotels were decorated with mosaics, frescoes, and paintings, depicting scenes from daily life, mythological creatures, and historical events. The roofs of the hotels were made using timber and tiles, to provide insulation during extreme weather conditions. The hotels were also equipped with advanced plumbing systems, including aqueducts, fountains, and drainage systems, to ensure a steady supply of water.

The decoration and furniture of Roman hotels

Roman hotels were decorated with luxurious furnishings, including marble floors, columns, and statues, to create a sense of opulence and grandeur. The hotels were also adorned with colorful tapestries, rugs, and curtains, to add warmth and comfort to the interiors. The furniture in the hotels was made using high-quality wood, such as oak, walnut, and teak, and was designed to provide maximum comfort to the guests. The hotels were also equipped with amenities such as hot baths, saunas, and massage rooms, to provide relaxation and rejuvenation to the guests.

The Food and Beverages of Roman Restaurants

Ancient Rome was a hub of culinary innovation and a melting pot of different cuisines. Roman restaurants were the go-to places for the wealthy and the commoners alike. Food and beverages were an integral part of the social fabric of Roman society. Let’s take a look at the types of restaurants, ingredients, dishes, and the popularity of wine in ancient Rome.

The types of restaurants in ancient Rome

The Romans had a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. There were street vendors selling fast food, food stalls in markets, and specialized restaurants. Some specialized restaurants catered to specific dietary needs, such as vegetarian or kosher food. Others were known for their ambiance, such as rooftop restaurants with a view of the city. The wealthy had access to exclusive dining clubs and banqueting halls.

The ingredients and dishes of Roman cuisine

Roman cuisine was heavily influenced by the Mediterranean diet, which included olive oil, grains, fruits, vegetables, and seafood. The Romans were also known for their love of meat, especially pork and game animals such as boar and deer. They used spices such as coriander, cumin, and saffron to add flavor to their dishes. Some of the popular dishes included:

  • Garum – a fermented fish sauce used as a condiment
  • Moretum – a cheese and herb spread
  • Posca – a vinegar-based drink
  • Apicius – a cookbook containing recipes for various dishes

The popularity of wine in ancient Rome

The Romans were famous for their love of wine. Wine was consumed by all levels of society, and vineyards were present throughout the Roman Empire. The Romans had a sophisticated wine culture and even had a god of wine, Bacchus. Wine was used in religious ceremonies, social gatherings, and banquets. The Romans classified their wines based on their region of origin and quality. Some of the famous wine regions included Pompeii and Tuscany.

The Cultural Importance of Hotels and Restaurants in Ancient Rome

Hotels and restaurants played a crucial role in ancient Roman society. They were not only places to eat and sleep, but also served as important social and cultural centers. In fact, hospitality was highly valued in Roman culture, and it was considered a duty to provide food and shelter to travelers and guests.

The Role of Hotels and Restaurants in Roman Society

Hotels, known as “stabulae,” were located throughout the city of Rome and provided lodging for both locals and travelers. These establishments ranged from simple inns to luxurious villas, catering to a wide range of budgets. Restaurants, on the other hand, were known as “popinae” and were popular gathering places where people could enjoy a meal and socialize with friends and associates.

These establishments were not only places for food and rest, but they also had cultural significance. They served as meeting places for philosophers, writers, and artists, who gathered to discuss ideas and share their work. The famous poet Horace, for example, wrote about the importance of shared meals in his poetry, emphasizing the social and cultural significance of dining.

The Impact of Hospitality on Trade and Commerce

Another significant impact of these establishments was on trade and commerce. As Rome grew into a major commercial hub, the hospitality industry played a vital role in supporting the city’s economy. Hotels and restaurants not only provided a place for travelers to rest, but they also served as important meeting places for merchants, politicians, and other important figures. These establishments were often used as venues for business negotiations, making them an essential part of Rome’s commercial infrastructure.

The hospitality industry also had a significant impact on the development of Rome’s transportation system. As more people traveled to and from the city, the demand for lodging and food increased, leading to the construction of new roads and transportation networks. This, in turn, facilitated the growth of Rome’s economy and helped establish it as one of the most powerful empires in history.

The Influence of Roman Hospitality on Modern Culture

Today, the legacy of Roman hospitality can still be seen in modern culture. The concept of the hotel and restaurant as a social and cultural center has persisted throughout the centuries, and the idea of sharing a meal with friends and family remains an important part of many cultures around the world.

In addition, the hospitality industry continues to play a significant role in global commerce, with hotels and restaurants serving as important meeting places for business travelers and tourists alike. The influence of Roman hospitality can be seen in everything from the design of modern hotels to the etiquette of fine dining.


In conclusion, the hospitality industry in ancient Rome was a thriving business that catered to the needs of travelers and locals alike. From luxurious hotels to bustling restaurants, the Romans had a sophisticated understanding of hospitality that left a lasting impact on our modern culture.

By exploring the history, architecture, and cuisine of ancient Roman hotels and restaurants, we gain a better understanding of the people who lived in this fascinating era. So, the next time you find yourself in Rome, take a moment to appreciate the legacy of hospitality that has been passed down through the centuries.

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