Ancient Shopping


As soon as they arrive, slaves bring a bench for the ladies to sit on, while Kerdon tries to interest them in his wares with a pushy sales pitch that mixes extravagant claims for the styles, workmanship and glorious colours of the shoes, with what sounds like a well practised hard-luck story lamenting his life of unremitting toil and all the mouths he has to feed. Eventually every variety of shoe in the shop is brought out – Sikyonians, slippers, boots, Argive sandals, scarlets, flats – before the ladies start haggling about prices and thinking about the footwear they are going to need for an upcoming festival.

Mary Beard reviewed Claire Holleran’s Shopping in Ancient Rome: The Retail Trade in the Late Republic and the Principate in The London Review of Books, and discussed what ancient commerce might have looked like. Ancient shopping looked a lot like it did today, except slaves don’t bring shoppers stools to sit on while salespeople convince people to buy things anymore (though, I’ve never shopped at Prada, so this might be something that still happens).

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