Shopping in Ancient Rome: The Retail Trade in the Late Republic and the Principate

Mary Beard writes:

The most memorable account of an ancient shopping expedition is found in some comic verses by the third-century BC poet Herodas, who lived in Alexandria, by far the smartest city in the Western world at the time. In his poem a woman called Metro and a couple of her friends visit a shoe shop owned by one Kerdon (‘Mr Profiteer’). 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.

(LRB 3 January 2013)