Trading and storing of goods
by: Ti. Dionysius Draco

Ordinary Roman ports were little more than protected beaches. Small trading vessels either ran aground on the sand or moored at the edge of navigable water. They usually approached the port at high tide, and were unloaded at low tide onto carts or wide, flat barges called "lighters". Some ports used winches to draw ships aground. Busier ports had more improvements. "Moles" were long fingers of land built into the sea to break up the waves. Sometimes moles had lighthouses at their end, and they usually had docks to which ships could moor. These artificial harbors were cramped, and sailing ships relied on tugboats to escort them to their quays. The tugs attached a line to the cargo ship's prow, then rowed to their assigned berth. Traders would bargain for unconsigned cargoes right at the dock, but most goods were pre-sold and went directly to warehouses.


Shopkeeping was a low-class profession usually left to slaves or freedmen. Cicero considered merchants to be near the bottom of the list of acceptable professions for cultured Romans. Markets were boisterous places offering the full range of products from across the Empire. Most were open-air, but some buildings, like the basilica, housed permanent shops and were the forerunners of modern malls. Basilicae, the prestigious shopping addresses, offered shoppers relief from the summer heat as they perused the finest goods in the Roman Empire.

One of the largest basilicae, and the most famous, was the Basilica Iulia, which doubled as a court of justice and meeting hall for the Senate. Trials were open to the public and lawyers hired crowds from the basilica shoppers to cheer them on, hoping to influence the judge. The Emperor Caligula liked to throw copper coins off the basilica to watch people fight over them. The Basilica Julia burnt down twice and in the heat of the fire, forgotten copper coins melted and became green stains on the marble floor.

Less-permanent markets, called tabernae, existed from the earliest days of the Republic. These simple booths were stalls, or even just tents, in which everyone from farmers to money-lenders could peddle their wares.

Storing of the goods

To store the goods obtained by trade or produced, the Romans built warehouses and granaries. Both of these structures were cheap and made out of inexpensive materials ( e.g. wood ). They had to be dry, secure and free of vermin. The warehouses were mostly located near important roads and ports. Although both ports and farms had warehouses, they were rather small and therefore urban warehouses and urban granaries were built. These were more permanent and built out of stone. To prevent stealing, warehouses sometimes hired watchmen. Only cities that traded a lot had need of a warehouse, but every city needed a granary to store its food. Even forts needed one. Granaries were the earliest large public structures and were made out of wood, bricks and concrete (the latter material pioneered by the Romans).
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