Markets played an important role in the lives of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Each Greek city-state* had an agora, or marketplace, where goods were bought and sold. In Rome, the forum was originally the main market site for the city.
The first markets appeared in Greece in the 900s B.C., gradually replacing older forms of direct exchange, or barter. With the rise of cities, markets became an important part of urban life. At first, markets were little more than places where sellers set up stalls for the display of their retail goods or farm produce. These makeshift arrangements eventually gave way to more permanent structures. The first shops were built in Athens around 500 B.C. The polis* supervised the markets and levied taxes on the merchants. The main concern, however, was to make sure the city had enough food for its inhabitants.
Towns and villages had markets too. Special days—called market days—were regularly set aside for buying and selling. Religious festivals were often held on market days to take advantage of the fact that many people would ordinarily be gathered at the market on those days.
A daily market existed in Rome from 210 B.C. The emporium (a technical term for “shop” or “store”), built in 193 B.C., was the site for most selling. The markets came under the supervision of the aediles*. Regular markets sprang up in towns throughout the Italian peninsula. There were also regional fairs and estate markets. With improvements in shipbuilding techniques, trade expanded to overseas markets throughout the Mediterranean region, where the ancient system of open-air markets is still in use today. (See also Aedile; Agora; Food and Drink; Ships and Shipbuilding; Trade, Greek; Trade, Roman.)
* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory
* polis in ancient Greece, the dominant form of political and social organization; a city-state
The traditional ancient market consisted of makeshift booths in the center of town, in which sellers could display their wares. This relief depicts a woman displaying foodstuffs at a butcher shop.
* aedile Roman official in charge of maintaining public property inside the city, such as roads, temples, and markets