As you go through the strangely paved streets of the ruined city of Pompeii you have pointed out to you a group of brick arches, not unlike those of a wine cellar; and some damaged foundations, more or less square in design, which you are told once were an inn.
If the guide is correct in his archaeological impressions, you have seen the oldest hotel in the world. Unfortunately, like many other statements about the city whose life was puffed out by Vesuvius, nearly two millenniums ago, this one is disputed by some learned antiquaries.
We may well leave the problem to them with the thought that there must be an “oldest inn” somewhere in the world, and Pompeii offers a most attractive and logical setting for this structure.
Where or when the first inn or hotel was established we may never learn, but if we can discover the age when civilized man first began to travel in the interests of commerce, we shall be on the road to the acquisition of this knowledge. At present it is a subject for discussion with very little light falling upon it.
As our present civilization comes to us from the Orient, it is there we shall have to delve for the earliest information and remains of these landmarks on the world’s highways.
From some statements made by FIerodotus in his Second Book, to the effect that in ancient Egypt women were as-signed to the businesses that we have long regarded as fields for the masculine members of the race, it has been assumed by some writers that Egyptian inns were kept by women. It also has been asserted, with what truth it can better be imagined than described, that these hostelries bore an evil reputation. As it also has been declared by the first of historians that the ancient Egyptians were prohibited from travelling with that freedom we all have been accustomed to, these inns, after all, may have been little more than taverns; and we know Egypt is the land where beer was first brewed. This may account for the evil repute of their proprietresses.
Throughout Asia there have existed since the first caravan set out, stopping places along the great highways where men and beasts of burden were offered refreshment and rest for the night. These were, and are still where they remain, called Khans or Caravansaries.
Originally these stopping places were situated at the sites of wells or well watered places. They were rude in architecture and not over-commodious. In two thousand years they evidently have changed very little, either in design or in the smallness of their conveniences.
Loftus, in his book, “Chaldea,” gives both a plan and a description of a Khan at Adalia, in Asia Minor, on the road from Baghdad to Babylon, which evidently does not differ greatly from those stopping places in the Far East in earlier ages. Sometimes these retreats for travellers are called “locando.”
“It is a large and substantial building,” he wrote, “in the distance resembling a fortress, being surrounded with a lofty wall, and flanked by round towers to defend the in-mates in case of attack. Passing through a strong gateway, the guest enters a large court, the sides of which are divided into numerous arched compartments, open in front, for the accommodation of separate parties and for the reception of goods. In the centre is a spacious raised platform, used for sleeping upon at night or for devotions of the faithful during the day. Between the outer wall and the compartments are wide, vaulted arcades, extending round the entire building, where the beasts of burden are placed. Upon the roof of the arcades is an excellent terrace and over the gateway an elevated tower containing two rooms, one of which is open at the sides, permitting the occupants to enjoy every breath of air that passes over the heated plains. The terrace is tolerably clean, but the court and stabling below are ankle-deep in chopped straw and filth.”
There are probably half -a-dozen references to inns in the Bible. One of the first is in Exodus IV. 24, in the course of the narrative describing Moses’ call to be the deliverer of Israel:
“And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him and sought to kill him.”
It would be hazardous, however, to assert that in this passage is meant what we regard as an inn, just as it seems is the inference by some writers that Judges XI. and XVI. refer to inns. The latter reference is to Samson’s visit to Gaza, where he met Delilah, who has been regarded as an innkeeper, following the theory that Egyptian houses for travellers were maintained by women.
Jeremiah IX. 2, cries out, “Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people, and go from them!” Some commentators interpret this as a reference to an inn or hostel as they do another pas-sage in Jeremiah XLI. 17: “And they departed, and dwelt in the habitation of Chimham, which is by Bethlehem, to go to enter into Egypt.”
In the New Testament, however, we find “guest-chamber” replaces reference to “inn” in both Mark and Luke, in describing, the scene of the Last Supper. Mark XIV.14 and 15, which, from the contents, one might interpret either as a guest chamber of a private house or as a guest chamber in a hostel. The verses in Mark are:
“And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guest-chamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?
“And he will show you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.”
From the description of the large upper room, the impression might well be gained that the reference was to an inn, instead of a private residence. Yet, it is well known that in the East in those times it was not unusual for travellers to be accommodated in what was called “the guest-chamber,” which none seemed too poor to provide.
In the Parable of The Good Samaritan, in Luke X. 34, will be found another reference to an inn, when the victim of highwaymen, after his wounds were dressed, was taken and cared for. The use of the inn here indicates that they were frequent on the main roads in the lands of the ancients, and in the second chapter of the same Book we are told that the newly born Saviour was wrapped in swaddling clothes “and laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”
This shows plainly that the inns of the time had accommodations for beasts of burden as well as for the travellers, and it was in the stable of an inn in Bethlehem that the Christ child was born.
Like the modern hotel, the inn of the time of Jesus was an evolution or growth which indicates that its history must date back to ages which even then were regarded as ancient. Originally, it seems, the inn was not even a house, and was very little of a shelter, being usually a plot of ground near a spring, which sometimes was walled in, or had a rude fence surrounding it. This space was allotted as a camping ground for travellers, and at this stage of its evolution it seems that the various communities provided this accommodation without payment or price.
By degrees the wall was raised at the expense of some wealthy traveller. Arches were built and united to the wall by a roof. Doors were added, and the roofed-in inclosure was divided into apartments, so that several parties of travellers might be made comfortable at the same time and enjoy some privacy. Usually, there was a central space that was open to the skies, and around it were added rough sheds or in some instances, natural caves were used to stable any animals accompanying the travellers. It has been conjectured from the remains of the inn of the Nativity, which exhibits these natural caves, that this style of structure was common in Asia Minor in ancient times. Commentators have suggested that in the verse referring to the miraculous birth, the word translated as “inn” may, indeed, simply mean “guest-chamber.” If this rendering be the correct one, then it seems logical to infer that the meaning is “guest-chamber” of an inn, for only an inn would be likely to have on its grounds natural caves used as stables.
The French word auberge, and the German word herberge, both usually translated as “inn,” are traced by Larousse, in his “Grand Dictionnaire Universel,” to a common Germanic source, in the expression composed of heer, army; and bergen, to protect, to defend. Primitively the word designated the place where an army raised its tents. In the Order of Malta, the hotels of the Chevaliers of various nations, where those of each nation or tongue assembled for meals, were called an aubergenaturally, there were as many inns as tongues.
In the East, the Mussulman inns are called manzil (literally, place where they descend). The Persians and the natives of a large part of Asia Minor have called these stopping places Khans and Karavan Serai (house of the Cara-vans). In these latter places, the lodgings are ordinarily given to the travellers without payment, and also their beasts of burden are similarly provided for, but the board for both, that is, the ‘meals and other refreshment, is given upon the payment of money. This custom is more or less a survival of the customs established some thousands of years ago, for it is known that in the home of the ancient Hebrews, travellers and merchants generally, from time without record, were able to count upon the hospitality of friend, parent or associate on the road. They were lodged without price; hence we learn that in those lands where the Israelites were in control there were no inns. One might go further and say that in Ancient Egypt the Hebrews were warned not to stop at the inns kept by persons not of their race, and perhaps this rule influenced the hospitality we have seen was universal in that part of the world in the days of the Prophets.
There were so very many different kinds of inns in Ancient Rome and Greece, and so many refinements upon the character of these establishments, that it is with difficulty that any adequate idea of these places or of those earlier establishments in Babylonia can be given. The inn some-times was not an inn, but a drinking place, which is only half of the genuine hostelry. Even in more recent times in France we find the auberge had competition in the cabaret, the gargote, the guinguette, the hotellerie, and the taverne, each of which expresses a different form of the same thing. Larousse tells us that in the cabaret they did not at first sell wine: the taverne is a cabaret “where they do not drink to excess.” The gargote is a small cabaret “where they serve refreshments at a low price”; the guinguette is a cabaret in the suburbs, “where the people go to drink, dance and divert themselves on holidays.” The auberge or true inn, the same authority tells us, “gives above all food,” while the hotellerie “furnishes equally shelter and food.”
Thus we find that in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome the inn very often was a place for drinking only, while in France it is above all a place for food. In England and in the United States, in the days when inns were in their original form, they were, in fact, the hotels of the period, differing from the hotels which immediately followed by having stables and coach yards attached. This was essential in the days of horse-drawn transportation.
There is reason to believe that the ancient inns which marked the distances on the main roads of the Orient had their origin in the days when posts were established. Persia had a system of posts where horses and their riders might refresh themselves, and it is noteworthy that these posting inns were to be found at more or less regular intervals, usually the distance, it was calculated, that a horse could travel within a certain time. Long periods of time elapsed before Greece or Rome imitated the Persian system.
That hospitality which was so typical of the East from remote times was characteristic of the dealings of Athens, in classical days, with all strangers to the city. They were careful also to provide comfortable quarters for sailors from other countries, and, of course, had public inns or hotels to accommodate the visitors from other parts of the country when they crowded into the capital city on occasions of sports or plays or national festivals. In ancient Athens there were officials named “proxenoi,” not totally unlike our consuls, whose chief duty was to dispense hospitality to visiting foreigners of distinction.
While it would be the merest guesswork to set a time when the first inn was in being in the Ancient World, there is very good reason to believe that by the year 500 B. C. the inn was already a fixture in Greece.
Supply followed demand twenty-five centuries ago, just as it does today, although not quite so rapidly or effectively. Consequently when the capital of the Grecian world became a busy and gay one, it was the attraction of travellers from all parts of the empire. That means that something more than private hospitality had to be provided, therefore we may feel secure in a belief that inns of various types and sizes were opened in Athens.
We are told that the ambassadors sent from Athens to negotiate with Philip of Macedon lodged at inns. Clodius, that scoundrelly Roman who was banished from Rome, and who was murdered by the athlete, Milo, is said to have met his fate in an inn. From the unsavory character of Clodius, who was an enemy of Cato and Cicero, it is thought that the scene of his murder must also have been a place of evil reputation. It is an interesting commentary on the hotel keeper that he died defending his guest.
Mercury, having been regarded as the patron of travellers and shepherds, was early seized upon by the ancient Grecian innkeepers for their patron, notwithstanding that Mercury was one of the most incessant and rascally thieves in all heathen mythology, being also esteemed as the special god of pickpockets and highwaymen.
Rome, like Athens, early had its inns and taverns. The words taverna, or taberne, seem to have been more or less indiscriminately used to designate an inn or a tavern, and neither is to be confused with the wineshops of the period, for in these latter one purchased wine to be brought to the house and not necessarily to be “drunk on the premises.” The taverna was essentially a drinking place.
Sufficient remains of an early Roman inn have been recovered to show that the better class of hospices were well-built, and were arranged with apparatus for heating the guest-room. These places evidently were fairly numerous in and around Rome at the dawn of this era, for we know that laws were enacted for their proper supervision.
This supervision seems to have been almost modern in its comprehensive character, and also, it might be added, in its meddling, mischievous character. The inns, taverns and similar resorts were under the inspection of the aedile and his four myrmidons. They inspected the foods sold, the wine offered, and also passed upon the correctness of the weights and measures used in these establishments.
In these decrees issued in the reigns of Tiberius, Nero, Claudius and Vespasian, we find that, under the guise of preventing the sale of adulterated foods or drinks, the inspectors forbade the sale of pastry in some instances; in others they allowed nothing but certain vegetables to be served to guests.
From these few scattered facts it will be easily imagined that the hotel-keeper, or inn-keeper, follows one of the world’s most ancient occupations or businesses.