Friday, June 17, 2011

What the ancient Romans ate

Still on the subject of food, I gathered what I could about the ancient Roman diet after reading this article. A team of British archaeologists is sifting through 9 tons of 2,000-year-old human waste in the sewers of Herculaneum, which was buried like nearby Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. Director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project Andrew Wallace-Hadrill explains, "We can find out such a lot about what Romans ate by sifting through the poo and in essence it is the classic Mediterranean diet, plenty of fish and fruit. We have a good idea of what the rich ate but we have a lesser idea of what the poor ordinary Roman ate and this study will hopefully tell us that and for example what spices they used." So far, they have confirmed that lower-class Romans dined on fish, sea urchins, eggs, olives, figs, and dormice (2nd image, examples of ancient Roman food offered during a reenactment at the ancient fort of Birdoswald in Cumbria, England).

Breakfast: The morning meal may consist of pieces of bread served with cheese, dried fruit or honey, or wine for dipping.

Lunch: A mid-day meal included bread, salad, olives, cheese, fruit, nuts, and meat left over from the night before.

Dinner: This main meal of the day was served to patricians in 3 courses, and may have started with a Roman specialty: roasted, stuffed Dormice (3rd image, unattributed photo of a stew).
Drinks: With their meals, the Romans drank wine made from grapes, dates, and mulberries, and sometimes mixed it with honey; apple and pear cider; cordials made from aromatic plants; and fermented honey and water.

Spices and condiments: Varieties of fermented fish sauce were served. Olive oil and butter were used. Dishes were seasoned with fennel, poppy seeds, garlic, and salt.

The poor of ancient Rome at corn subsidized by the state, but the urban poor had a much more limited diet. The rural poor had additional food sources: the harvest and livestock on the farms they worked and the produce they found growing wild. Soldiers were supplied with wheat, which they ground themselves and ate as bread or porridge. Pork, fish, chicken, cheese, fruit, or vegetables were occasionally supplied as they became available.

The archaeologists excavating the Herculaneum sewer hope to learn exactly what the plebeians dined on, since "almost any kind of animal might be pressed into service at the rich man's dinner table. Veal, sucking pig, boar, venison, hare, wild goat, kid, porpoise, bream, hake, mackerel, mullet, oysters, sole, chicken, duck, goose, partridge, thrush, turtle dove, even crane, flamingo, and ostrich!"

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