ancient food history

Food & Feasting in Ancient Rome. The festive consumption of food and drink was an important social ritual in the Roman world. Known as the convivium (Latin: “living together”), or banquet, the Romans distinguished between specific types of gatherings, such as epulum (public feast), cena (dinner, eaten mid-afternoon), and comissatio (drinking party). Public banquets, such as civic feasts offered for all of the inhabitants of a city, accommodated large numbers of diners. Dinner parties that took place in residences were private affairs in which the host entertained a small group of family friends, business associates, and clients. Roman literary sources describe elite private banquets as a kind of feast for the senses, during which the host strove to impress his guests with extravagant fare, luxurious tableware, and diverse forms of entertainment, all of which were enjoyed in a lavishly adorned setting. Archaeological evidence of Roman housing has shed important light on the contexts in which private banquets occurred and the types of objects employed during such gatherings.

The dining room was one of the most important reception spaces of the residence. It included high-quality decorative fixtures, such as floor mosaics, wall paintings, and stucco reliefs, as well as portable luxury objects, such as artworks, sculptures, and furniture. Like the Greeks, the Romans reclined on couches while banqueting, although in the Roman context respectable women were permitted to join men in reclining. This practice set the convivium apart from the Greek symposium (a male aristocratic drinking party), at which female attendees were restricted to entertainers such as flute-girls and dancers as well as courtesans (heterae). A dining room typically held 3 broad couches, each of which seated 3 individuals, thus allowing for a total of 9 guests. This type of room is commonly described as a triclinium (“3-couch room”), although dining rooms that could accommodate greater numbers of couches are archaeologically attested. In a triclinium, the couches were arranged along 3 walls of the room in a U-shape, at the center of which was placed a single table that was accessible to all of the diners. Couches were frequently made of wood, but there were also more opulent versions with fittings made of costly materials, such as ivory and bronze. 

A proper Roman dinner included 3 courses: hors d’oeuvres (gustatio), main course (mensae primae), and dessert (mensae secundae). Food and drink were served, intended not only to satiate the guests but also to add an element of spectacle to the meal. Exotic produce, particularly wild animals, birds, and fish, were favored at elite dinners due to their rarity, difficulty of procurement, and consequent high cost, which reflected the host’s affluence. Popular but costly fare included pheasant, thrush, raw oysters, lobster, shellfish, venison, wild boar, and peacock. Foods that were forbidden by sumptuary laws, such as fattened fowl and sow’s udders, were flagrantly consumed at the most exclusive feasts. Elaborate recipes were invented - a surviving literary work, known as Apicius, is a late Roman compilation of cookery. These often required not only expensive ingredients and means of preparation but also elaborate, even dramatic, forms of presentation. Wine wine was served throughout the meal. This practice contrasted with that of the Greek deipnon (main meal), which focused on the food; wine was reserved for the symposium that followed. The wine was mixed to the guest’s taste and in his own cup, unlike the Greek practice of communal mixing for the entire party.


The First Celebrity Chef and the First Cookbook

Today our media is filled with the exploits of celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Bobby Flay, Anthony Bourdain,  Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, and many, many more.  The history of celebrity chefs goes way back in history, even thousands of years to the world of Ancient Rome.  One of the first celebrity chefs was a man named Marcus Gavius Apicius, a gourmet who seemed to be a popular man in the Roman world.

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A lover of food and luxury, Apicius was certainly in good company as many of his friends and acquaintances were the richest and most powerful people in the Roman Empire, including famous Romans such as Sejanus, Drusus, Seneca, Maecenus (adviser to emperor Augustus),  Junius Blaesus and Lucius Antistius Vetus (Roman Consuls), and of course the Emperor Tiberius.  

In the first century AD Apicius made another contribution to culinary history, one of the first cookbooks ever published. Called De re coquinaria (on the subject of cooking,) it was written in the early 1st century AD and features 10 chapters on housekeeping, ground meats, vegetables, ingredients, soups, poultry, pastries and baking, red meat, and seafood.  While Apicius was not the direct author of the book, the cooking styles and recipes contained within are attributed to him.  Interestingly De re coquinaria  was not written in Classical Latin but in Vulgar Latin (commoners speech), demonstrating that it was to be used as a common kitchen tool.  Despite this, De re coquinaria clearly was a manuscript of gourmet foods consumed by the wealthy, as it uses rare ingredients such as goose liver, flamingo tongue, and dormice (edible mouse).  Over time several translations and editions were printed.  Today modern English translations of De re coquinaria can be easily found on Amazon and other book sites. 

A Recipe by Apicius: Pullus Fusilus (Stuffed Chicken)

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1        fresh chicken (approx. 1-1.5kg)

300g     minced meat (half beef, half pork)

100g     oats

2        eggs

250ml    white wine

1 tblsp  oil

1 tblsp  Lovage (can substitute with celery leaves)

¼ tsp  ground ginger

¼ tsp  ground pepper

1 tsp    green peppercorns

50g      pine nuts

Liquamen (white wine and salt) or salt to taste


Ground pepper, lovage, ginger, minced meat and cooked oats. Add eggs and mix until you have a smooth mass. Season with Liquamen, add  oil , whole peppercorns and pine nuts. Fill this dough into the chicken. Cook approximately 1 hour at 220 deg C in the oven.

Crystal King’s Feast of Sorrow brings readers into the kitchens of ancient Rome, where nobles and slaves jockeyed for position by using food as bargaining chips for personal and professional advancement.

The novel is based on the real life of ancient Roman noble Marcus Gavius Apicius, who is thought to have inspired and contributed to the world’s oldest surviving cookbook. But King tells her story from the point of view of a slave named Thrasius, a talented cook who is purchased by Apicius for the unimaginable sum of 20,000 denarii, about 10 times the yearly wages of a common soldier.

What Did Ancient Romans Eat? New Novel Serves Up Meals And Intrigue

Another alt sona?? Technically i’ve had this character for A Long Time and decided i finally needed to make my character named “fish” look more fishy

🐟 some weird combination between an arowana and dunkleosteus? Maybe a coelacanth?? Who knows but all i know is they’re much bigger than any of these fish should be
🐟 can be drawn with any arowana color morph, from gold to red to anything!
🐟 smells like seawater at all times. Fascinated with “lucky” charms/items , treasure, food, and ancient history
🐟 eats bugs off the floor

An early Ramesside Period mural painting from Deir el-Medina tomb depicts an Egyptian couple harvesting crops. The cuisine of ancient Egypt covers a span of over 3000 years, but still retained many consistent traits until well into Greco-Roman times. The staples of both poor and wealthy Egyptians were bread and beer, often accompanied by green-shooted onions, other vegetables, and to a lesser extent meat, game and fish. 

Depictions of banquets can be found in paintings from both the Old and New Kingdom. They usually started sometime in the afternoon. Men and women were separated unless they were married. Seating varied according to social status, with those of the highest status sitting on chairs, those slightly lower sat on stools, and those lowest in rank sat on the bare floor. Before the food was served, basins were provided along with perfumes. Cones of scented fat were lit to spread pleasant smells or to repel insects, depending on the type. Lily flowers and flower collars were handed out and professional dancers (primarily women) entertained, accompanied by musicians playing harps, lutes, drums, tambourines, and clappers. There were usually considerable amounts of alcohol and abundant quantities of foods; there were whole roast oxen, ducks, geese, pigeons, and at times fish. The dishes frequently consisted of stews served with great amounts of bread, fresh vegetables, and fruit. For sweets there were cakes baked with dates, sweetened with honey. The goddess Hathor was often invoked during feasts. Spices and herbs were added for flavor, though the former were expensive imports and therefore confined to the tables of the wealthy. Food such as meats was mostly preserved by salting, and dates and raisins could be dried for long-term storage. The staples bread and beer were usually prepared in the same locations, as the yeast used for bread was also used for brewing. The two were prepared either in special bakeries or, more often, at home, and any surplus would be sold. Honey was the primary sweetener, but was rather expensive. There was honey collected from the wild, and honey from domesticated bees kept in pottery hives. A cheaper alternative would have been dates or carob. Oils would be made from lettuce or radish seed, safflower, ben, balanites, and sesame. Animal fat was employed for cooking and jars used for storing it have been found in many settlements.

Food in Ancient Egypt

The staple foods of Ancient Egypt were bread and beer, supplemented by onions, vegetables, and dried fish.

Meat was not eaten often by the fellahin (farmers). Even the workers at Deir el Medina, certainly better off than the ordinary peasant, received meat supplies on special festive occasions only. Growing domesticated animals for the sole purpose of meat production was (and still is) expensive. People sometimes supplemented their diet by hunting and fowling and by gathering wild fruit and roots. Temples, apart from having estates of their own where they raised animals, were also given cattle by kings and rich officials. A part of these meat offerings was distributed to the needy. Malnutrition was not rare, though a person’s caloric intake probably was sufficient most of the time.

Split the pigeon in half – add other meat.
Prepare the water, add fat and salt to taste;
Breadcrumbs, onion, samidu, leeks, and garlic
(first soak the herbs in milk)
When it is cooked it is ready to serve.
—  One of the earliest recipes. It was found on an Old Babylonian tablet dating to around 1800 BCE. Though seemingly simple, the minimalist instructions mean the recipe would only have been useful to experienced chefs working in the high echelons of society who could fill in the gaps.
A Brief History of Cinnamon

In ancient times, the origins of cinnamon were a mystery to the Western world, and Arab merchants wanted to keep it that way. To hike up the price, they spun an elaborate tale, claiming that giant birds collected cinnamon sticks from far-off lands and used them to build nests on cliffs. To get the precious sticks, traders laid out massive chunks of ox meat, which the birds grabbed and carried to their nests. But because the slabs were so large, the nests would collapse, allowing the clever merchants to collect their prize.

And Europeans believed the story! For hundreds of years, they thought that giant birds were the only known source of cinnamon sticks! That is, until the late 1400s when the Portuguese found the real source of cinnamon—lush groves in Sri Lanka. Once they’d figured it out, the Portuguese struck a deal with the Sri Lankans to monopolize the trade and built a fort there to protect their assets. They were displaced by the Dutch in 1658, who were subsequently displaced by the Brits in 1796. But by then, the trees had been exported worldwide, so there was little need to fight over Sri Lanka, a tiny island nation far from Portugal or the Netherlands or Britain.


Ancient Rome’s artificial sweetener,

Today artificial sweeteners have become a common item in modern foods, especially with the rise of dieters and diabetics.  Take any diet, zero calorie, or sugar free item and odds are it has some type of artificial sweetener such as aspartame, saccharine, or sucralose. Mr. Peashooter is artificial sweetener intolerant, and as he types this a growing queasy feeling is developing in his stomach at the mere thought of aspartame.  While artificial sweeteners may seem like an invention of modern chemistry, in reality they date to Ancient Rome with three sweet concoctions; defrutum, sapa, and carenum. 

Defrutum, sapa, and carenum were boiled down reductions of grape juice, the more boiled down, the sweeter.  Sapa was boiled down to one third its original volume, and thus was the sweetest.  Carenum was boiled down to two thirds its original volume, and thus was the less sweeter of the three.  Defrutum was the most popular, boiled down to 50% of its volume, it was somewhere in between.  Once boiled down, defrutum had a thick syrupy texture much like maple syrup today.  It was used for a wide variety of uses.  Most popularly it was added to wine as a sweetener.  It was also used as a culinary sweetener, being used with meat dishes such as suckling pig and duck.  It was also used to preserve foods, and was commonly used by the Roman Army to preserve fruit.  Defrutum was perhaps the most popular sweetener in the Roman Empire, more common than honey, and certainly more common than sugar as sugarcane was unavailable.  A study of Roman cuisine finds that ¼th to 1/5th of all Roman dishes made use of defrutum in some way.  It was even used as a cosmetic, being used as an early type of lipstick by ancient Roman women.

So what made defrutum so sweet? When boiling, the grape must was sometimes boiled down in a lead kettle.  The lead of the kettle bonded with the acetic acid of the grapes, forming a sweet substance closely resembling sugar called “sugar of lead”.  Modern chemists better know it as lead (ii) acetate.  While lead acetate was certainly sweet, it was also incredibly toxic, with lead levels at around 29,000 parts per billion.  By contrast, US water drinking standards limit lead levels to 10 parts per billion.  Considering that ancient Romans would drink around 1-2 liters of wine a day, not to mention the fact that Romans used lead plumbing and lead utensils, lead poisoning must have been common in the Roman Empire.  Some historians cite this as the reason for Rome’s fall, with lead crazen emperors like Nero and Caligula tearing the Empire apart as Roman citizens died or went insane from lead poisoning.  As compelling as this may seem, Peashooter doubts this theory, as other nations and other peoples have acted in an equally crazy, albeit lead free manner.  Not all forms of defrutum, sapa, and carenum were produced using lead kettles.  Often cooks would use bronze and copper kettles to produce different tastes and varieties of defrutum.  Regardless, the consumption of leaded defrutum would have surely had grave consequences on the Romans who drank or ate it.

Today, defrutum, sapa, and carenum is available to modern peoples, produced as a by product of winemaking by various specialty food company’s.  However, modern defrutum is entirely lead free and safe. 

Ancient near-eastern wine was flavored with honey, herbs, and spices. That’s what the oldest and largest ancient wine cellar tells us. Dating to 1700 BCE, the wine cellar at the palace of Tel Kabri, in northern Israel, contained 40 huge jars. In modern sizing, that’s about 3,000 bottles of wine. The residue on these great jars tells us that besides tartaric and syringic acid, necessary for the wine-making process, the ancients liked to add unnecessary flavorings including honey, mint, juniper berries, and cinnamon.

Food, glorious food


Their meals were frugal and consisted mainly of: wheat, olive oil, and wine. 

Breakfast: Barley bread dipped in milkshakes, sometimes with figs or olives. They also ate pancakes, which were made from wheat flour, olive oil, honey and curdled milk. Another type of pancake was one that was topped with honey, sesame and cheese.

Lunch: goats’ milk, cheese, beans, bread, fish

Meat was hardly ever eaten as the Greeks believed that eating domesticated animals was wrong. They would however, on very special occasions, sacrifice the meat to the gods first and then eat the meat. 


Loaves of bread with salt was the most common meal. Sometimes it would be dipped in wine and eaten with olives. However, the upper classes would also eat eggs, cheese, honey, milk, fruit, wild boar, beef, sausages, pork, lamb, duck, goose, chickens, vegetables, fish and shellfish. 

Some of the most expensive Roman banquets would have extremely exotic foods, such as roasted peacocks, giraffe, flamingo and sea-urchins.