Food in ancient Rome

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Reconstruction of an ancient Roman kitchen

Food in ancient Rome reflects both the variety of food-stuffs available through the expanded trade networks of the Roman Empire and the traditions of conviviality from ancient Rome's earliest times, inherited in part from the Greeks and Etruscans.


  • At early-2nd century B.C.E., the historian Posidonius (circa. 135 B.C.E. – 50 B.C.E.), ancient Greek philosopher, geographer, and historian</ref>. noted as a characteristic feature of Roman customs the great sobriety of meals. For a long time at that time the Hellenic cities of the East and of Greece itself had adopted a very elaborate cuisine! This spread slowly in Rome and not without a little resistance. (Pierre Grimal)
  • Gourmet and gourmand, exquisite luxury at the table and sinfully elegant banquets, actual or dubious refinement up to the use of emetics: these are these, thanks to Lucullus, Apicius and Petronius, the most frequent associations that come to mind when speaking of the "food" of the Romans. This, of course, has nothing to do with the daily diet of a large part of the population, which was extremely frugal and only rarely went beyond mere subsistence. (Karl-Wilhelm Weeber)
  • The military physicians of the Roman Empire had planned the diet of legionnaires to be invincible against barbarians: cabbage against red meat, victory assured as with the magic potion of Asterix and Obelix. (Mario Pappagallo)
  • The difference in taste between us and the Romans is even more serious than it might seem if we were deceived by apparent coincidences: like us, the Romans were fond of mushrooms, but cooked them with honey; they prized the beautiful peaches, but treated them as we do with marinated eels; They had a predilection for many of the fish that are still gladly seen on the table today, but they prepared them with certain concoctions, let's say, worrying, in which a little bit of everything entered, not excluding plums and crushed apricots and a purée of quinces. If someone twists his mouth, he is wrong. It must be remembered that while the Romans preferred fresh cheese, we put a good face on Gorgonzola cheese, while acknowledging and saying that it stinks: a cheese that is buggy, and that the more you pay for and appreciate, the more wisely it has been made to kiss. The Romans wrinkled their noses at the rancid boar; We seem to spoil it if you eat it fresh, and we cook it only when it is more than shortcrust and tastes like pureed meat. "It's the taste of game," you might say; "No, it smells like a corpse," a Roman would reply. Evidently, among the many proverbs that there are, the truest and most equanimous is the one that says that all tastes are tastes and tastes are not discussed. (Ugo Enrico Paoli)
  • Ambrose Theodosius Macrobius has preserved for us the menu of an official supper offered to some priests in the time of Caesar. Here are the details: at the beginning seafood, oysters, mussels, a thrush on a bed of asparagus, a boiled chicken, chestnuts and mussel, and oyster sauce. These foods were eaten as an appetizer and accompanied by sweet wine. Then followed the first course with other seafood, sea fish, woodcocks, wild boar fillets, bird and thrush pâté. The main course included sow udders, pig's head, fish stew, ducks, hare, roast poultry. Unfortunately we don't know what the dessert was. (Pierre Grimal)


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