I'm always amazed at how similar yet different the Romans of the Late Republic are to us. Despite a 2000 year difference, their food, drink, and meal habits almost seem modern . . . but not quite.
What follows is mostly a tabular synopsis of what kinds of bread, vegetables, fruit, and drink the Romans of the Late Roman Republic were accustomed to as well as a couple of short tables showing how everyday meals and fancy dinner parties were different from one another.
We'll start with food first . . .
Only the rich could afford a steady diet of meat. So wheat (known to the Romans as "corn" [frumentum]) was the staple food of most Romans. They mostly ate it as a boiled porridge, sometimes adding flavorings or relishes to it. They had desserts too. And, of course, bread was a staple.
TYPES OF BREAD
Bread varied in quality depending on the flour, which varied with the kind of grain, the setting of the millstones and the fineness of the sieves. The very best bread was made from wheat flour; the very worst from bran alone. Loaves were circular and somewhat flat, like a coffee cake.
|NAME||WHAT IT WAS||OTHER NOTES|
|panis primus||cheap, coarse grain bread|
|panis secundus||bread one step above Panis Primus|
|panis plebeius||bread of coarse wheat flour||"common bread"|
|panis castrensis||?||"army bread"|
|panis sordidus||?||"dark bread"|
|panis rusticus||bread of bran alone||"country bread"|
|Picenian bread||fine biscuits|
I'm not sure whether panis primus and secundus equate to one or more of the next four types of bread in the table. Nor am I sure of what panis castrensis and sordidus consisted of. And, as yet, I haven't run across a Latin term for Picenian bread. So if any one as a source you can direct me to for answers to these questions, please contact me.
Ever wonder what kinds of fruits the Romans ate? Well here's some of the more common ones:
What vegetables did the Romans eat? Here they are:
What did the Romans drink? What follows is a list of the more commonly imbibed drinks:
|LATIN NAME||WHAT IT WAS||NOTES|
|calda||warm water and wine laced with spices||typically a winter drink|
|posca||vinegar mixed with enough water to make it drinkable||typically a soldier, slave drink|
|"wine"||watered down wine||the Romans never drank wine straight|
When they did eat meats, poultry, and fish, what specifically did the Romans eat? Here's a list:
COMMON MEAT AND FISH
|beef & veal||lamb||carp||mackerel||rays||chicken||goose|
Sugar was unknown to the Romans; honey was their main sweetener. They also used other sauces and spices to add flavor to the food they ate:
|NAME||WHAT IT WAS||OTHER NOTES|
|defrutum||concentrated wine was used in cooking.|
|liquamen (aka garum)||made from salted fish and fish insides||may have been the ancestor of Worcestershire Sauce|
|pepper||imported from the East; used a lot in all sorts of foods including some sweet baked biscuits|
|salt||harvested from beds at Ostia|
Here's a partial list of foods that the Romans never used:
FRUITS, VEGETABLES, AND OTHER FOODS
UNKNOWN TO THE ROMANS
|bananas||corn (as we know it)||sugar|
The ordinary Roman was not a great eater of meats. The table below shows their typical meals:
|LATIN NAME||MODERN U.S. COUNTERPART||TIME||TYPICAL FOOD SERVED||OTHER NOTES|
|jentaculum||breakfast||at sunrise or the first hour||Wheat pancake biscuit; bread dipped in wine; bread flavored with a little cheese, dried fruits or honey; or bread with salt, honey, dates, or olives||Not all Romans began their day with breakfast. Often breakfast was no more than a cup of water|
|prandium||lunch||around the sixth hour||Eggs, with bread and cheese or leftovers from the previous day|
|cena||dinner||around the ninth or tenth hour||Wheat meal porridge (puls)||Meat (pork, mutton, beef) was scarce except at sacrifices and dinner parties of the rich. Fish was more common.|
Roman Legionaries followed a carefully supervised diet. Their diet was a balanced one of wheat, some meat (usually bacon), fish, poultry, cheese, vegetables, fruit, salt, olive oil, and wine.
ANATOMY OF A ROMAN DINNER PARTY
Roman dinner parties were similar but more sumptuous than those of today. Hors d'oeuvres were served, followed by six or seven main courses, then several kinds of dessert, with a lot of drinking underscoring the whole affair before, during and after the actual dinner. A small army of slaves usually dealt with the whims of the guests as well as serving watered down wine throughout the proceedings. Some hosts served their best wine to start with and then lesser vintages as guests became more intoxicated. In the early days of Rome, women were discouraged from drinking wine altogether, unless it was well watered down, but this stricture was dropped during the empire. At any dinner party it was considered polite to belch.
|PHASE OF THE DINNER PARTY||LATIN NAME||TYPICAL FOOD SERVED||OTHER NOTES|
|Hors d'oeuvres||gustatio or promulsio||Salads, radishes, mushrooms, eggs, oysters, sardines||followed an initial drink of wine sweetened with honey|
|Main Course||prima mensa||Fish included eel, turbot, mackerel, tunny, mullet, eels, prawns, oysters, other shellfish. Poultry dishes included: chicken, goose, ostrich, crane, duck, partridge, pheasant, pigeon, dove, thrushes, fig-peckers, and–for the rich–peacock. Meat included boar, venison, wild goat, mutton, lamb, kid, sucking pig, hare, dormice, and sausage|
|Offerring to the Household Gods||?||None||Involved a short silence while an offering of wheat, salt, and wine was made to the household gods on the family altar|
|Dessert||secunda mensa||every kind of honey-sweetened cakes and fruit.||Two favorite desserts were stuffed dates and honeyed bread; another was poppy-seeds mixed with honey.|
|After Dinner Drinking and Entertainment||?||Wine mixed with water||During the rest of the party, music, song, dancing girls, conjurors, dwarfs, and acrobats were sometimes provided as entertainment|