Food for Rich Romans - Ancient Roman Food
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Food for Rich Romans

Roman banquet mosaic
Mosaic of a Roman banquet
(Sepphoris, Israel, ca. 200 AD)

May 2016 - There weren't very many rich Romans. Most people were poor. But some rich Romans were REALLY rich and they liked to show it by having a lot of slave cooks make them very very fancy dinners, and then inviting a lot of their friends over to eat with them in fancy dining rooms. They tried to serve food that was unusual or very expensive or very difficult to make. In fact, these things were more important to rich Romans than food that tasted good!

We know about rich Romans eating whole plates of peacock tongues, for instance. One complicated meal involved stuffing a chicken inside a duck, then the duck inside a goose, then the goose inside a pig, then the pig inside a cow, and cooking the whole thing together. Sometimes rich Romans sent slaves running up into the mountains near Rome to get snow, so they could have slushies even though there were no refrigerators!

Rich Romans liked to use expensive spices that traders brought from thousands of miles away. Cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg and cloves came all the way from India.

We know some of the recipes rich Romans liked from a Roman cookbook written by a man named Apicius in the time of the Roman Empire (we aren't sure exactly when). Apicius's cookbook still survives today, and you can find some of his recipes online.

A warning though: Most modern Americans don't like these recipes very much. Romans liked to make spicy sweet things, which Americans don't usually eat.

Bibliography and further reading about Roman food:

The Classical Cookbook, by Andrew Dalby (1996). Both rich and poor people's recipes, with a lot of context too.

A Taste of Ancient Rome, by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa (reprinted 1994). Recipes from Apicius, including the weird ones.

Ancient Roman Feasts and Recipes Adapted for Modern Cooking, by Jon Solomon (1977). A history of Roman food, and then about a hundred Roman recipes you can make.

Around the Table of the Romans: Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome, by Patrick Faas (2002).

Poor people's food

- around the Mediterranean Sea
- in Northern Europe and England
- in Egypt
- in West Asia


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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