Eating in Ancient Rome

Eating in Ancient Rome

Eating in ancient Rome is a subject that has always fascinated me because our country has so much to offer culinary-wise and is so varied. So the question I always asked myself while studying the history of the Romans at university was: what did they eat? This is how my research started and I found myself, without thinking too much about it, writing a real rubric that I have now decided to share with you readers who have asked the same question as me. Let us begin by saying that for them mealtime was a sacred moment, as it is for us today, to which they devoted much attention and time. Of course, as always, a distinction must be made between the various social classes into which Rome was divided this would change their eating habits in ancient Rome because the availability of money influenced the manner, quality and time devoted to the main meals of the day to which they devoted different amounts of time.

Eating in Ancient Rome: Breakfast, lunch and dinner in Ancient Rome 

Jentaculum – or breakfast in the Ancient Rome

Breakfast was usually a frugal meal but generous. Men who went to work would sometimes eat something on the street from the numerous stalls that populated the forum, if we want to compare it with us today it would be equivalent to having a coffee and a croissant at the bar; women usually ate breakfast at home. 

They knew for sure about healthy rules that are recommended even today such as drinking a glass of water on an empty stomach because it helps eliminate toxins but also fat deposits accumulating in the body. The Romans must have known this because it was their custom to do so. Breakfast was made of biscuits, honey, bread, cheese or they would ate leftovers from the previous dinner. 

Prantum – or lunch in the Ancient Rome 

At around midday, the ancient Romans ate a light meal, just like many of us today caught up in our frenetic working lives. Being considered a snack between work commitments, it did not require any special table preparation and often consisted of bread, fish, fruit, legumes and wine. 

Coena – or dinner in the Ancient Rome

Towards evening, however, everyone in the houses or taverns was busy preparing dinner, which was considered the main meal of the day. 

In the villas of the richest people, polished silver cups could be found, ready to be filled with wine. Imagine a cup like the one that can be admired in statues of the god of wine, Bacchus. The difference is that they were either decorated silver or glass. Tables were festively set with silver jugs, trays and even silver toothpicks. 

Eating in Ancient Rome: Curiosities

In Ancient Rome they did not use forks but ate with their hands. Dinner was served in the triclinium, which would be a dining room where there were no tables and chairs as we use them now, but a low table around which were arranged three beds called triclinarii. The diners would lie down in threes on each triclinium, each of which was arranged on one side of the table, leaving a free space for the servants to take turns with the courses. Triclinia were reserved for men and women sat on armchairs. Guests sat next to the host according to their social importance. 

The triclinium was one of the rooms of the house to which the greatest care was given. It was decorated with frescoes or mosaics depicting stories of Dionysus or Bacchus, the god of the vine of wine and mystical delirium; of Venus goddess of beauty, love, fertility and spring nature.The houses of the patricians had two or more triclinia. The triclinium Magnus used for great feasts. The smaller triclinium was used for important guests. Guests were announced by a Nomenclator indicating their place at the triclinium. 

The servants who brought the plates and cups to the table were called Ministratores. The tables were either covered with tablecloths changed after each course or were made of marble that was cleaned after each course.        The table was set with a vinegar cruet, toothpicks, salt, fresh flowers, candelabra, perfume burners, and a small jointed skeleton that served as a reminder to the diner to enjoy the moment they were having. 

During parties with guests there were performances by singers, mimes and dancers and actors. 

The mistress of the house was the one who decided on the food with the help of the slave girls. The food was prepared by the cook, the coqui, assisted by the assistant cook, the culinari. There was also the confectioner, the pistores, and the cooks, the fornacarii. 

Eating in Ancient Rome: Food in Ancient Rome 

Eating in Ancient Rome: Food for poor people

They use to eat fruits, vegetables and wheat with which they made black bread which had not much flavor. 

They use to eat meat but they could eat only pork because was less expensive and they could afford eating it only few times a week. they use to eat only anchovies or sardines, because was small and cost less. 

They use to drink water, vinegar mixed with water, poor quality wine mixed with water that produced a sour drink. 

Eating in Ancient Rome: Food for middle class

They ate bread of white flour called – pane seconds -, more refined than natural bread. They ate beef, rabbit meat more or less three times a week. They also used to eat fish such as sea bream and sea bass and they used a special sauce called the Garum was a liquid sauce of fish entrails and salted fish that the ancient Romans added as a condiment to many first and second courses.   

They would drink decent wine mixed with water or honey and water. 

Eating in Ancient Rome: Food for aristocrats

The aristocrats could afford to eat whatever they wanted and their food was refined and sought after. They used to eat bread very similar to what we eat now. It was sieved several times. They ate meat every day and the best quality beef, cattle, rabbit, birds. They use to eat sea bream, eel and sturgeon.

The aristocrats in ancient Rome they used the Garum but also the Muria, intestine and blood that they would macerate and would come out a sauce they used as a condiment. 

The wine was the best quality and was accompanied with stuffed animals. Was a real sense pleasure. 

I don’t know about you but talking about all of this now I got hungry so I’m going to look to please my sense in some local restaurant in Rome. Do you want to come with us to discover Rome and more curiosities about the Ancient Roman time? Contact us and follow our blog.

Eating in Ancient Rome – GoRomeTour

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