Archive for March, 2008


In ancient Rome, food preservation was of practical significance in everyday life. It was necessary to preserve excess food which was not to be used immediately in order to store it for future use.

In the Roman Empire, various methods were utilized in the preservation of food. Smoking, drying, and salting.


The use of salt was an important means of preservation for the Romans. They used it for dry-salting and for pickling. Various types of salt were used :  rock salt (sal facitum), sea salt (sal navitum), and sometimes even salt mixed with spices (sal conditum).

They salted their meat and it was salted in the following way: ham was placed, skin side down, and cover completely with salt. Salt was also used by the Romans to preserve other items.

Fish was preserved in a manner similar to that used for ham. Fresh fish was washed with water and course salt was then rubbed into the fish. Layers of fish were alternated with layers of salt and covered with dry matting. They were then left to stand for 3 to 5 days, after which the pile was turned over and left for an additional 3 to 5 days.

Eggs were preserved ‘by rubbing them with fine salt.

Romans ate beef rarely. It was a mark of luxury and was eaten only on special occasions. When a cow had been sacrificed to the gods, the heart, liver, and lungs would be given to the priests, with certain portions burned on the altar. A reason why beef was rarely eaten was due to its size. Only the coldest weather could allow the beef to stay fresh. Cows were usually used for draft and dairy reasons rather than consumption.

Pork was the most popular. It had several names; sus, porcus, porca, and aper. There were fifty different ways of cooking pork as well as six kinds of sausages based on pork.

In the religious ceremony suovetauralia (sus+ovis+taurus), the pig had the first place. Others meats such as mutton and veal was also consumed. Goat’s meat was eaten by mostly lower classes.


Domestic fowls the Romans ate:

•    chickens
•    dicks
•    geese
•    pigeons

Wild fowls the Romans ate:

•    cranes
•    grouse
•    partridge
•    snipe
•    woodcock

The Romans also bred wild animals such as hares and boars, which were roasted and served. The dormouse was considered a delicacy.


In the early times, fish was rarely consumed by the Romans. However, before the end of the Republic, this item, either a fresh or rare fish, brought the highest price. There was mullet (mullus) and a kind of turbot (rhombus). Fresh fish were expensive. Rich men had fishponds to breed fish. Salt fish, imported from most Mediterranean harbours, were cheap. A common dish of salt fish, eggs, and cheese was especially popular. Oysters were a delicacy.

Dairy Products

Dairy products used by the Romans:

•    milk
•    cream
•    curds
•    whey
•    cheese (white cheese only… no yellow cheeses)

Cheese from:

•    ewe’s milk was more digestible
•    cow’s milk was more palatable
•    goat’s milk was more popular, but considered less digestible
Honey was used as a sweetener.


The general term for any grain grown for food is frumentum. The word “corn” also referred to grain, but not as the corn (maize) known today.

Romans ate:

•    wheat
•    barley
•    oats
•    rye
•    spelt- – far – its use was gradually only reduced to using for cakes of the confarreate ceremony

The Useful Olive

Olives were second most important to wheat.
The best olives came from Italy. The best oil came from not fully ripe olives, although the most oil came from fully ripe olives.

Olives were used as:

•    butter/fats
•    relishes/dressings
•    fruit(fresh/preserved)


•    olives
•    salt

1.    Sprinkle with salt and leave it alone for five days.

2.    After five days, shake salt off and dry in the sun or keep in boiled grape juice.
Half-ripe olives were picked with stems, placed in jars and covered with the best quality of oil. This was believed to retain the fresh flavor for more than a year. Green olives were pickled in strong brine, or crushed and preserved with spices and vinegar. This would be served as a relish. Aother relish used green, half-ripe, or ripe olives. The olives were chopped into pulp, seasoned with vinegar, coriander seeds, cumin, fennel, and mint. The resulting mixture was placed in jars. Oil was pour over to make it airtight. This would be served with cheese.


Almonds, plums, apples, pomegranates, figs, quinces, filberts, walnuts, grapes, chestnuts, pears…

Artichokes, garlic, mushrooms, turnips, asparagus, leeks, olives, beans, lentils, onions, beets, lettuce, parsnips, broccoli, marrows, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, radishes…


Beef, veal, lamb, boar, mutton, dormice, sausage, goat, snails, hare, sucking pig, kid, venison, chicken, goose, crane, ostrich, dove, partridge, duck, peacock, fig-peckers, pheasant, flamingo, pigeon, thrushes…

Carp, mackerel, rays, catfish, mullet, sardines, clams, mussels, shark, crab, octopus, sole, eel, oysters, swordfish, flounder, perch, trout, hake, porpoise, tuna, lobster, prawns, turbot…

Oranges, tea, avocado, bananas, corn, sugar, chili pepper, peanuts, chocolate, potatoes, tomatoes, coffee, rice, grapefruit….


Traditionally in the morning a breakfast was served, the jentaculum, at noon a small lunch, and in the evening the main meal of the day, the cena.

Due to the influence of Greek habits and also the increased import of and consumption of foreign foods, the cena increased in size and diversity and was consumed in the afternoon, the vesperna was abandoned, and a second breakfast was introduced around noon, the prandium.

In the lower strata of society the old routine was preserved, because it corresponded more closely with the daily rhythm of manual labor.

Originally flat, round loaves made of emmer (a cereal grain closely related to wheat) with a bit of salt were eaten; in the higher classes also eggs, cheese and honey, along with milk and fruit.

In the imperial period, around the beginning of the Common Era, bread made of wheat was introduced and with time more and more baked products began to replace this emmer bread.

The bread was sometimes dipped in wine and eaten with olives, cheese, crackers, and grapes.

This second breakfast was richer and mostly consisted of the leftovers of the previous day’s cena.

Among members of the upper classes, who did not engage in manual labor, it became customary to schedule all business obligations in the morning.

After the prandium the last responsibilities would be discharged and then a visit would be made to the baths.

Around 3 o’clock, the cena would begin. This meal could last until late in the night, especially if guests were invited, and would often be followed by a comissatio (a round of drinks).

Especially in the period of the kings and the early republic, but also in later periods (for the working classes), the cena essentially consisted of a kind of porridge, the puls.

The simplest kind would be made from emmer, water, salt and fat. The more sophisticated kind was made with olive oil, with an accompaniment of assorted vegetables whenever possible.


Chaque maisonnée romaine possédait ses réserves de farine, de miel, d’huile, des olives conservées dans de la saumure et des raisins secs, qui sont les denrées de base indispensables à la cuisine romaine . Elles étaient soigneusement conservées dans des jarres (dolia) et des amphores. La nourriture dépendait fortement de leur capacité à la conserver.

L’alimentation  est principalement composée de céréales comme l’orge, le blé et le froment.

Avec ces trois céréales on fabriquait une bouillie (pulmentum) qui resta, même pendant l’époque impériale l’aliment des plus pauvres.

Cette bouillie était relevée par des herbes aromatiques comme la menthe et assaisonnée d’huile, le beurre étant inconnu. Elle était accompagnée de légumes comme la laitue, les poireaux, les choux, les olives, les fèves ou de fromage de chèvre.


Plusieurs méthodes ont été utilisées pour la conservation de la nourriture périssable :

Fumage, séchage, et salaison. La salaison était la technique la plus répandue et se faisait en utilisant du sel ou par immersion en saumure.

Le pain apparut assez tard à Rome (IIIe siècle av J.C). Des galettes de céréales le remplaçaient. Le pain était aromatisé avec des graines de pavot, d’anis et de céleri. On distinguait selon la qualité plusieurs types de pains: pain de fleur de farine, de farine moyenne, pain noir, pain complet, pain de son.

On le présentait généralement sous forme de miches rondes fendues en quatre.

La viande était réservée au jour de fête. Très tôt cependant, les familles riches prirent l’habitude de la consommer en abondance selon des préparations diverses.

Les romains avaient une préférence pour la viande de porc et pour les viandes bouillies plutôt que rôties. Ils appréciaient également les volailles et le gibier, mais aussi les oiseaux exotiques comme l’autruche, la cigogne, ou le paon.

Les sauces qui accompagnaient ces mets étaient généralement fort recherchées, l’une des préférées des romains était le garum obtenu à partir de poissons fermentés.

Pour la pâtisserie la préférence des romains allaient aux gâteaux à base de fromage souvent réduit en poudre. Ils étaient le plus souvent, présentés enduits de miel, saupoudrés de graines de pavots ou de sésames, et cuit sur des feuilles de plantes ou d’arbres aromatiques.

L’utilisation du sel était un moyen pour la conservation des aliments.

Le sel de roche (salt facitum)et le sel de mer (salt navitum), auxquels étaient mélangés également des épices.

Le sel de mer était obtenu en évaporant l’eau de mer dans des marais salants, ou des sources salées. Rome était bien approvisionnée en sel, un entrepôt important se situait à la bouche du Tibre.

Columelle mentionne l’utilisation du sel dans les préparations de fromage de chèvre, et Caton l’Ancien rapporte la façon dont on conservait les olives vertes dans la saumure et donne une procédure, connue parmi d’autres, pour faire des salaisons de jambons.

La charcuterie gauloise était renommée. Varron indique que les œufs étaient également conservés dans le sel.

Pommes, pêches, raisin, fraises, châtaignes, poires, figues, citrons, grenades, dattes, prunes, noix, amandes, choux, lentilles, fèves, laitue, chicorée, bettes, cresson, concombres, épinards, carottes, raves, melons, asperges, olives, poireaux, champignons, oseille, laurier, sauge, thym, ail, oignons, fenouil, sésame, persil, safran, poivre…


Jambon, pâté, foie, saucisses, bœuf, porc, mouton, chèvre, lièvre, lapin, loir, canard, poulet, pigeon, grive, paon, merle…

Labre, rouget, murène, raie, esturgeon, sardine, thon, maquereau, truite, carpe, goujon, perche, langouste, huîtres, homard, crevettes.
Inconnus :

Chocolat, café, oranges, thé, sucre, tomates, patates, avocats, maïs, riz, bananes, pamplemousse, ananas….


A partir de la fin de la République, les trois repas quotidiens sont :




Les deux premiers sont très légers.

Le jentaculum se prend vers 8 heures du matin. Il comprend pain, dattes, olives et fromage, quelques biscuits pour les enfants.

Le prandium se prend vers 12 heures. C’est un casse-croûte composé d’un morceau de pain, d’un peu de viande froide, de fruits et de vin. Il est suivi par une sieste.

La cena est le repas principal. Il n’a rien de spectaculaire chez le citoyen moyen. Chez les plus riches, il commence après le bain, vers 16 heures, c’est parfois un véritable festin qui peut se terminer à l’aube. (Voir sous «banquet»).


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Among the best preserved finds of Pompeii, Modestum’s Bakery was preserved so well that 81 carbonised loaves of bread were found. along with it’s equipment.

The millstones consisting of two parts made from volcanic rock fit into each other (meta and catillus), benches for preparing dough and of course the oven.

The millstones would have had wooden handles sticking out from the square holes and would have been turned by slaves or more frequently by Donkeys.

Several types of bread were made under the Empire. Most of them were round with a double cross, in order that the distribution was easier to make.



L’épaisse chape de cendres produite par l’éruption de 79 après J.-C. a préservé pendant des siècles, parmi les nombreux témoignages exceptionnellement conservés à Pompéi, une boulangerie complète, avec ses équipements : les meules, constituées de deux éléments en lave volcanique, capable de travailler l’une à l’intérieur de l’autre (meta et catillus), les comptoirs pour le pétrissage du pain et le four pour la cuisson.

Le tout est organisé avec efficacité, de façon à coordonner le travail du personnel employé aux différentes tâches avec des critères qui surprennent par leur modernité.

Une des meules a été remise en état, grâce à la reconstitution des parties en bois, rendant ainsi possible la démonstration de son fonctionnement qui, autrefois, s’effectuait par
la force des bras des esclaves ou, plus souvent par la force des ânes.

On a retrouvé dans le four quatre-vingt-un pains carbonisés, de forme ronde avec des parties relevées, semblables à ceux qui apparaissent dans différentes scènes de la vie quotidienne peintes ou sculptées, offert au public dans corbeilles ou des rayonnages.

Plusieurs inscriptions nous apprennent que la vente du pain et des fouaces à Pompéi était confiées à des vendeurs ambulants (lirarii), en plus des boutiques habituelles.

Pistore est le premier nom du boulanger professionnel qui vit le jour à Pompéi en 79 ap. J.-C., il désignait le pileur de blé.

Sous l’Empire, il existe de nombreuses sortes de pain, généralement de forme ronde et marqués d’une double croix pour faciliter le partage.

Gli scavi archeologici di Pompei testimoniano un numero considerevole di panifici. Ne sono stati individuati almeno 25! Tutti con forno a legna (simili a quelli attuali) e macine in pietra lavica.

Tra i panifici individuati a Pompei, quello di un certo N. Popidius Priscus, il quale abitava nella casa accanto. Nella gestione del suo panificio si faceva aiutare da un liberto (schiavo). Vi erano un forno a legna e 4 macine, in pietra lavica, dura e porosa, erano costituite da un blocco conico (meta), fissato ad una base di muratura, su cui ruotava un elemento a forma di clessidra, il Catillus. Legato con una stanga ad un mulo, il Catillus veniva girato. Il grano veniva versato nel Catillus e triturato dallo sfregamento di due blocchi. Il pane veniva venduto per mezzo di ambulanti (lirarii).



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The Romans saw grain as an essential. They preferred vegetables to grain, but grain was something that could be stored against famine.

Having grain meant that people weren’t reduced to combing the woods for acorns and chestnuts, something that would have been seen as barbaric and beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen, however lowly or poor.

In giving its citizens free grain during time of war or famine, the government was protecting its citizens dignity. The free grain allowance was called the “annona”. There was no profit in growing grain in Rome. It was seen as a citizen’s basic right, so it had to be sold at a cost dictated by the state, or even at times distributed free.

The “breadbaskets” of the Roman world were Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Southern France and Sicily. Egypt produced both the most grain by far, and the grain most prized. Egypt continued to be the breadbasket of the ancient world until it was overrun by Arabs, and its millennia old wheat and grape crops perished.

The Romans liked high gluten wheat because of the chewy, stable loaves it made. Barley flour bread was for slaves or soldiers being punished. Barley, millets and oats were considered only fit for the poor. Rye was grown only in the northern part of the Roman Empire, as it was a grain that tolerated the cold.

In the early stages of the Roman Empire, most grain was consumed in the form of Puls: grains cooked in water.

Puls (Pulmentum)

Puls, a boiled wheat porridge, was an important part of the diet in early Rome, before they adopted the habit of using bread as a staple in their diet. Meat or veg could be added to make a stew. Pulmentum could also be made thicker, making it an early precursor to the dish we now know as Polenta.

Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC) was annoyed with the switch in preference from puls to bread; he thought bread was decadent.


By the 1st century, the preference was definitely for white bread made from white flour. Pure wheat flour was called “siligo”. Second rate breads would be made of wheat with the bran still in them, or of just the bran. In the cheapest breads, dried ground beans, chick peas, green peas and lentils would be mixed in with the flour.

In Caesar’s time, a man named Vitruvio, who also wrote “De Architectura”, invented the use of water wheels to power flour-grinding mills. They began to be more widely used in the first century AD.


A bakers’ guild was formed around 168 BC. Called the Collegium Pistorum, it was an important, respected guild. Bakers could become wealthy. By Augustus’ time (31 BC – 14 AD), there were over 250 bakeries in Rome. Modern estimates put their output at 500,000 loaves a day.

A bakery was called a “pistrinum”. Many bakeries ground the grain as well, thus the alternative word “Pistorum”, meaning “grinders”. The mills for grinding would be turned by asses or horses.

Bakeries had large bowls made of volcanic stone for dough kneading, with the blades turned by animals or slaves. The oven doors would be made of iron. Bakeries would keep on hand baking pans made of bronze for making cakes with. Bakeries even made dog biscuits.

Most Romans in Rome lived in apartments without kitchens, let alone ovens, so they couldn’t bake their own bread. They would buy bread from the bakeries.

Whenever they were given free grain by the state, they would often take most of it to a bakery to grind it for them into flour and make bread from it for them. They still had to pay the bakers for the milling and bread-making, so rather than receiving free grain, it perhaps more accurate to say they got cheap bread (as only the grain part was free.)

Wealthier homes could bake their own bread in their own ovens, but even they still seemed to send their grain out to millers for grinding.

Roman bread loaves were generally circular and flat, but you could get them in different shapes such as birds or musical instruments such as a lyre for special occasions.

Bakers would also make different designs on them, just as we do today. They were often marked with notches to make them easier to break (and to share.) Bread was also made in stick shapes like baguettes.

Bread was, of course, made in different ways depending on which part of the Empire it was made in. In the province of Egypt, bread was made with “barm” (live yeast from beer brewing), as was bread in northern Gaul and other provinces. But on the peninsula of Italy itself, beer was viewed as a barbarian’s drink, and wine was made instead. Wine yeast, though, isn’t good for making bread from.

Consequently, the Romans in Italy made their bread instead with “starter”, a bit of dough left over from previous batches, as in done with sourdough bread today.

Soldiers were given bread each day, and not allowed to sell or trade it. Warriors were considered heavy-bread eaters, not heavy meat-eaters, as they are now. Our current association of a warrior being a hearty meat-eater is owing to later Germanic influence.

The art of making finer breads was lost for centuries after Rome fell.

Some Roman bread types:

Small rolls, also oily honey cakes

Panis primis
Bread made from coarse grains other than wheat. Very cheap.

Panis secundus
Bread made from coarse grains, a little better and a little more expensive

Panis plebeius / panis cibarius
Bread made from coarse wheat flour

Panis castrensis, panis militaris
Camp or soldiers bread, made from wheat flour with bran

Panis durus ac sordidus
Dark bread made from bran alone

Panis rusticus
Country style or rustic bread, made from bran

Panis siligineus / siligeces
Bread made from white wheat flour. Made from pure white wheat called “siligo”. Contained no bran.

Panem gallicanorum
Bread that, instead of being sourdough based, would have been made from barm on the top of beer that is being brewed. Made in Gaul.


Dans les greniers, on entreposait du froment et des fèves. A Pompéi on a découvert des amphores remplies de farine (mola) et d’épeautre (far).

Le pain apparut assez tard à Rome (IIIe siècle av J.C). Des galettes de céréales le remplaçaient.
Le pain était aromatisé avec des graines de pavot, d’anis et de céleri.
On distinguait selon la qualité plusieurs types de pains: pain de fleur de farine, de farine moyenne, pain noir, pain complet, pain de son.

Parmi les produits céréaliers: l’orge, le blé, l’épeautre, le millet, l’avoine, préparés en bouillies (puls, tisana). Les Romains en consomment tellement que les Grecs les ont surnommés “pultiphagonides”, c’est-à-dire “mangeurs de bouillies”, et dont la plus connue est la polenta, à base d’orge et parfumée de graines de lin.

La légende veut que la découverte du pain levé fût le fruit du hasard dû à un boulanger égyptien. Il aurait laissé plusieurs heures à l’air ambiant une bouillie de céréales et ce mélange, contaminé par une levure sauvage ou par des bactéries, aurait fermenté et levé sous la multiplication des micro-organismes dans la farine.

Beaucoup de domus disposent d’un ou de plusieurs fours à pain. Sous Auguste, Rome compte 329 boulangeries, toutes tenues par des Grecs, experts dans l’art de faire du bon pain. Les pâtissiers (clibanarii) doivent leur nom au moule (clibanus), «tourtière » qu’ils utilisent. Le sucre est inconnu des Romains ; aussi les gâteaux sont-ils au miel.

Sous l’Empire, il existe de nombreuses variétés de pain, généralement de forme ronde et marqués d’une double croix, pour faciliter le partage. Pain blanc, pain au lait et aux œufs pour accompagner les huîtres, pain au lait avec huile et poivre, pain au jus de raisin, pain à la croûte parsemée de graines de pavot, le pain d’orge, le pain de millet, surtout mangé chaud, le pain de campagne, (panis rusticus), le pain militaire (panis militaris)…

Pour les familles les plus pauvres

Depuis le premier siècle, le gouvernement avait décidé de donner du blé à 200 000 familles pauvres de Rome. Chaque mois, ces 200 000 familles, inscrites sur les registres de l’État recevaient 35 kg de blé chacune. A cette distribution, pour éviter les files d’attente, ces famille recevaient une tablette de bois portant le numéro du bureau où elles devaient se rendre et la date de distribution de blé.

Le blé est moulu dans la cour de la boulangerie. La meule se compose d’une partie fixe, la meta, conique, en pierre dure, sur laquelle s’emboîte une autre pierre en forme de bobine (le catillus) qui peut tourner. Les grains de blé, versés dans le catillus, sont broyés par le frottement des deux pierres et la farine s’écoule dans des récipients dessous.

Les artisans qui utilisent le feu pour leur activité, verriers, potiers, forgerons… sont généralement installés dans la périphérie des villes à cause des risques d’incendie.

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Olive oil was an extremely valuable commodity in ancient Rome. It has been estimated that “adult citizens going to public gymnasiums used as much as 55 liters (14.3 gallons) of olive oil annually for personal hygiene, for consumption, as a lubricant, for lighting, for rituals and as a medicament”. Roman citizens used so much oil that local output was insufficient.

Special ships were built to transport oil, and Hispania was the largest supplier.

Different uses. The fruit (bacca) of the olive was for the most part employed for one of two purposes.

1. It was eaten as a fruit, either fresh, pickled, or preserved in various ways.

2. It was pressed so as to yield the oil and other juices which it contained. And again, the oil was employed for a variety of purposes, but chiefly :

–  As an article of food.

–  For anointing the body, and in this case was frequently made a vehicle for perfumes (unguenta).

–  For burning in lamps.
Preserving Olives (Condere oleas, olivarum conditura, conditio).

Olives might be preserved in various ways, either when unripe (albae, acerbae), or ripe (nigrae), or half-ripe (variae, fuscae).

Green olives, the Pausia being used principally for this purpose, were preserved in strong brine (muria), according to the modern practice, or they were beaten together into a mass, steeped in water which was frequently changed, then pressed and thrown with salt into a jar of vinegar, to which various spices or flavouring condiments were added, especially the seeds of the Pistachia Lentiscus, or Gum Mastich tree, and fennel. Sometimes, instead of vinegar, inspissated must (sapa, defrutum, or sweet wine (passum) or honey were employed, and sometimes salt pickle, vinegar, must and oil, seem to have been all mixed together.

Half-ripe olives (and here again the Pausia was the favourite) were picked with their stalks and covered over in a jar with the best oil. In this manner they retained the flavour of the fresh fruit for more than a year.

Ripe olives, especially the orchitis, were sprinkled with salt, and left untouched for five days, the salt was then shaken off, and they were dried in the sun. Or they were preserved sweet in defrutum without salt.
Oil making (Oleum conficere).

The fruit of the olive tree consists of two parts, the pulpy pericarp (caro), and the stone (nucleus).
The caro or pulp yielded two fluids: one of these of a watery consistence, dark in colour, bitter to the taste, flowed from the olive upon very slight pressure; it was called  Amurca and was extensively used as a manure and for a great number of purposes connected with domestic economy.

The other fluid which flowed from the pulp, when subjected to more forcible pressure, was the oil (oleum, olivum), mingled however to a certain extent with amurca and other impurities (fraces, faeces), and this was of different qualities, according to the state of the fruit, and the amount of pressure.

The finest oil was made from the fruit before it was fully ripe, and from this circumstance, or from its greenish colour, was termed Oleum viride.

A distinction is made by Columella, between the oil obtained by the fruit when green (oleum acerbum s. aestivum), when half ripe (oleum viride), and when fully ripe (oleum maturum), and while he considers the manufacture of the first as inexpedient, in consequence of the scanty produce, he strongly recommends the proprietor to make as much as possible of the second, because the quantity yielded was considerable, and the price so high, as almost to double his receipts.

The gatherings of each day (coactura uniuscujusque diei) were kept separate, and great care was taken to leave them in this state for a very limited period, for if the masses heated, the oil soon became rancid.

If, therefore, circumstances did not allow of the oil being made soon after the fruit was gathered, the olives were spread out and exposed to the air so as to check any tendency towards decomposition.

Although both ancient and modern experience are upon the whole in favour of a slight fermentation, Cato, whose great practical knowledge entitles him to respect, strongly recommends that it should be altogether dispensed with, and affirms that the oil would be both more abundant in quantity and superior in quality: “Quam citissime conficies maxime expediet”.

The olives when considered to be in a proper state were placed in bags or flexible baskets (fiscis), and were then subjected to the action of a machine consisting partly of a bruising and partly of a squeezing apparatus. The oil as it issued forth was received in a leaden pot (cortina plumbea), placed in the cistern (lacus) below the press.

The oil was finally poured into jars (dolia olearia), which had been previously thoroughly cleaned and seasoned, and glazed with wax or gum to prevent absorption, the lids (opercula) were carefully secured.

After a moderate force had been applied to the press, and a considerable quantity of oil had flowed forth, the bruised cake (sampsa) was taken out of the bags, mixed with a little salt, replaced and subjected to the action of the press a second, and a third time. The oil first obtained (oleum primae pressurae) was the finest, and in proportion as additional force was applies by the press-men (factores, torcularii), the quality became gradually worse (longe melioris saporis quod minore vi preli quasi lixivium defluxerit).

Hence, the product of each pressing was kept distinct, the marketable value of each being very different (plurimum refert non miscere iterationes multoque minus tertiationem cum prima pressura). The lowest quality of all (oleum cibarium) was made from olives which had been partially damaged by vermin, or which had fallen from the trees in bad weather into the mud, so that it became necessary to wash them in warm water before they could be used.


L’huile sert à l’éclairage, aux massages dans les thermes et à l’alimentation.

Principale graisse d’assaisonnement et de cuisson, l’olive était l’objet de soins particuliers d’autant plus qu’elle ne donne de bonne récolte qu’un an sur deux.

Les olives étaient cueillies à la main, la chair broyée à la meule et ensuite malaxée pour favoriser la formation de gouttelettes d’huile; enfin, la pulpe était soumise à pression. On procédait ensuite à la décantation du mélange d’huile et de jus obtenu.

L’inestimable denrée était ensuite versée dans des dolia, immenses jarres en terre cuite, imperméabilisées à la gomme ou à la cire et scellées afin d’éviter que le contact de l’air ne la fasse rancir.

Les olives les plus grosses étaient bonnes à manger, donc mises en conserve; les plus petites étaient propres à fabriquer de l’huile. L’adjonction d’aromates non seulement les parfumaient mais contribuait à la conservation du produit. L’olive était un aliment en soi, présent dans l’alimentation de toutes les couches sociales; elle était utilisée telle quelle, arrosée d’huile ou parsemée d’herbes.

Les différentes huiles

•  Oleum viride: c’est l’huile verte, pressée d’olives au seuil de leur maturité, en octobre. De rendement médiocre, elle ne se conservait pas longtemps mais son prix de vente était avantageux.

•  Primum oleum: c’est la “première huile”, celle de novembre, lorsque les olives commencent à changer de couleur; de rendement bien supérieur à celui d’Oleum viride.

•  Oleum: c’est l’huile d’olives mûres, la plus abondante et la plus courante; elle assaisonne les salades, conserve les aliments et enfin c’est celle qui permet de cuisiner.


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Except during Saturnalia, in which the social roles were switched, the rich Romans used to have attentive and servile employees

Saturnalia is the feast with which the Romans commemorated the dedication of the temple of the god Saturn, which was on 17 December. Over the years, it expanded to a whole week, to 23 December.

Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals. It was marked by tomfoolery and reversal of social roles, in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places.

The Saturnalia was a large and important public festival in Rome.

The Saturnalia was originally celebrated in Ancient Rome for only a day, but it was so popular that soon it lasted a week, despite Augustus’ efforts to reduce it to three days, and Caligula’s, to five.

It involved the conventional sacrifices, a couch (lectisternium) set out in front of the temple of Saturn and the untying of the ropes that bound the statue of Saturn during the rest of the year.

 A Saturnalicius princeps was elected master of ceremonies for the proceedings. Besides the public rites there were a series of holidays and customs celebrated privately. The celebrations included a school holiday, the making and giving of small presents (saturnalia et sigillaricia) and a special market (sigillaria).

Gambling was allowed for all, even slaves; however, although it was officially condoned only during this period, one should not assume that it was rare or much remarked upon during the rest of the year. It was a time to eat, drink, and be merry. The toga was not worn, but rather the synthesis, i.e. colorful, informal “dinner clothes”; and the pileus (freedman’s hat) was worn by everyone.

Slaves were exempt from punishment, and treated their masters with disrespect. The slaves celebrated a banquet: before, with, or served by the masters. Yet the reversal of the social order was mostly superficial; the banquet, for example, would often be prepared by the slaves, and they would prepare their masters’ dinner as well.

It was license within careful boundaries; it reversed the social order without subverting it.[1]
The customary greeting for the occasion is a “io, Saturnalia!” — io (pronounced “yo”) being a Latin interjection related to “ho” (as in “Ho, praise to Saturn”).


Excepté lors des Saturnales (17-23 décembre), qui renversent l’ordre des préséances et obligent les maîtres à servir leurs esclaves, les riches Romains disposent d’un personnel servile attentif.

Saturnales :

Ces fêtes furent créées par Janus, qui avait recueilli Saturne chassé par Jupiter.

Ces fêtes dont l’institution remontait dans le passé bien au delà de la fondation de Rome, consistaient principalement à représenter l’égalité qui régnait primitivement parmi les hommes.

 Elles commençaient le 16 décembre de chaque année : d’abord elles ne durèrent qu’un jour, mais l’empereur Auguste ordonna leur célébration durant trois jours auxquels plus tard Caligula en ajouta un quatrième.

 Pendant ces fêtes, on suspendait la puissance des maîtres sur leurs esclaves, et ceux-ci avaient le droit de parler et d’agir en toute liberté. Tout ne respirait alors que le plaisir et la joie : les tribunaux et les écoles étaient en vacances; il n’était permis ni d’entreprendre aucune guerre, ni d’exécuter un criminel, ni d’exercer d’autre art que celui de la cuisine.

On s’envoyait des présents et l’on  donnait de somptueux repas. De plus tous les habitants de la ville cessaient leurs travaux : la population se portait en masse vers le mont Aventin, comme pour y prendre l’air de la campagne.

 Les esclaves pouvaient critiquer les défauts de leurs maîtres, jouer contre eux, et ceux-ci les servaient à table, sans compter les plats et les morceaux. Tous les Romains criaient dans la rue: « Bonnes Saturnales ».

Le jour de Saturne est celui que l’on appelle Samedi (Saturni dies).


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Excerpts from “Satyricon,” an ancient novel by Petronius


I had a mind to try whether all the house servants were singers and accordingly asked for a drink of wine.

Instantly an attendant was at my side, pouring out the liquor to the accompaniment of the same sort of shrill recitative.  Demand what you would, it was the same; you might have supposed yourself among a troupe of pantomime actors rather than at a respectable citizen’s table.


Then the preliminary course was served in very elegant style.  Among the other hors d’oeuvres stood a little donkey of bronze with a packsaddle holding olives, white olives on one side, black on the other. 

The animal was flanked right and left by silver dishes, on the rim of which Trimalchio’s name was engraved and the weight. 

On arches built up in the form of miniature bridges were dormice seasoned with honey and poppy-seed. 

There were sausages, too, smoking hot on a silver grill, and underneath (to imitate coals) Syrian plums and pomegranate seeds.

A dish was brought in with a basket on it, in which lay a wooden hen, her wings outspread round her as if she were sitting.  Instantly a couple of slaves came up, and to the sound of lively music began to search the straw, and pulling out a lot of peafowl’s eggs one after the other, handed them round to the company. 

Mealtime Superstition

So we drank our wine and admired all this luxury in good set terms.  Then the slave brought in a silver skeleton, so artfully fitted that its articulations and vertebrae were all movable and would turn and twist in any direction. 

After he had tossed this once or twice on the table, causing the loosely jointed limbs to take various postures, Trimalchio moralized thus:

     Alas! how less than naught are we;
        Fragile life’s thread, and brief our day!
     What this is now, we all shall be;
        Drink and make merry while you may.
Main Course

An immense circular tray bore the twelve signs of the zodiac displayed round the circumference, on each of which some appropriate foods were arranged: on the Ram ram’s-head peas, on the Bull a piece of beef, on the Twins fried testicles and kidneys, on the Crab simply a crown, on the Lion African figs, on the Virgin a pig’s foot, on Libra a balance with a tart in one scale and a cheesecake in the other, on Scorpio a small sea-fish, on Sagittarius an eye-seeker, on Capricornus a lobster, on Aquarius a wild goose, on Pisces two mullets.
In the middle was a sod of green turf, cut to shape and supporting a honey-comb. 

Meanwhile an Egyptian slave was carrying bread around in a miniature oven of silver, crooning to himself in a horrible voice a song.

This done, we beheld underneath, on a second tray in fact, stuffed birds, a sow’s meat, and as a centerpiece a hare fitted with wings to represent Pegasus. 

We noticed besides four figures of Marsyas, one at each corner of the tray, spouting out peppered fish-sauce over the fishes swimming in the Channel of the dish.

These were soon succeeded by a huge tray, on which lay a wild boar of the largest size, with a cap on its head, while from the rump hung two little baskets of woven palm leaves, one full of Syrian dates, the other of Theban.  Round it were little piglets of baked sweetmeat, as if suckling, to show it was a sow we had before us; and these were gifts to
be taken home with them by the guests.

Then a tray supporting an enormous hog was set on the table. Thereupon the cook seized his knife and with a trembling hand slashed open the animal’s belly.  In a moment, out tumbled a lot of sausages and black-puddings.

The next course is now coming in, thrushes of pastry, stuffed with raisins and walnuts, followed by quinces stuck over with thorns, to represent sea-urchins. 

Then to all appeared a fatted goose, with fish and fowl of all kinds round it. We noticed oysters and scallops tumbling out.


Then looking again at the table, I saw that a tray of cakes had been placed on it, the handiwork of the pastry-cook, and amidst the pastries were grapes and all sorts of fruits. 

Eagerly we reached out after these dainties, when instantly a new trick set us laughing afresh.  For each cake and each fruit was full of saffron, which spurted
out into our faces at the slightest touch, giving us an unpleasant drenching. 

60 environ


Gustatio: servie avec du mulsum

-Olives blanches et noires présentées dans les bissacs d’un ânon en bronze de Corinthe; loirs saupoudrés de miel et de pavot; saucisses brûlantes servies sur un gril d’argent où prunes de Damas et pépins de grenade simulent les braises.
-Œufs de pâte farcis d’un becfigue entouré d’un jaune d’œuf au poivre et au garum, couvés par une poule de bois.

Les entrées sont emportées en musique; des esclaves rincent les mains des convives avec du vin, on change de tables.
Méditation sur la mort autour d’une larva convivialis.

Falerne de cent ans d’âge servi dans une urne de verre cachetée.
 Prima mensa

1: Ferculum du zodiac: poulardes, tétines de truie, lièvre ailé.
Poissons nageant dans une sauce de garum au poivre déversée des outres d’un Satyre. Pain chaud présenté dans un clibanus d’argent.

2: Sanglier coiffé d’un bonnet d’affranchi, à ses défenses pendent deux corbeilles portant l’une des dattes caryotes, l’autre des dattes de Thèbes; tout autour, sont rangés des marcassins en pâte.

3: Arrivée du porc « non vidé » farci de saucisses et boudin.

Numéro d’équilibristes et acrobates. Discussion sur la poésie. Loterie humoristique. Récital de vers d’Homère, thème qui introduit le plat suivant:

4: Veau bouilli servi entier, coiffé d’un casque et découpé par un esclave déguisé en Ajax, rappelant un épisode fameux de l’Iliade où le héros frappé de folie et croyant tuer ses adversaires, taille en pièces les troupeaux des Grecs.

Du plafond qui s’ouvre, comme une machinerie de théâtre, descend un cerceau auquel sont accrochés des couronnes dorées et des flacons de parfum destinés aux invités.

5: Priape en pâtisserie portant des fruits d’où jaillit de l’eau safranée.
6: Poularde grassedésossée et œufs d’oies.

Changement de tables; on répand sur le sol de la sciure teintée de safran et de vermillon, et de la poudre de mica.
 Secunda mensa

Grives de pâte farcies de raisins secs et de noix; coings lardés d’épines pour figurer des hérissons.

Epidipnis: Après-repas

Oie grasse entourée de poissons et de toutes sortes d’oiseaux faits de porc.
Deux esclaves entrent en feignant de se quereller et cassent leurs cruches: s’en échappent huîtres et pétoncles.
Escargots servis sur un gril d’argent.

Les convives ont les pieds parfumés et sont couronnés de fleurs. Puis, après d’abondantes libations, tous se transportent dans la piscine chaude, avant de passer dans une autre salle à manger: le départ précipité d’ Encolpe et Giton nous prive de connaître le menu de ce second dîner.

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Amphora (amphorae)*  =   2 urnae   = 6.8 gallons or 25.79 liters

*(Base measurement of Roman liquids, named for the large containers used to transport wine and other liquids on ships)

Urna (urnae)*  =   4 congii = 3.4 gallons or 12.8 liters
*1/2 of the Amphora   

Modius (modii)* =  16 sextarii = 2.4 gallons or 8.7 liters. For dry goods, roughly equal to a peck or bushel.

*Generally used to refer to dry goods, especially grain. A modius was roughly one third the size of an Amphora.   

Congius (congii)*  =  12 heminae =  .85 gallons or 3.2 liters. For dry goods, roughly 10 pounds

*A unit of liquid measurement. 1/8 of an Amphora.  

Sextarius (sextarii)* =     2 heminae   = 1.14 pints or .546 liters
*The standard unit of liquid measurement. 1/6 of a Congius.   

Hemina (heminae)* =     24 ligulae   = .57 pints or .27 liters

*A unit of liquid measurement. 1/2 Sextarius.   

Quartarius (quartarii)* =     12 ligulae   =  .28 pints or 13 centiliters

*1/4 Sextarius   
Ligula (ligulae)* =     Base unit    = .34 fluid oz. or 1.14 centiliters
*Smallest unit of Roman liquid measurement.   

Roman Weights and Measures

Weight Measurements

Libra* = 12 uncia =  3/4 pound or 336 grams.

*Meaning balance. The abbreviation for the modern pound (lb.) has its roots directly to the Roman unit.  

As*   =  6 uncia   = none

*Also the base unit of the Roman coinage system.  

Uncia* =   Base Unit = 1 modern ounce or 28 grams.

*Both modern inch and ounce are derived from the Roman uncia.   

Modicum    a little…   

Quantum tribus digitis comprehendi potest    a pinch (with three fingers)   

Tantum quantum quinque digitis tollis    a pinch (with five fingers)   

Pugnum    handful   

Quantum manus utraque gestabit    two hands quantity   


Pour les matières liquides

ACETABULUM    ¼ d’hémine, soit 6,8 centilitres   
AMPHORA    26,383 litres   

CONGIUS    3,283 litres   

COCHLEAR    une cuillerée, soit ¼ de cyathe ou 1,14 centilitres   

CYATHUS    1/12 de sextarius soit 4,56 centilitres   

HEMINA    ½ sextarius ou 1/32 de modius ou 27,36 centilitres   

MODIUS    récipient à mesurer le grain valant 8,76 litres, soit 1/3 quadrantal   

QUADRANTAL    3 amphores   

QUARTARIUS    ¼ de sextarius, soit 13,68 centilitres   

SEXTARIUS    1/48 d’amphore ou 1/16 de modius ou 54,75 centilitres   
Pour les matières solides

DRACHME    4,36 grammes   

LIVRE    327,453 grammes   

ONCE    1/12 de livre soit 27,27 grammes   

SCRIPULUS    1/24 d’once soit 1,136 grammes   
Modicum    un peu, un peu plus …   

Quantum tribus digitis comprehendi potest    l’équivalent de notre pincée (quantité que l’on peut prendre avec trois doigts)   

Tantum quantum quinque digitis tollis    l’équivalent d’une grosse pincée (quantité que l’on peut prendre avec cinq doigts)   

Pugnum    la poignée, comme lorsque nous jetons une poignée de sel dans la marmite   

Quantum manus utraque gestabit    ce que l’on peut prendre avec les deux mains 

caccabus, i     pot
catinum, i, n     large bowl/plate
catellus, i, m     small dish, plate
craticula, ae     small grill
discus, i,     round plate
lanx, lancis, f     plate, dish (hollow)
lingula, ae, f     spoon
minutal, alis, n    stew
mortarium, ii, n     mortar
patella, ae     frying pan
surc(u)lus, i     skewer
testum, i, n (ou testu, invar.)     lid
trulla, ae     ladle
caccabus, i     marmite, chaudron
catinum, i, n     plat [en terre]
catellus, i, m     petit plat, assiette
craticula, ae     petit gril
discus, i,     plat rond
lanx, lancis, f     plat creux
lingula, ae, f     cuiller
minutal, alis, n    cocotte
mortarium, ii, n     mortier, contenu du mortier
patella, ae     plat évasé, poêle
surc(u)lus, i     brochette
testum, i, n (ou testu, invar.)     couvercle
trulla, ae     louche


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