During the Roman Republic, the government wasn't much interested in keeping their citizens healthy with a trim waistline. "There were Sumtuariae Leges (sumptuary laws) designed to limit extravagance, including the amount spent on a given meal, which directly impacted how much wealthy Romans could eat at their meals. By the Imperial period, such laws were no longer in force." And thus we see the extreme meals that last throughout the night serves by the upper-class of Romans. But what about the "average Joe"? What did commoners eat?
"Poor Romans would eat mostly cereal grain at all meals like porridge or bread, for which the women engaged in a daily grain-to-flour grinding. They placed the hard kernels between a concave stone and a smaller one serving as a roller. This was called a "thrusting mill." Later, they sometimes used a mortar and pestle. Grinding was unnecessary for quicker-cooking porridge." But by the latter part of the Republic period, it is believed that most Romans purchased their bread from commercial bakeries.
Breakfast and lunch...Roman Style!
"For those who could afford it, breakfast (jentaculum), eaten very early, would consist of salted bread, milk, or wine, and perhaps dried fruit, eggs, or cheese. It was not always eaten. The Roman lunch (cibus meridianus or prandium), a quick meal eaten at noon, could include salted bread or be more elaborate with fruit, salad, eggs, meat or fish, vegetables, and cheese."
The evening or dinner meal.
"The dinner (cena), the main meal of the day, would be accompanied by wine, usually well-watered. The Latin poet Horace ate a meal of onions, porridge, and pancake. An ordinary upper-class dinner would include meat, vegetables, eggs, and fruit. Comissatio was a final wine course at dinner's end." Those Romans sure did love their wine!
Just as with modern meals, the salad and/or egg courses were served at different time during the meal. More often than not, they were served as the appetizer (gustatioor promulsis or antecoena). The eggs weren't always hen's eggs, either. "The list of possible items for the gustatio is long. It includes exotic items like sea urchins, raw oysters, and mussels. Apples, when in season, were a popular dessert (bellaria) item. Other Roman dessert items were figs, dates, nuts, pears, grapes, cakes, cheese, and honey.
And what about etiquette? "It is believed that during the Roman Republic, most women and the poor ate sitting on chairs, while upper-class males reclined on their sides on couches along three sides of a cloth-covered table (mensa). The three-sided arrangement is called the triclinium. Banquets might last for hours, eating and watching or listening to entertainers, so being able to stretch out without shoes and relax must have enhanced the experience. Since there were no forks, diners would not have had to worry about coordinating eating utensils in each hand." So what is portrayed in the movies isn't too far off the mark! And while dancing girls weren't part of the average evening meal, the elite Romans did always have some form of entertainment.
Historians know much about Roman meals and dining habits from art and archeology. But there is a fair amount of written documentation, as well. These materials include passages on agriculture, a Roman cookbook, and even a few letters that were preserved from that time. While some Romans did feast heavily nearly every day, we can assume that the poorer class, and even many of the elite, often ate far less heartily.
Tomorrow is Wednesday and that means a visit and lesson from my wise teacher, The Dharma Frog. I do hope that you'll plan on stopping by to see what valuable life lesson he has in store for me. Perhaps it might help you, as well. Until then, I wish you