24 Dec 2016

Ancient History Magazine 8, Jan-Feb 2017

Ancient History Magazine 8, Jan-Feb 2017

We've just sent the latest edition of Ancient History to the printer. In Issue 8, we take a look at food, drink and dining in the ancient world.

We cover topics including wine, bread and Rome's favorite stinky condiment, garum. The theme is also sprinkled with a sampling of Roman recipes, taken from Apicius and adapted for the modern cook, so you can taste a bit of ancient Rome at home.

Off-topic articles include the story of Diagoras of Melos, a primer on the Roman toga and a bit of background on the myth of Atalanta.

Food, drink and dining in the ancient world

The museum piece: Lauren van Zoonen, "The famous Venus of Milo - Contested beauty"

When Yorgos Kentrotas set out on 8 April 1820 to plough his field on the Greek island of Melos, he accidentally discovered a priceless statue. Known as the ‘Venus of Milo’ or ‘Aphrodite of Melos’, it is one of the most famous pieces of Greek art and gave rise to serious discussion among art historians of the nineteenth century.

Theme: Manon Henzen, "Food and Eating in the Ancient World - Eat, drink and be merry"

Even more so than today, food and eating were among the most important aspects of life in Antiquity. Rich or poor, in the city or in the countryside – a lot of time, effort and money was spent on food. It was not only a necessity, but also important in politics, in religion, for building social structure and, of course, for leisure.

Theme: Matthew Lloyd, "Intoxication in ancient Greece and Rome - The Gifts of DionysUs"

Wine was a staple of the Greek diet and had a prominent place in Greek social gatherings. It was through Greeks that many Mediterranean regions, including Italy, adopted wine as part of their culture. But ancient writers were not unaware of the intoxicating effects of wine and were ambivalent about its prominence.

Theme: Manon Henzen, "Marcus Gavius Apicius, De re coquinaria 2.1.7 - Cooking Apicius: Wine"

Wine was by far the most prestigious of drinks in Roman culture. It was drunk straight, mixed with water and flavoured with spices, herbs, fruits, and honey, such as the famous mulsum and conditum. But wine was also an important cooking ingredient and seasoning. It was used in sauces, stews, marinades, casseroles, and dressings for savoury and sweet dishes. Usually the wine or wine must was reduced to a syrupy sweet liquid that was called defrutum, sapa or caroenum dependent on the degree of reduction.

Theme: Owen Rees, "The best thing since sliced figs - Bread in the ancient world"

The ubiquity of bread comes from its purity and its simplicity. To make a ‘bread’ one needs only ground flour and a liquid. With these two simple ingredients, a life-fuelling staple can be created. The expansion of bread designs was determined by resources, tastes, and food culture, but ultimately all bread comes down to these two base ingredients.

Theme: Manon Henzen, "Marcus Gavius Apicius, De re coquinaria 6.2.20 - Cooking Apicius: olives"

Olives were a staple in ancient Greece and Rome. It is remarkable that there are almost no recipes using olives in Greek and Roman sources. Olive oil, on the other hand, is used generously in ancient cookery. It served several food purposes: it was used to marinade, to cook with, to dress vegetables and cooked food with, and in conserves.

Theme: Sarah Rijziger, "Food in Yemen before the coming of Islam - Bring with you a full sack of flour"

One of the most impressive feats of ancient engineering was the large dam at Marib in what is now called Yemen. It was repaired many times, and the builders left long inscriptions behind. These texts not only describe the repair works but also give us a detailed list of the food supplied to the workmen.

Wealthy Romans also enjoyed dining out of doors, as this fresco from Pompeii shows. Large and fancy villas might have a special, summer triclinium, which with walls or ceiling removed in order to take advantage of good weather.

Theme: Matthew Beazley, "Decadent dining while horizontal - A Roman feast"

Just as modern people have a passion for food and fine cuisine, so, too, did the ancient Romans. Although Romans of every level in society enjoyed food, the patricians and equites or ‘knights’ (the wealthy elite) took fine dining to new levels of lavishness.

Theme: Josho Brouwers, "The number: three - The mediterranean triad"

When it comes to food, the peoples of the ancient Mediterranean focused on three staples, referred to as the ‘Mediterranean triad’ by archaeologist: cereals, olives, and the vine. These three types of food formed the basis for most meals (and one type of drink) across all social classes in the ancient Mediterranean and much of the Near East. These three were, of course, supplemented by other types of food, such as vegetables, fruit, cheese, eggs, fish and – more rarely – meat.

Theme: Erich B. Anderson, "Garum, Rome's favourite condiment - Something fishy"

As the Romans expanded their territory to gradually conquer the entire Mediterranean Sea, they also took control over and greatly expanded upon an old industry that had previously been established by the Greeks and Carthaginians throughout the region: the production of garum. At first, the fermented fish sauce was a luxury only for wealthy aristocrats, but over time, garum became one of the most commonly used condiments for Romans of all classes. For centuries, the garum industry flourished within the Roman Empire as numerous factories from Gades in Spain to Leptis in North Africa and Clazomenae in Asia Minor exported the lucrative salt-fish product.

Theme: Manon Henzen, "Marcus Gavius Apicius, De re coquinaria 7.11.6 - Cooking Apicius: Grains"

Along with legumes, grains were the most important ingredients in ancient history. Their nutritional content is very high, and if you eat just a small bowl of puls (a grain stew) you feel well fed. Barley and wheat were staple foods. They were both grown in Italy during the Roman period. Barley was of distinctly lower status than wheat. It was the main food source for common people and for soldiers on a punishment ration. Barley was mostly used for making pancakes and cakes, because it does not rise well. Wheat was the preferred grain for raised breads. There was also durum wheat, which was mainly used for cakes and flat breads. In the northern provinces rye and spelt were the most common grains.

Theme: Josho Brouwers, "Suggested reading for this issue - Food for thought"

Hopefully, the articles in this issue of Ancient History magazine gave you a good idea about food, drink, and dining in the ancient world. The topics covered ranged from food in ancient Yemen to wine to Roman dinner habits and more. If you want to explore the subject beyond the confines of this issue, then this brief bibliographic essay will give you some tips.

Philosophy: Gert M. Knepper, "Was Diagoras from Melos a non-believer? - An atheist in Athens"

In his book What Are the Gods? (De natura deorum), Roman politician and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero records an anecdote about Diagoras the Atheist, who once visited a temple. A friend there tried to convert him by pointing at the large number of votive offerings donated by grateful shipwreck survivors: wasn’t that sure proof for the existence of the gods? To which Diagoras replied that he was looking in vain for the votive offerings of those who had drowned.

This fragment of a bronze relief dating from the reign of Nero depicts a pair of Roman men dressed in their togas.

Special: Danièle Cybulskie, "A time traveller’s guide to... - The toga"

Packing your bags for a trip to Ancient Rome in your time machine seems like simplicity itself: all you need is a good pair of sandals and a bedsheet, right? Think again. The Roman toga is a deceptively simple garment that actually contains a complex range of meanings that a Roman citizen will be able to decode in five seconds flat, giving away your status as an impostor. So, before you wrap yourself in your grandma’s favorite floral sheet, check out this handy guide to the Roman toga.

The list: Peter Konieczny, "Top Ten Strangest Deaths of Roman emperors"

Between 27 BC and AD 476, Rome was ruled by 77 emperors. For most of them it was not a long career: 33 of these emperors were murdered, while others died in battle, and several killed themselves. However, here are ten deaths that we think were a little more unusual.

The myth: Josho Brouwers, "A fearsome heroine for the ages - Atalanta"

Most famous Greek heroes are men: Theseus, Jason, and Heracles. But women figure prominently in Greek myths. Theseus would never have been able to defeat the Minotaur if it hadn’t been for Ariadne. Jason would never have acquired the Golden Fleece without Medea’s help. And Heracles’ adventures involving women are too numerous to summarize here. Actual female heroines, who hunted and fought alongside men, are exceedingly rare. The most famous of these is Atalanta.

Philosophy: Kees Alders, "An overview of Hellenistic philosophy - Adding it all up"

The conquests of Alexander the Great profoundly changed the Greek world. The old dichotomy between the independent Greek city-states and the eastern world empires ceased to be relevant. The common world view changed, and hence so did philosophy, as we have seen in our series on Hellenistic philosophy. What follows is an overview of what we have discussed.

Ancient History Magazine

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