Roman and Byzantine Food and Dining

Posted by Powee Celdran 

Civilized life cannot proceed without salt.” -Pliny the Elder


Welcome back to another article by the Byzantium Blogger! For a long time, I have been doing articles on comparing both the worlds of the Roman Empire and its medieval successor, the Byzantine Empire as well as articles relating to the current COVID-19 pandemic, now here is a bit of both in this article though very indirectly about the current situation of the pandemic. Now, here’s an article I have promised to do when writing a previous one (Roman and Byzantine Empires Comparison series Part3- on culture) which would also be an excerpt of that one and since it would have been too much to mention food and dining in that article, it was best that I do a separate article on it. No doubt in Roman as well as Byzantine cultures in fact in almost all cultures, food has played an important part and till now it does play a part in every country’s identity, though back then in the age of empires, the food culture was one way to show how powerful and cultured an empire was. The emperors, legions, cities with advanced engineering, aqueducts, entertainment, art, music, bathhouses, education, literature, science, and multi-ethnic populations showed the imperial might of both Rome and Byzantium but one thing that shows both how sophisticated Roman/ Byzantine culture was as well as how people lived their daily lives was through food and dining as well the diverse cuisine in their history. Cuisine in the Roman world has evolved over the centuries beginning as a very simple form of cuisine in its days as the Roman Republic developing into a sophisticated fusion of food and ingredients during the height of its empire. Of course with Rome’s location in the Mediterranean it shared many cuisine elements with that of Ancient Greece, Carthage, and the Etruscans having a lot of olive oil, cheese, chickpeas, meat, and fish but with the Roman world expanding north into Europe and east into Western Asia, trade within the vast expanse of the empire built up Rome’s cuisine introducing an unlimited grain supply for Rome from Egypt, eastern herbs and spices as well as cooking methods both barbarians in Europe and civilizations in the east had used. The Roman Empire of course did not end too quick in the 5th century, instead Roman civilization shifted to the Greek speaking east as the Byzantine Empire based in Constantinople and of course continuing many of Rome’s culinary traditions in the 1000+ year existence of the Eastern Roman Empire known as Byzantium and over these centuries because of Constantinople and the empire’s position also in the Mediterranean area, its cuisine had barely changed from Roman times except being located closer to the east, Roman cuisine in the Byzantine era grew more flavorful with the trade of spices including saffron, sugar, and vegetables from the east. If the expansion of the empire developed imperial Roman cuisine, Byzantine cuisine was also influenced by the ingredients of their neighboring enemies like the emerging Arab empires. Today, Mediterranean cuisines including Italian, Spanish, and Greek can trace their origins back to Ancient Greece and Rome but of course over the centuries after the Roman Empire’s existence, Italian and Spanish cuisines were influenced by the ingredients and cooking techniques of people they have encountered including the Germanic tribes and Arabs while the discovery of the New World in the late 15th century introduced new ingredients such as potatoes and tomatoes to their cuisines while Greek cuisine today on the other hand may be quite similar to Ancient Greek or Byzantine cuisine but not very much as centuries of Ottoman Turkish occupation in Greece introduced more Turkish or eastern elements to Greek cuisine. Now in this article, I will be discussing Ancient Roman and Byzantine ingredients, recipes, cooking methods, alcoholic beverages, food culture, food for the army, and some stories of emperors and other people relating to food. If the Romans and their successors the Byzantines had several crazy stories about their emperors, they too had some crazy strange parts in their food culture and cooking especially when it came to preparing meals, sauces like Garum or fish sauce, and exotic animals that were even eaten like parrots and flamingos, but also some weird eating habits which the Romans had and the Byzantines adopted like having banquets while facing downwards on a couch and eating with utensils like forks- which the Byzantines did and shocked the people of Western Europe with. For the Romans and Byzantines, food very much played an important part of their culture that mosaics and other forms of art even depict food or people dining but for the Romans and Byzantines as well, they had many food stereotypes considering some meals and eating habits to be truly theirs while associating some things such as drinking plain wine and eating too much meat with barbarian culture therefore looking down on it. This article too will focus on what both the rich and ordinary Roman (and Byzantines) ate showing the contrast and variety of Roman-Byzantine cuisine. Now most of the information we know on Ancient Roman food and cooking comes from the 1st century Roman cookbook Apicius also known as De re coquinaria or “On the Subject of Cooking” and with its name is attributed to the Roman gourmet in the 1st century Marcus Gavius Apicius which features recipes back then in which many can still be recreated and tested today- if you can find these ingredients the Romans had used- though this cookbook could also give you a glimpse of how decadent the Romans were when it came to food culture, although this love for food could either show how sophisticated imperial Roman culture was but at the same time could also show that this kind of decadence led to Rome’s decline. For the Byzantines on the other hand, the wealthy like the Romans also took pride in food although there is not much information on medieval Byzantine food and cooking except that it was much more sophisticated than that of medieval Europe and in this article most of my information on Byzantine food and dining comes once again from A Cabinet of Byzantine Curiosities by Anthony Kaldellis which gets its information from the works of several Byzantine era historians. And again, relating to the current pandemic where eating out is very limited therefore we all mostly eat at home, this article will be also discussing that Romans and Byzantines mostly ate in their homes too as actual restaurants if not for pubs, bars, and taverns had not existed yet. Anyway, this has been an article I’ve long wanted to right so, let’s begin with the article, the first section will be focusing on Imperial Rome and the second part on the Byzantine Empire. This article though won’t mention all Roman or Byzantine era recipes otherwise it would be too long to read, but for more info on Ancient Roman and medieval recipes checkout the Facebook page of Historical Italian Cooking.

The Roman Empire at its height, 117AD
Extent of the Byzantine Empire in 3 Different periods

Related Articles from the Byzantium Blogger:

Roman and Byzantine Comparison Series Part1- The Army

Roman and Byzantine Comparison Series Part2- Imperial System

Roman and Byzantine Comparison Series Part3- Life and Culture

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

7 Reasons to be Interested in Byzantium

The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

Byzantine Science and Technology

Foreign Lands and Peoples according to the Byzantines Part1

Foreign Lands and Peoples according to the Byzantines Part2

The Art of War in the Byzantine World

A Guide to the Byzantine Empire’s Themes

The Story of 3 Plagues Across Centuries- COVID-19 Related

Thoughts on Quarantine, Self-Isolation, and Social Distancing- COVID-19 Related

Related Video:

Watch this to learn more about food and the cuisine of Ancient Rome (from SandRhoman History).


I. Cuisine and Dining of Imperial Rome


In ancient Rome, the basic food ingredients were wheat, wine, meat, fish, bread, sauces, and spices and people usually ate 3 meals a day, the first one being Ientaculum or breakfast served usually at dawn, then the second was the main meal of the day or Cena served usually at 2pm and was the largest meal of the day, while the third one was  a light supper known as Vesperna eaten at night. This 3 meal daily schedule though was mostly common in the Roman Republican era as by the time Rome entered the imperial era with Augustus Caesar in 27BC, this old schedule was phased out with the Cena becoming a much larger meal and pushed later towards the day, therefore the Vesperna would disappear and a new meal schedule at midday known as Prandium which is equivalent to lunch was created. However, these changes were mostly applied to the upper class Romans in the imperial society who did not do much manual labor so for them they usually had a light breakfast and scheduled their meetings and business dealings in the morning before the Prandium or lunch which they also ate light and by 2pm they headed to the baths before the main meal of the day or Cena in which they ate the heaviest in which they usually invited guests to their house eating for hours and finishing the meal late at night with a round of wine. The lower-class Romans on the other hand such as workers and farmers still stuck to the original republican meal schedule eating a heavier breakfast before doing their manual work either in a workshop or in the fields while proceeding to eat a heavy afternoon Cena after all their labor intensive work and eating only a light dinner as at midday these lower-class Romans had no time to leave their work therefore not having lunch the way upper-class Romans did. For the Romans, bread was the very basic staple of food and as the empire grew wider and wider, its people needed an abundant bread supply, luckily Egypt which produced vast amounts of wheat in its fertile areas along the Nile and not in the dry desserts produced it and was not too far away, and at the end of the last civil war of the Roman Republic ending in 30BC with the defeat of Roman general Mark Antony and the queen of Egypt’s Greek Ptolemaic empire Cleopatra VII, Egypt was taken over by the Roman Republic’s leader Octavian who became the first emperor Augustus Caesar in 27BC, therefore Egypt became the emperor’s personal province with no senator allowed to step foot in it without the emperor’s permission. Egypt was so valuable to Rome itself because of its grain production that emperors could not allow anyone powerful like senators to step foot in it as it could mean taking over the rich province for themselves and cutting the grain supply for Rome causing hunger among the people. There were a few times in Roman history such as in 270 when Egypt was lost to the break-away Roman Empire of Palmyra therefore causing the grain supply on Rome to be cut leading to people rioting in the streets. For the Roman people, bread and games of the circuses are what mattered most as the poet Juvenal sarcastically said but in fact grain was so important to them as the Romans being from Italy were agricultural people but Italy itself did not have enough to produce for Rome and its citizens therefore Egypt or North Africa was needed and if bread supply did not come or came late, people would riot. The Romans had a goddess of agriculture known as Ceres which was equivalent to the Greek goddess Demeter, however for Rome’s grain supply, they went as far to even creating a new Roman goddess known as Annona, the goddess of the grain supply who was also associated with Ceres and a government institution known as the Cura Annonae was created to take care of Rome’s supply of grain particularly durum wheat from Egypt and North Africa and to this institution, Augustus’ successor Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37AD) in 22AD made a speech saying that “if the Cura Annonae were neglected, then it would bring the utter ruin of the state” stressing how important the grain supply and bread was. Many of you might think that loaves of bread were actually distributed to the people of Rome which is not entirely true as instead of bread, the government distributed free rationed doles of wheat each month beginning in the Republican era in 123BC and only to Roman citizens in Rome and if they wanted more bread or wheat they’d have to buy it themselves, though by the 2nd century, the population of Rome itself was close to 1 million, at this time the free distribution of wheat was replaced by actual loaves of bread by the emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211) who also included olive oil in the distribution, while the emperor Aurelian (r. 270-275) later included free pork and wine in the distribution. Before Rome had Egypt, the grain supply of Rome came from Sicily and Sardinia but with Egypt being able to export more grain, Alexandria became the major port for exporting grain and sea routes were made for grain ships as well. Now bread was the basic Roman breakfast food and for the poor citizens of the empire it was all they needed and if they had more than just a piece of bread they were lucky; however it would be too plain to eat just a piece of bread for breakfast so most people if they could afford more than just bread added olive oil, salt, cheese, or honey to their bread. Originally, the Romans ate their bread flat like the people in the Mediterranean and the Middle East but with the introduction of emmer and wheat to make loaves, Roman bread became no longer flat and over time different recipes of bread were created, also price depended on the color of the bread as whiter bread was much more expensive and usually made for the rich and the darker the bread was, the cheaper it became. The rich who could afford the higher quality lighter breads for breakfast ate it even dipping it in wine, sometimes eating it with cheese or fruit. Being in the Mediterranean, the Roman people had access to other goods in the area especially olive oil that came from the olives of Italy, Spain, and Greece, together with other ingredients like salt, fish, and lemons. The working class Romans for their main meal or Cena usually not having much just ate a kind of porridge known as Puls (pottage) which was made simply of boiled emmer grains, water, salt, and fat and those who could afford more added olive oil and vegetables to it while the wealthier Romans for their lunch or Prandium ate their Puls with eggs, cheese, honey, and sometimes with meat or fish while sometimes the wealthy for their lunch instead ate sandwiches consisting of the previous night’s leftover meat or fish and putting between pieces of bread. Puls meanwhile is the food that is indigenous to Rome and the Romans and has been associated with religious rituals. Now for the main meal or Cena of the rich, as they invited guests to their house they usually ate it in 3 courses: the first one called a Gustatio meaning “tasting” which is equivalent to today’s appetizer and the modern Degustation probably originates from this and this Roman appetizer included salads, mushrooms, boiled eggs, and fish and to accompany it the drink was a wine blended with honey known as Mulsum; the second course of the Cena known as the Prima Mensa consisted of a variety of 6-7 dishes of meat, fish, and poultry; then the last course known as the Secunda Mensa consisted of desserts including cakes and fruit pastries and accompanied by wine mixed with water. A full course Italian meal today follows the same pattern as the Ancient Romans beginning with an appetizer of cold cuts, then a first meal which is usually a pasta, and the main course which is roast meat, chicken, or fish though in the modern Italian version the second course is the main meal and not the dessert as the dessert comes after it. The rich in their large city houses or Domus country villas ate together dressed in their best clothes such as togas lying on couches facing downwards with the food in the tables or Mensa in Latin in front of them were they picked the food with their hand while slaves and servants worked continuously at the kitchen and serving in the food; meanwhile the ordinary Romans who lived in small cramped houses or high-rise flats or Insulae did not have enough space for these couches and long tables, rather they ate their meals sitting down on small chairs or stools. For their plates and cups, the ordinary people usually ate with simple metal or even wooden utensils as well as in wood, clay, or simple metal plates and cups while the wealthy at the time of the empire enjoyed eating in fine silver or even in exotic and colorful ceramic and glass plates and cups from the east especially Syria which produced glassware.

Ingredients and dishes of Ancient Roman cuisine


When Rome was still a republic consisting of only Italy, its food was rather quite simple as Roman Republican virtues valued simplicity and not decadence and feasting, however during the imperial era things changed with Roman territory covering almost the entire known world and with the Pax Romana established in the reign of Augustus (27BC-14AD) which enabled easy trade across the empire, people from one end of the empire could sample food products from the other end because of the roads and sea routes that made trade easier- for example: a citizen in Gaul could sample spiced food from Syria- and this also made a Rome a major trading hub wherein in its markets you could find food products from all over the empire. By the death of Emperor Trajan in 117, the Roman Empire was at its greatest extent going all the way to Britain in the north and at the west its border was the Atlantic Ocean, in the south it stretched all the way down to Egypt and east to the Tigris River and Persian Gulf in Mesopotamia as well as to the Caspian Sea, and this meant that the people of the empire, especially in Rome had access to all kinds of food products and cuisines of the empire and in Rome, cooks had even served exotic eastern foods and sometimes blended eastern and western ingredients into fusion food for the Roman aristocrats. With the empire in control of most of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, the Romans now could sample the food products each corner of the empire produced as every part of the empire had different climates and landscapes that produced certain kinds of produce. For instance, the land around the Mediterranean whether in Europe, Asia, or Africa was very much fertile and produced grains of wheat which was more expensive while emmer or barley were cheaper alternative grains to make bread, although aside from wheat the lands around the Mediterranean produced legumes like lentils, chickpeas, and beans in which most were grown in Egypt as well and ate commonly in Roman meals, meanwhile chickpeas were a very important ingredient back then as it was used to make many recipes including hummus. Other than grains and legumes, Egypt too produced several kinds of flowers that could be used to color food such as Hibiscus. The Mediterranean area especially in Spain produced many varieties of olives- though the best varieties said to be in Central Italy- that could be used for olive oil which was a basic ingredient not only used for cooking Roman food but for lighting up oil lamps and these olives could be eaten as a whole together with bread or in the classic pottage known as Puls; in fact the Romans had even created the olive press to make olive oil called a Trapetum and the author and philosopher Pliny the Elder (24-79AD) mentions 30 varieties of olives and 40 varieties of pears, as well as figs and vegetable products that come from North Africa. In the Roman provinces of Gaul and Hispania (Spain and Portugal) the native Celt population there had already been known for making wheat, emmer, or barley grains not only into bread but fermenting them to make beer. Italy on the other hand produced a wide variety of products aside from olives and grains which included pine nuts which was mixed with garlic, herbs, cheese, and olive oil to make a pesto sauce as well as cabbages, lettuce, and other leafy greens to make salads as the Romans valued farming and produce over hunting animals for meat or foraging for mushrooms, although foraged mushrooms such as truffles was another product of Italy. Fruits were also a popular form of Roman snacks and desserts and were eaten fresh when in season and if not in season they were preserved by being dried; many of them came from far away exotic lands such as figs and cherries from Asia Minor, dates from the Middle East and North Africa, peaches from Persia traded with the Persians outside the empire, apricots from Armenia, plums from Syria, berries usually from the Balkans, and pomegranate known to the Romans as the “Punic Apple” from the region of Carthage in North Africa; meanwhile apples, oranges, and grapes were common fruit produce in the empire though fruits like melons and peaches were quite rare and lemons were not so commonly used to flavor food but instead for medicinal uses. Vegetables and fruits in Ancient Rome were sold in specialty shops that only sold these products while meats were sold at butcher shops as back then there were no supermarkets where you could buy any food product in one place; now butcher shops sold fresh raw or salted meats including beef, pork, lamb, or mutton and when it came to meat, the Romans lacking in modern refrigeration to preserve it made sure no part of the animal was wasted so different kinds of methods to preserve it were created such as salting and mixing the innards of animals with salt, herbs, eggs, and nuts into blood puddings, stews, sausages, and meatballs. The poor citizens meanwhile not able to afford the better cuts of meat ate the cheaper cuts as sausages as it could kept better than fresh meat or they usually ate salted meat as it was cheaper; also the rural areas especially in Gaul (today’s France and Belgium) specialized in producing salted hams and bacon that were traded across the empire and used as the standard meal of a Roman soldier. Beef meanwhile was an expensive meat and cows were highly valued as simple machines to plough the land and to produce them milk so the Romans rarely ate beef as it meant killing the cow unless it was for a feast or a sacrifice to the gods, instead pork or chicken were eaten more commonly. The Romans too thought that eating too much meat was considered “barbaric” as the barbarians they knew beyond their borders particularly the Germanic tribes were carnivores who ate red meat more than anything else, the 1st century AD stoic philosopher Gaius Musonius Rufus who was a vegetarian says the meat eating barbarians are not only less civilized but slower in intellect while the Mediterranean people like Greeks and Romans who have a more balanced diet with more vegetables and grains were more intellectual. Emperors too such as Didius Julianus (r. 193) and Septimius Severus (r. 193-211) disdained meat and preferred vegetables over it while the emperor Maximinus I Thrax (r. 235-238), a Thracian born to both barbarian parents who was said to be 8ft tall was also said to have devoured mounds of meat the barbarian way, although with the Roman Empire becoming Christian in the late 4th century, eating massive amounts of meat also became discouraged as it was a Pagan symbol being something the Pagan barbarian tribes ate, but for Pliny the Elder grains turned into pastries baked with honey and fruits showed that the Romans were far more civilized. Chickens meanwhile were vital in producing both food and eggs as cooked food also used a lot eggs especially pies and pastries though milk was another important ingredient in making dishes especially cheese which was a common staple in Roman food next to bread and olive oil, although the milk that was considered superior to making cheese was sheep’s and goat’s milk as the Romans preferred hard cheeses possibly because they had more salt as salt was generally quite expensive even if used a lot. Salt meanwhile was a very essential seasoning that Pliny the Elder had even said “civilized life cannot proceed without salt” yet too it was quite expensive and was even used as an item of trade and to pay soldiers with which is where the word “salary” comes from; salt therefore was highly prized as it was used to season food or preserve it as there were no refrigerators then and other spices to season or preserve food such as peppers were so rare that they had to be imported from India and the Romans even stored it in luxurious pots while spices like cinnamon, coriander, and saffron came from outside the empire including India, China, and the Arabian Peninsula and so did sugar which is why sugar was rarely used in Roman pastries, instead honey and wine-must syrup were used as sweeteners. Now to add flavor into food that both gave it saltiness and sweetness, the Romans used the fish vinegar sauce known as Garum or Liquamen in almost all their dishes and in fact this condiment dates all the way back to the Ancient Greeks and Phoenicians and it was said that it added an umami taste to their food. This Garum sauce was made by fermenting fish entrails particularly sardines or mackerel for weeks mixing it with salt, garlic chives, thyme, and rosemary and at the end the result is said to be very smelly but it put a lot of umami flavor into food making it known as the ketchup or Worcestershire Sauce of Roman times, and the parts of the empire that were known to produce and export vast amounts of Garum were the Port of New Carthage (Cartagena) in Hispania and Mauretania in North Africa, the highly valued variety of Garum though surprisingly came from Lusitania (Roman Portugal). Having the Mediterranean Sea, the Romans commonly ate seafood more than meat such as tuna, sardines, mackerel, and mullet that came from the Mediterranean as well as octopus, squid, shrimp, and mussels while areas like Brittany in today’s France back then were already known to have farmed and exported good quality oysters to Rome and till today Brittany still has one of the best oysters. The product the Romans became known for in world history was wine (Vinum) as the expanse of the Roman Empire in Europe introduced viticulture to France, Spain, Portugal, and even Germany and ever since the early days, the Etruscans in Italy were already known to have farm grape vines to produce wines in which the Romans adopted from them and brought with them as they spread their empire especially since many regions they conquered had land suitable for producing wine and around the empire, the western coast of Italy, Gaul, Hispania, and Crete were known to produce and export good quality wine that many enjoyed. At feasts, the Romans served wine in ceramic or clay jugs known as Amphorae wherein it was poured into cups and when drinking their wine, the Romans did not drink it straight as wine, rather they mixed it with water, herbs, or honey or sometimes even with a wormwood flavor making the early version of absinthe as drinking wine straight and unmixed was considered a barbarian practice as the barbarian tribes especially the Gauls of France were stereotyped as excessive drinkers. In the northern parts of the empire like Gaul, Britain, or Germania, the local people there enjoyed beer (Cerevisia) more than wine while other than grape wine the Romans drank Carthaginian sweet raisin wine too and other non-alcoholic drinks aside from water were fruit juices or tea although tea was usually medicinal. Drinking wine though was so common in the empire that the soldiers in the Roman legions too were given a supply of wine to drink depending on the region as in the north beer was more common as a drink; the Roman state meanwhile had to provide about 60 tons of grain and 240 amphorae of wine and olive oil for an army of 40,000 soldiers including legionnaire and auxiliary soldiers and the slaves that accompanied them while they were provided with meat and vinegar as well, and with all the grain needed to supply such a massive army, Egypt was in all ways vital for the empire. Well if eastern spices and even sugar was rare to the Romans, products like tomatoes, potatoes, maize (corn), vanilla, cacao (chocolate), and chili peppers were never known to the Romans and had only arrived in Europe in the early 16th century after the discovery of the New World (the Americas) by Christopher Columbus in what would be known as the Columbian Exchange. Things though would’ve been very different if the Romans had these New World ingredients especially potatoes which would have been enough for its citizens to survive and not go hungry as it is a more filling carbohydrate than bread.

Trade network map of the Roman Empire
Food and other products (maize, tomato, potato, vanilla, rubber, cacao, and tobacco) brought in from the Columbian Exchange after the discovery of the Americas


In many ordinary Roman homes, the hearth or focus was where all the cooking was done but in larger homes that had kitchens, there were several hearths and sometimes even ovens in it. The uncovered ruins of Pompeii that have been covered from the ash of the Mt. Vesuvius eruption of 79AD show what the kitchens of Roman household looked like in which they had built in and portable stoves, water pots for boiling, grills, and ovens with floors either made of granite or lava. For kitchen equipment, the ruins of Pompeii’s kitchens show that the Romans already used almost all the same kitchen equipment we use today including various pots and pans, knives, meat forks for eating, strainers, graters, spits, tongs, cheese slicers, nutcrackers, and jugs. Now when it came to actually cooking the food for different meals, the Romans used different kinds of methods; for breakfast or the appetizer of the Cena known as the Gustatio, food was served as is like bread was just served as baked loaves with plain olive oil and salad appetizers were served plain and simple as raw lettuce, arugula, or leeks. Meanwhile the pottage known as Puls was boiled in a pot, while sausages were smoked or grilled over the hearth, and the main course mat whether roast pork, chicken, goat, or lamb was cooked in a spit over the flames. Roasting was a popular method of cooking many Roman dishes and dates back to the Etruscans before the rise of the Roman Republic, and in fact today many main course meat dishes in Italian cuisine are roasted which dates back to the Etruscans. The recipe book of Apicius meanwhile in which we get most of our information on Roman cuisine actually covers a large variety of recipes including salads, appetizers, ground meat recipes like sausages and meatballs, legumes, pulses, recipes that have to do with birds and poultry, meat dishes, and seafood, although the recipes here are not very precise when it comes to measurements; Apicius meanwhile who lived in the 1st century AD possibly during the reign of Tiberius (14-37AD) was said to be a wasteful glutton but at the same time a gourmet. Some recipes in this book are a bit odd making not much sense such as making red wine into white wine by blending egg whites into white wine, then it also mentions a way to preserve meat by making it swim in mustard (which was made of salt, vinegar, and honey) for todays which will actually make it less raw and more edible, though a more edible yet tasty recipe from this book was the Roman herb and cheese spread called Moretum which was usually accompanied with bread which makes this Roman recipe of baked bread with a cheese dip spread over it a predecessor to the Italian pizza or focaccia bread dish. Puls on the other hand wasn’t overall just a plain and bland grain porridge if olive oil, bits of meat, cheese, and vegetables were added to it, thus making what would be like a predecessor to the Italian risotto; in fact there is a more elaborate version of Puls known as the Julian Stew which has ground meat, spices, lovage, fennel, hard bread, and wine mixed into it and was said to be what the soldiers of the general Gaius Julius Caesar ate when in campaigns in which they called it a “quintessential Roman meal”. Other Roman recipes from Apicius still worth trying and still could be found today include the smoked Lucanian sausage of Southern Italy which is similar to a chorizo or blood sausage and the chicken stew known as Parthian Chicken which is one of the more eastern inspired recipes the Romans had. In Apicius’ cookbook though, there are only 4 beef dishes mentioned as beef wasn’t commonly eaten but when it comes to veal, the book mentions a recipe that is similar to today’s veal Scallopini, while another meat dish mentioned there known as Patina Apiciana was a meat pie layered with cooked eggs and wheat crepes, while the book also mentions a kind of dessert that would like the Roman version of a soufflé which was not chocolate based but fruit based as chocolates were only discovered with the discovery of the Americas centuries later. However, there are some other Ancient Roman recipes that are a bit too strange and exotic for today’s standards such as pheasant brain, roasted flamingo tongue, boiled ostrich, roasted parrot, and dormice stuffed with pork; although the emperor Vitellius (r. 69AD) who was a fat gourmet and glutton known to eat 4 full meals a day was said to have liked these kinds of exotic dishes including pike fish liver, flamingo tongue, and peacock or pheasant brain, although some exotic Roman dishes like sea urchins and hunted birds are still much more acceptable to eat as of now. When it came to baking pastries such as savory pies and sweet fruit tarts, the Romans used lard more than butter although in Gaul butter was heavily used in baking their food and in today’s France butter is still very much used in baking and cooking their food. Of course, to add flavoring to their food, Garum was used in almost everything from Puls to high class roasts, although the emperor Elagabalus (r. 218-222) says to have introduced Garum into Roman dining even if it has been used way longer before him. The complexity of Roman cuisine with all its pastries and exotic food was a symbol of both the sophistication of their civilization but also a symbol of their decadent gluttony; the historian Tacitus (56-120AD) has even contrasted the indulgent food of Imperial Rome with the simple diet the Germanic tribes had of fresh meat, foraged fruit, and cheese without the use of sauce or olive oil. Real restaurants meanwhile had not existed yet back than rather restaurants simply existed as taverns, bars, or pubs found in cities or as stopovers places along roads and unlike modern restaurants that had menus to select different kinds of dishes, these taverns and bars served prepared food that was cooked on that day and with limited choices as people came to tavern more to drink beer or wine than to dine in. Taverns and bars usually catered to the lower classes so it was just a place to go to eat cheap food and leave, although Roman flats or Insulae had did not usually have space for a kitchen in each resident’s unit, instead each Insula had a communal kitchen on the ground floor for its residents to buy prepared food from. The wealthy meanwhile never really ate out, rather they dined for hours at their Cena as a way to show off their social status as dinners were meant for socializing with guests and discussing business with them so usually women would join in too as well as children with their parents lying facing downwards on couches to learn social skills, and as part of socializing they drank wine. The wealthy houses such as the Domus in the city or villa in the countryside always had a dining room or Triclinium serving as a kind of fine dining restaurant since there were actual fine dining restaurants yet and to make it like a restaurant, the rich houses usually employed a chef (Archimagirus), sous chef, and cooks (the word cook deriving from the Latin word coci), as well as slaves to serve the food and standby as attendants while the house had a separate kitchen connected to an herb and vegetable garden that supplied the herbs and vegetables. These fine-dining home dinners in Ancient Rome ideally was supposed to have 9 guests to create a dinner party called a Convivium which was the Roman version of the Ancient Greek Symposium, except the Greek symposium was more of a drinking party than a feast to debate on philosophical matters.


II. Cuisine and Dining in the Byzantine Empire


In 330AD, the main Roman capital was moved by Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337) to Constantinople which would remain as the capital of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire for more than a thousand years while in the west Rome was no longer the imperial capital, first moved to Milan then to Ravenna and with the death of the last full Roman emperor Theodosius I in 395, the empire was fully divided east and west as two independent empires and the west with Ravenna as its capital did not last long and fell in 476 starting the rise of several barbarian kingdoms in Western Europe such as the Franks in France, Ostrogoths in Italy, Visigoths in Spain, and Vandals in Western North Africa while the east based Constantinople would continue to live on. The eastern empire was at least lucky enough to still have control of Egypt, therefore the Roman tradition of the free distribution of bread to the people of the capital was continued and as the capital Constantinople got its free monthly bread supply directly from Egypt shipped in from Alexandria. During the reign of Justinian I the Great (527-565), the Roman west but only Italy, North Africa, and Southern Spain was brought back to Roman rule from barbarian occupation, therefore the trade of food products in the Mediterranean would still continue but not for long as in the early 7th century, the Sassanid Persians took over Egypt cutting the grain supply to Constantinople while Italy slowly fell to the Lombards, though Egypt would return to the empire for a time after the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) won the war against the Sassanids but in the 650s, Egypt was completely lost to the new expanding empire of the Arabs, therefore the Byzantine people of Constantinople from the on would no longer receive free supply of bread, instead the grain supply would then come from nearby Thrace which also produced wheat but since it did not produce unlimited amounts of grains the way Egypt did, the people of Constantinople would then on have to pay for their bread, by this time the language and cultural elements of the Byzantine Empire had already shifted from Roman to Greek. Though even without the free bread supply, the Byzantines would continue many of the bread recipes the Romans before them and even using bread for religious purposes (Communion) and had as well as many of the same cheese and meat recipes from the Roman Empire. Unlike the Romans who usually ate 3 meals a day, the Byzantines rarely ate breakfast- also because it was rarely recorded if they did- instead they only ate lunch (Ariston in Greek) and dinner (Deipnon) and a Byzantine medical book says that only a third of one’s daily consumption should be at lunch and 2/3 at dinner. Like a how the Byzantines should eat, personally I never really eat breakfast and eat a third of my daily consumption during lunch and 2/3 during dinner. Like in the Roman Empire, Byzantine consumption of food also depended on social class; in the imperial palace, guests dined eating exotic recipes with a variety of spices including fruits from the near east, honey cakes, and sweetmeats with syrup while ordinary people like the ordinary Roman citizens ate conservatively with a diet of bread, vegetables, pulses (similar to the Roman grain Puls), and smoked meat like sausages as it could be kept longer while fresh meat was usually more expensive and had to be eaten right away with the lack of refrigeration. However, with Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire’s proximity to the east, it still had easy access to prized spices, herbs, oils, and fruits the east had and when being trade with the west, the trade routes usually passed the Byzantine Empire so the Byzantine Empire could sample these herbs and add it to their food. Greek cuisine today may have a lot in common with Byzantine cuisine and Arab influences too such as their dishes that use eggplant (like Moussaka) and spinach (spinach pastries) and the Byzantine Empire went through centuries of conflict with the Arab Empires neighboring them, but these was also brought in ingredients of the Arab world including spinach and eggplant to Byzantine cooking. Byzantine cooking like all Mediterranean cuisines including Ancient Roman made use of a lot of olive oil and olives, as well as cheese, seafood, pastries, and meat but with the trade of spices and herbs with the east, Byzantine cooking blended herbs and spices with olive oil and Feta cheese and Greek cuisine today still looks like that having herbs and spices mixed into their olive oil for appetizers like feta cheese, whole olives, and Greek Salad. Salads were very popular too among the Byzantines- and till today it is in Greece especially the Greek Salad- this was probably because Byzantine Greece and Asia Minor had an abundance in growing vegetables, for instance the region of Cappadocia in Asia Minor was known to have grown lettuce while other parts of Asia Minor grew figs and berries which they added to salads as well. The only difference in Byzantine Greek Salad compared to modern Greek Salad is that theirs did not have tomatoes as tomatoes have not been discovered yet, though shortly before the discovery of tomatoes and the Americas, in 1439 one record that proves that salad was popular with the Byzantines was with Emperor John VIII Palaiologos’ visit to Florence wherein he impressed the Florentine Italians by asking for a serving of salad in almost all his meals. When it came to eastern spices, the Byzantines were in awe seeing the massive quantities of pepper (piper), sugar, ginger, and aloes the Persians had when the Byzantine armies of Heraclius captured the Persian Palace at Dastagerd in 628 ending the great war with Sassanid Persia, here they also discovered 300 Roman military standards captured by the Persians over the years of war, and Persian carpets but sadly since it was too much for them to carry back home, the armies burned all the spices, carpets, silks, and standards they found. Though with the empire’s access to eastern spices, Byzantine cooks learned techniques to cook and preserve food with it such as by removing every possible blemish from fowl and sprinkling it with mountain salt, herbs, and spices, then soaking it in aromatic juices before roasting it on a spit in order to give the roast meat or chicken a good smell so it is more appetizing. Grilling and roasting were common ways the Byzantines cooked their meat, chicken, or seafood and even today many Greek dishes consist of grilled meat, chicken, or seafood, though the Byzantines also used baking as a common cooking method especially to make pies or pastries but the most common method of Byzantine cooking was boiling as it was also the easiest which is why the popular Byzantine saying “the lazy cook prepares everything by boiling” was sparked. When it came to fruits, the Byzantines sold ripened fruits at market stalls inside jars soaking in honey as a way to preserve them, though they also dried a lot of fruits so that it kept well, and like in Ancient Rome the Byzantines at city market sold food at specialty stalls such as butcher shops that sold chopped meat while other stalls specialized in selling either eggs, cheese, seafood, vegetables, or fruits as in Byzantium supermarkets too had not existed yet. In the Byzantine world, restaurants were simply taverns (Tavernas in which many can still be found in Greece), pubs, and bars and usually catered to the middle and lower class citizens serving them prepared food that was already made earlier as it was not the kind of restaurant with a menu and these taverns were usually for drinking and socializing more than eating while the upper class Byzantines and imperial court did not dine out but in their villas or palaces with guests like how the Romans did. The actual concept of a high class restaurant or café for the wealthy to dine in wherein they dressed up and  took their time ordering food from a menu that had a large selection only came in the late 17th century with Le Procope in Paris dating back to 1686 which is known today as the world’s oldest café, though the world’s oldest restaurant and not café is the Sobrino de Botín in Madrid, Spain founded in 1725 and still functioning today. The Byzantine elites meanwhile ate their feats in the dining rooms at their villa and like the Romans they ate on couches facing downwards though this idea changed by around the 8th century wherein in the provinces the people at their villas would now eat sitting down facing a table but the elites of Constantinople as well as in the imperial palace, they would still eat in the old Roman way and even until the 11th century it was done that way as the writer and politician Michael Psellos (1018-1078) had complained about eating in that position saying eating with your stomach facing downwards in a cramped couch next to others was like a form of torture. Byzantine imperial banquets though were so elaborate that the Byzantine medical instructor Michael Italikos (1090-1157) says that like the Ancient Romans, the Byzantines prepared animal dishes to look like other animals such as cooked fish to look like birds and cooked birds to look like fish. On the other hand, the Italian bishop and diplomat Liutprand of Cremona when visiting the court of Byzantine emperor Constantine VII in Constantinople in 949 was highly impressed not with the food and dining with the emperor but with the entertainment of acrobats performing while the feast was ongoing, here he says he saw an acrobat balancing a 20ft pole on his forehead with 2 boys climbing and doing their acrobatics on it. It was also a custom in Byzantium that no one should go straight to the tavern after dining with the emperor as a way to show respect to the emperor, though it was also rare for a Byzantine emperor to not eat in his palace like in a house of an aristocrat, although of course the only time emperors ate away from the palace was in their tents during military campaigns. Now when it came to dining habits, it was a custom for the Byzantine elite to eat with paired knives and forks to pick the food and finger bowls and napkins to clean the fingers which was very sanitary but to westerners it shocked them as seen with the story of the Byzantine princess Theophano, wife of Holy Roman emperor Otto II (r. 973-983) when at her husband’s court in Germany and when eating at a feast, the people at the court were shocked at her using a fork to lead food into her mouth as it was totally unnecessary to use a utensil while everyone else ate with their hands. At first, the Byzantine practice of eating with forks scandalized the simple westerners that it was one of the reasons that started tensions between Byzantium and the west, but over time westerners began to adapt to eating with forks beginning in Italy, then only in the 16th century did the practice of eating with forks reach France. Today, it seems to many quite disgusting to eat without a fork that even I myself can’t stand eating meals even pizzas without a fork and knife, so thanks to the Byzantines for making eating with a fork and knife a popular custom.

Division of the Roman Empire between east and west, 395
Byzantine Empire at its height (555) under Emperor Justinian I


It was said Byzantine cuisine had two styles, one being the more flavorful and spiced Anatolian and Aegean Byzantine cuisine and the simple and rustic cuisine of mainland Greece; though history doesn’t say what dishes each type of Byzantine culinary styles had, although we can assume that the simple and rustic dishes of Byzantine Greece was the simple lean food the Ancient Greeks had like grilled or boiled meats like chicken, pork or lamb or seafood like fish, shrimp, squid, mussels, or octopus, bread, olive oil, pulses, beans, stews, and cheese while the eastern Byzantine food included roasts, kebabs, and pastries with eastern spices and flavorings. Unlike Ancient Roman cuisine which has the cookbook of Apicius for information on what they ate, there is no Byzantine era recipe book that gives lists of dishes they ate, rather we mostly only know about Byzantine cuisine from historians mentioning food in their writings or we can observe indirectly through modern Greek cuisine, although Greek cuisine today has been heavily influenced by Ottoman cuisine making Balkan cuisines like Thracian cuisine similar too. Both ordinary and rich Byzantine people enjoyed eating salads, olives, bread, cheese, and eggs and now when it came to cheese, the Byzantines produced many different varieties such as the salty Feta, dry Anthotyro, and hard Kefalotyri which are still cheeses that exist in Greece today. The Byzantines too had created the technique to make today’s Feta cheese which was a technique to keep cheese white and prevent it from drying out by storing it in salt water which could be even brine or sea water while another technique they had which was done in the region of Paphlagonia in Asia Minor was blowing air into the milk they were curdling resulting in holes making the Byzantine version of Swiss cheese. The Byzantines used goat’s and sheep’s milk more than cows to make their cheese and yet they had even created a cheese soup like Fondue which was served in the Patriarchal Palace of Constantinople every first Sunday of Lent according to the Book of Ceremonies by Emperor Constantine VII (r. 913-959). The other ingredient the Byzantines took seriously and made many recipes of were eggs and these recipes include omelets with one of them being a famous Byzantine recipe known as Sphoungata meaning “spongy” which is mentioned by the Byzantine writer Theodore Prodromos (1100-1170). When it came to meat, chicken was popular among Byzantine citizens as it was cheap and it was said that every household kept a supply of poultry so they always had something to eat as well as a supply of eggs, though at the beginning of winter the ordinary citizens usually peasants slaughtered pigs to provide their families with sausages, salted pork, and lard for the entire year; pork meanwhile was a common and popular meat for Byzantines as it was affordable too and so was goat while lamb was quite an expensive meat which only the rich and middle class Byzantines could afford, while beef was very expensive and seldom eaten as cows were highly valued for milk and cultivating the fields. Pork was in fact so commonly eaten and so popular that Byzantine people had different opinions on it and different methods on cooking it such as sausages and speaking of Byzantine sausages, it was said that the 6th century St. Symeon the Fool walked down the streets on Sundays in his native Syria with a string of sausages around his neck like a scarf and chewing in them with one hand and using the other to hold the mustard sauce for it and it was even said that instead of curing a man’s eyes he blinded him with the mustard sauce, although some time the later the blind man ended up seeing again because of the mustard sauce. In the 11th century, the scientist Symeon Seth made a discovery that pork meat is very similar to human meat after noticing that it is the most flavorful and easiest to digest of meats and that in famines people who ate human flesh had said that human flesh tastes closest to pork, he too claims that pork meat becomes very tasty when those pigs are fed with figs. Michael Psellos who was a contemporary of Seth meanwhile says that pork is the sweetest among meat but is not easy to digest while he declares that the easiest to digest was partridge, with mutton being hard on the stomach, and goat being the worst kind of meat. The Byzantines also ate a lot of pork to associate themselves as Christians as their enemies which were mostly Muslim like the Arabs and Turks did not eat pork as their religion forbade it and so did Judaism and for Jews and Muslims who converted to Christianity, the test that they really converted was to eat pork although other converts got away with it by smoking lamb or chicken sausages to make it taste like pork. In 1265 the story of the exiled Seljuk Turkish ruler Kykaus II shows that when he fled to the court of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) in Constantinople and asked the emperor to serve him a smoked pork thigh to prove that he converted to Christianity to be accepted in Byzantine society; the emperor Michael VIII meanwhile was also said to be a heavy meat eater who enjoyed eating horse meat which Byzantine people like to eat as well. The food that was associated with poor people in Byzantium were Cretan Cheese, stinky tuna, anchovies, and bonito fish and these foods were so bad in quality that they were said to scrape the skin of one’s throat and were so smelly while the rich Byzantines enjoyed food from animals they hunted. Now speaking of smelly food, the Byzantines like the Romans before them once again used a lot of Garum (Garon in Greek) to season their food to give it an umami taste and used the same method of fermenting fish entrails and extracting its liquid to make it then mixing the fish liquid with wine, water, or oil; Symeon Seth then says that Garum was good for cleaning the gut while the westerners of Europe had forgotten what Garum was as Roman rule had long been lost. In 968, Bishop Liutprand of Cremona was sent on a second diplomatic mission to Constantinople by the pope who in his letter though had forgotten to address the emperor at that time Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963-969) only as “emperor of the Greeks” and not “Roman emperor” and because the emperor was insulted, he put Liutprand on the far end of the table and while everyone enjoyed luxurious food, he was served a disgusting meal of goat stuffed with garlic, onion, and leeks, swimming in the fish sauce known as Garum which disgusted him greatly and this time compared to his first visit in 949 when he was surely impressed, this time he was surely disgusted. Garlic was grown too in the empire and was a common source of flavoring for food but when eaten it had created such a bad odor at the mouth but it didn’t smell as bad as Garum or fish at the market and in Constantinople, the markets around the monastery of Myrelaion which gets its name from myrrh oil was popularly called Psarelaion meaning “fish oil”. Byzantine monks on the other hand ate very simply and their basic meal was a soup that contained water, onions, and oil called Agiozoumi or “saints soup” as it was only fit for saints and deposed emperors who were sent to live their entire lives in monasteries were forced to eat this and have a simpler diet, in one story the exiled emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944) in the monastery was said to have eaten nothing else but that soup as well as beans and leeks, on the other hand another kind of simple Byzantine food were lentils and the same Symeon Seth again claims that lentils could cut one’s appetite for sex and dry out the sperm. Emperors who were exiled to monasteries surely had a great change of diet as it was said in the imperial palace the food that was served was so elaborate and luxurious like chicken stuffed with almonds and swimming in nectar and chicken stuffed inside in dough which was baked so that the dough would have the flavors of the baked chicken, these two elaborate chicken recipes were described by the 12th century bishop Eustathios of Thessaloniki when dining in the villa of a member of the imperial Komnenos family. When it came to pastries, the Byzantines were known to have developed the predecessor of the modern Baklava which is a common dessert in Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East, this predecessor was a layered baked pastry with honey and nuts known as Koptoplakous which had also evolved from the Ancient Greek Placenta Cake. Another kind of elaborate Byzantine dessert was documented in the 11th century which was a cake, possibly what is known as the “Easter Bread” that was baked to resemble the 12 signs of the zodiac made by a baker woman with knowledge in astronomy who used 2 duck eggs to mark the stars of Pleiades, 7 hen’s eggs for the 7 planets known to them, and 5 larger eggs to mark Orion and the 4 compass points. In terms of alcoholic drinks, the Byzantine Empire was renowned for its wines with the finest ones coming from the region of Macedonia in Northern Greece which was served for the Byzantine elite though other fine wines in the Byzantine Empire came from Cyprus such as the sweet Commandaria, Crete which produced Muscat grapes, the Peloponnese which produced the Malvasia grapes and Rumey wine, and another kind of fine wine from Lesbos in which it was said that the emperor Alexander (r. 912-913) died from after a heart attack caused by drinking too much of it after lunch before playing a game of polo. In the 12th century, the Crusades have passed the Byzantine Empire and in the 13th century had taken over it and though they left Constantinople in a state of ruin, at least the Latin Crusaders who ruled it valued the wines the Byzantine Empire produced and from then on, Western Europe would put some attention to Greek wines that in fact the king of England Richard I the Lionheart (r. 1189-1199) at his wedding had the dessert wine of Cyprus served and till this day Greece produces a variety of quality wines. In Greece today like in the Byzantine era, the pine resin wine known as Retsina is still drunk though back then westerners particularly Liutprand of Cremona again in his 968 visit to Constantinople was served this wine in which he complained that it was undrinkable tasting like resin, plaster, and pitch. Other than wine, the Byzantines were known to drink beer as well and an account dating back to the beginning of the Byzantine era in the 4th century by the famous Egyptian alchemist of that time Zosimos of Panopolis talks about a recipe of making beer using barley. Now when it came to eating, the Byzantines had quite a sophisticated food culture that they looked down on eating raw food especially raw meat seeing it as a barbarian custom and when observing the Latins (Western Europeans) they saw everything wrong int their eating habits as the Latins were said to have eaten animals that had drowned, were dying, or killed by other animals, that they ate animal’s blood and offal raw, also that the Latins had eaten anything they found like bears, jackals, turtles, hedgehogs, beavers, crows, seagulls, dolphins, and flies but also that when they ate, they ate with dogs and tamed bears beside their tables to lick their bowls and plates clean with their saliva and once cleaned, they would eat from it again even if it has saliva stains, although all this information may be incorrect as it was written as a racist remark on the Latins by Constantine Stilbes after the Crusaders’ attack of Constantinople in 1204 showing such hated to the Latins. However, in Byzantine history there had been other scenarios like in a horror film wherein humans ate humans such as the famine in Rimini, Italy after the long war of Justinian I (535-552) in which 2 women were reported to eat 17 men (too graphic to show pictures of these events though). In another story of a famine in the 12th century, the nun Maria charged with murder and cannibalism at a trial confessed that because of the famine she ate lizards, snakes, mice, dead bodies, and that she even went as far as killing and eating her own daughter causing the judge Andronikos to be dizzy hearing it that he could judge the case properly. Anyway, Greek cuisine today may be quite different from what Byzantine cuisine was and this was mainly because of 3 centuries of Ottoman occupation as the Ottomans had beaten the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and conquered Greece in 1460 after defeating the last Byzantine stronghold in the Peloponnese and with Ottoman occupation many elements in the Byzantine diet changed particularly with pork being less used due to Muslim rule which is why in Greece today even if no longer under the Ottomans, its grilled meat is usually lamb, beef, or chicken, while pork is rare but still found in Gyros or Souvlakis, though on the other hand Ottoman occupation introduced several tasty dishes to Greek cuisine like the famous Greek Moussaka and the stuff vine leaves known as Dolmades. Not only Greece has some culinary influences from the Ottomans and Byzantines but so do the Balkans, the Levant, and the Caucasus but in Greek cuisine itself, its cheese and pasty dishes are one of the many dishes that can be proven to date back to the Byzantine era and because of Greek cuisine’s Byzantine traditions and several foreign influences, it is one of my best cuisines.

Watch this to get to know the story of Liutprand of Cremona’s 2nd visit to Constantinople in 968 (from Voices of the Past).


Well, this about it for this special article I have always been planning to make and unlike a lot of others I have done before, this was actually not quite long. So basically I have always wanted to do an article on the food of the Romans and their successors, the Byzantines just for a bit of fun as most of the articles I have done recently were a bit too serious. Also I wanted to do this article to do a bit of a feature on food these people in the past had eaten to show that some of these ancient recipes still exist or have evolved into something else and at the same time to show all you viewers how differently they ate and made their food before compared to now which is in most ways the same except back then, the Romans and Byzantines hadn’t had so much as we do now including refrigeration, easier access to spices, better cooking technology, and ingredients and if these people were able to time travel, they would be shocked to see how much convenient it is to get food with modern refrigerators for preservation, ingredients like tomatoes, potatoes, and corn, supermarkets where you can buy all kinds of food products in one place, packed meat, a large variety of drinks, and actual fine dining restaurants and not just pubs or taverns. Of course today, a lot more has changed in dining habits especially the use of the fork which is now so commonly used in most countries and thanks to the Byzantines for making its use popular, though dining habits like eating on couches are not common anymore as well as those exotic delicacies the Romans had eaten. However, what still remains the same up to this day are many recipes which are still very similar to Roman and Byzantine food especially the recipes for salads, cheese, wines, breads, and stews, though what may be different about them today are different cooking methods to cook them and new ingredients added like tomatoes or potatoes or more spices. On the other hand, cuisines of areas change over time especially with the influences of trade with other countries and conquests by other empires which was very common in the long history of the Mediterranean, where the Roman and Byzantine worlds once were.  I also got to say that it is important to study the origins of cuisines especially those that are popular today like Italian, Greek, Spanish, and more which do have a lot of origins you can trace back to Roman or Byzantine cuisines but also to other foreign influences like Arabic or Middle Eastern and not only can you trace the origins of European cuisines to these ancient cultures and continental spice trades, a lot of Asian and African cuisines too have some common culinary origins with Roman or Byzantine food especially with Middle Eastern influences such as spices. For me, studying Roman and Byzantine cuisine is very interesting and especially Byzantine cuisine because out of all world cuisines my favorite happens to be Turkish and Greek as well which are quite similar in the way that they have a lot of Byzantine origins but also Ottoman origins as well since the Ottoman Empire came after Byzantium and absorbed a lot of its culture including cuisine making it even more exotic and elaborate influencing Greece’s cuisine today as well. So basically what makes Turkish and Greek cuisine very flavorful yet not actually so extravagant are its right amount and balance of spices and rather simple cooking techniques that have been tried and tested for centuries dating back to the Byzantines, Ancient Rome, and even Ancient Greece or if not even earlier and for me I usually go for cuisines that have used their cooking methods for centuries as they have already been proven to be real solid cuisines over the ages. Well aside from learning about the history of Roman and Byzantine food, it was even more interesting to learn what kind of interesting yet strange eating customs they had such as facing downwards on couches and eating with utensils like forks which seemed quite unnecessary before but such a common practice these days. Well, when when writing this article, I may have though been probably making things up especially with the images, basically because it is rare to find actual images of Byzantine food, but at least I did my best to look for food images that match the historical descriptions. Anyway, I hope this was an interesting read and see you next time for another article… thanks for viewing!

Published by The Byzantium Blogger

Powee Celdran, currently majors in Entrepreneurial Management, a Byzantine scholar and enthusiast, historical military sketch and bathroom mural artist, aspiring historical art restorer, Lego filmmaker creating Byzantine era films and videos, and a possible Renaissance man living in modern times but Byzantine at heart. Currently manages the Instagram account byzantine_time_traveller posting Byzantine history related content.

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