The following summary of  an article entitled "Roman Cuisine" by Edwin Robinson in Jean-Paul Descoeudres' Pompeii Revisted (Meditarch) was summarized by Stephanie Owen and Amie Roberts,  students enrolled in Prof. Tom Sienkewicz' Ancient Societies class at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, in 1997. If you have any questions or comments, you may contact him at

Roman Cuisine

Some of the ingredients that Romans used in their cooking might appall you. Ingredients used were such things as peacock brains, pike livers,cock crests, lark tongues, bear, and lion. These were very unique meals. We know alot about Roman cooking and dining. Romans depicted their dining and cooking in cookbooks and art.

The dining room of the Romans was called the triclinium. Formal eating for Romans was reclining on their left elbows. An interesting aspect of Roman dining was that they ate sitting on a couch around a table called the mensa. The seating arrangements are as follows: guests-lectus summus and lectues medias (upper and middle couches), host, wife, and another member of the family reclined on the lectus imus which was the lower couch. The host occupied position number 7 while the guest occupied position number 8. The dinner party was a close affair. The houses of the Romans usually consisted of several dining rooms to fit the seasons.

The order Romans ate was breakfast(ientaculum) after sunrise. Breakfast consisted of cold meats, eggs, veggies, and bread. Supper (cena) was around 4 o'clock and lasted into evening. Slaves did most of the cooking for the household. Slaves played an important role of inviting the hosts and devising the seating plan and if things did not go as planned the slave was the scapegoat.

Before placing the food on the mensa it was cut up into small pieces. Romans ate with their right hand. Forks had not appeared, but knives and spoons were used. Waiters were mainly male. Jobs they were supposed to do were "washing the diners' hands and feet, pouring cold water, bringing hot towels, and tying garlands around the heads of guests. They were also responsible for cleaning away food spat out or thrown." Spitting or throwing food was a Roman tradition. The cena was divided into three parts. The first is the Gustatio, which were light dishes like eggs and lettuce. The second phase was the Fercula, which was characterized by courses being brought one after another consisting of foods like roast animals, fish, shellfish, and poultry. The third part was the Mensae secundae (dessert). Dessert consisted of fruit, nuts, cheese, and cakes. After dinner drinking was encouraged by serving salty foods. Entertainment included guests singing or reciting, dancers, lyre-players, clowns, gambling, and etc.

Romans cooking was spicy and sweet. Herbs and spices were common in Roman cooking. the most common ingredient was imported pepper. Meats that were popular were game-birds, fish, shellfish, lamb, kid, and wild boar. The most important was fish sauce and fish pickle (garum). " The gills, blood, and intestines of a mackerel were placed in a jar with salt, vinegar, and herbs. the mixture was stirred and pounded into paste or sauce, which was left in the sun to ferment."

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