Food Travel > Giraffes and dormice: what Ancient Romans ate Date posted: January 7, 2014

Giraffes and dormice:
what Ancient Romans ate

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate?

It has been revealed very recently that the Ancient Roman’s diet in Pompeii was much more diverse than initially thought. On the menu, sea urchins, dormice and giraffe legs…

Pompeii was a lively Roman city that was buried in ashes after the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Archeologists have studied the location for decades in search for as much information as possible about Ancient Roman history and lifestyle (take a look at these amazing Roman erotic artworks for example). Today, new findings seem to bring to light a totally opposite theory to the one commonly known, which was that only Roman elite would eat extravagant foods while poor Romans ate seeds and not much more to feed themselves.

It seems in fact that urbanites of Pompeii, even the less wealthy ones, developed their taste on much more refined foods than we thought before.

How did we find out?

The latrines and cesspits behind the food sellers in Pompeii – in the shop-area located near the Porta Stabia, the gates of the city – revealed burnt food waste from the kitchens, as well as human waste, that dated as far back as the fourth century B.C. Here is a list of ingredients normally cooked and eaten by Ancient Romans. Part of our knowledge on what the diet was like back then also draws from Ancient Roman literature which often described in detail the meals.

Turns out then that along with grains (which were already known to be part of the diet) Ancient Romans in Pompeii ate a fairly varied Mediterranean diet. Among the ingredients, lentils, olives (pickled) and cheese, accompanied by bread.

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? Olives

Nuts and fruits were also available on the table.

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? The nuts

Dormice

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? The dormice

Funnily enough for us, dormice was a common dish (more than one source list recipes with this ingredient), stuffed with minced pork or more grounded dormice seasoned with spices.

Spices

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? Spices

Spices in fact were also part of the diet, which indicates commerce with the Eastern world, such as Indonesia.

Exotic meat

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? The giraffe

A giraffe’s leg, butchered, was found in the kitchen of a restaurant, which shows how exotic the menu was, in this case for sure a delicacy for well-do people.

Honey

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? The honey

Honey was served sometimes with meat, but also used as a dessert or as sugar.

Different kinds of meat

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? Wild Boar

Salted meat but also wild boar, beef, sausages, pork, lamb, duck, goose, chicken were eaten as daily diet (pork was more commonly used than the other kinds).

Fish

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? Sea Urchin

Fish, shellfish, sea urchins – who would have guessed? – were also part of the diet.

Also snails ad eggs were commonly on the menu.

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? Snails

Wine

Food history trends: what ancient Romans ate? Wine

Wine was also drunk at meals but in a different way to the wine we know: it was flavored with honey raisins and much more, and heated. There was also another drink, for lower classes, made from watering down acetum, low quality wine similar to vinegar.

Interested in diets from history? Also read: What did Victorians eat?

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