Introduction: Romans normally relied on the traditional food variety of Mediterranean region called ‘Mediterranean Triad’. It comprised of Olive oil, barley and wine. Olive oil provided fat and barley much needed proteins. However, the food consumed by wealthy Romans was much more diverse and nutritious. They could afford beef, pork, chicken and fish as well. The poor however, had limited options in addition to the Mediterranean triad. They could add lentils, vegetables, fruits like fig and apple and eggs to their usual diet.
Romans started their day with breakfast early in the morning. The breakfast included bread, eggs, cheese, milk or wine and perhaps some dried fruits like figs. The lunch was a simple and a quick meal consumed close to noon. Romans usually had meat, fish, salad, eggs, fruits and wine in lunch. The most sumptuous meal of the day was the dinner, called ‘cena’ by the Romans. Well to do Romans ate a variety of food in dinner. They had meat, pork, fish, vegetables and lots of wine. In fact Romans had a hearty wine course at the end of the meal. This wine course was called ‘comissatio’.
Food of Rich Romans: Rich Romans spent quite a sum on their food. They had an eye for a good cook and paid a handsome amount to buy a good slave cook. Wealthy Romans diversified their diet by including different food items to their diet. They could easily afford beef, pork, chicken, mutton and fish and also snails. They often arranged banquet meals and invited guests for dinner. These dinner parties were expensive affairs with lots of exquisite food and high quality wine. Rich people used many exotic spices like cinnamon, pepper, clove and nutmeg which were imported all the way from India.
Food of Poor Romans: A vast majority of Roman population was poor and could not afford the exotic and diversified food enjoyed by the wealthy citizens. Poor people relied mainly on the three components of Mediterranean triad (barley, olive oil and wine) and supplemented it with vegetables which were abundantly available and fruits. Some people who owned dairy cattle and chicken also added eggs, milk and cheese to their diet. Poor Romans ate a vegetable stew called ‘pottage’ with cheap salted bread.
Beverages: Romans considered wine a daily necessity and not an extravagance. Wine was available to people of all sections of Roman society, even slaves. Men and women both consumed wine. However, Romans did not approve of excessive alcohol consumption by women. High demand and consumption of wine led to its production all over the empire. Grapevines were grown all over the Italian peninsula and were used for wine production. Romans consumed wine throughout the day in all their meals.
Different Eating Choices: While Romans used wine and olive oil as a part of their diet, people in other regions of the empire had different eating preferences. For instance, people in Germany and Northern Europe drank beer instead of wine and used butter in place of olive oil. They also consumed much more meat than Romans which could be one of the reasons they were stronger and bigger physically than Romans.
This difference of choice was due to non-availability of olives and grapevines in colder Germany and Northern European territories. Similarly people in Egypt and west Asia did not eat pork as they thought pigs were dirty animals not worthy of eating. They also ate dates and figs a lot.