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Foods and Culinary Utensils of the Ancients

On the furniture and ornaments alone


Many

moderns are inclined to doubt the assertions made concerning the countless riches and marvellous expenditures of those days. They read with skepticism the writings of Juvenal, Seneca and the elder Pliny. But, though in some cases exaggeration was doubtless resorted to, sufficient proof remains to convince the observing mind that the wealth of the Roman far surpassed the wildest dreams of the richest man of the present day. The ruins of the Colosseum and of the baths of Caracalla, two structures raised solely for pleasure, impress us with their stupendous magnificence, and even the twentieth century has failed to equal the palaces of the nobles.

Moreover, it must be remembered that the wealthy Roman owned many mansions. Each of the larger ones was a miniature city, sheltering a small army of slaves. The buildings were surrounded by parks, vineyards, woods and artificial lakes. The atria and peristyles were embellished with valuable paintings and statues. The walls and ceilings of the chambers were decorated with gold and precious stones. Nowhere else, recorded in the history of the world, with the possible exception of the palaces of the Incas, has gold ever been so lavishly used. On the furniture and ornaments alone, millions were expended. A single cup of murra brought 1,000,000 sesterces ($40,000). A small citrus wood table cost a similar sum--yet Seneca owned 500 of them, an outlay on that class of furniture alone of $20,000,000.

justify;">All Italy was covered with the country residences of the patricians. They were found in numbers on the coast of Campania, the Sabine hills and the lakes of the North.

The most esteemed members of the household staff were the coqui (cooks) and the pistores (fancy bakers). They often amassed large fortunes from their salaries and the many presents they received. All the other servants (who were usually slaves) were under the jurisdiction of a headman, an _atriensis_.

The first meal (_ientaculum_) was light, consisting ordinarily of bread and wine with honey, dates, olives or cheese. At the prandium (their _dejeuner a la fourchette_, which took the place of their noon dinner of former days), meats, vegetables, fruits, bread and wine were provided. After the second meal, the meridiato (or in modern language, the siesta) was enjoyed, as it is in the Italy of this century--although, unlike the sleepy town we know, business Rome then never slept.

After the short midday rest came games and exercises. The youth betook themselves to Campus Martius. The older members of the family made use of the sphaeristerium, a private gymnasium and ball room, which was found in every house. With it were connected the private baths.

The cena, the principal meal, commenced at 3, 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Seldom less than four hours were spent at table. Pliny, the elder, who was considered a very abstemious man, sat down to his meal at 4 o'clock, and remained there "until it began to grow dark in summer and soon after night in winter," at least three hours. The amount of food consumed would be incredible were it not for the explanation recorded by Seneca, "Edunt ut vomant; vomant ut edunt."

The dinner menu given below was of a very ordinary affair:

_Gustus._

Sorrel Lettuce Pickled Cabbage and Gherkins Radishes, Mushrooms, etc. Oysters Sardines Eggs


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