November 23, 2011

The Roman diet

Filed under: Egypt, Online publications, Rome — acagle @ 12:33 pm

Been reading Kristina Killgrove’s dissertation (available here) on a couple of Roman cemeteries, that mostly concentrated on, as the title suggests, migration and mobility, but also has a significant section on health (via skeletal pathology) and diet. I noticed this passage in particular:

Finally, the patterns of fish consumption by the ancient Romans are
quite unclear, as this category of animal was alternately seen as a threat (to seafaring) and as a
common food, sometimes expensive and sometimes easy to procure, a luxury item in the form
of garum (fish sauce) and a food of the common fisherman, all depending on the time period
in history, social status, occupation, and a variety of other contextual factors (Purcell, 1995).
Analysis of bioarchaeological remains at Portus provide information on the Romans’ complex
relationship with fish (Prowse, 2001; Prowse et al., 2004, 2005), but it is unclear to what extent
people living inland at Rome relied on fish in their diets. P.173

Which is interesting. IIRC, fish were generally seen in Egypt as more of a food of the non-elite classes, although tomb paintings often show fishing scenes, though whether these were intended to provide fish for the deceased as food, I don’t know. FIsh mummies are known but I’m not certain how common they are. I believe Herodotus had fish as proscribed for the priesthood, much like pork (which was also eaten by the lower classes). But I found the above interesting because of the apparent changes over time and perhaps space(?) that played a role in addition to social factors.

1 Comment

  1. Wow, another person has read my dissertation! :) I’m working on getting the diet article out to a journal right now (quite literally right now – yay, Thanksgiving break!). It’s pretty neat that the Romans were all eating slightly different stuff, but it’s hard to interpret those differences when food like fish went in and out of fashion. Rome is challenging!

    Comment by Kristina Killgrove — November 23, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

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