The Roman Meal
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During the early Roman Empire through
the second century B. C. the Roman meal was very simple. Meals were prepared by the mother
or female slave. The family sat on stools around a table. Children often waited on their
parents. Food was prepared in small bite sized pieces that could be picked up with fingers
or scooped up with a spoon. Around the second century the dining stools were replaced with
Wealthy Romans bought food from the open
air markets. Every week farmers and fishermen went to the towns to sell fruit, vegetables,
fish, and meat. The Romans ate their first meal at dawn. This meal was small and
usually consisted of bread, salad, olives, cheese, fruit, nuts, and cold meat left over
from dinner the night before. At noon the Romans ate a small quick meal. After
lunch everyone took a 2 to 3 hour nap. Even children were excused from school for this
time. The evening meal was served at sunset and usually consisted of a large meal with the
entire family. A typical meal consisted of soup with legumes, milk, cheese, fresh
and dried fruit, and lard. Later meat and bread was added to this meal.
||In the wealthy homes slaves spent a large part of
the day preparing food for their masters. Dinner parties were given by the men of wealthy
families. The women and children dined separately. The meal was served in the dining room
which was the finest room in the house. This room could have marble, mosaic, frescoes,
fountains, fish tanks, tables with silver and flower inlays. Everyone reclined on couches
that were arranged in a U shape around a low table. Musicians entertained the guests
during the meal. These parties started with salads, eggs, and shellfish. Then guests were
given wine which had been sweetened with honey.
The meal could be up to seven dishes.
Slaves served the guests and wiped the fingers of the guests between courses. Cheese made
from goat and sheep milk could be served. The main course might include boiled and roasted
meat. Favorite meats included mutton (sheep meat), goat meat, pork, ham and bacon,
chicken, goose and duck, and fish, especially tuna. The meat was sliced by the slaves, so
it could be eaten with the fingers. Foods were seasoned with herbs like dill, thyme,
basil, and mint. The final course may consist of fruit, dates, and cakes sweetened with
honey. Yogurt could be mixed with the fruit. Walnuts, chestnuts, and acorns were also
mixed with the foods.
Poor families may eat a meal of foods they could
grow. They grew beans, vegetables, and fruits. Common fruits were apples, pears, and figs.
Common vegetables included onions, cucumbers, carrots, garlic, and cabbage. Poor Romans
often ate a dinner of porridge made from vegetables. When the family could afford it fish,
bread, olives. and wine were added to the meal. Bread was often dipped into olive oil.
Meat was seldom eaten.
The Romans had a program called annona to help the
poor buy food. Citizens were given tokens called tesserae that could be exchanged for
bread and other food items. Poor children attending school were given food through a
program known as the alimenta which was developed in the early second century A. D.
The Romans preserved their foods by smoking,
dehydrating, spreading honey on fresh fruits, or by salting.
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