What Did Ancient Romans Eat?

  • Ancient Roman feast
Ancient Roman feast
Credit: Stefano Bianchetti/ Corbis Historical via Getty Images

The mere mention of ancient Rome conjures up a multitude of powerful images: the assassination of Julius Caesar, legionaries marching in perfect unison, the alliance of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, gladiators fighting in the Colosseum. It was a time of power and conquest, of low scheming and high culture. It was also a time of feasting — something the Romans were known for, especially during Bacchanalia festivals, in which food and wine would flow with fervor. But what exactly did the Romans eat? Here are some of the most common foodstuffs that fed the hungry denizens of the Roman Empire. 

Credit: Gilnature/ iStock

Bread and Porridge

Cereal grains, particularly wheat and oatmeal, were part of almost every meal in ancient Rome. These grains were typically used to make bread, biscuits, or porridge, and were eaten by the common folk, the upper crust, and soldiers in the Roman army. Roman porridge recipes survive to this day, including one in Cato the Elder’s De Agri Cultura, a treatise on agriculture written around 160 BCE, which happens to be the oldest remaining complete work of prose in Latin. The simple recipe, which isn’t dissimilar to modern counterparts, suggests soaking wheat in boiling water before adding milk to create a thick gruel — a staple dish that anyone in Rome could have prepared. 

You may also like