Think about, if you’ll, probably the most wonderful festive feast, with an oversize turkey, stuffing two methods, vacation ham, the requisite fixings and at the very least half a dozen pies and truffles. That will all sound grand — that’s, till you think about the extravagant shows of the traditional Roman banquet.
Members of the Roman higher lessons frequently indulged in lavish, hours-long feasts that served to broadcast their wealth and standing in ways in which eclipse our notions of a resplendent meal. “Consuming was the supreme act of civilisation and celebration of life,” stated Alberto Jori, professor of historic philosophy on the College of Ferrara in Italy.
‘The Roses of Heliogabalus’ by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1888) depicting Roman diners at a banquet Credit score: Energetic Museum/Alamy
What’s extra, hosts performed a sport of one-upmanship by serving over-the-top, unique dishes like parrot tongue stew and stuffed dormouse. “Dormouse was a delicacy that farmers fattened up for months inside pots after which bought at markets,” Jori stated, “whereas enormous portions of parrots have been killed to have sufficient tongues to make fricassee.”
Among the many uncommon recipes ready by Conte is salsum sine salso, invented by the famed Roman gourmand Marcus Gavius Apicius. It was an “consuming joke” made to amaze and idiot visitors. The fish can be introduced with head and tail, however the inside was full of cow liver. Intelligent sleight of hand, mixed with shock issue, counted for lots in these aggressive shows.
Gorging for hours on finish additionally referred to as for what we’d think about untoward social conduct with a view to accommodate such gluttonous indulgences.
“That they had weird culinary habits that do not sit properly with fashionable etiquette, corresponding to consuming whereas mendacity down and vomiting between programs,” Franchetti stated.
These practices helped preserve the great occasions rolling. “Given banquets have been a standing image and lasted for hours deep into the night time, vomiting was a standard observe wanted to make room within the abdomen for extra meals. The traditional Romans have been hedonists, pursuing life’s pleasures,” stated Jori, who can be an writer of a number of books on Rome’s culinary tradition.
It was, the truth is, customary to go away the desk to vomit in a room near the eating corridor. By utilizing a feather, revelers would tickle the again of their throats to stimulate the urge to regurgitate, Jori stated. Consistent with their excessive social standing, outlined by not having to have interaction in handbook labor, visitors would merely return to the banquet corridor whereas slaves cleaned up their mess.
An engraving of a banquet on the home of Lucius Licinius Lucullus from round 80 B.C. Credit score: Ullstein Bild/Getty Photos
Gaius Petronius Arbiter’s literary masterpiece “The Satyricon” captures this typical social dynamic of Roman society in mid first century AD with the character of rich Trimalchio, who tells a slave to convey him a “piss pot” so he can urinate. In different phrases, when nature referred to as, revelers did not essentially go to the lavatory; typically the WC got here to them, powered once more by slave labor.
The comforts and privilege of rich males
Bloating was decreased by consuming mendacity down on a snug, cushioned chaise longue. The horizontal place was believed to help digestion — and it was the utmost expression of an elite standing.
“The Romans truly ate mendacity on their bellies so the physique weight was evenly unfold out and helped them loosen up. The left handheld up their head whereas the appropriate one picked up the morsels positioned on the desk, bringing them to the mouth. So that they ate with their arms and the meals needed to be already minimize by slaves,” Jori stated.
2nd century A.D. mosaic depicting an unswept flooring after a banquet Credit score: De Agostini/Getty Photos
Mendacity down additionally allowed feast goers to sometimes nod off and revel in a fast nap between programs, giving their abdomen a break.
The act of reclining whereas eating, nevertheless, was a privilege reserved for males solely. A girl both ate at one other desk or knelt or sat down beside her husband whereas he loved his meal.
“Males’s horizontal consuming place was an emblem of dominance over girls. Roman girls established the appropriate to eat with their husbands at a a lot later stage within the historical past of historic Rome; it was their first social conquest and victory towards sexual discrimination,” Jori defined.
The emperor Nero collaborating in a bacchanalia Credit score: Common Historical past Archive/Common Photos Group/Getty Photos
Superstitions on the desk
The Romans have been additionally very superstitious. Something that fell from the desk belonged to the afterworld and was to not be retrieved for worry that the lifeless would come search vengeance, whereas spilling salt was a nasty omen, Franchetti stated. Bread needed to be solely touched with the arms and eggshells and mollusks needed to be cracked. Had been a rooster to sing at an uncommon hour, servants have been despatched to fetch one, kill it and serve it pronto.
Feasting was a method to preserve demise at bay, in accordance with Franchetti. Banquets ended with a binge-drinking ritual throughout which diners mentioned demise to remind themselves to completely dwell and revel in life — in brief, carpe diem.
Consistent with this world view, desk objects, corresponding to salt and pepper holders, have been formed as skulls. Based on Jori, it was customary to ask beloved lifeless ones to the meal and serve them platefuls of meals. Sculptures representing the lifeless sat on the desk with the dwelling.
A mosaic of a skeleton from the Home of Vestals in Pompeii holding jugs of wine Credit score: Werner Forman Archive/Shutterstock
Wine wasn’t all the time drunk straight however spiked with different elements. Water was used to dilute the alcohol efficiency and permit revelers to drink extra, whereas seawater was added in order that the salt preserved wine barrels coming from faraway corners of the empire.
“Even tar was a standard substance combined with the wine, which over time blended with the alcohol. The Romans might hardly style the nasty flavour,” Jori stated.
Maybe within the final image of extra, the epicure Apicius allegedly dedicated suicide as a result of he had gone broke after throwing too many lavish banquets. He left behind, nevertheless, a gastronomic legacy, together with his well-known Apicius pie made with a mixture of fish and meat corresponding to hen interiors and pig’s breasts. A dish which may battle to entice at fashionable feasting tables at the moment.