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Dimitri van Limbergen

Grape cultivation reached Greece towards the end of the 3rd millennium bce, and Italy around the beginning of the 1st millennium bce. From the 8th century bce onward, systematic viticulture expanded, and wine became deeply embedded in Greco-Roman society at all levels. It was the beverage of choice for both the wealthy and the poor, a major intoxicant in the ancient world, and an essential source of energy in the daily diet. Wine was widely used in religion, feasts, and medicine, and was considered a key marker of civilized culture. Combined with the vine’s high productive potential and its low agronomic needs, all this made wine a primary feature of the agrarian economy and an important product of (inter)national trade. Literature, iconography, and archaeology sketch a picture of significant Greek and Roman realizations in vine-growing techniques and winemaking technology, thus testifying to a level of scientific expertise unmatched until the 19th century. The consumption of wine was stratified and diversified, with the market divided between premium vintages for the rich, ordinary wines for the masses, and winery drinks for the lower classes.


Erica Rowan

The ancient Graeco-Roman diet was based on cereals (Gk. sitos, Lat. frumentum) but supplemented and flavoured by a wide variety of legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, meats, other animal products, fish, and other seafood. The Greeks used the generic term opson for food eaten with bread or other cereal products. Olive oil and wine were important sources of fats and calories for those living within the Mediterranean climatic zone. In the more northern regions of the Roman Empire and in Egypt, beer was the more common beverage. Most of the meat consumed in the ancient world came from the major domesticates. Garum or fish sauce was eaten in the Greek world but became ubiquitous during the Roman period and was shipped all over the empire. A huge array of fish and shellfish were eaten, fresh where possible but also salted, at both coastal and inland sites. Food in the Greek and Roman world served a multitude of purposes in addition to basic sustenance and human survival. Particular items such as figs, olives, barley, and emmer wheat were strongly connected to notions of Greek and Roman identity. Wealth, status, education, and cultural belonging were displayed through food, and foodstuffs appear frequently in all forms of Greek and Roman literature. Food was also a popular subject in art, and numerous mosaics depict raw ingredients and agricultural scenes. The field of ancient food studies originally explored diet through the ancient textual sources and often focused on the grain supply to Rome. Since the 1980s, however, it has evolved to incorporate all manner of archaeological and environmental evidence to explore a wider array of topics that includes animal sacrifice, non-elite diet, regional and chronological dietary variation, gender, economics, and identity.


Richard J. A. Talbert

Theophanes, an early 4th centuryce lawyer (scholasticus) at Hermopolis Magna in Egypt, is known to us from an “archive” of Greek papyri (Fig. 1). It was unearthed at an unknown location, purchased around 1896, and has been housed in the Rylands Library, Manchester, UK, since 1901. Along with letters and other documents, this “archive” preserves accounts (about 1,500 lines in all) compiled in the early 320s during a return journey that Theophanes made with an entourage from Hermopolis to Syrian Antioch; he stayed there for two and a half months, and was away for five months in all. Publication of these accounts was delayed until 1952, when they were presented by Colin Roberts with minimal commentary and no translation (PRyl. 616–651).1. Thereafter they attracted little attention until 2006,2. when John Matthews realized their remarkable potential. His English translation and analysis demonstrate the scope for reconstructing Theophanes’s progress by riverboat and highway in remarkable detail, including the meals consumed by him and his social peers on the one hand, and their servants on the other. The daily log of purchases offers insight not only into diet (typically “Mediterranean” in character) and drinkinghabits, but also into the identification of vegetables, fruits, and many other items, their availability in markets, and the prices charged there. From this data an attempt can be made to calculate the total daily caloric value of the food purchases. The prices in turn invite efforts to estimate the level of inflation since the promulgation of Diocletian’s Edict on Maximum Prices twenty years earlier.



Annalisa Marzano

Fishing was an economically important activity in the classical world. Some communities owed their prosperity to the exploitation of bountiful fisheries and the trade in salted fish and fish sauces or the manufacture of products such as purple dye made from sea molluscs. Salted or pickled fish products supplemented a subsistence diet, while specific types of fresh fish were costly and sought after as status enhancers. Marine fishing rights were not the object of monopolies since in ancient Greece and Rome the sea was seen as something held in common. In practice, ownership of coastal fishing installations and control of specialist knowledge related to fishing were ways in which one could exercise control over fishing rights. In contrast, inland bodies of water could be held as private property and exclusive fishing rights to them could be claimed. Fishermen specialized in specific fishing techniques and formed professional associations. In the Roman imperial era, fishing activity and the trade in fish products increased.