About the eating habits of the Romans some
picturesque and, therefor, very obstinate prejudices have been formed
throughout the ages. We owe these primarily to the perspective of the
satirists and philosophers who have written about them. Everyone knows
the image of those decadent debauches, a bunch of men and mainads, sprawling
on soft pillows, feasting on peacock's brains, flamingo tongues and
honey-glazed dormice. Luxuriantly crowned with ivy and flowers and heavily
perfumed they abandon themselves to an orgy, often oblivious as to the
difference between bed-room and dining-room. Cups overflow and so do
the diners: if drunkenness doesn't cause them to vomit, there will be
a slave to tickle their throat, in order to enable them to stuff themselves
These were in fact exceptions, if they existed at all. The majority
of romans were a frugal people, and those who attracted the indignation
of philosophers and satirists, which originated the cliché about
Roman decadence, might just as well have been worthy pioneers of gasronomy.
All that is known about breakfast and luncheon of the Romans, is that
they were very simple. The most important meal was enjoyed at the end
of the day. It was accompanied by wine, diluted with water. In spite
of meagre and often contradictory eveidence, we may safely conclude
that women and children were not present at the meals of the rich patron.
He invited ‘friends’ both of higher and lower status, to
establish his own place in the social hiërarchy.
Poor people bought their food in the streets, that is, if they ate a
warm meal at all.