Latin Language Blog

You Are What You Eat Posted by on Jan 8, 2014 in Latin Language, Roman culture

Hello Readers,

Welcome to 2014!

As of the New Year, I am sure many of us have chosen to “lose weight” or “eat healthier” as a resolution. As there are many diets and trends to follow in order to lose weight; one of the most respectable ways is to eat healthy and exercise at 30 minutes a day. However, this was not the case for the Ancient Romans.

Popular Food

  1. Fruits- Figs
  2. Nuts
  3. Oil
  4. Wine (Watered Down; of course)
  5. Vegetables
  6. Breads
  7. Eggs
  8. Fish and Shellfish
  9. Garum
  10. Poultry

So far, food doesn’t seem that different from our traditional food. However, the tradition of watering down wine is a Greek custom in which “civilized” people would water down wine in order not to dull the senses. Garum is also a unique food condiment. Garum equivalent to the use that many have for ketchup was a type of fish sauce.  You can make your own recipe here.

Delicacies in Ancient Rome

  1. Snails
  2. Dormice
  3. Giraffe

The Giraffe is the latest find (Jan 5th, 2014 to be exact) by archaeologists. It was discovered in the drains of an ancient restaurant.

“This is thought to be the only giraffe bone ever recorded from an archaeological excavation in Roman Italy,” researcher Steven Ellis, of the University of Cincinnati, says. Read More on it here.

The rich and famous of Ancient Rome sure ate some interesting things. Would you be willing to eat certain exotic foods in order to lose weight or uphold status? More interesting recipes can be found in Apicius’ Cookbook. You can view the cookbook here.


Category Latin Principal Parts English Meaning English Derivative
Dining prandium prandii n. lunch
ientaculum ientaculi n. breakfast
cena cenae f. dinner
vesperna small supper
prima mensa main course
Sanitas! Bona! Bene tibi Sit! Health, Good things, May it be well for you (sg.) AKA:Cheers!
Edamus Let’s Eat!
Laetitia omnibus Happiness to all!
secunda mensa dessert
Manners si tibi placeat please
gratias tibi thank you
nihil est not at all, ’tis nothing
ignosce mihi excuse me
Food panis panis m. bread
potio potionis f. beverage
triticum wheat
cibi food
sucus suci m. juice
aqua aquae f. water
lac lactis n. milk
puls porridge
vinum vini n. wine
sal salis m. salt
mel honey
caro caronis m. meat
bubula bubulae f. beef
porcina porcinae f. pork
pisces piscis m. fish
pullus pulli m. chicken
holus holeris n. vegetable
fructus fructüs m. fruit
solanum tubersum solani n. potato
uvae grapes
olivae olives
fabae beans
fungi mushrooms


Where would people sit?

Reproduction of a triclinium.

Reproduction of a triclinium.

As I am sure many of the enthusiasts of this blog have seen ancient movies or ancient TV series. Do you recall Roman families dining at a table? Were they sitting upright? Reclining? Laying Down being fed grapes?  Most dining would occur in a room known as the triclinium. The Getty provides an insightful article on the details of where guests and hosts sat during dining parties in the triclinium.

What was it like?

As language lovers, we are constantly trying to understand the culture of the language which we pursue proficiency. However, with Latin as well as Ancient Greek, it is difficult to grasps a culture that is essential dead or no longer available outside history books or classroom settings. Albeit, primary sources aid in our ability to see a glimpse into history and indirectly into the habits of the ancients.

Paratae erant lactucae singulae, cochleae ternae, ova bina, halica cum mulso et nivenam hanc quoque computabis, immo hanc in primis quae perit in ferculo -, olivae betacei cucurbitae bulbi, alia mille non minus lauta. Audisses comoedos vel lectorem vel lyristen velquae mea liberalitasomnes. (Pliny the Younger; Letters 1.15.2)

I had provided for each guest one lettuce, three snails, two eggs, spelt mixed with honey and snow (you will please reckon up the cost of the latter as among the costly of all, since it melts away in the dish), olives from Baetica, cucumbers, onions, and a thousand other equally expensive dainties. You would have listened to a comedian, or a reciter, or a harp-player, or perhaps to all, as I am such a lavish host.

After each course fingers were washed again and napkins (mappae) were used to wipe one’s mouth. Guests could also bring their own mappae to take home the leftovers from the meal or small gifts (apophoreta). Since not everything could  be eaten (e.g. bones and shells), these were thrown onto the floor, whence it was swept away by a slave.

However, slaves were not always so capable of sweeping the floors (often mosaics) of triclinium. There is some proof that Roman households actually designed mosaics that were dirty and messy on purpose in order to hide any food thrown on the floor. The Getty has a conservation project in order to restore some of these mosaics; which can be found here.

The video is a fun little note to leave off on about a Roman emperors and dining with them. I do hope you enjoy! It has been fun writing on such a topic and I do hope it was resourceful.



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About the Author: Brittany Britanniae

Hello There! Please feel free to ask me anything about Latin Grammar, Syntax, or the Ancient World.