Exploring the Culinary Habits of Ancient Romans: A Journey Through History Tours

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Famous worldwide and throughout the centuries for their grandeur in territorial conquests, majestic architectural works, and cultural contributions through philosophers and politicians whose principles are still valid today, the ancient Romans left a solid and perpetual mark in all fields, including the culinary arts. Yes, the culinary habits of the ancient Romans have reached us, influencing our tastes and forming the foundation of what is now known as the Mediterranean diet.
Moreover, the dietary habits of ancient Romans offer fascinating insights into their daily lives, social structures, and cultural values. From the simple meals of the plebeians to the sumptuous banquets of the patricians, let’s explore the food culture of ancient Rome.

How Were Meals Structured During the Day?

First of all, let’s talk about the division of Roman meals throughout the day. The day began with ientaculum – breakfast – a frugal and modest meal typically consisting of bread dipped in wine or water, accompanied by cheese, olives, and dried fruit. The wealthier could also enjoy eggs, honey, and milk.
In the late morning, there was prandium – lunch – a meal usually including leftovers from the previous day, cold meats, bread, and fruit. This meal was also very quick, as it was meant not to interrupt or slow down the daily activities of the Romans.
The main meal of the day was cena, eaten not too late (usually at dusk). For the plebeians, it consisted of polenta or bean stew along with vegetables, a bit of meat, and fish. The patricians, on the other hand, enjoyed more elaborate dinners with multiple courses and a wider variety of meats, fish, and seafood.

Basic Ingredients of the Roman Diet

The Roman diet was largely based on local ingredients, mainly cereals, vegetables, legumes, and fruit. Common vegetables included cabbage, leeks, onions, and turnips. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and beans were staple foods and essential sources of daily protein.

Nobler foods like meat and fish were less common and more accessible to the wealthier classes. Among the most consumed meats were pork, lamb, and poultry. Fish and seafood were also popular, particularly in coastal areas.

Bread was the central ingredient in all meals, as the Romans had an abundance of wheat. However, there were different qualities of bread, from the finest, reserved for the rich, to the less refined, made from millet and barley. Fruits such as apples, pears, figs, and grapes were commonly eaten fresh or dried. Honey was the primary sweetener, as sugar was unknown to the Romans. Honey was used in desserts, as well as in sauces and glazes for meats.

The Art of Roman Cooking

Pioneers in many aspects, the Romans used a variety of spices and herbs in their cooking to enhance flavors. Common seasonings included garlic, cumin, coriander, mint, and dill. Fermented fish sauce, known as garum, was an omnipresent condiment, added to a wide range of dishes for its salty and savory flavor.
Cooking methods were also varied and complex. Boiling, frying, and baking were among the most common. Wealthier families even had specialized kitchens and employed skilled cooks to prepare elaborate dishes.

Typical Dishes

Among appetizers, main courses, and side dishes, the culinary choices available to ancient Romans were indeed vast. A tasty dish was libum, small cheese cakes made with soft cheese, eggs, and flour. The dough, once prepared, was placed on greased bay leaves and then baked.
, a cereal soup, was among the most popular dishes. It had a thick consistency and simple ingredients like wheat grains. These were boiled in water until they absorbed all the liquid, then seasoned with ingredients like oil, eggs, and cheese.
A very delicious main course was porcellum oenococtum – pork in wine sauce – prepared with oil, garum, wine, water, a handful of leeks, coriander, and additional wine added halfway through cooking.

Social and Cultural Significance of Banquets

As is still the case today, food in ancient Rome was more than just sustenance, playing a significant role in social and cultural life. Feasts and banquets for the patricians and politicians of the time were the most used means to display wealth and status. The more elaborate and richly set the tables and dishes were, the more highly regarded the individuals were in public life.

Roman Banquets, known as convivium, were meals that often lasted several hours. Guests reclined on couches, the triclinia, while being served multiple courses, accompanied by wine and entertainment such as music, poetry, or gladiatorial games.

Religious and Ritual Aspects

Food also had religious significance. Certain foods were offered to the gods during religious ceremonies, and many festivals included specific dishes as part of the celebrations. For example, during Saturnalia, a festival in honor of the god Saturn, it was customary to bake a special cake known as libum.


The culinary habits of the ancient Romans reflect a complex interplay of social classes, cultural values, and geographical diversity. From the simple meals of the peasants to the sumptuous banquets of the elite, Roman cuisine was varied and flavorful, influenced by the empire’s vast territories. By exploring their dietary practices, we can gain a deeper understanding of daily life in ancient Rome and the cultural significance of food in their society. Immerse yourself in the culinary traditions of ancient Rome and recreate some recipes for special occasions. Your guests will be delighted!