BANQUETING IN ANCIENT ROME

BANQUETING IN ANCIENT ROME

20120227-Herculaneum_Fresco_001 banquet.jpg
Herculaneum fresco of a banquet
Katharine Raff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The festive consumption of food and drink was an important social ritual in the Roman world. Known in general terms as the convivium (Latin: "living together"), or banquet, the Romans also distinguished between specific types of gatherings, such as the epulum (public feast), the cena (dinner, normally eaten in the mid-afternoon), and the comissatio (drinking party). Public banquets, such as the civic feasts offered for all of the inhabitants of a city, often accommodated large numbers of diners. In contrast, the dinner parties that took place in residences were more private affairs in which the host entertained a small group of family friends, business associates, and clients. “Roman literary sources describe elite private banquets as a kind of feast for the senses, during which the host strove to impress his guests with extravagant fare, luxurious tableware, and diverse forms of entertainment, all of which were enjoyed in a lavishly adorned setting. Archaeological evidence of Roman housing has shed important light on the contexts in which private banquets occurred and the types of objects employed during such gatherings. [Source: Katharine Raff, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011, metmuseum.org]

Paintings from Pompeii show banqueting scenes. From the attention that banquets and dinner-parties get in written texts is presumed they were importants parts of Roman life. Dr Joanne Berry wrote for the BBC: “ Guests reclined on couches padded with cushions and draperies and were served food and drinks by slaves (usually depicted as smaller in scale, to suggest their status, in paintings). [Source: Dr Joanne Berry, Pompeii Images, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]|

“Examples of wooden couches have been found in several of the excavated houses of Pompeii, and there are also many masonry couches in the gardens, for use when dining outside. Dinner-parties could be an opportunity for the rich elite to display their wealth, for example by providing entertainment in the form of dancers, acrobats and singers or by using an expensive dinner service.” In one Pompeii wall-painting, “a slave holds out a drinking cup to one of the diners. Occasional silver services, such as the famous vessels discovered in the House of Menander, have been excavated at Pompeii, but in general most vessels that might have been used for dining were made from bronze and glass.”

The historian William Stearns Davis wrote:“The Romans laid a vast stress upon the joys of eating. Probably never before or since has greater effort been expended upon gratifying the palate. The art of cooking was placed almost on a level with that of sculpture or of music. It is worth noticing that the ancient epicures were, however, handicapped by the absence of most forms of modern ices, and of sugar. The menu here presented was for a feast given by Mucius Lentulus Niger, when, in 63 B.C., he became a pontifex. There were present the other pontifices including Julius Caesar, the Vestal Virgins, and some other priests, also ladies related to them. While this banquet took place under the Republic, it was probably surpassed by many in Imperial times.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Elaborate Banquet in Ancient Rome


Banquet in Nero's palace

Roman banquets sometimes lasted for ten hours. They were held in dining rooms decorated with frescos of Helen of Troy and Castor and Pollox. Slaves cooked the meal and beautiful women served the dishes. Prostitutes, jugglers, musicians, acrobats, actors and fire-eaters entertained guests between courses. Masseuses washed their feet with perfumed water.

Banquets were regarded as demonstrations of wealth and position. Spending the equivalent of thousands of dollars was not uncommon. Feasting was so popular that satires were written about it and laws were passed outlawing the consumption of particularly rare delicacies and hosting especially large banquets. Police had stake-outs set up in the markets to prevent extravagant purchases. Menus had to be approved by local officials. In some places dining rooms were required to have windows so inspectors could check the proceedings

Describing a lavish feast, Petronius wrote in Satyricon: “Spread around a circular tray were the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and over each sign the chef had put the most suitable food, Thus, over the sign of Aries were chickpeas, over Taurus a slice of beef, a pair of testicles and kidneys over Gemini, a wreath of flowers over Cancer, over Leo an African fig, virgin sowbelly on Virgo, over Libra a pair of scales with tartlet in one pan and cheesecake in the other, over Scorpio a crawfish, a lobster on Capricorn, on Aquarius a goose, and two mullets over Pisces. The centerpiece was a clod of turf with grass still green surmounted by a fat honeycomb. With some reluctance we began attacking this wretched fare." Petronius slit his own throat and bled to death while eating a feast with friends.

Pliny described the gourmet Marcus Gabius Apicus as "the greatest spendthrift of all." He said he squandered most of his large fortune on feasts and then, anticipating a need to economize, committed suicide with poison. In A.D. 20 Apicus hosted a legendary banquet that cost between 60 million and 100 million sesterces ($15 million). There is no record of what was eaten but he was left with only 10 million sesterces afterwards. It was after this feast that he committed suicide. According to a 16th century manuscript: "Six hundred thousand spent, and but/ Ten thousand left to feed his gutt." Fearing for want of food and dye," Despairing, he did poyson buy:/ Never was known such gluttonye."

Elagabulus and the Banquets of Rome’s Filthy Rich

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “Little need be said of the banquets of the vulgar nobles in the last century of the Republic and of the rich parvenus who thronged the courts of the earlier emperors. They were arranged on the same plan as the dinners we have described, differing from them only in the ostentatious display of furniture, plate, and food. So far as particulars have reached us they were, judged by the canons of today, grotesque and revolting rather than magnificent. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|]

“Couches made of silver, wine instead of water for the hands, twenty-two courses to a single cena, seven thousand birds served at another, a dish of livers of fish, tongues of flamingoes, brains of peacocks and pheasants mixed up together, strike us as vulgarity run mad. The sums spent upon these feasts do not seem so fabulous now as they did then. Every season in our great capitals sees social functions that surpass the feasts of Lucullus in cost as far as they do in taste and refinement. As signs of the times, however, as indications of changed ideals, of degeneracy and decay, they deserved the notice that the Roman historians and satirists gave them.

The teenage emperor Elagabulus hosted a famous feast which featured camels’ feet, honeyed dormice, the brains of 600 ostriches, conger eels fattened on Christian slaves, and caviar from fish caught by the emperor's private fishing fleet. Guests were also given a dish with a sauce made by a chef who had to eat nothing but that sauce if the emperor didn't like it.


Roses of Heliogabalus (Elagabulus)


Elagabulus reportedly came to the banquet on a chariot pulled by naked women and is said to have liked to mix gold and pearls with peas and rice. He ate and drank from bejeweled gold plates and goblets. Guests at his banquets were given free slaves and homes and live versions of the animals they had just eaten. His idea of a practical joke was to play a game and give the winner a prize of dead flies, or to drug guests’ wine and have them wake in a room filled with lions and leopards. These excesses exhausted Rome's treasury and Elagabulus soon met his end, assassinated in a latrine.

Food and Wine at an Elaborate Roman Banquet

Katharine Raff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “A proper Roman dinner included three courses: the hors d'oeuvres (gustatio), the main course (mensae primae), and the dessert (mensae secundae). The food and drink that was served was intended not only to satiate the guests but also to add an element of spectacle to the meal. Exotic produce, particularly those from wild animals, birds, and fish, were favored at elite dinner parties because of their rarity, difficulty of procurement, and consequent high cost, which reflected the host's affluence. Popular but costly fare included pheasant, thrush (or other songbirds), raw oysters, lobster, shellfish, venison, wild boar, and peacock. Foods that were forbidden by sumptuary laws, such as fattened fowl and sow's udders, were flagrantly consumed at the most exclusive feasts. In addition, elaborate recipes were invented—a surviving literary work, known as Apicius, is a late Roman compilation of cookery recipes. These often required not only expensive ingredients and means of preparation but also elaborate, even dramatic, forms of presentation. [Source: Katharine Raff, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011, metmuseum.org \^/]

“At the Roman banquet, wine was served throughout the meal as an accompaniment to the food. This practice contrasted with that of the Greek deipnon, or main meal, which focused on the consumption of food; wine was reserved for the symposium that followed. Like the Greeks, the Romans mixed their wine with water prior to drinking. The mixing of hot water, which was heated using special boilers known as authepsae, seems to have been a specifically Roman custom. Such devices (similar to later samovars) are depicted in Roman paintings and mosaics, and some examples have been found in archaeological contexts in different parts of the Roman empire. Cold water and, more rarely, ice or snow were also used for mixing. Typically, the wine was mixed to the guest's taste and in his own cup, unlike the Greek practice of communal mixing for the entire party in a large krater (mixing bowl). Wine was poured into the drinking cup with a simpulum (ladle), which allowed the server to measure out a specific quantity of wine.” \^/

Describing the Bill of Fare of a Great Roman Banquetin 63 B.C. Macrobius wrote in Saturnalia Convivia, III.13: “Before the dinner proper came sea hedgehogs; fresh oysters, as many as the guests wished; large mussels; sphondyli; field fares with asparagus; fattened fowls; oyster and mussel pasties; black and white sea acorns; sphondyli again; glycimarides; sea nettles; becaficoes; roe ribs; boar's ribs; fowls dressed with flour; becaficoes; purple shellfish of two sorts. The dinner itself consisted of sows' udder; boar's head; fish-pasties; boar-pasties; ducks; boiled teals; hares; roasted fowls; starch pastry; Pontic pastry.” [Source: Macrobius, “Saturnalia Convivia, III.13:” The Bill of Fare of a Great Roman Banquet, 63 B.C., William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]


Roman banquet


Roman Banquet Tableware and Vessels

Katharine Raff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “A decadent meal required an elaborate table service comprising numerous vessels and utensils that were designed to serve both functional and decorative purposes. The most ostentatious tableware was made of costly materials, such as silver, gold, bronze, or semi-precious stone (such as rock crystal, agate, and onyx). However, even a family of moderate means likely would have owned a set of table silver, known as a ministerium. Major collections of silver tableware, such as those found at Pompeii, Moregine (a site on the outskirts of Pompeii), Boscoreale, and Tivoli, reflect the diversity in the shapes and sizes of vessels and utensils used. [Source: Katharine Raff, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011, metmuseum.org \^/]

“A complete table service included silver for eating (argentum escarium) and silver for drinking (argentum potorium). Silver for food included large serving trays and dishes, and individual bowls and plates, as well as spoons, which were the primary eating utensil used by the Romans. The spoon came in two popular forms: the cochlear, which has a small, circular bowl and a pointed handle that was used for eating shellfish, eggs, and snails; and the ligula, which has a larger, pear-shaped bowl. Knives and forks were less commonly used, although examples have survived. Among the drinking silver, cups came in a variety of forms, the most popular of which had their origins in Greek types, such the scyphos and the cantharus, both of which are two-handled drinking cups. In numerous cases, silver drinking cups have been found in pairs. It is possible that they were intended for use in convivial rituals, such as the drinking of toasts. \^/

“The most ornate silver cups were decorated with reliefs in repoussé, which frequently depict naturalistic floral and vegetal motifs, animals, erotic scenes, and mythological subjects. Imagery associated with Dionysos, the Greek god of wine, intoxication, and revelry, was popularly used on objects designed for serving and imbibing wine. This pair of cups, both of which depict cupids dancing and playing instruments, would have been especially suitable for a drinking party because their subject matter evoked the rites of Dionysos. Dionysiac imagery was also employed in other banqueting accoutrements, such as a bronze handle attachment for a situla (bucket-shaped vessel) in the form of a mask of a satyr or Silenos. \^/

“Similar types of tableware were made of less costly materials, yet they exhibit a high level of craftsmanship. Glass had become especially fashionable and was more readily available in the Roman world following the rapid development of the Roman glass industry in the first half of the first century A.D.. New techniques allowed glassmakers to create vessels in a variety of styles, such as monochrome glass, polychrome mosaic glass, gold-band glass, and colorless glass, which mimicked the appearance of costly rock crystal vessels. Cameo glass, which was made by carving designs into layered glass, was especially prized among the elite for its delicately carved imagery, which was similar to that found on silver and gold tableware. \^/


glass from Pompeii


“Vessels made of terracotta were another affordable alternative. Terra sigillata, a type of mold-made pottery known for its lacquerlike red glaze, was widely popular. Terra sigillata vessels from Arretium (modern Arezzo, Italy), known as Arretine ware, were renowned for their relief decoration, which was typically produced using stamps of different figures and motifs. The terra sigillata industry also flourished in the provinces, particularly in Gaul, where plain and decorated vessels were mass-produced and exported to diverse parts of the empire.” \^/

Roman Banquet Dining Room and Entertainment

Katharine Raff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The dining room was one of the most important reception spaces of the residence and, as such, it included high-quality decorative fixtures, such as floor mosaics, wall paintings, and stucco reliefs, as well as portable luxury objects, such as artworks (particularly sculptures) and furniture. Like the Greeks, the Romans reclined on couches while banqueting, although in the Roman context respectable women were permitted to join men in reclining. This practice set the convivium apart from the Greek symposium, or male aristocratic drinking party, at which female attendees were restricted to entertainers such as flute-girls and dancers as well as courtesans (heterae). [Source: Katharine Raff, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2011, metmuseum.org \^/]

“A dining room typically held three broad couches, each of which seated three individuals, thus allowing for a total of nine guests. This type of room is commonly described as a triclinium (literally, "three-couch room"), although dining rooms that could accommodate greater numbers of couches are archaeologically attested. In a triclinium, the couches were arranged along three walls of the room in a U-shape, at the center of which was placed a single table that was accessible to all of the diners. Couches were frequently made of wood, but there were also more opulent versions with fittings made of costly materials, such as ivory and bronze. \^/

“The final component of the banquet was its entertainment, which was designed to delight both the eye and ear. Musical performances often involved the flute, the water-organ, and the lyre, as well as choral works. Active forms of entertainment could include troupes of acrobats, dancing girls, gladiatorial fights, mime, pantomime, and even trained animals, such as lions and leopards. There were also more reserved options, such as recitations of poetry (particularly the new Roman epic, Virgil's Aeneid), histories, and dramatic performances. Even the staff and slaves of the house were incorporated into the entertainment: singing cooks performed as they served guests, while young, attractive, and well-groomed male wine waiters provided an additional form of visual distraction. In sum, the Roman banquet was not merely a meal but rather a calculated spectacle of display that was intended to demonstrate the host's wealth, status, and sophistication to his guests, preferably outdoing at the same time the lavish banquets of his elite friends and colleagues.” \^/


mosaic with items thrown on the floor during a banquet


Banquet of Trimalchio from the Satyricon

The following is a excerpt from the comic romance “Satyricon” probably composed during the reign of Nero (A.D. 37-68). The depiction of Trimalchio, the fictitious, uncouth former slave, who has nothing good about him except his money, and who is surrounded by sycophants, flatterers and people expected to serve or amuse him, is regarded as “one of the most clever and unsparing delineations in ancient literature.”

Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66) wrote in “Satyricon“:“At last we went to recline at table where boys from Alexandria poured snow water on our hands, while others, turning their attention to our feet, picked our nails, and not in silence did they perform their task, but singing all the time. I wished to try if the whole retinue could sing, and so I called for a drink, and a boy, not less ready with his tune, brought it accompanying his action with a sharp-toned ditty; and no matter what you asked for it was all the same song. [Source: Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66), “The Banquet of Trimalchio” from the “Satyricon,” William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“The first course was served and it was good, for all were close up at the table, save Trimalchio, for whom, after a new fashion, the place of honor was reserved. Among the first viands there was a little ass of Corinthian bronze with saddle bags on his back, in one of which were white olives and in the other black. Over the ass were two silver platters, engraved on the edges with Trimalchio's name, and the weight of silver. Dormice seasoned with honey and poppies lay on little bridge-like structures of iron; there were also sausages brought in piping hot on a silver gridiron, and under that Syrian plums and pomegranate grains.

“We were in the midst of these delights when Trimalchio was brought in with a burst of music. They laid him down on some little cushions, very carefully; whereat some giddy ones broke into a laugh, though it was not much to be wondered at, to see his bald pate peeping out from a scarlet cloak, and his neck all wrapped up and a robe with a broad purple stripe hanging down before him, with tassels and fringes dingle-dangle about him.”

Entertainment and Gaming at Trimalchio Banquet in Satyricon


re-enacting a Roman banquet

Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66) wrote in “Satyricon“: “Then going through his teeth with a silver pick, "my friends," quoth he, "I really didn't want to come to dinner so soon, but I was afraid my absence would cause too great a delay, so I denied myself the pleasure I was at---at any rate I hope you'll let me finish my game." A slave followed, carrying a checkerboard of turpentine wood, with crystal dice; but one thing in particular I noticed as extra nice---he had gold and silver coins instead of the ordinary black and white pieces. While he was cursing like a trooper over the game and we were starting on the lighter dishes, a basket was brought in on a tray, with a wooden hen in it, her wings spread round, as if she were hatching. [Source: Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66), “The Banquet of Trimalchio” from the “Satyricon,” William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“Then two slaves came with their eternal singing, and began searching the straw, whence they rooted out some peahen's eggs, and distributed them among the guests. At this Trimalchio turned around---"Friends," he says, "I had some peahen's eggs placed under a hen, and so help me Hercules!---I hope they're not hatched out; we'd better try if they're still tasty." Thereupon we took up our spoons---they were not less than half a pound weight of silver---and broke the eggs that were made of rich pastry. I had been almost on the point of throwing my share away, for I thought I had a chick in it, until hearing an old hand saying, "There must be something good in this," I delved deeper---and found a very fat fig-pecker inside, surrounded by peppered egg yolk.

“At this point Trimalchio stopped his game, demanded the same dishes, and raising his voice, declared that if anyone wanted more liquor he had only to say the word. At once the orchestra struck up the music, as the slaves also struck up theirs, and removed the first course. In the bustle a dish chanced to fall, and when a boy stooped to pick it up, Trimalchio gave him a few vigorous cuffs for his pains, and bade him to "throw it down again"---and a slave coming in swept out the silver platter along with the refuse. After that two long-haired Ethiopians entered with little bladders, similar to those used in sprinkling the arena in the amphitheater, but instead of water they poured wine on our hands. Then glass wine jars were brought in, carefully sealed and a ticket on the neck of each, reading thus: "Opimian Falernia, One hundred years old."”

Presently one of the guests remarks, first on how completely Trimalchio is under the thumb of his wife; next he comments on the gentleman's vast riches.] "So help me Hercules, the tenth of his slaves don't know their own master.... Some time ago the quality of his wool was not to his liking; so what does he do, but buys rams at Tarentum to improve the breed. In order to have Attic honey at home with him, he has bees brought from Attica to better his stock by crossing it with the Greek. A couple of days ago he had the notion to write to India for mushroom seed. And his freedmen, his one-time comrades [in slavery] they are no small cheese either; they are immensely well-off. Do you see that chap on the last couch over there? Today he has his 800,000 sesterces. He came from nothing, and time was when he had to carry wood upon his back.... He has been manumitted only lately, but he knows his business. Not long ago he displayed this notice: "Caius Pompeius Diogenes, Having Taken A House Is Disposed To Let His Garret From The Kalends Of July."”

Trimalchio Explains How He Earned His Great Wealth


Trimalchio

After a very long discussion and a vulgar display of luxuries and riches, Trimalchio condescends to tell the company how he came by his vast wealth. Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66) wrote in “Satyricon“: "When I came here first [as a slave] from Asia, I was only as high as yonder candlestick, and I'd be measuring my height on it every day, and greasing my lips with lamp oil to bring out a bit of hair on my snout. Well, at last, to make a long story short, as it pleased the gods, I became master in the house, and as you see, I'm a chip off the same block. He [my master] made me coheir with Caesar, and I came into a royal fortune, but no one ever thinks he has enough. I was mad for trading, and to put it all in a nutshell, bought five ships, freighted them with wine---and wine was as good as coined money at that time--and sent them to Rome. [Source: Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66), “The Banquet of Trimalchio” from the “Satyricon,” William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“You wouldn't believe it, every one of those ships was wrecked. In one day Neptune swallowed up 30,000,000 sesterces on me. D'ye think I lost heart? Not much! I took no notice of it, by Hercules! I got more ships made, larger, better, and luckier; that no one might say I wasn't a plucky fellow. A big ship has big strength---that's plain! Well I freighted them with wine, bacon, beans, perfumes, and slaves. Here Fortuna (my consort) showed her devotion. She sold her jewelry and all her dresses, and gave me a hundred gold pieces---that's what my fortune grew from. What the gods ordain happens quickly. For on just one voyage I scooped in 10,000,000 sesterces and immediately started to redeem all the lands that used to be my master's. I built a house, bought some cattle to sell again---whatever I laid my hand to grew like a honeycomb. When I found myself richer than all the country round about was worth, in less than no time I gave up trading, and commenced lending money at interest to the freedmen. Upon my word, I was very near giving up business altogether, only an astrologer, who happened to come into our colony, dissuaded me.

“"And now I may as well tell you it all---I have thirty years, four months and two days to live, moreover I"m to fall in for an estate---that's prophecy anyway. If I'm so lucky as to be able to join my domains to Apulia, I'll say I've got on pretty well. Meanwhile under Mercury's' fostering, I've built this house. Just a hut once, you know---now a regular temple! It has four dining rooms, twenty bedrooms, two marble porticoes, a set of cells upstairs, my own bedroom, a sitting room for this viper (my wife!) here, a very fine porter's room, and it holds guests to any amount. There are a lot of other things too that I'll show you by and by. Take my word for it, if you have a penny you're worth a penny, you are valued for just what you have. Yesterday your friend was a frog, he's a king today---that's the way it goes."

[Trimalchio goes on to show off to his guests the costly shroud, perfumes, etc., he has been assembling for his own funeral; and at last] we, the guests were already disgusted with the whole affair when Trimalchio, who, by the way, was beastly drunk, ordered in the cornet players for our further pleasure, and propped up with cushions, stretched himself out at full length. "Imagine I'm dead," says he, "and play something soothing!" Whereat the cornet players struck up a funeral march, and one of them especially---a slave of the undertaker fellow---the best in the crowd, played with such effect that he roused the whole neighborhood. So the watchmen, who had charge of the district, thinking Trimalchio's house on fire, burst in the door, and surged in---as was their right---with axes and water ready. Taking advantage of such an opportune moment . . . we bolted incontinently, as if there had been a real fire in the place.”

Ton of Cattle Bones Found in Cornith: Sign of Annual Feasts?


Mithraism banquet

In 2013, archaeologist said that a metric ton of cattle bones found in an abandoned theater in Corinth may have been the remnants of large annual feasts. Stephanie Pappas wrote in LiveScience: “The huge amount of bones — more than 1,000 kilograms (2,205 pounds) — likely represent only a tenth of those tossed out at the site in Peloponnese, Greece, said study researcher Michael MacKinnon, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg. “What I think that they’re related to are episodes of big feasting in which the theater was reused to process carcasses of hundreds of cattle,” MacKinnon told LiveScience. He presented his research Friday (Jan. 4) at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Seattle. [Source: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer, January 9, 2013 ||*||]

“A theater may seem an odd place for a butchery operation, MacKinnon said, but this particular structure fell into disuse between A.D. 300 A.D. and A.D. 400. Once the theater was no longer being used for shows, it was a large empty space that could have been easily repurposed, he said. The cattle bones were unearthed in an excavation directed by Charles Williams of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. They’d been discarded in that spot and rested there until they were found, rather than being dragged to the theater later with other trash, MacKinnon said. “Some of the skeletal materials were even partially articulated [connected], suggesting bulk processing and discard,” MacKinnon said. ||*||

“MacKinnon and his colleagues analyzed and catalogued more than 100,000 individual bones, most cattle with some goat and sheep. The bones of at least 516 individual cows were pulled from the theater. Most were adults, and maturity patterns in the bones and wear patterns on the teeth showed them all to have been culled in the fall or early winter. “These do not appear to be tired old work cattle, but quality prime stock,” MacKinnon said. It’s impossible to say how quickly the butchering episodes took place, MacKinnon said, though it could be on the order of days or months. The bones were discarded in layers, likely over a period of 50 to 100 years, he said. ||*||

“The periodic way the bones were discarded plus the hurried cut marks on some of the bones suggest a large-scale, recurring event, MacKinnon said. He suspects the cattle were slaughtered for annual large-scale feasts. Without refrigeration, it would have been difficult to keep meat fresh for long, so may have been more efficient for cities to take a communal approach. “What goes around comes around, so maybe we’ll do it this year and next year, it’s the neighbor’s turn to do it,” MacKinnon speculated. “Neighborhoods might sponsor these kinds of things, so people do it to curry favor.” The next step, MacKinnon said, is to look for other possible signs of ancient feasting at different sites. “Maybe there are some special pots, or maybe we’ll find big communal cauldrons or something,” he said. “Something that gives a material record of a celebration.”“ ||*||

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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