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Food Provisioning and Social Control in Ancient Rome

Social strife between upper and lower classes remained a constant throughout Rome’s long history. As such, wealthy elites, including political luminaries of the Republic, and, later, the Roman emperors, used a variety of methods to exercise control. This included the urban food supply, one instrument by which they maintained social order. They also used the control of urban food supply as a means to secure and enhance their own positions by employing time-honored traditions to appease an ever-growing number of urban inhabitants. These measures became ever more vital as the city of Rome grew exponentially, until it reached a population of perhaps one million by the second century C.E. The lower classes were far from helpless, however. Their dissatisfaction or refusal to conform could disrupt the social order in significant ways. The wealthy upper class wielded much of the political power, but it was also largely defined as such because of its dependents. Noble patrons were in turn reliant on their social subordinates for support.1

This article explores one aspect of the near-constant conflict between the wealthy and poor in the city of ancient Rome: the urban food supply. It focuses on two main facets, primarily addressing the city of Rome itself from the late Republic (circa 50 B.C.E.) through the height of its development in the early to mid-second century C.E. by examining the regulation of food outlets and systems of food distribution via multiple channels. The urban food supply involved a complex social dialogue. Rulers and wealthy elites exerted social control to maintain stability by continuing a long history of instituting price controls and subsidies on staple foods, such as grain. They also sought to regulate the city’s many cooked-food shops. However, to mitigate potentially catastrophic social unrest, they also both directly and indirectly supplemented the diets of social inferiors by dispensing foods through various channels. These included direct distribution and the hosting of both public feasts and much-coveted private dinners. In response, however, the lower classes exerted independence to enhance their own food security. In some cases, this occurred in unexpected ways. For example, urban inhabitants often cultivated food themselves, even in densely populated urban areas, a topic which I explore in the last section of the article. The methods of horticulture cultivation are of course drastically different to the sophisticated methods of today such as the modern use of technology like the gavita 1700.

As in the modern day, a stable food supply was one of the most basic requirements for the functioning of state-level societies. The ancient Roman playwright Plautus (c. 254 – 184 B.C.E.) noted a common lament in the ancient world when he wrote that “wretched is the man who has to look for his food himself and has a hard time finding it, but more wretched is one who has a hard time looking for it and does not find anything. And most wretched is that one who does not have anything to eat when he wishes to,” illustrating the many forms of hunger ancient Romans commonly faced.2 However, as Lindsay Falvey points out, referring to the relationship between modern food systems and the exercising of political power, “food security is a precursor to national security and the ability to govern.”3 This statement applied equally to the ancient world as well, and particularly in urban environments, which could explode into violence in moments of heightened food insecurity.

The topic of the control of the urban food supply also has great modern-day relevance. As Alan Beardsworth and Teresa Keil stated, “food exchanges between individuals can be used to symbolize their mutual interdependence and reciprocity, whereas the routine provision of food for another, without reciprocity, can express one’s dominance over a subordinate. … In more general terms, food represents a powerful symbolic resource for the expression of patterns of social differentiation.”4 Modern-day warlords and dictatorial governments employ similar tactics to control their vulnerable populaces, employing hunger as a weapon and often allocating the best foods to supporters (especially fighters). But, as in the ancient world, people today also use various means to enhance their own food security in times of uncertainty. Thus, understanding the complex Roman social system through the lens of its food supply offers valuable insight into similar circumstances in the modern day, where food is used as a means of social control and where the general population continues to cope with difficult circumstances when experiencing food scarcity.

A person’s status in ancient Rome and, subsequently, access to foodstuffs depended on several factors. Whether someone was free or a slave constituted the primary difference in status. Slaves’ diets often differed from those of their masters, but in wealthy households they may have had more consistent access to food than some free urban residents. It was in owners’ best interests to keep valuable slaves healthy and productive, although the treatment they received varied dramatically. Control of the food supply thus extended the entire spectrum of the social scale, from the wealthiest aristocrats to slaves, who were fed by their masters and sometimes with little more consideration than that afforded to livestock. Some ruthlessly efficient masters even admonished owners to cut food rations for sick slaves and provided instructions on how to feed them according to the amount of work they were expected to do depending on the season, similar to draft animals.5 Rome’s pervasive patron-client system meant that many people remained dependent on others to some degree, but this was not just a reliance on slaves. This system referred to a relationship whereby a (typically) wealthy benefactor (the patronus) served as a sponsor for a cliens, or “client,” who was usually a less-affluent social inferior and not infrequently a freed slave.

Many Romans, especially freedmen (former slaves), remained attached to this patron, to whom they offered political and social support. In return, patrons supplied everything from economic assistance, occasionally by establishing business ventures for their dependents, to food security in the form of gifts, and sometimes direct distributions of money (sportula).6 However, not all Romans had a patron. Even clients often had dependents of their own, typically household slaves, if they could afford them. Slaves were generally allotted food rations, sometimes as a reward or as a means of punishment. Despite a general state of social strife, this system yielded a fair degree of stability, as the city prospered for centuries. As Christophe Badel observes, “the actors of the food riots [were] not the wretched threatened with death but plebeians from the world of the shop. Rome was not a famine society,” suggesting that despite occasional difficulties the system was largely successful.7

As noted previously, Rome’s history was a long and storied one that encompassed some eight centuries, so it experienced substantial changes over time. However, as in most ancient societies, Rome was a largely agrarian civilization. Despite rapid urbanization, much of the population remained subsistence farmers. The historiography regarding Rome’s food supply is thus extensive, and even reaches into antiquity. As such, I have admittedly sacrificed depth for breadth somewhat, seeking to highlight some of the most contentious issues which sparked social conflict with regard to the urban food supply. I thus explore the ways in which conflict was mitigated by both the upper and lower classes.

Similarly, as scholarship regarding Rome’s grain supply is voluminous and has been so extensively treated elsewhere, I will instead focus on other facets of Rome’s food system, especially concerning relations between the upper and lower classes.8 Most of the Roman diet consisted of grain, but scholars have begun to acknowledge the importance of additional foodstuffs.9 Some urban citizens were eligible for free or heavily subsidized grain, but not everyone in the city of Rome was a recipient.

Despite measures to promote social stability, the incidence of chronic food shortage, if not outright famine, was frequent. Peter Garnsey, who has written extensively on Rome’s complex food system, calculated that between 509 and 384 B.C.E. at least one year in nine, and between 123 and 50 B.C.E. approximately one year in five, was affected by food shortage in the wake of war, disease, or environmental factors resulting in crop failures.10 Although they are often used interchangeably, it is vital to note the difference between food insecurity and full-blown famine. Garnsey stated that “food crisis is a consequence of the breakdown of the system of production, distribution and consumption of essential foodstuffs,” but there is a spectrum: famine is often a rather broad term used to describe any food crisis, when it should instead refer to a catastrophic one resulting in a significant increase in mortality rates.11 This situation was generally rare, even in antiquity. Shortage, conversely, may be defined as “a short-term reduction in the amount of available foodstuffs, as indicated by rising prices, popular discontent, hunger, in the worse cases bordering on starvation,” but not resulting in catastrophic loss of life.12 Food security, essentially a state where individuals “do not live in hunger or fear of starvation,” involves additional elements, including the availability of food both at the level of the home and the market, access to food via adequate purchasing power, and the health of individuals sufficient to allow an adequate absorption of nutrients into the body.13

The complex nature of Rome’s food supply shaped its political, social, economic, and even religious development. Gifting food from above to below was deeply imbued in Roman tradition. Control of the urban food supply was not simply a means to pacify the poor and to prevent social unrest culminating in violence. It involved something deeper culturally, and even religiously, including pre-Christian notions of civic duty. However, euergetism was also a factor. Elite largess in the form of food distribution served as a primary means for Rome’s ambitious upper class to climb the highly competitive social ladder. As Garnsey points out that euergetism, or “the public generosity of the rich,” was not motivated by altruism, as “material rewards were available for benefactors, who gained enhanced status within the community through various public honours,” even if it sometimes served as a safeguard against starvation in a crisis.14 Public displays of generosity were self-serving, but food gifting, which occurred in many forms, functioned as something of a pressure release valve for the constant social tension while it simultaneously reinforced an elaborate social hierarchy.

Food was also closely associated with morality in the ancient Roman mentality. As such, rulers frequently cited a desire to improve declining morals as a means to exert control over the food supply, irrespective of their own behavior. As Nicola Hudson observes, “proper eating habits represented one vitally important element in [the] moral package known as the mos maiorum,” but it is clear by the volume of criticism leveled at one’s political rivals that it was not always followed.15 It is somewhat surprising, considering the degree of luxury some wealthy Romans displayed, that austerity was on the whole highly valued, at least as reflected in Roman literature.16 The simple fare of early Rome was always lauded over the morally corrupting delicacies which featured large at dinner parties, some of which bordered on the ridiculous. Authors also frequently emphasized the desirability of producing one’s own food, which reflected proper morality and self-sufficiency. Even at urban banquets, ideally, a wealthy host would serve foods produced at his own estates, which were often located in Rome’s adjacent suburbium.

The Regulation of Rome’s Cooked-Food Shops

Figure 1: A Cook Shop Counter Near the Casa di Diana at Ostia antica
Source: Tracey E. Watts, 2013.

The variety of foods enjoyed by Rome’s upper classes, which often featured prominently in their luxurious private banquets, is the stuff of legend, but the copious sources alluding to the precarious nature of the lower classes suggest that their food supply was often piecemeal. What was the situation for persons not eligible for food distribution?17 Ordinary Romans purchased some commodities in the markets, and cultivated others themselves, but many were also reliant on the prolific cooked-food shops located throughout Roman cities.18 These establishments were common, perhaps analogous to fast food or take-out restaurants in the modern day.19 Notwithstanding elite opinion of them, the cook shops served a vital purpose. They sold a variety of ready-to-eat products, as opposed to the “grocery”-type shops, which often specialized in commodities such as fruits and vegetables, grains and bread, meat, and, according to one surviving relief sculpture, even live animals.20 Approximately 158 have been identified in Pompeii, and around 38 at Ostia (Rome’s ancient port city).21 The cook shops appear frequently in Roman literature as well. Steven J.R. Ellis counted 174 references to activity in bars or food shops, often in the form of the “overstated moral turpitude of such establishments, and of those who hung about them.”22

The cook shops of Rome and other cities were known by a variety of names, but they had some common elements.23 If cooked food was sold, they were called popinae, caupona, and (rarely) thermopolia, but all seemingly offered a variety of prepared foods and beverages, warm or cold.24 Some shops were small, consisting of little more than a counter featuring food items, with little or no seating, while others were large and elaborate, even featuring gardens. There are some examples of dining couches in Pompeian popinae.25 Rather than the formal Roman style of reclining, however, the cook shops usually featured simple tables and chairs, as the poet Martial (38/41 – 102/104 C.E.) noted, and sometimes masonry benches located outside.26 In two of the largest popina in Ostia, there was sufficient space for tables and chairs in the bar-room and in other adjacent rooms.27 The remains of frescoes at an inn in Pompeii depict customers standing or sitting around wooden tables, a practice which differentiated the lower classes from their wealthier peers.28

Figure 2: A Cook Shop Counter Near the Casa di Diana at Ostia antica
Source: Tracey E. Watts, 2013.

Despite their popularity, and, perhaps, because of it, these indispensable food outlets were frequently subject to sometimes highly restrictive regulations, which increased in severity under the Principate. Seemingly at whim, individual rulers attempted to prohibit certain goods from being sold at the cook shops. Tiberius (r. 14 – 37 C.E.) instructed the aediles (a series of officials with the power to ensure civic order) to put restrictions on the cook shops (popinae) and eating-houses (ganeae), such that not even pastries (pistoria) could be legally displayed for sale.29 Historian Cassius Dio (c. 155 – c. 235 C.E.) reported that, in an attempt to “reform their daily lives,” Caligula (r. 37 – 41 C.E.) abolished the cook shops for a time, prohibiting the sale of boiled meat and even hot water (often used for diluting wine).30 His successor, Claudius (r. 41 – 54 C.E.) reportedly maintained the ban on both.31 Nero (r. 54 – 68 C.E.) went even further, forbidding the sale of any cooked foods in shops, other than pulses and vegetables.32 Vespasian (r. 69 – 79 C.E.) likewise imposed a series of imperial decrees which prohibited the sale of dishes of meat and pastries, leaving only vegetables, seemingly with the intent of imposing frugalitas on his subjects.33

It is unclear to what extent these laws were enforced, but the behavior of some rulers suggests that punishments for violating their edicts were harsh.34 According to Dio, meat was sometimes cooked in the street, possibly in an attempt to circumvent restrictive legislation.35 According to Gustav Hermansen, physical evidence also suggests at least some attempt at adherence to the regulations. Dolia, or large storage jars, found during the excavation of Herculaneum, contained foods of the permissible type: grain was found in one shop and in a store-room over a bar; beans and peas in another; and grain, beans, and chickpeas in the Insula Orientalis at Herculaneum.36

The reasons for these seemingly stringent regulations are complex, and debated. The great fire which destroyed much of the city of Rome in the mid-first century C.E. may have begun in one of the popinae along the side of the Circus Maximus. It was shortly after the fire that Nero reportedly enacted an ordinance banning the sale of all cooked foods save pulses and vegetables. But he was certainly not the first to enact similar regulations. In addition, even more hazardous enterprises such as bakeries were allowed to operate.37 It is therefore dubious that the reasons for the prohibitions were for safety. The cook shops were one of the most common food outlets for the majority of Rome’s inhabitants, many of whom had little access to cooking facilities.38 Foods commonly sold included pastries, peas and beans, and vegetables, specifically foods which required more extensive preparation.39 Cooking in any capacity would present a risk of fire in a crowded city. In fact, the strict regulation of the cook shops likely meant that more people had to resort to cooking themselves, which presented an even greater risk of fire. Inhabitants would probably have had to do so in or around apartment units in insulae, which sources describe as hazardous tinder boxes, especially with open flames present on upper floors made primarily of wood.40

Most scholars have cited political and social aims as the motivating factors for decreasing reliance on the cook shops, noting that a response to perceived moral decline, as well as imperial paranoia, were the primary reasons. Both the fare and the customers had a rather sordid reputation, at least in literature, which was produced almost exclusively by elites.41 Meat, at least in the modest amounts to which common people had access, is the item most commonly associated with cooked-food shops, so restricting its sale likely had a dramatic impact.42 Purchasing a cooked dish would have provided a single meal of meat, probably as a supplement rather than the main course, and did not involve the slaughter of an entire animal. Due to the economy of scale, shops could then utilize whole animals with minimal waste in the era before refrigeration. As Justin Meggitt points out, “the meat from all these outlets tended to be in forms that have historically been associated with the poor: sausages or blood puddings appear to have been common, as was tripe, and various ‘off-cuts’ that might appear unappetizing to the modern palate.”43 Food, both what was consumed and where, was associated with status and morality. As the cook shops were associated with the more low-class element of a city, there was a social, and sometimes political, stigma attached to them, at least in the eyes of wealthy elites.

Popinae were, at least in literature, described as a haven for the marginalized populations of the Roman world. Despite some mentions of even emperors (albeit the more depraved ones) occasionally frequenting them, it would have been scandalous for a respectable Roman to be seen in one.44 Seneca (4 B.C.E. – 65 C.E.) contrasted the lowly, servile, and weak clientele found in “the brothel and the bar” with the virtuous found in temples, the forum, and the Senate house.45 Famous lawyer and statesman Cicero (106 – 43 B.C.E.) observed the practice of running up debts in popinae, so they were also associated with gambling and all manner of vice and debauchery.46 The Roman jurist Ulpian (c. 170 – 223 C.E.) suggested that they were so salacious that if an arbiter were to summon litigants to a “disgraceful place” (locum inhonestum) like a popina or a brothel, the person could not be punished for refusing to go.47 The Code of Justinian (529 – 534 C.E.) expressed a similar opinion of cook shop patrons (and workers). Senators and high-ranking men could marry girls born to poor parents but not female innkeepers, an innkeeper’s daughter, or a woman who had publicly sold merchandise of any kind.48 Juvenal even asserted that it was shameful to be seen eating in public at all, as the upper classes dined in private residences, either their own or at others’, thereby reinforcing the social hierarchy through behavioral norms related to quotidian consumption practices.49

Despite criticism by upper-class Romans, the cook shops were vital to the “everyday operation of the city, [providing] social interaction, vocation, accommodation, and, of course, the provision of food and drink.”50 They served as far more than just a dining venue. As Meggitt noted, “they were not patronized by just a few of the plebs urbana: they were immensely popular, and ‘almost proverbially the meeting places of the common people’.”51 Their customers spilled out into the streets according to Martial, and emperors, fearful of associations of ‘off-cuts’ that might appear of any sort, tried to keep them under firm control.”52 As the cook shops were known as the haunts of the urban poor, it is perhaps reasonable that they would have been a primary target for emperors’ attempts at social engineering. For example, the discussion of Tiberius’ regulations on the cook shops is in the context of his frugality. Biographer Suetonius (c. 69 – c. 122 C.E.) also stated that the emperor proposed a limit on prices of items such as household furniture, and directed that market prices be regulated each year by the senate; the next passage states that, to encourage frugality, Tiberius served meats left over from the day before at his own formal dinners.53 Suetonius’ purpose seems to be to highlight imperial attempts to decrease luxury and excess, and the cook shops seem to be only one facet of his comprehensive program.

Were there additional reasons behind the restrictions on the cook shops, one of the primary food outlets for the (sometimes riotous) urban masses? And what were the results of attempts at regulation? Not all Romans had a patron they could rely on in times of need. Thus, they required other sources of affordable food, especially if the ability to cook for themselves was limited. Claudius himself even had to acknowledge the critical role of tabernae as a food outlet for urban inhabitants, reportedly stating when discussing those he had apparently frequented in his youth, “I ask you, who can live without offula (a snack)?”54 If the problem was solely a decline in morality, why not close brothels and other dens of iniquity, as opposed to restaurants? Hermansen proposed a rather nefarious reason: “these restrictive laws would, of course, make the taverns much less attractive to customers, and from Claudius’ first attack on the taverns the new style of bars started to develop. The food jars disappear and the water basins, the prerequisite for the conditum and the calda, dominate.”55 This change, reflected in architectural modifications visible at Ostia, likely affected the food security of ordinary Romans, who then had to resort to other means of securing a meal. It also had the added benefit, from a wealthy elite’s perspective, of keeping the poor dependent on their social superiors, who could bestow food by other means and for their own purposes.

As time progressed, control of the urban space and Rome’s ever-increasing population became more vital. As Andrew Wallace-Hadrill points out, “this imperial will to know and control the city, zone by zone, neighourhood by neighbourhood, street by street, house by house was the mechanism which enabled a megalopolis of (in all probability) a million souls to survive.”56 This included control of the urban food supply, by dictating what could be sold and how, affording the additional benefit of reinforcing the social hierarchy. It thereby secured the position of rulers and wealthy elites in a radically changing city which was marked by violence as competing families and their supporters vied for position at the top of Rome’s social ladder.57

Banquets: Public and Private

A primary method Rome’s upper classes employed to exert control over the food supply (and hence the population) was the hosting of both public and private banquets. The practice was so common that Peter Garnsey observes that “in the world of the Graeco-Roman city the alleviation of food crises by private benefactors was so regular as to be an institutionalized feature of the society,” which included more than direct distribution or the subsidization of staples.58 Public feasting had a long history in the city of Rome. As we have seen, patrons owed reciprocal obligations to their clients, which eventually included even the imperial court. Sponsoring a feast or a dinner party provided an opportunity to enhance one’s popularity, with the added benefit of contributing to the overall stability of the city by feeding its inhabitants.

The primary occasions for hosting a public feast were celebrations of specific events or for religious observances, which were typically imbued with complex meaning and nuance. The common element was that any high-profile event offered Rome’s upper classes, especially ruling elites, an opportunity to enhance popular support. Public banquets were often held following a military leader’s triumph, a complex, ritualistic event involving elements of celebration and religious rites. Following a procession through Rome’s streets, the victorious commander typically offered a sacrifice at a temple, which in turn was often followed by public celebration and feasting. Roman religious holidays or even the dedication of a building offered an opportunity to engage in conspicuous consumption and competition. As Donahue noted, Roman communal feasting not only united and classified participants by social rank, it also offered “dramatic confirmation of what we now recognize as a key element for interpreting any eating event-namely, that once we establish the time, place, and participants of any meal, nearly everything else about social relationships in a given society can be brought into sharper focus. Such is the power of food.”59

The first public banquets were likely associated with ritual animal sacrifice, especially in the city’s early history. They provided expensive meat for human participants who may have had little access to it other than on special occasions. Cattle, which were ordinarily used for work rather than food in ancient Rome, were favored as sacrificial victims.60 They were a costly gift which only the wealthy could afford, but as only part of the animal was burned on the altar, leftover meat was either distributed to participants, occasionally sold in the markets, or often, served at the public banquets.61 Plutarch recorded that the dictator Sulla (c. 138 – 78 B.C.E.) held such a lavish feast, which evidently lasted several days, that great quantities of leftover meats were simply discarded in the river.62

The logistics which must have been involved for some public events are astounding. The numerical accuracy may be somewhat dubious, but the biographer Plutarch (c. 46 – 120 C.E.) claimed that after his numerous triumphs, Julius Caesar frequently entertained the public with banquets and spectacles. In 46 B.C.E., he feasted Rome’s inhabitants on 22,000 dining couches, and, on another occasion, distributed meat to attendees.63 Crassus, a contemporary of Caesar, reportedly set up 10,000 tables for celebrants during his consulship in 70 B.C.E., and also distributed a three-month supply of grain to them.64 The tradition continued into the Principate as well. First-century emperor Tiberius hosted a public feast on the Capitol and in other locations in honor of his victory over the Pannonians and the Dalmatians in 9 B.C.E.65

Lest anyone think such a venture to be virtually impossible, Donahue points out an extraordinary contemporary example of a public banquet on a scale even a Roman emperor would have considered impressive.66 The so-called “Jack Walton Barbecue” was held at the state fairgrounds in celebration of the inauguration (the term itself a Latin derivative, of course) of John “Jack” Walton, the governor of Oklahoma, in January of 1923. Thousands of not just cattle, hogs, sheep, and chickens, but turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, opossums, geese, ducks, deer, buffalo, and even reindeer were donated for an expected 200,000 celebrants. All was cooked in a mile-long trench using a trainload of wood, prepared and served by thirty meat cutters, a thousand waiters, fifty-two fire handlers, and five hundred assistant chefs.67 As food writer and historian Robert Moss observes, “politicians figured out that if you want to get people together-this is way before radio, TV or any other real mass forms of communications-best way to do that was to have a barbecue, … ‘cause you could draw hundreds of thousands of people together.”68 Although this modern example demonstrates that such events were indeed possible, and may have occurred on a large scale in the ancient city, no self-respecting Roman public official would have solicited for donations, which it seems Walton had to resort to in order to pull off his historic culinary feat.

Public officials and political figures sponsored feasts for the masses, but so did private individuals. Even women hosted such events. An apparently high-ranking priestess in Roman Spain provided a public feast in the mid-first century C.E., reportedly at her own expense.69 Public feasts hosted by private individuals allowed ambitious social climbers to enhance their public image and status. However, some diners were more equal than others. Placement at the triclinium was also an important indicator of status. The general population may have enjoyed a good meal, but celebrants were still seated and fed according to a rigid social hierarchy. For example, even at public feasts, lower-class participants could only view the imperial court from afar, a practice which “underscore[ed] both the physical and social distance between ruler and ruled.”70 As the gulf between rich and poor increased, this practice became more overt.

Nor was everyone even served the same fare, as the type of food participants consumed also reflected their status.71 Perhaps the most notorious example was one of Nero’s infamous events. He reportedly staged a feast at his artificial lake in Rome where he and his personal guests “enjoyed the finest foods and wines, while on shore, the populace sampled the pleasures of temporary cook shops and brothels amid exotic flora, fauna and wildlife imported solely for the occasion.”72 These seemingly institutionalized differences in diet were apparently common. Politician and author Pliny the Younger (c. 61 – 113 C.E.) also attended a dinner where the host served more lavish fare to his friends and poorer quality fare (vilia et minuta) to everyone else.73 The practice clearly demonstrates the significance of diet as a marker of status, wealth, and prominence.

It is unclear how often public banquets and events occurred in the city of Rome. It is dubious that even a large percentage of its one million inhabitants were fed regularly during special events, however, leaving them in some cases to face a daily struggle to find adequate nutrition. In contrast, private dinner parties were ubiquitous. Clients often enjoyed the generosity of individual hosts and patrons, and sometimes the direct distribution of food items for special events, especially religious festivals. These practices sometimes extended even to slaves.74 Dining with one’s friends, patrons, and clients was a vital facet of Roman culture, at least according to literary sources, which were admittedly penned almost exclusively by educated elites.75 In contrast, eating in public establishments such as popinae was considered an activity of the lower classes.

Perhaps demonstrating the centrality of dining, numerous terms refer to Roman meals.76 The two primary ones for private entertaining were the cena and the convivium. The former essentially constituted “a microcosm of Roman society [which] reflected the hierarchical principle that runs through Roman society: places of honor are reserved for distinguished guests, while the rest of the guests are divided according to their status and their links with the householder.”77 The cena was the primary meal, which usually occurred in mid-to late afternoon, and was attended by intimates, family, hosts, and guests, but it was also occasionally associated with rituals, such as marriages, births, and funerals. The convivium, in contrast, was essentially the quintessential Roman “dinner party,” with an emphasis on leisure and friendship enjoyed among intimate friends and associates.78 Even the dining rooms themselves were designed to be a showcase: they were some of the most elaborate rooms in the house, with some homes having more than one which changed with the seasons.79

Several aspiring luminaries, including Martial and Juvenal, describe the somewhat shameful practice of angling for dinner invitations.80 As the latter noted, “the old and wearied clients depart from the doorways and put aside their desires, although the deepest hope for a man is for a dinner… Meanwhile, their kingly patron will devour the best of the forests and the sea…and certainly from so many beautiful, grand and ancient rounded tables they devour whole inheritances at a single sitting.”81 Although his account is clearly exaggerated, lavish private feasts, perhaps even more than public ones, reinforced the disparity between rich and poor, between the powerful and the marginalized, but they also demonstrated in very tangible terms the wealthy elites’ control of the food supply. Subordinates relied on social superiors to provide them with culturally significant foods that they likely would only have had access to in this forum, as well as the setting for its consumption.

The variety of foods was seemingly endless. Pliny the Younger provided a description of what even a “modest” dinner party consisted of: lettuce, three snails, two eggs, a wheat cake, honey wine chilled with snow, olives, beetroots, gherkins, onions, and “countless other delicacies” for each guest.82 The dinners hosted by the super-rich were far more elaborate, often assuming a theatrical element in the presentation.83 Martial, in particular, provided insight into the delicacies enjoyed by upper class Romans and their fortunate guests.84 Not only were typical livestock such as sheep, goats (sacred to Bacchus and thus a party favorite), and suckling pigs common, but exotic culinary delicacies included sow’s udders, cooked while still full of milk, and birds such as fieldfares and turtledoves, which were sacred to Venus.85 Cicero stated that peafowl also made the occasional appearance at banquets, a practice that Martial and others condemned.86 Suetonius described an even more outrageous dish: peafowl brains were reportedly served to the emperor Vitellius.87

As in the case of public banquets, the rigid social hierarchy featured large at these events, dictating where guests were situated on the dining couches and, according to the scathing condemnations of authors such as Martial and Juvenal (who were admittedly satirists, however, and much given to exaggeration and poetic license), also what guests of different status consumed. Martial complained bitterly about the rich and prominent dining on delicacies while serving social inferiors lesser quality foods: “you take oysters fattened in the Lucrine lake; I cut my mouth sucking a mussel from its shell; you get mushrooms, I get swing fungi; you take a turbot, but I a brill. A golden turtledove with fattened rump fills you up; a magpie dead in its cage is set before me.”88 Even if the food was not comparable to what honored guests received, diners may have even taken it home, wrapped up in napkins on occasion, possibly for other household members, a practice described in the (farcical) Satyricon.89

Banquets also had a tendency to spiral out of control, particularly in terms of cost. The wealthy, emulating their own social superiors, appeared to engage in a competition to gain social renown (or infamy). These feasts became so ostentatious that sumptuary laws attempting to curtail even what the wealthy consumed, or rather, conspicuously consumed, at their private dinner parties, were common during the Republic, though less so (and far more relaxed) during the Principate.90 However, even these laws were used to enhance the positions of the wealthy and powerful. Deri Pode Miles points out that “a primary function of one important category of sumptuary rogation was the reinforcement, or even creation, of social divisions,” used to confer exclusive entitlement of foods and other goods based on criteria such as lineage, occupation, property ownership, or public office.91 Aulus Gellius (c. 125 – c. 180 C.E.) described legislation during the Republic and early Empire which limited both the amounts which could be spent and the types of foods which could be served.92 If there is little information to suggest how effective legislation which curtailed the sale of various foods at the popinae was, there is some evidence which indicates that sumptuary legislation was actually enforced. According to Suetonius, Caesar actually sent public officials and even soldiers to private homes to confiscate illegal items, and also stationed officials in the markets to inspect and seize forbidden goods.93

Funerals offered yet another opportunity for the wealthy to engage in competitive consumption to gain social standing, which included feeding vast numbers of people, perhaps even unintentionally. Banqueting was so deeply entrenched in Roman culture that feasts were even held for the deceased. Food distribution carried on even after death, as meals were consumed at gravesites to commemorate important events such as birthdays or anniversaries.94 Jocelyn Toynbee observes that “there existed a strong tradition that continued contentment and rest in the afterlife was dependent upon sustenance provided by the living in the form of food offerings or libations to the deceased, whose ‘shades’ required regular provisioning,” perhaps not unlike living dependents.95 In addition, the remains of offerings, or banquets prepared and held on-site may have provided occasional leftovers to desperately impoverished residents living in Rome’s cities of the dead.96 Martial noted that thieves, beggars, and prostitutes often took up residence in and around tombs, which grew up in entire neighborhoods along the roads leading out of the city.97

So prominent were these traditions that permanent infrastructure, including triclinia or biclinia, the dining couches where (the living, at least) participants reclined, and even ovens and other facilities for cooking were built at the actual tombs themselves. The large cemetery of Isola Sacra, which was actively used from about 100 to 250 C.E., features tombs of predominantly freedmen and their family members, consisting mostly of brick house-type tombs equipped with features such as libation pipes, wells, ovens, and biclinia.98 Graham points out that these dining activities were intended to be visible, such that “families holding banquets in view of other members of that community were easily able to demonstrate that they had the financial means at their disposal to afford the expense of a substantial banquet… Economic and social differences between various groups of society would have been greatly emphasized by the visible juxtaposition of these elaborate banquets with the picnics occurring in association with modest burials around them.”99

Some food distributions also took place at funerals. In one case, there was a distribution of bread and wine along with roses for attendees, and there was even a supply reserved for those not in attendance, which was to be divided and delivered.100 Funeral feasts of public figures could be elaborate, once again offering the wealthy an opportunity to display prominence along with munificence in feeding city inhabitants. In one case, food was distributed by a father as a memorial in honor of his son. Specific amounts of meat were bequeathed to the townspeople of Rudiae each year on his son’s birthday.101 Particularly significant is the discussion of the amounts allotted based on status, including to local councilors, priests, and common residents.102

Adaptation to Control Measures

Although wealthy elites exercised great control over the food supply in the ancient city, less affluent people were not completely powerless. The complex dialogue between wealthy and poor involved mutual interdependence. As we have already noted, the upper classes relied on social inferiors for popular support. They also had to make at least some effort to keep the poor placated, to avoid upheavals which could descend into violence. Rome’s residents could, of course, make their displeasure known in the event of a shortage, or even a price hike. As Garnsey points out, “the standard reaction of the people of late Republican Rome to food shortage was hostile demonstration, for which the typical setting was the public meeting (contio) or the show. Such protest sometimes turned into riot.”103 True riots were rare, but the ever-present threat of social instability provided a powerful incentive for elites to ensure that, at least on a macro scale, the basic needs of the people were met.

Rome’s inhabitants also exercised some measure of control over their own food security. Even during periods of acute food stress urban inhabitants had options, including, as Garnsey observes, “practicing risk-minimizing production strategies, and building up a safety net of social and economic relationships with kinsmen, neighbours, villagers and patrons.”104 People likely engaged in informal distribution channels, such as mobile vending, to circumvent restrictions on the cook shops. Mobile vendors are often the bane of local administrators and officials in the modern day, perhaps because their activities are so difficult to regulate, but they are common, especially in developing nations. Claire Holleran noted that the presence of street traders in the modern day “is indicative of the poverty level of many of the urban inhabitants,” as unskilled laborers often turn to retailing due to a lack of opportunity elsewhere.105 Similar trends are underway in modern-day Greece. Most street foods in the country’s largest cities, for instance, are intended for take-out, rarely require utensils, and are “high in calories, but lack[ing in] social function and prestige.”106

In Rome, there did not seem to have been any concerted efforts to regulate street traders, perhaps leaving mobile vendors or market stall hawkers free from regulations which affected popinae.107 Legislation was more concerned with preventing tabernae from appropriating space on streets and sidewalks, which would have blocked the flow of traffic.108 Sources describe mobile vendors and street traders selling various goods from market stalls, or even door-to-door, including food items.109 These included fruits, vegetables, milk, and prepared foods.110 In Pompeii, at least, it appears as if stalls near the Temple of Venus in the forum were set up to sell sacrificial cakes.111 The jurist Ulpian (c. 170 – 228 C.E.) also pointed out the case of a baker who sent a slave out into the city to sell bread in a particular place.112 This suggests that some brick and mortar tabernae, which sold commodities such as fruit and bread as well as cooked goods such as pastries, may have sent slaves or workers into the streets to sell them, perhaps in crowded areas of the city such as the baths, or to places where special events were held.113 These activities are likewise attested to in the modern day, where street vendors in Greece, for instance, congregate around traffic lights of the largest thoroughfares to service daily commuters, constituting an informal drive-through of sorts.114 Another creative measure which may have served as an act of resistance was the preparation and sale of foods out of private houses. In one case, four freedwomen ran a kitchen in a structure adjacent to a sanctuary of Venus near modern Cassino.115 The Casa dei Postumii in Pompeii also had a much larger kitchen than most of the other houses, so it was possibly used to prepare food that was sold elsewhere.116

Another measure that Romans employed to improve their own food security was to cultivate it themselves, even in densely populated urban areas. Urban cultivation is characterized by small-scale operations maximizing output with minimal resource investment in very little space, where produce is typically consumed by producers rather than for commercial purposes. Seneca mentioned the practice of growing plants and even fruit trees on rooftops, which may have referred to rooftop gardens.117 The remains of balconies have also been found in surviving insulae, where people could have grown modest amounts of produce.118 Pliny the Elder referred to a garden as a poor man’s farm in Rome, where the lower classes obtained supplies (ostensibly as opposed to purchasing them).119 He also observed the presence of window gardens, as did Martial, who even attempted some cultivation himself.120

Not only private individuals, but even some businesses, in the city featured gardens, either those that produced fresh food for sale or inns and restaurants which sold cooked food. An inn near the macellum (public market) in Pompeii had space for about fifty guests and featured a rather large garden; its layout and features suggest that it was a produce garden with fruit trees, vines, flowers, and vegetables, probably cultivated to at least some degree for commercial purposes.121 Shop-house gardens were common in Pompeii, Ostia, and probably Rome itself. Homes featuring living quarters were located at the rear of the shops, where owners used portions of their small spaces for gardening, probably to augment their own diets but also possibly to produce a modest amount for sale.122

In addition to small-scale cultivation in the city, tomb gardens were popular among both wealthy elites and common people. The diminutive plots of the less affluent probably produced only enough for home consumption, perhaps with a modest surplus, but those of wealthy families were often intended to turn a profit. These cepotaphia, a common feature of many Roman funerary monuments, were productive gardens often large enough to be cultivated for semi-commercial purposes, as the yield was often sold to generate funds to maintain the elaborate tomb, which sometimes formed an entire complex.123 Vineyards were popular, some of which could even be considered small farms. As homeless residents lived among the tombs, it is possible that they illicitly cultivated gardens in Roman cemeteries as well, which similarly occurs in the modern day.

Even small amounts of produce could provide important dietary benefits for ancient urban residents who relied on window, patio, or balcony gardens, even in densely populated insulae. These spaces crowded into small areas of Roman apartment buildings may seem insignificant for the purposes of food production, but some horticultural species have the potential to produce significant yields. Some intensively cultivated gardens can produce up to fifty kilograms of fresh produce per square meter per year and can serve as a response to an acute food crisis, as many species can be harvested only sixty to ninety days after planting.124 It is more difficult to determine what a small plot (such as a tomb) may have yielded, but a unique modern example illustrates possibilities for diligent urban farmers. At a self-described “urban homestead” in southern California, for instance, a garden comprising just one tenth of an acre (3,900 square feet, or approximately 66 x 66 feet) produces nearly four hundred different vegetables, herbs, fruits, and other plants, and an estimated six thousand pounds of food per year.125


The urban food supply was always a contentious issue in Rome and remained a challenge throughout its long history. Although chronic alimentary insecurity was a major feature of everyday plebeian life in the ancient city, food and dining were central to Roman culture, as both were imbued with social and even religious significance. Food is a ubiquitous topic in all genres of Roman literature, since it oftentimes served as one of the primary vehicles through which wealthy elites exerted control over the lower classes. Measures ranged from enacting laws regarding the sale of foods and what could be served at private dinners, and even who could attend, to the regulation of the grain supply, which often had far-reaching political consequences. Rome’s rulers and wealthy elites utilized every venue possible to maintain their positions of power and influence, including monopolizing and controlling access to food supplies. At the same time, however, to maintain social order they had to ensure that the population was being adequately provided for. As one modern study revealed, “when the ability of the political system to provide security for the population breaks down, popular support disappears. Conditions of widespread threat to security are particularly present when food is inaccessible to the population at large.”126

The wealthy and powerful also reinforced their positions by establishing a cultural divide between themselves and the city’s poorer residents. As Robert Paarlberg noted, “food insecurity grows out of social inequality. In Central America, food supplies are generally plentiful, but indigenous people do not have the land, the employment, the social status or the legal protections they need to prosper and feed their families with assurance. In South Asia, landless laborers from low-caste backgrounds may suffer chronic malnutrition in villages where food is readily available for everyone else,” demonstrating that a lack of food supplies is not always to blame.127 Lack of access is often based on other factors. In Rome, this came in the form of controls on food outlets, such as the cook shops, that ordinary people were heavily dependent on. Although they often cited vice as the reason for stringent regulation, rulers curiously left brothels and other similar establishments largely unaffected, suggesting that more than just moral regulation was involved.128

Rulers and wealthy elites also used the control of food to advance their own agendas, by bestowing both public and private feasts to gain social support and an advantage over political rivals and competitors while engaging in conspicuous consumption. As Holleran points out, banquets “were used to form alliances, to obtain electoral support, to increase political influence, and to establish the power of the hosts, often at the expense of their guests.”129 Sumptuary laws aimed at curtailing the spiraling costs of these banquets were minimally successful. They had essentially ceased by the early Principate as emperors increasingly engaged in public displays of munificence bordering on theatrical spectacle to enhance their often-tenuous legitimacy. Their guests, however, were not completely powerless. Scathing criticisms in the poems of literary figures such as Martial or Juvenal, who mercilessly mocked individuals for their voluptuous excess, would also have affected their social standing as food-both that consumed and dining habits-was closely associated with morality, or a lack thereof. The wealthy could also engage in the direct distribution of foods, which often occurred at religious events, public dedications or celebrations, and even funerals, thereby relieving some of the social tension between the upper and lower classes.

Ordinary Romans also engaged in some resistance, however, sometimes violently but more often passively, by attempting to circumvent regulations imposed on them. There existed an active street trade, even for cooked goods. If residents did not have ready access to cooking facilities, they could purchase from mobile vendors and sellers at temporary stalls set up all over the city, even if sometimes illicitly. People also cultivated some foods themselves, both at their dwellings and possibly at other locations in the city and on its immediate outskirts, including in the vast cemeteries which stretched for miles along the roads. Other foods people probably scavenged, such as the leftovers and remains of funerary banquets and public sacrifices. They also purchased some supplies at the markets, or traded informally in exchange for other goods or labor, as in the modern day. It was not necessarily the case that there was a greater degree of self-sufficiency in Rome than in other ancient societies, where the vast majority of inhabitants were engaged in subsistence agriculture. But in the case of Rome, self-sufficiency was not just a matter of necessity; it was a deeply entrenched value which even poor Romans apparently pursued, not just as a means of survival.

Unfortunately, many of the measurers employed by Roman rulers and the wealthy are all too familiar, as those in the modern day continue to attempt to monopolize food supplies to gain compliance from their populaces. As C.P. Mishra and Zoobi Khanam have observed, “the 20th century is full of examples of governments undermining the food security of their own nations-sometimes intentionally… [D]ictators and warlords have used food as a political weapon, rewarding their supporters while denying food supplies to areas that oppose their rule. Under such conditions food becomes a currency with which to buy support and famine becomes an effective weapon to be used against the opposition.”130 In more recent decades, UN officials have noted similar situations. In one case, more than 100,000 people in South Sudan were experiencing famine due to the government blocking food aid, exacerbated by a three-year long civil war.131 Food is “used as a weapon of warfare” by government officials and insurgents alike, who frequently seize overseas aid to feed soldiers rather than the general population, effectively using food as a recruitment tool to increase the ranks of fighters and supporters.132 Similarly, an FAO World Food Summit determined that poverty and deprivation are “underlying causes of endemic conflict and civil violence,” due to territorial disputes and ongoing conflicts over resources, which increasingly includes water.133

Understanding how Rome’s urban food supply system, which was greatly affected by its underlying social structure, functioned and persisted, can enhance our understanding of related situations in the modern day. Studying issues surrounding the ancient food supply provides insight into possible coping mechanisms inhabitants employed to enhance their food security, including by home cultivation and the development of various other strategies, such as the reliance on elaborate social networks consisting of employers, relatives, friends, and other supporters. It is vital to acknowledge that even if the ancient urban food supply was often piecemeal, this complex system was also largely successful. A stable food supply is the foundation for the success of any civilization. The city of Rome, even with its many problems, grew to such an unprecedented size in antiquity that it would not be matched again for a millennium, and its complex food supply system contributed significantly to its longevity.


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  1. *All translations are Loeb Classical Library Editions (Cambridge: Harvard University Press) unless otherwise noted.

    To normalize her weight, the singer turned to the famous star coach and nutritionist Isaac. He taught her how to choose the right foods and monitored her daily exercise. Under the supervision of the trainer Ariana managed to lose about 5 kilograms, and now she successfully keeps the shape she achieved in 2012. Ariana Grande’s diet consisted of several aspects. First, the coach recommended her Ariana Grande before fame to give up starchy and fast carbohydrates: potatoes, rice, bread, pasta, oatmeal. Her sweet tooth was also reduced to once a week. This was the hardest point of the diet for the singer, because she was very fond of sweets.

    It is perhaps helpful to define, as Wilkins and Hill did, the wealthy “urban elite” as the upper 10 percent of the population of the city, who were less affected by the direct results of food insecurity than the rest of the population: “as far as the elites were concerned, the main dangers of food shortages were not to their food supplies but to political stability.” John Wilkins and Shaun Hill, Food in the Ancient World (John Wiley & Sons, 2009), 51. Kristina Killgrove argues that elites comprised only about two percent of the population. See Kristina Killgrove and Robert H. Tykot, “Food for Rome: A Stable Isotope Investigation of Diet in the Imperial period (1st-3rd centuries AD),” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32:1 (2013), 23.

  2. Plaut., Capt., 460-464; 466-470.
  3. Lindsay Falvey, “The Role of Food Security Planning in Food-Insecure Nations,” Food Security: Science, Sustainability and Governance, Conference, Rendezvous Hotel, Melbourne, Sept. 27-28, 2012: 16. Riots in the late Republic and early Empire are attested in 75, 57, and 22 BC, and 51 AD.
  4. Alan Beardsworth and Teresa Keil, Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of Food and Society (London: Routledge, 2002), 52.
  5. Cato the Elder, Agr., 2.2. This author of a second-century-B.C.E. (c. 160 B.C.E.) agricultural treatise on estate management also instructed owners to sell old or sickly slaves, so it is fairly clear that he viewed them as little more than livestock. Similar to his discussion of how to feed animals such as oxen used for agricultural labor, slaves were allotted food proportionate to the amount of work they were expected to perform. Cato recommended that slaves with jobs not as physically demanding as field workers be granted a lesser ration.
  6. See Peter Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World: Responses to Risk and Crisis (Cambridge University Press, 1989), 58. Specifically, he states that “patronage is a lasting relationship between individuals of unequal wealth or power involving the asymmetrical exchange of goods and services. Patrons make available, as gifts or on loan, money, food, farming equipment or seed, and furnish legal assistance and protection. They receive in return labour, produce, political support and social prestige.”
  7. Christophe Badel, “Alimentation et société dans la Rome classique: bilan historiographique (IIe siècle av. J.-C. – IIe siècle apr. J.-C.),” in Dialogues d’histoire ancienne, Supplément n° 7, 2012: 142.
  8. See Nathan Rosenstein, “Aristocrats and Agriculture in the Middle and Late Republic,” The Journal of Roman Studies 98 (2008): 1-26; Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World, pp. 43-88.
  9. For amounts and types of grains consumed, see especially Killgrove and Tykot, “Food for Rome,” and J. Evans, “‘Plebs Rustica‘: The Peasantry of Classical Italy,” American Journal of Ancient History 5 (1980): 134-173; P. Faas, Around the Roman Table: Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome (University of Chicago Press, 1994); Peter Garnsey, “Mass Diet and Nutrition in the City of Rome,” in A. Giovannini, ed., Nourrir la plèbe. Actes du colloque tenu a Genève les 28 et 29 IX 1989 en hommage a Denis van Berchem (Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag Basel, Kassel, 1991): 67-101; also P. Garnsey, Food and Society in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge University Press, 1991) and P. Garnsey and D. Rathbone, “The Background to the Grain law of Gaius Gracchus,” Journal of Roman Studies 75 (1985): 20-25; Giuseppe Nenci, “Il miglio e il panico nell’alimentazione delle popolazioni mediterranee,” Demografia, sistemi agrari, regimi alimentari nel mondo antico (Bari: Edipuglia, 1999): 25-36; M. Spurr, “The Cultivation of Millet in Roman Italy,” Papers of the British School at Rome 51 (1983): 1-15.
  10. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World, 14; 18. Shortage was common to the degree that the Romans employed various terms, each seemingly with a particular nuance (albeit not necessarily denoting intensity), including fames, inopia, penuria, caritas, and annona (cara, gravis), to name a few.
  11. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World, ix-x.
  12. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World, 6.
  13. C.P. Mishra and Zoobi Khanam, “Food Security: Challenges and Options,” Indian Journal of Preventive and Social Medicine 41: 3/4 (2010). Available at: http://medind.nic.in/ibl/t10/i3/iblt10i3p127.pdf. Last accessed: 21 Dec., 2018.
  14. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World, 86.
  15. Nicola A. Hudson, “Food in Roman Satire,” in Susan H. Braund and Susanna Morton Braund, eds., Satire and Society in Ancient Rome (Liverpool University Press, 1989), 76.
  16. An archetypical bit of moralizing is found in Pliny the Elder, who wrote that “one hundred million sestertii per annum is the amount our women and our luxuries run through.” Plin., HN, 12.84. The Roman poet Horace (65-8 B.C.E.) spoke laudably of a country dweller’s diet, which consisted of little more than a shank of ham or a plate of greens on a work day, but if a neighbor stopped by, the frugal farmer could entertain his guests with a chicken or lamb, but “not with fish sent from out of town,” and dessert consisting of simple raisins, figs, and nuts, along with wine. Hor., Sat. 2.2.
  17. The numbers of citizens eligible for free or subsidized grain varied widely over time. For example, the dictator Sulla had abandoned the provision altogether in 81 B.C.E. (Sall., Hist., 1.55), but M. Emilius Lepidus in 78 B.C.E. (Sall., Hist., 3.48; Cic., Sest., 55; II Verr., 2.163) restored the amount to five modii per month. The lex Terentia Cassia in 73 B.C.E., proposed by M. Terentius Varro and C. Cassius Longinus, returned to the monthly ration of five modii at a subsidized price (Cic., II Verr., 5.52, 3.163). Suetonius stated that Julius Caesar reduced the number of those eligible from 320,000 to 150,000 (Suet., Iul., 41.3). By the time of Augustus, a reported 250,000 were receiving grain rations (Elio Lo Cascio, “Le procedure di recensus dalla tarda repubblica al tardoantico e il calcolo della popolazione di Roma,” Collection-École Française de Rome 230 (1997), 23-26). Shortages could also cause changes in the distribution, as in 18 B.C.E. when Augustus reportedly provided additional grain at his own expense to 100,000 persons, suggesting that he may have previously reduced the number of recipients (See Meijer, “Cicero and the Costs of the Republican Grain Laws,” 162). Thus, nutritional requirements were probably met for enrolled individuals, but the allotment would not have been sufficient to support an entire family.
  18. Scant physical evidence in the city of Rome itself requires us to look for comparable examples elsewhere, most notably at Ostia, Rome’s ancient port city, but also in smaller towns, such as Pompeii, where the archaeological record is more complete.
  19. Ostia’s development “coincides with the building of New Rome, the Rome that rose from the ashes of the Great Fire. When studying Ostia one studies Imperial Rome of the same period, with minor differences… The two cities have everything in common but that the dimensions differ: residences in Rome are on average smaller and more cramped than in Ostia.” Gustav Hermansen, Ostia: Aspects of Roman City Life (University of Alberta, 1981), 10.
  20. A shop sign dating to the late second century C.E., found on the Via della Foce in Ostia depicts a poultry seller with live rabbits or hares in cages on display. FU 2380, Fototeca Unione, American Academy in Rome. See also J.M.C. Toynbee, Animals in Roman Life and Art, 57; fig. 13. Another relief sculpture depicts a modest vegetable vendor from Ostia. FU 2383, Fototeca Unione, American Academy in Rome.
  21. Steven J.R. Ellis, “The Pompeian Bar: Archaeology and the Role of Food and Drink Outlets in an Ancient Community,” Food and History 2:1 (2004), 41. Hermansen explains the seeming discrepancy in the numbers in that Ostia likely featured more popinae but many of the identifying traits, such as the wood counters, were lost when the city became submerged in mud over the centuries, before it was excavated: “what we have now in Ostia is what was built in masonry. But many of those masonry counters were poorly built and have not been able to resist decay and destruction. A fair number of counters easily recognizable at the time of their excavation have since disappeared” (186-7). Sometimes, especially if shops were small, identification is difficult. In one case, three of the smallest attested bars in Ostia were identified as such by the presence of paintings of chalices, also attested in other bars (no. 15 and no. 32). In another case, a possible bar was identified from a single inscription in a mosaic floor, which read, “the host Fortunatus says: drink wine from the crather if you are thirsty,” so it is possible that yet more of these establishments were present in the towns, but were not identified as such. Hermansen, Ostia, 144; 147; 185.
  22. Ellis, “The Pompeian Bar,” 43. These included unpopular emperors, such as Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vitellius, Lucius Verus, and Commodus.
  23. The term taberna usually refers to an individual shop, often located on the bottom floors of the great insulae, which were the massive brick and wood structures, some more than five stories in height, which housed the majority of Rome’s population. Several of these large blocks can still be found in Ostia, Rome’s ancient port city, and a few at Pompeii, but their type differs somewhat. Only one is found relatively intact in Rome, a structure known as the insula Ara Coeli, located at the base of the Capitoline Hill.
  24. See Steven J.R. Ellis, “The Distribution of Bars at Pompeii: Archaeological, Spatial and Viewshed Analyses,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 17 (2004), 371. He notes that these establishments are often identified and labeled based on the Latin names assigned at the time of discovery by modern scholars, which include tabernae, popinae, cauponae, and thermopolia, but it is unclear as to how these shops were differentiated in ancient times. According to Badel, the latter term is usually considered a “neologism of Plautus, whose usage was not diffused,” although it is sometimes used by modern scholars interchangeably with others referring to the bars or cooked food shops. See Badel, “Alimentation et société dans la Rome Classique,” 143. Hermansen states that some referred to hotels, but that the usage changed over time: a caupona, hospitium, and stabulum refer to hotel accommodations, which often also offered meals. However, the term caupona eventually came to refer to a “low-grade saloon,” whereas a popina was a restaurant which served food and drinks but did not offer accommodations. A taberna is a more general term simply referring to any type of shop which offered a variety of goods and services. See Hermansen, Ostia, 192. If popinae did not offer accommodations, which could potentially be used for prostitution, the morality question loses some of its strength: persons could purchase wine and drink elsewhere.
  25. Tönnes Kleberg, Hôtels, restaurants et cabarets dans l’antiquité romaine: études historiques et philologiques, 61 (Almqvist & Wiksells boktr., 1957), 114.
  26. Mart., Ep., 5.70.2-4. Specifically, he mentions “Syriscus, who tours the popinae with table service around the baths,” which seemed a common place for them.
  27. One on the Via di Diana (no. 3), and the other the popina of Alexander Helix (no. 32). See Hermansen, Ostia, 195.
  28. John DeFelice, “Inns and Taverns,” in John J. Dobbins and Pedar W. Foss, eds., The World of Pompeii (New York: Routledge, 2007), 478. A fresco found in the Caupona di Salvius depicts two seated male customers (but without a table, in this example), trying to get the attention of the barmaid, who is depicted bearing a cup and a jug of wine. See also John R. Clarke, Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans: Visual Representation and Non-Elite Viewers in Italy, 100 BC-AD 315 (University of California Press, 2006), color Figs. 7 and 9; Bragantini, “Caupona di Salvius,” l’PMV: Irene Bragantini, “VI 14, 35.36: Caupona di Salvius,” in Pompei: Pitture e mosaici 5, 371, figs. #5, 7a.
  29. Suet., Tib., 34.1.
  30. Cass. Dio., 60.6.7.
  31. There is some physical evidence for the production of hot water at bars. In Ostia, one shop apparently had a base for a type of water heater, and several, including tavern no. 3, 18 (III.1.10) and 27 (IV.ii.2), show the remains of lead pipes. In the last example, no. 27, there is evidence of a water line leading to the counter basin under a mosaic floor, which appears to have been repaired in antiquity. See Hermansen, Ostia, 130; 189, for a brief description.
  32. Suet., Ner., 16.2; Cass. Dio, 62.14.2.
  33. Badel, “Alimentation et société dans la Rome classique,” 144.
  34. That regulations were revised over time, even if somewhat haphazardly, suggests that they were enforced to some degree, as they were not simply abandoned altogether. In terms of either methods of enforcement or specific punishments for violations, the sources are largely silent. However, Caligula reportedly had a man executed for selling hot water (Cass. Dio. 59.11.6) in violation of the regulations, although this was apparently viewed as extreme. Cassius Dio (59.10.8) also noted that after the death of his sister, he reportedly punished anyone who had entertained or even bathed during the prescribed mourning period, so it is evident that there were ways of enforcing legislation. See also fn. 101 re: Caesar’s enforcement of sumptuary legislation concerning banquets and prohibited goods.
  35. Cass. Dio, 60.6-7.
  36. Hermansen, Ostia, 202. For the Insula Orientalis at Herculaneum (II 13) see J.J. Deiss, Herculaneum (New York: 1966), 3;18; 156, and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Herculaneum: Past and Future (London: Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2011). Hermansen contends that “these laws would be meticulously enforced in Ostia since it was so close to Rome. The status of Rome was different from other places in the Empire in that all laws to uphold peace and order were rigorously observed there.” Whatever effects there would have been would ostensibly have been felt in Rome and towns in close proximity, like Ostia, the most.
  37. Devastating fires remained common in Rome, attested to in 23, 14, 9 and 7 B.C.E., until finally a fire brigade was established under Augustus (Cass. Dio, 53.33; 54.24, 29; 55.1.8). See Reynolds, “Forma Urbis Romae,” 157-8. Cooking facilities were often hazardous. Tacitus (Ann., 15.38-41) described the devastating fire in 64 C.E., which reportedly broke out in a taberna adjacent to the Circus Maximus but then quickly spread to other parts of the city, ending with the destruction of some 132 domus and more than 4,000 insulae. Suet., Ner., 16.2; See also John Pollini, “Burning Rome, Burning Christians,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Nero (2017), 213.
  38. Even in the great houses, kitchens were small and not typically very elaborate or well-equipped. Facilities in insulae would have been even more limited. In Ostia, only three equipped kitchens have been uncovered, but in one instance (Casa delle Volte Dipinte), the structure was probably a hotel rather than a residential building. See Hermansen, Ostia, 43; 82.
  39. Hermansen, Ostia, 131. The popina in Ostia, located on the Via di Diana, retains frescoes which depict what was ostensibly sold in the shop: green olives, vegetables such as turnips, and what appear to be eggs or peaches, and some type of food item hanging from a nail in the wall.
  40. Zvi Yavetz, “The Living Conditions of the Urban Plebs in Republican Rome,” Latomus 17, Fasc. 3 (1958), 510. As Yavetz notes, “Livy’s history is strewn with dozens of fires in Rome at different times,” including one in 213 B.C.E. which raged for two days, destroying the area of the vegetable market, followed by another three years later in the area of the forum, which destroyed many tabernae and the fish market, and still a third in 203 B.C.E., which swept through a street on the densely populated Aventine Hill, an area where the poor were concentrated, completely destroying structures along an entire street. For examples of historic fires, see Liv., Ab Urb., 24.47.15; 26.27.1-3; 30.26.5.
  41. Horace described “greasy” and “foul” popinae (Ep., 1.14.21 specifically uncta popina, and Sat., 2.4.62, imundae popinae) while Martial similarly called them “tepid” (Ep., 1.41.9, i.e., tepidae popinae). Apparently they were not all that bad, however: Horace also noted the draw of the cook shops which tempted even his own steward to leave the country in favor of the town (Ep., 1.14). However, much in addition to food was on offer at many of these establishments, including gambling and, often, prostitution.
  42. Mireille Corbier, “The Ambiguous Status of Meat in Ancient Rome,” Food and Foodways 3:3 (1989): 223-264; Tracy Prowse, et al., “Isotopic Paleodiet Studies of Skeletons from the Imperial Roman-Age Cemetery of Isola Sacra, Rome, Italy,” Journal of Archaeological Science 31:3 (2004): 259-272; Claire Holleran, Shopping in Ancient Rome: The Retail Trade in the Late Republic and the Principate (Oxford University Press, 2012) for a discussion of the significance of meat in the Roman diet.
  43. Justin J. Meggitt, “Meat Consumption and Social Conflict in Corinth,” The Journal of Theological Studies 45:1 (1994): 137-141. Re: sausages and blood puddings, see Mart., Ep., 1.41.9; for tripe, see Hor., Ep., 1.15.34. Meggitt notes further, “in fact these cuts often appeared unappetizing to many of the Graeco-Roman non-elite themselves, as we can see from Juvenal’s third satire: the mugger ridicules the poverty of his victim, before administering his beating, by, amongst other things, accusing him of recently eating ‘elixi vervecit labra’, literally ‘boiled lambs lips’; adding, as it were, insult to injury (Juv., Sat., 3.294).”
  44. Marie-Adeline Le Guennec, “Alterites gastronoimques et infames metissages de la popina romaine,” Hypotheses 15 (2012), 357.
  45. Sen, Vit. Ben., 7.3.
  46. Cic., in Cat., 2.4.
  47. Ulp., Dig., 8.21.11.
  48. Specifically, humilem et abjectam feminam. Codex. Just., 5.5.7. Cicero had previously noted the sordidi (vulgar) occupations, which included the least respectable occupations such as cooks, perfumers, dancers, and anyone involved in entertainment (Cic., de Off., 150). Inns, or hospitia, which had sleeping quarters, were probably more likely to be associated with activities such as prostitution than the cook shops which just had seating, although other unsavory activities such as gambling (and sedition) could ostensibly take place. See J. Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press 1940) and Michele D’Avino, The Women of Pompeii (Naples: Lofredo, 1967).
  49. Juv., Sat., 8.158, which mentions a certain Lateranus who frequented all-night popinae where he would bask in the company of unsavory characters including sailors, thieves, fugitive slaves, and coffin makers, while even lying on a couch next to an assassin. This behavior would have differentiated men of distinction from the lower classes, in the places they ate and even what they ate.
  50. Ellis, “The Pompeian Bar,” 42.
  51. Corbier, “The Ambiguous Status of Meat in Ancient Rome,” 233.
  52. Mart., Ep., 7.61. In 92 C.E., Domitian had to propagate an edict to control this phenomenon. See also Plin., Ep., 10.34. Trajan was so paranoid of associations that he would not even allow Pliny’s request for the founding of a fire brigade in Bithynia. See Meggitt, “Meat Consumption,” 137-141.
  53. Suet., Tib., 34.1.
  54. Suet., Claud., 40.1.
  55. Hermansen, Ostia, 202. These were essentially wine bars, which are more attested at Ostia than places like Pompeii and Herculaneum, which disappeared in 79 C.E.
  56. Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, “Emperors and Houses in Rome,” in Suzanne Dixon, ed., Childhood, Class and Kin in the Roman World (London: Routledge, 2001), 137.
  57. Wallace-Hadrill, “Emperors and Houses in Rome,” 137. Further, he noted that “Caesar as dictator makes the crucial innovation by taking a census of the city, ‘not in the usual way and place, but by neighbourhoods through the owners of blocks of property,’ as local knowledge served as ‘a basis for control of the corn dole,’ in addition to wider administration.”
  58. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply, 15. Admittedly, allocating food via public banquets or private dinners primarily affected those in large cities, as much of the population was still involved in subsistence agriculture in the countryside, or even in Rome’s vast suburbium.
  59. John F. Donahue, The Roman Community at Table during the Principate (University of Michigan Press, 2004), 1.
  60. Agricultural treatise author Varro even wrote that because the ox was “man’s partner in his rustic labors and the servant of Ceres, the ancients thus wished his life to be safe and so made it a capital offence to kill one,” the exception being for sacrifice, as some breeds of cattle were especially favored for the purpose, particularly large white cattle, which featured in a number of surviving paintings and relief sculptures. Varro, Rust., 2.5.4-5.
  61. Porphyry (On Abstinence from Animal Food, 2.13-14) noted as much, stating that animals were highly expensive whereas other foods which could be offered at sacrifices, including fruits and vegetables, were much easier (and cheaper) to come by.
  62. Plut., Sulla, 35.
  63. Plut., Caes., 55.4; John F. Donahue, Food and Drink in Antiquity: Readings from the Graeco-Roman World (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 171. Donahue suggests that 198,000 Romans would have required a minimum of 275,000 square meters. His figures assume 12.5 sq. m. minimum per triclinium, using the numbers provided by Plutarch. John F. Donahue, The Roman Community at Table during the Principate (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2004), 32-33. Tiberius and Caligula continued this tradition, holding additional outdoor public banquets in 9 B.C.E. and 37 C.E., respectively.
  64. Plut., Crass., 12.2.
  65. Cass. Dio, 55.2.4.
  66. Donahue, The Roman Community at Table During the Principate, 14-15.
  67. “Mile-Long Trench Prepared For Inauguration Barbecue; Cowboy Chef Almost Ready,” The Morning Tulsa Daily World, Dec. 28., 1922. See also Robert Moss, Barbecue: The History of an American Institution (University of Alabama Press, 2010).
  68. Mo Rocca, “The Essence of Barbecue,” CBS News, 15 Jul., 2012. Available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-essence-of-barbecue/. Last accessed 10 Dec., 2018.
  69. CIL 2.1956=(ILS) 5512. This inscription states that the priestess, who evidently was fantastically wealthy, rebuilt public porticoes, donated a parcel of land for the construction of baths, and provided both games and a public feast at her own expense.
  70. John F. Donahue, “The Floating Feasts of Ancient Rome,” Celebrations: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery (2011), 102.
  71. Donahue, Food and Drink in Antiquity, 172. He cites the example of Statius (Occasional Poems [Silvae]) 1.6.9-20; 28-34, which described an apparently elaborate banquet, where diners were served cakes and honey-cheese fritters, fruit, wine cakes, dates showering from a hidden palm, and baskets of bread with white napkins, but Donahue finds it dubious that all participants consumed the same foods; indeed, the above examples seem to indicate that it was common to serve people according to their status and proximity to the host.
  72. Donahue “The Floating Feasts of Rome,” 95. Ever the aficionado for the theatrical, Nero, according to the historian Tacitus (Ann., 15.37), “in order to convince the people that nothing was equally joyful to him, began to arrange banquets in public places and to utilize the entire city as his palace…. He constructed, therefore, on the pool of Agrippa, a raft with a banquet on deck,” reportedly even featuring naked prostitutes and other hedonistic pleasures, to the point that his banquets became spectacle and entertainment in addition to a meal, resembling highly orchestrated theater.
  73. Plin., Ep., 2.8.
  74. Theophrastus (Characters, 9) describes a post-sacrifice dinner featuring sacrificial meat, where even slaves were brought along and given meat and bread from the dinner table. Similarly, Plautus’ slave characters (i.e., Plaut., Stich., 690) were portrayed as enjoying decent fare at dinners, including high-calorie foods such as nuts, olives, and beans, as well as nutritious fruits such as figs, but this was probably a rarity. The festival of the Saturnalia involved a role reversal, where masters honored the slaves with a dinner prepared for them as if they were the masters of the house, and only after the slaves had dined was the table reset for the rest of the household. See Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.4.22-3.
  75. For example, Cicero admonished one of his friends, who had apparently abandoned dining with friends, that “nothing is better adapted to living well. I am not referring to the pleasure of the palate, but to the fellowship of life and food…” Cic. Ad Fam. Pap., 9.24.2-3.
  76. See Donahue, The Roman Community at Table During the Principate, 7-11, for a detailed discussion of the terms referring to Roman meals, some of which are highly nuanced.
  77. Le Guennec, “Alterites gastronoimques et infames metissages de la popina romaine,” 361.
  78. Donahue, The Roman Community at Table During the Principate, 8.
  79. Hudson, “Food in Roman Satire,” 82, see also fn. 32.
  80. One notable example is Martial’s character Selius, who seemingly stopped at nothing to procure a dinner invitation, ranging far and wide into the city in search of a meal when he discovers that the only alternative was to eat at home. Mart., Ep., 2.14. Again, this is doubtless poetic exaggeration, but it does suggest the highly desirable nature of procuring a meal at a wealthy patron’s house.
  81. Juv., Sat., 1.127-46. A primary way for a client to support a patron was to visit their home to greet them in the morning and accompany them during daily activities.
  82. Plin., Ep. Septicius Clarus, 1.15.
  83. See Petr., Satyr., for various fictitious events which essentially constituted theater, including the cutting of the meat, out of which flew live songbirds, and bringing live animals into the dining room to introduce to guests before they were to be cooked. In this fictionalized account, the host almost serves as the ringmaster or director, proceeding through the various entertainments in the form of food presentation at an outrageous dinner party.
  84. We must take caution in accepting poetic or literary descriptions of dinners at face value; they are intended to provoke shock and even humor, and are clearly exaggerated. Luke Roman notes that “Martial’s cosmopolitan dinner menu surpasses the bounds of any plausible single dinner…It is interesting to note that Martial’s lists of food, consumer items and objets d’art match the lists and catalogues in the Elder Pliny’s Naturalis Historia,” however. Even if it constitutes literary exaggeration and poetic license, the specific items he mentions are based in culinary reality. See Luke Roman, “Martial and the City of Rome,” The Journal of Roman Studies 100 (2010), 88; 90.
  85. Mart., Ep., 13.41 for suckling pigs; 13.54 for sow’s udders; 13.66 for turtledoves;13.45 for guinea fowl, pheasants, and unspecified farmyard birds (chortis aves); 13.52 for ducks; 13.51 for fieldfares.
  86. Cic., Fam., 9.18.3; Mart., Ep., 13.70 laments: “do you admire it, as often as it spreads its spangled wings, and have you the heart, unfeeling man, to deliver this bird to a cruel cook?”
  87. Suet., Vitell., 13.2. In a similar vein, according to Pliny the Elder, one banquet hosted by an actor featured a dish consisting only of songbirds’ tongues. Plin., HN, 12.72.
  88. Mart., Ep., 3.60.3-10. See also Ep., 12.48.
  89. See Pet., Satyr. 65-6. Specifically, here, “a choice of nuts and apples each. I took two myself, and … tied them up in my napkin; for if I do not bring some gift back to my pet slave-boy, I’ll be in trouble.”
  90. See Vincent J. Rosivach, “The lex Fannia Sumptuaria of 161 BC,” The Classical Journal 102:1 (Oct.-Nov., 2006): 1-15; Wallace-Hadrill, 2008: 329-330. See fn. 11 for a discussion of some of this legislation.
  91. Deri Pode Miles, Forbidden Pleasures: Sumptuary Laws and the Ideology of Moral Decline in Ancient Rome (Ph.D. Dissertation, University College, London, 1987),75. Miles noted that the laws limiting what could be purchased for games, inaugural banquets, and private events may have assisted in lowering the cost of food in general, as they prevented an enormous demand all at once from driving up costs (113; Cass. Dio 54.17;; Ulp., Dig.,; for Augustus’ forbidding of public banquets for his birthday celebration, Cass. Dio, 55.26.1; Suet., Aug., 42.3.
  92. The two primary sources which describe this legislation are Aulus Gellius (Noctes Atticae, 2.24), writing in the second century, and Macrobius (Saturnalia, esp. 3.17) from the fourth century. Aulus Gellius states that frugality among the early Romans was secured “by public penalties and the inviolable provisions of numerous laws.” The lex Fannia of 161 B.C.E. enacted legislation concerning both public and private table expenditure, limiting the amount spent on dinners ranging from 100 asses (25 HS: one sesterce = 4 asses) for special festivals, to not more than 30 asses per day on non-festival days, and also that not more than a single hen should be served (Plin., HN, 10.50.71). It also stipulated that a maximum of 100 pounds of silver should be allowed at the table. The lex Aemilia sumptuaria of 115 B.C.E. and the lex Licinia of circa 103 B.C.E. stipulated even further controls. The former prohibited particular foods, including dormice, rats, mussels, and foreign fowl (Plin., HN, 8.57.223). The lex Licinia revised the legislation to make it less stringent, increasing the amounts to HS 100 asses for certain designated days, but 200 for marriage feasts and 30 for all other days; the lex Sulla of 80 B.C.E. increased the amount to HS 300 on certain feast days and HS 30 on all other days; the lex Iulia of 1 B.C.E./C.E., which allowed for HS 200 on regular days, 300 on certain feast days, and 1000 for wedding feasts (see Suet., Aug, 34.1); and an edict of Augustus or Tiberius increased the limit from HS 300 to an almost unfathomable HS 2,000 for feast days, making “sumptuary” legislation almost useless. The average daily wage for a working Roman was HS 4 per day. Tiberius reportedly attempted to encourage virtue by example in serving leftovers from dinner parties held the previous day, including half-eaten boars, declaring that it had the same qualities as a whole one. The food safety implications are obvious. (Suet., Tib., 34). Nero stipulated that public banquets were restricted to a distribution of food, perhaps in response to the mass celebrations of Republican generals, who reportedly fed thousands during their triumphs (Suet., Ner., 16.2).
  93. Suet., Iul., 43.
  94. After the (typically cremated) remains of the deceased were interred, family members returned to the tomb on the ninth day of mourning to consume a ritual meal, but this was not the only occasion where banquets were held; Ovid described the annual festival to commemorate deceased family members, the Parentalia, in February, which consisted of a week-long festival where families brought food offerings to the tombs of their ancestors (Fast., 2.533-542). A surviving inscription (CIL 6.26554) also expressed a wish that descendants would come in good health to the funeral feast and enjoy themselves along with (living) diners.
  95. Jocelyn M.C. Toynbee, Death and Burial in the Roman World (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 51.
  96. Emma-Jayne Graham, “The Quick and the Dead in the Extra-Urban Landscape: The Roman Cemetery at Ostia/Portus as a Lived Environment,” TRAC: Proceedings of the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (2005), 135.
  97. Mart., Ep., 1.34.8; 3.93.15.
  98. Graham, “The Quick and the Dead,” 135-136; 138. Several, including tombs 34 and 89, had ovens, ostensibly for preparation of the feasts, possibly baking bread or heating food items. See also Guido Calza, La Necropoli del Porto di Roma nell’Isola Sacra (La Libreria dello Stato, 1940): 332.
  99. Graham, “The Quick and the Dead,” 139.
  100. CIL 6.10234.
  101. CIL 9.23 = Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae (ILS) 6472. This inscription from modern-day Lecce in southern Italy dates to the early second-century C.E.
  102. CIL 9.23 = (ILS) 6472. The stipulations were 20 sesterces worth of meat for each local councilor, 12 for each of the priests of Augustus, 10 for the priests of Mercury, and 8 per person for each of the townspeople.
  103. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World, 206.
  104. Ibid., 6.
  105. Holleran, Shopping in Ancient Rome, 194. It is somewhat difficult to study the informal street traders, as there is no specific term to describe them. See fn. 9 in Holleran, 198.
  106. Antonia-Leda Matalas and Mary Yannakoulia “Greek Street Food Vending: An Old Habit Turned New,” Street Foods 86 (2000), 12; fn. 46.
  107. Holleran, Shopping in Ancient Rome, 214.
  108. Mart., Ep., 7.61; Papin., Dig., 43.10.l.4 re: keeping public spaces clear of illegal buildings. See also Paul., Dig., 43.8.1.pr; Ulp., Dig.,, 43.8.7; see also Holleran, Shopping in Ancient Rome, 214.
  109. Sen., Ben,. 6.38.3; Sid. Apoll., Epist., 1.7.8.
  110. Fruit: see CIL VI 9822, re: a fruit seller who sold fruit to attendees of the games in Rome; see also Calp., Ecl. 5.97; Lucil., 5.221-2; Cic., Div., 2.84; Holleran, Shopping in Ancient Rome, 214; vegetables: see Hor., Sat. 1.6.111; Petr., Satyr., 6-7; for milk, see Calp., Ecl., 5.97; for Mart., Ep., 1.41.5-10; Sen., Ep., 56.2.
  111. CIL IV 1768, 1769.
  112. Ulp., Dig.,
  113. Holleran, Shopping in Ancient Rome, 214. Seneca apparently lived near a bathhouse and described the sellers as pastry cooks, sausage dealers, and confectioners, “each with their own distinct intonation.” Sen., Ep., 56.2. Martial also described the cooked chickpea vendors, salt-fishmongers (the equivalent of ancient Roman fish and chips, perhaps?), and sausage sellers. Mart., Ep., l.41.5-10.
  114. Matalas and Yannakoulia “Greek Street Food Vending,” 10.
  115. L’Annee Epigraphique, Presses universitaires de France, 1975, 197.
  116. F. Pirson, “Rented Accommodation at Pompeii: The Evidence of the Insula Arriana Polliana VI.6,” in R. Laurence and A. Wallace-Hadrill, eds., Domestic Space in the Roman World: Pompeii and Beyond (Portsmouth, RI: 1997), 165-182.
  117. Sen., Ep., 122.8.
  118. James E. Packer, The Insulae of Imperial Ostia (Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Vol. 31, 1971).
  119. Plin., HN, 19.19.51-52.
  120. Plin., HN, 19.19.59; Mart., Ep., 11.18.15-17.
  121. Wilhelmina Jashemski, The Gardens of Pompeii: Herculaneum and the Villas Destroyed by Vesuvius (New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas Brothers, 1979), 172.
  122. Jashemski, The Gardens of Pompeii, 183. A few workshops have been found that feature small gardens. It is not possible to determine what was sold in them but relief sculptures such as the one featuring the hares in cages suggest that fresh produce or even small livestock may have been sold in such venues. See p. 184.
  123. Linda Farrar, Gardens of Italy and the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire: From the 4th Century BC to the 4th Century AD, Vol. 650 (British Archaeological Reports, 1996), 9. See also Petron., Satyr., 15.71. Those contained in the Corpus Inscriptionem Latinarum read as follows: VI 13823: “to this tomb belong the vegetable garden which is enclosed within the wall, and the summer house built beside the door to serve as a porter’s lodge.” Ibid., 31852: “shops, three in number, to the left and right of the tomb… and the enclosed market garden within, and including the lodgings on the upper stories of the shops.” 15993: “the garden in which are the dining rooms, the vine pergola, the well and the shrine.”
  124. “Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture” report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Available at: http://www.fao.org/unfao/bodies/coag/Coag15/docs/X0076E.DOC. Last Accessed 10 Dec., 2018.
  125. “By the Numbers.” Available at: http://urbanhomestead.org/about/by-the-numbers/. Last accessed 10 Dec., 2018. As the growers increased in knowledge and experience, yields improved over time. From 2001-2009 it ranged from 2,500 (first year) lbs. to 6,000 lbs. (high) in 2003-2004.
  126. Marco Lagi, Karla Bertrand, and Yaneer Bar-Yam, “The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East,” New England Complex Systems Institute: Working Papers (2011), 3. Available at: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1108.2455.pdf.
  127. Robert L. Paarlberg, “Politics and Food Insecurity in Africa,” Review of Agricultural Economics 21:2 (Autumn-Winter, 1999), 505.
  128. Peter O’Neill, “Review: Roman Food Poems: A Modern Translation, by Alistair Elliott,” Gastronomica 5:4 (Fall 2005), 114.
  129. Holleran, Shopping in Ancient Rome, 238.
  130. Mishra and Khanam, “Food Security: Challenges and Options.”
  131. Justin Lynch, “South Sudan Declares Famine in Two Regions with at Least One Million Lives at Risk,” Independent, 20 Feb., 2017. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/south-sudan-famine-latest-africa-civil-war-announce-government-united-nations-un-east-a7589616.html. Last accessed 21 Dec., 2018.
  132. Roland Marchal, “Le Sud-Soudan a l’aube d’un nouveau drame humanitaire.” Bulletin du Centre d’Analyse 61 (1995), 111-25.
  133. FAO World Food Summit. Available at: http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsummit/msd/Y6808e.htm. Last accessed 21 Dec., 2018. See also John Vidal, “How Food and Water are Driving a 21st-Century African Land Grab,” The Observer, 7 Mar., 2010. Available at: https://www.globalpolicy.org/social-and-economic-policy/world-hunger/land-ownership-and-hunger/48812.html. Last accessed: 21 Dec., 2018. Foreign corporations purchasing large tracts of land in Ethiopia, one of the poorest nations in Africa, where the government offered some three million hectares of the most fertile land in the country to other countries and individuals to grow foods to export for their own populations. A similar phenomenon occurred in the ancient case, where land was increasingly purchased by wealthy investors from small farmers who accumulated it in ever-larger parcels to use for lucrative enterprises such as sheep ranching.

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