The Romans ate a varied diet consisting of vegetables, meat and fish. The poorest Romans ate quite simple meals, but the rich were used to eating a wide range of dishes using produce from all over the Roman Empire.
Romans typically ate three meals a day – breakfast (ientaculum), lunch (prandium) and dinner (cena). Cena was the main meal.
The Romans did not sit down at a tables to eat their meals. They spread out on couches around a low, square table. They basically ate lying down! They also ate most of their meals with their fingers (although they did use spoons for some of the dishes, such as soup, and have knives to cut their food into bite-size pieces).
Fruit and Vegetables
A range of different fruits and vegetables were eaten by the Romans. They would have had: carrots, radishes, beans, dates, turnips, pears, plums, pomegranates, almonds, olives, figs, celery, apples, cabbages, pumpkins, grapes, mushrooms and many more. Some of these fruits and vegetables had never been seen in Britain before the Romans invaded.
The Romans kept animals for their meat. The rich ate beef, pork, wild boar, venison, hare, guinea fowl, pheasant, chicken, geese, peacock, duck, and even dormice (served with honey). The poorer Romans didn’t eat as much meat as the rich, but it still featured in their diet.
Lots of seafood was consumed by the Romans. They particularly enjoyed shellfish and fish sauce known as liquamen.
Bread and Porridge
Bread was a staple part of the Roman diet. Three grades of bread were made, and only rich ate refined white bread.
Pottage, a thick porridge-like stew, was made from millet or wheat. To this the Romans would add cooked meats, sauces and spices.
The Romans liked cheese (which was mainly made from goat’s milk) and eggs (from a variety of different birds).
Romans didn’t know about sugar, so honey was used as a sweetener. Rich Romans also used salt, pepper and a range of spices to add flavour to their meals.
Roman Banquets – What did rich Romans eat?
Check out this video clip – it gives a really good sense of some of the foods that were available to rich Romans and how they would go about eating them.
What did the Romans drink?
Wine was the main drink of the Roman Empire. It was always watered down and never drunk ‘straight’. In addition to drinking wine, the Romans also drank wine mixed with other ingredients. Calda was drunk in the winter and was made from wine, water and spices. Mulsum was a honey and wine mixture.
The Romans didn’t drink beer and rarely drank milk.
Find out more facts about the Romans by visiting our Romans resouces page.