What food did they eat in Pompeii?

Food was just as important to us back then as it is now. But is that where the similarities end? What did the people of Pompeii eat? 

The ancient city of Pompeii has left behind numerous clues into their everyday life. Archaeologists have used these artefacts to deduct these past citizen’s habits, traditions, and norms. What makes Pompeii so fascinating though, is comparing these ancient people’s daily lives to our contemporary ones, seeing both the similarities and contrasts between them. But one thing that we all need as human beings is food! And this will never change. Pompeii was just as reliant on food as the rest of us, and at times turned the mundane act of eating into a culinary art form, much like us today. Read here about the Pompeii citizen’s relationship with food.

Rich Citizens

The high-class citizens of Pompeii have thought to of have had a very rich and exotic diet. It has been discovered that these families hosted dinner parties throughout the week to wine and dine with their friends and business associates. Exotic food was very fashionable in high society, and showing off by presenting imported seafood, flamingos, and even reports of giraffe. Regardless of the type of food eaten, it was usually only boiled, smoked, fried or baked. They seasoned most cuisines with fish sauce or thick syrup wine. They enjoyed deeply rich cuisines, such as desserts of stuffed dates soaking in honey. Rich citizens also benefitted from being able to afford spices, usually imported from Indonesia, which they would use to flavour their food. This is not the only way the rich would show off their wealth; where they ate was also an excuse to be extravagant. A top of the range Roman dining room would usually contain a flat table service in the middle with a hard outer ledge wide enough for people to lay back and enjoy their food. Close to the table were holes where they could keep their drinks and wine glasses. As you can probably tell, this was not the most practical dining option, especially when wearing a toga. That’s why the rich depended so heavily on their slaves to help them during their display eating. Unlike today where those who can afford to eat out do, saving themselves the effort of cooking and having plenty of choices. In ancient Pompeii, if you were rich you ate at home, surrounded by opulence with your food brought to you.

Poor Citizens

Findings revealed foods that would have been inexpensive and widely available, were things such as grains, fruits, nuts, olives, lentils, local fish and chicken eggs, as well as minimal cuts of more expensive meat and salted fish from Spain. Waste from neighbouring drains would also turn up less of a variety of foods, revealing a socioeconomic distinction between neighbours.
For the poor people of Pompeii, the luxuries of exotic meat and an array of spices were not on the table, with only cheaper food products available. Although due to the rich soil of the volcanic land, the city was able to produce a variety of fresh food. Vegetables were a staple in Pompeii, with cauliflower being a speciality. They often ate this raw as it was seen as a great remedy to halt a stomach ache while drinking. The fruit was used as an appetiser or dessert, with figs being the most popular. However, the main food dish that was used in poorer homes was bread. Being cheap and easy to obtain than other food products it was popular with the rich and the poor. As evidenced from the human waste found in sewers below the city and the 81 carbonised loaves found in excavated bakeries, the bread that was eaten by almost everyone in Pompeii was all one in the same really. Using the same ingredients and techniques to cook it, this bakery item was one of the main things to link rich and poor citizens. Unlike the rich however, most normal working-class citizens in Pompeii relied on fast food joints to eat their dinner. One of the most commonest features in the Pompeii street scene, these fast food joints were for people who had no place to eat at home. Or for country travellers visiting the city, or perhaps workers coming in from the ports.

How healthy were they?

It is assumed from numerous findings in ancient Pompeii that the poorer citizens ate cheap but healthy when they were alive, with the main difference between rich and poor diets being the exotic delicacies consumed b wealthier citizens.

When Pompeii was rediscovered and excavated in the 1800s, the skeletal remains of the citizens were revealed. These remains held vital information of these ancient beings, showing cause of deaths, their customs, as well as their physical attributes. Examiners found that all the citizen’s sets of teeth were excellent for that time. The reason suggests it was due to their good diet, which was rich in fresh food, as well as the high levels of fluorine due to the volcano.