Ancient Roman Recipes

Numerous ancient Roman recipes have made their way down to us although we cannot be absolutely certain of their accuracy given that the primary sources, such as Apicius’ De Coquinaria have made it down to us via copies made by monks and quite likely distorted by tastes and available ingredients of their own times.

It is interesting how incredibly popular ingredients or elements of Roman cookery such as the fish based sauce called “Garum” should become completely unknown to us, at least as far as its preparation is concerned.

As outlined in our page on Roman food the foods and recipes found on Roman tables varied and went in parallel with did Roman fortunes, wealth and culture both on the way up and the subsequent way down. The early Romans were austere shepherds/warriors. The Romans of the Republic were increasingly rich and in spite of the warnings of a nostalgic few such as Cato, avidly took on the habits of the populations they took over, for example the Greeks.

Conquest and riches gave access to imports from distant countries and exotic spices and ingredients with the obvious consequences this would have on traditional foods and recipes.

It seems that Roman recipes were handed from cook to cook with little information by way of quantities, presumably because it would be the cook’s on job to decide how and how much of each ingredient to add.

The philosophy behind Roman cookery (and tastes) was one of addition. This contrasts with the modern western approach whereby the various ingredients and spices are generally meant to enhance and support a major flavour which takes the principal role in the dish. This could possibly be likened to oriental cookery where the notion of opposites (ying and yang) plays a strong role and opposing flavours are often played against one another in equally powerful quantities. For example in sweet and sour!

The space that follows will be employed to add ancient Roman recipes….


Please note: these recipes are shown for information purposes only. Should you try them you are doing so at your own risk – but do let us know how you get on!

Fabam Vitellianam – Cream of broad beans à la Vitellio – Cook the broad beans and when it has frothed add leaks, coriander and mallow wild flowers.


Roman Aqueducts

Despite the river Tiber and a small number of springs, the natural water supply was not sufficient for the city of Rome, particularly at its greatest expansion.

The first aqueduct, the Aqua Appia, was build by Appius Claudius who was Censor for 18 months around 312BC (AUC441).  He also commissioned the first military road – the Via Appia. At first both public works were heavily criticised in the Senate for their high cost. Their social and strategic value later went unquestioned as even their construction provided the benefit of acting as a good source of stable employment for many plebeians. Both undertakings bear his name.

The aqueduct runs along an underground tunnel from about the 7th mile of the Via Prenestina (one of the Consular roads of Rome) before reaching a reservoir called a “castellum” near the city’s Porta Capena gate. When fully functional it carried some 75000 cubic meters of water per day into the city around the heavily populated Aventine hill. A section of this aqueduct can still be seen running across the top of the Porta Maggiore gate of Rome.

This point was particularly favourable as a water entry point to the city due to its relative topographical height above the rest of the urban area. Other water aqueducts arriving to Rome at this point include Anio Vetus (275BC), Aqua Marcia(144), Aqua Tepula (125), Aqua Iulia (33BC), Aqua Claudia and Aqua Novus (52AD). These last two are some 70kilometers in length and bring water all the way from Tivoli. Porta Maggiore is itself the result of a number of arches from these aqueducts which were included within the Aurelian defense walls of the city.

Other aqueducts were built during the next 500 years until the year 226AD, making a total of eleven. Most of the water was drawn from the hills to the south of Rome and from the area east of the city, near Tivoli. A couple drew water from the north, around the Volcanic lake of Bracciano.

The water drawn by the aqueducts entered the city through their own form of Triumphal monument called the mostra “the show”. The mostra was a particularly pompous fountain which was usually directly connected with the castellum. Although not of ancient Roman origin a famous mostra is the Trevi fountain. Similarly to the Trevi fountain, two of the best known fountains of antiquity were themselves mostre. One, the Julia fountain is still partially visible in the square in front of Rome’s central railway Termini station. The other was known as the Meta Sudans and was situated next to the Colosseum near to where the arch of Constantine stands. From here the water was distributed throughout the city for public use, in large villas, fountains and public baths.

The water system was so evolved as to cater for public lavatories also. Emperor Vespasian was responsible for the introduction of these lavatories throughout the city. This was not only aimed at hygiene but also at improving state finances as he introduced fines for soiling, as well as charging for use of the toilets. The public toilets were built as a large room with a number of toilet seats, with holes, built into the walls. A continuous stream of water ran under the seats to the sewers. Users of the toilets could then wash at a fountain situated in the same room – just like a modern public toilet (except for the lack of privacy)! The association with toilets ensured that the name Vespasian has never been popular for one’s children.

The barbarian invasions which brought an end to the Roman Empire of the West resulted in the eventual breaking of the aqueducts in order to cut the city’s water supplies. The Goths, led by Vitiges cut them in the year 537AD forcing the dwindling population of the city to rely on the river Tiber for several hundreds of years thereafter.

Restoration and renovation of the aqueducts only began with the Renaissance during which period a large number of fountains and water displays were added to embellish the city. The total number of aqueducts gradually increased until it was brought back up to eight by the early 1950’s.

Ancient Roman Leaders


A brief page on Roman Leaders in continuation to the broader article Ancient Roman leaders. It includes a general conclusion on the subject as well as a diagram of the important Scipio family who defined Rome’s future and included many notable leaders of all political and military camps.

Roman leaders in early Rome










A simplified genealogy of the Scipio family – great Roman leaders! – is given below.

Genealogy of the Scipio Family in Ancient Rome (gens Cornelia)

The Scipios formed a lengthy family tree which entwined itself with other great names of Roman history such as the Gracchi. The diagram above is a simplified version of the full family tree but sufficient to show the extent of Roman leadership within a single family: consuls and military leaders famous for their endeavours in the Punic wars which gave Rome supremacy of the Mediterranean, all the way through to defenders of plebeian rights (tribunes of the people) eventually assassinated for their revolutionary endeavours.

Their “revolutionary” reforms, particularly free grain for the poor, eventually became standard practice thanks to the example first given by Julius Caesar and eventually carried through by all the Emperors who followed him.

Concluding Remarks about Ancient Roman Leaders

It is interesting to note that the genealogy of the gens Cornelia shown above touches on leading figures of ancient Rome which span the entire period between the conquest of Italy, the wars with Carthage, domination of the Mediterranean almost reaching the final  crisis of the republic and the social wars of 90-80BC. Why is this interesting? Because if we consider aspects such as roman inventions, the roman economy, and even look at provincial cities such as ancient Pompeii, we will note that this period was both convulsed with civil strife yet at the same time a period of great socio-economic growth and wealth.

It is poignant to compare this group of Roman leaders with the Caesars and Julio-Claudian dynasty which ruled the Roman empire over a century later – the different, orientalising, approach to leadership exercised by emperors such as Caligula and perhaps most memorable in Nero’s model of rule and leadership. The plebeain masses came to hold less sway in daily politics and fortunes of the empire. The role of some Roman women such as Livia and Agrippina the younger played fundamental roles in establishing the rights to rule and the Roman army (increasingly full of plebeians) took an increasing role in establishing imperial nominees.

This was the period when the balance of Roman society really began to shift and even the definition of Romans was changing. With hindsight we can see there was still with some growth to come and the empire was still to reach its greatest extension but some of the aspects and symptoms of the fall of the Roman empire already beginning to manifest themselves. Few Roman leaders were truly able to reverse the ongoing process of decline.

Leaders and Caesars of Ancient Rome in chronological order: | ancient Roman kings | Tarquin | Marius | Sulla | Rome Julius Caesar | Augustus |The 12 Caesars | Emperor Tiberius |  Caligula | Emperor Claudius | Emperor Nero | Emperor Vespasian | Hadrian | Roman Emperor Trajan | Rome’s Five Good Emperors | Emperor Constantine | Emperor Justinian | Other emperors of Ancient Rome |

You might also have a look at what it was to be emperor or “imperator”. A list of Roman emperors.  A general look at famous Romans such as Scaevola “the left handed”.

Interesting external links about ancient Roman leaders

An interesting look at the value of hereditary leadership in ancient Rome

Thought-provoking essay comparing Ancient Roman leaders, the Empire, the US and Barack Obama



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"Ancient Rome" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for - Ancient Rome History Designed by VSdesign Copyright © Maria Milani 2017