Vindolanda Tablets Online Tablets Exhibition Reference Help

Diet and dining

Vindolanda and its setting

History

Forts and military life

The fort plan

Soldier's lives - military routines

Soldiers and builders

Manufacture and repair

Transport and supplies

Diet and dining

Clothing

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Reading the tablets

about this exhibition

Depiction of feasting was a common motif in Roman funerary art. The diner is represented reclining on a couch, with other furniture and dining gear. This is the tombstone of auxiliary cavalryman M. Aemilius Durises from Bonn, Germany

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Image details:

Depiction of feasting was a common motif in Roman funerary art. The diner is represented reclining on a couch, with other furniture and dining gear. This is the tombstone of auxiliary cavalryman M. Aemilius Durises from Bonn, Germany

Image ownership:

Vroma, Photo Barbara McManus, Bonn, Rheinisches Landesmuseum.

In its diet the army was a privileged group in Roman society, since it was in the emperors' and generals' self-interest to ensure that soldiers were properly fed. The supply of common elements to garrisons across the Roman world, especially wine and olive oil, wherever units were stationed is not unlike the way modern armies provide familiar foods for their soldiers when posted abroad. A wide range of foodstuffs is attested among the tablets, including cereals, meat from farmed and wild animals, drink, fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices. Cereals the staple food, are well attested in the tablets. The wheat was used for bread (panis) and perhaps also for puls, a type of porridge. Barley fed the animals, but soldiers also ate it when wheat was unavailable or when they were on punishment rations. The importance of preserved pig meat is well illustrated by many references to bacon, ham and lard. There is evidence too of the 'Mediterranean' element of the diet, especially wine, olive oil and fish sauce, an element reflected also in the finds of amphorae, especially oil amphorae from southern Spain, on the site. The units stationed at Vindolanda may have brought their taste for beer with them from their homeland, still famous for its brewing. The tablets must also be supplemented by archaeological evidence. For example the remains of cows and sheep predominate in the animal bones recovered from the site, but their consumption is not recorded in the tablets. Since many of the documents derive from the prefect's household, the diet may be not entirely typical of the whole garrison. However the limited information on other ranks however suggests that they too had access to luxuries. Despite its expense, reflecting its long journey to northern Britain from Asia, pepper was bought by a solider who seems to be of low rank.

A table with some references to food.

Term Translation References
Acetum Sour wine 190
Axungia Pork fat 190
Bracis Cereal 191
Cervesa Beer 190
Cervina Venison 191
Condimenta Spices 191
Faba Beans 192, 302
Frumentum Wheat 185, 191
Hordeum Barley 185, 190
Malum Apples 302
Muria Fish sauce 190, 302
Oleum Oil 203
Olivae Olives 302
Ostria Oysters 299
Ova Eggs 302
Perna Ham 191
Piper Pepper 184
Pullus Chicken 302
Sal Salt 185
Vinum Wine 190, 203

 

A set of samian vessels, perhaps a ‘dining service’, imported from southern Gaul, supplied as grave goods in a late first century AD burial from St Albans.

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Image details:

A set of samian vessels, perhaps a ‘dining service’, imported from southern Gaul, supplied as grave goods in a late first century AD burial from St Albans.

Image ownership:

© St Albans Museums

Dining utensils are mentioned in the tablets and occur in the archaeological assemblage. 194 lists what might be a service of dining and drinking vessels, including scutulae ('shallow dishes'), paropsides ('side-plates'), acetabula ('vinegar-bowls'), ouaria ('egg-cups'), calices ('cups') and trullae ('bowls'). Linking the terms to archaeologically known vessel types is not possible, but the suggested translations capture the range and complexity of vessel types required for Roman style dining. These dishes would have been of pottery, glass or bronze, all attested archaeologically at Vindolanda, or even of silver. Correct dinner dress was also required. 196 records a long list of different types of clothing including cloaks and tunics, some of which are specifically identified as appropriate for dining. Life in the army, especially for the garrison commander, could be as much a matter of manners as of military tactics.

Tablet database link: Browse all tablets that mention foodstuffs.

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