I was sitting on the grass in one of the quadrangles at Wadham College in Oxford the other day, eating a nectarine, when I suddenly thought (as one is wont to do when they study Roman diet), “did the Romans have nectarines? What exactly are nectarines and where do they come from?” A quick Wikipedia search informed me that nectarines and peaches are in fact the same species (Prunus persica) and that due to a recessive allele, nectarines are simply fuzz-less peaches. We have archaeological evidence that demonstrates that the Roman ate peaches. There are wallpaintings from Pompeii showing peaches and waterlogged peach pits have been found at Roman sites throughout Italy (for some nice images of ancient peach pits see Sadori et al. 2009, available free online at http://charcoalab.it/wp-content/uploads/Sadori-et-al.-2009.pdf). Since the Romans had peaches it is possible that they also had nectarines, although unfortunately we can’t tell the difference from the pits alone.
Imagine a man in a toga or a woman in a stola, eating a peach. You may even imagine the man struggling to eat the peach without getting any of the juice onto his nice clean white toga. This series of blog posts is designed to paint a 4D picture of what it was like to eat like a Roman, and by 4D I mean to involve all your senses. What did the food taste like? What were the textures? The flavours? The smells? If you’re picturing a boring diet of bread, wine and lots and lots of fish sauce, then you’re in for a surprise. Recent archaeological, archaeobotanical (ancient plants) and archaeozoological (ancient animal bones) data, especially from Herculaneum, has shown us that they ate so much more.
Stay tuned for the first in this series: Going without (which I know sounds ironic, but keep faith!)
Wallpainting of peaches from Pompeii (AD62-79)