Apicius and Athenaeus

Joined Jul 31, 2000
Last night, as I lay awake with a touch of insomnia, I started reading a book by Clifford Wright, called

A mediterranean Feast.

I was trying to find imformation on where, what we call “modern Mediterranean” food started.
You know the trendy dishes we see in so many restaurants for the past decade or so.

What I read was very interesting, why? Because as I told my wife last night “it seems that everything to do with food and wine has its roots somehow buried in the mediterranean”

It seem because of the fall of the Roman empire, and the beginning of the modern era, the agricultural revolution, innovations in technology, and the transition to a capitalist economy…as well as exploration and the renaissance, where the catilyst for what we consider the cuisine of today.

The book goes on to explain how the food writers sought historical roots of mediterranean cuisine in classical literature, rather than looking at the wider picture.

A comprehensive food history would rightly begin, if not in prehistoric times (when I was born),
With the works of the first century AD Greek writer Athenaeaus (c 170-230), who lived in Rome.

Athenaeus did not write cook books per say, but his volumesand body of work is about food.
In the same century there were several Roman writers with the name Apicius, one of whom wrote what is called the first cookery book, a work that was finally compiled in the fourth century
(I think the Apicius I mentianed is the one we have discussed in symposium)

These writers are usually taken as the beginning of contempory European cuisine.

They are certainly first, temporally, but whether there was a continuous development from the classical era to the cuisine of the modern meditarrean is less certain.

With some help from the boards, I hope to try to find out how the research into mondern cuisine continues.


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
Very interesting topic CC.

I first I think that it is important to clarify the statement, "It seems that everything to do with food and wine has its roots somehow buried in the mediterranean." Very true for Western Culture, but I don't think it is so true of Eastern Cuisines, where I believe (and correct me if I am wrong) that China had the same effect.

I am adding some historical milestones of food and wine production and consumption that may help get you started CC. Enjoy!

17,000 BC-Emmer, in its wild form is being used and sought out my the peoples of the Near East.

10,000 BC- argriculture begins independently in 3 areas of the worlld. Mesopotamia where barley, oats, rye, wheat, carrot, beet, date, grape, and olive were cultivated along with many modern day farm animals. Mesoamerica (modern Mexico) where corn, potatoes, cotton, tomato, squash, and tabacco along with the turkey. And finally, probably Southeast Asia where rice was first cultivated. Of course not all these things were farmed at the begininning but came along quickly after agriculture first got established.

5500 BC-Honey production is already established, probably in Epypt.

3,000 BC-Arabs engage in the spice trade, linking Africa, the Near East, and the Far East. Promoting an exchange of foodstuffs.

450 BC-Pasta is already in use by this time. Origins are likely in the Near East, or Pre-Roman Italy. China develops it independently.

4th century BC-first recorded use of the beet root, before then only the leaves (Swiss chard) were eaten, and root used for medicinal purposes.

300-200 BC-Romans cultivate asparagu. The Greeks loved the wild asparagus but never bothered to cultivate it

200 BC-The Romans take control of the spice trade, establishing a shipping route for the first time.

At this point, for brevity's sake I will skip ahead pass the fall of Rome, as there are way too many advances and discoveries taking place at this time to detail here.

6th Century AD-Arabs introduce the Mediterranean to eggplant, from India.

The Dark Ages-very little happens, though a few discoveries are made. Mostly what is happening is that isolated communities keep certain food traditions alive to be rediscovered during the Rennissance (sp?)

13th Century AD-Europe restablishes trade with the Far East, ending their dependence on Arab trades who retook control of the trade when Rome fell. (Marco Polo's famous explorations)

1492 AD-the final most important milestone. Columbus's discovery of the New World which leads to the introduction of such food stuffs as tomato, squash, potato, chiles, green beans (haricot verts), corn, paprika, and chocolate.

Hope this helps in your research.
Joined Jul 24, 2001
It's true that many things were "invented" or discovered in Middle East and Mesopotamia but as my husband replies when someone tells him that the Vickings were the first to discover the New World and not Colombus " What is the use of discovering something if you don't let the others know " ;)

What makes the majority of scientists think that Cooking was invented by the Greeks is the fact that Greeks were the first that took those things seriously.

The most striking example is the one of Olive oil.

We believe that the Olive Tree was cultivated first in Middle east maybe in Syria. The Cretans that they were travelling were the first to realise the importance of this Tree so they took the invention from the Syrians and they turn the Olive Tree and the Olive Oil into a Cretan issue.

Ok the Egyptians invented bee-hives but they used the honey in keeping their dead, the Greeks used it first as cooking ingredient.

Grapes and wine were invented in Mesopotamia but the Greek wines were the ones that the civilised world was trying to immitate.

The Phoeniceans invented the letters instead of ideograms but the Greeks created the alphabet we all use today.

This doesn't make the Greeks more important or smarter on anything like this. Not at all.
All I am suggesting is that it seems that what the shore was there , the cooking started there but Alexander's "Globalization" first and the Roman Empire later, helped a lot in spreading this knowledge and creating many new " wombs" for new cultures and new inventions regarding cooking.

Tracing the shore for an everyday habit like Food is a tricky subject and personally I am not so persuaded in the use and the necessity of such a task.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
Yes Pete, as always..Sage advice.

You are right on in your depiction of the incredible influence of Asian cuisine on the western palet.
I should clarify as you suggested that I was thinking more in terms of the European influence on the modern palet.

I really look forward to discussing the Orieant and it’s history. It will sure be fasinating.

Pete, What I am trying to find out is how after the collapse of the Roman enpire, and from the writings of Athenaeus and Apicius, how was the history traced, and how can we read something tangible on how the cuisine became codified in the modern kitchen.

What I have found in addition to your great post is that the latest of the scholarly research shows that during the 14 and 15th centuriers late medieval European court cuisine was not a direct desendent of the cuisine of the classical era, but partly an elaboration of ideas born originally in the kitchens of the medieval Arab Umayyad and Abbasid courts.

I get the feeling through reading some of this info that, medieval Europe was backwards, and they looked in awe and fear at the advanced Muslim civilization in the east.

Some of the time lines you posted were very interesting.
You really need to read and rely on historians and science to help you with your findings.

As an example of this science, some say that macaroni existed in the classical period, but science has not be able to prove that the ancients knew of hard wheat.

So, back to the books


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
Athenaeus, I agree to a point with your statements. The Greeks were the first at many things, and codified a great many more, but they are one step in a chain of events that has lead to modern Western food. The Greeks are responsible for elevating many of the early argicultural finds to an "artform". As for the Greeks inventing "cooking", that has been happening since mankind discovered fire. Since the dawn of man we have searched for ways to make our food more palatable, more edible, more to our liking. And don't forget for preservation. We have been creating sustance for ourselves from our earliest days. The Greeks were able to expand on this and create for the sake of creating, because, with Greek society (and with the Eygptian society) we saw the the first time a class of people who didn't need to labor all day long to sustain ourselves. Humankind, for the first time had freetime on their hands. Meals were to become leisurely pursuits, because one knew where one's next meal was coming from. This comes as a direct result of a culture changing from a hunter/gatherer society to an agricultural society. So what the Greeks invented was not cooking but a sense of "cuisine". They are not the only ones though, at roughly the same time, the same thing was happening in China, and hundreds of years later, in Mexico and the Andes. All independently.

One last point, to make about the spread of cuisine. The evolution of a cuisine is intricately tied to war. Just a final thought to leave you all with.
Joined Jul 24, 2001
Thank you Pete for correcting me.

Yes what I wanted to say is that Greeks invented the sense of cuisines and they were the first to conceive the idea of making this a profession.

Your posts are great opportunity for me to think. Thanks for encouranging me to do so :)
Joined Jan 26, 2002
You might want to consider the role of Hippocrates as well. Not only was he the father of modern medicine, but ones of his work, tiltled DIET discusses what and how to eat. Also, Apicius refers to a primitive form of Lasagna in his cookbook, and there is also a school of thought indicated that pasta has middle eastern origins. You might also want to take a look at the "Food Timeline" available on the "net" and follow some of the links provided. There is lots out there to be found...just depends on what you are focusing on.!!!
Joined Jul 31, 2000
Hippocrates, as well as Anthimus was very vocal in regards to proper diet.

Hippocrates writes the benefits of moderation and exercise

The link between medicine and ethics, especially in the field of dietary regimens, was reinforced
, Particularly under the influence of Stocicism.

Health was also a question of controlling the instincts, including those, that governed eating; it was the result, in other words of virtuous living.

Two interesting quotes

“Coming to food, a surfeit is never of service, excessive abstinence is often unserviceable; if any intemperance is committed, it is safer in drinking then eating” (Celsus, Med I.2.8)

“First, one must reiterate that which was raised by Hippocrates who, when proposing a healthy diet, affirmed exercise: food, drink, sleep, and the pleasures of sex, all in moderation (Gal. Adhortatio ad artes addiscendas XI.17)”

Physicians also stressed the importance of eating food that had been prepared in some way or that had been rendered more digestible, in order to avoid the risk of premature aging, damaging to the health of even the most robust.
Joined Jan 26, 2002
another quote to share...

" The greater the diversity and number of variations,the greater the pleasure.......If a cook prepares all the meals in the same way, there is no pleasure" Hippocrates.....way back when!!
Joined Apr 19, 2001
Pete - re the 'spread of cuisine being intricately tied with war'; true, but not always - the adventurers and explorers were responsible for the 'spice trade', bringing spices and foods back and forth from the new to the old world, and beyond. Ex - chilis are new world food, brought back to Spain by the early explorers, who weren't really impressed; they then took them on to India, and the middle East and viola! A new cuisine was born!

And think of the polynesian cuisines, how they're so separate and yet intricately woven together. I think of Hawaii, where so many cultures have 'fused' to create a unique style.
Joined Jan 11, 2002
I agree that, if you consider the codified cooking of the courts and the rich people, you can hardly find the way that connects the Roman imperial cooking with the Rinascimental cooking and the modern "French-style" cooking.
Those cookings were (and are!) influenced by many factors like the availability of exotic and expensive ingredients, the wish to amaze the guests with something unusual or to demonstrate the host's economic power.

But the things are different when you speak of the popular, everyday cooking! Many ancient recipes can be followed from the Roman repubblican age to the Imperial and then, through the Middle age (mainly through the Monastery cooking) and the Renaissance, up to the regional cooking of our days. I'm speaking about Italy, but suppose that it may be the same in a larger Mediterranean area.
Obviously, the discovery of America with all its "new" foods and, more recently, the possibility of keeping better the food refrigerating it (and not spicing, drying or salting it) have deeply modified also the popular cooking...but, if you look at the Italian regional cooking, it's surprising how many recipes are, in the substance, the same of other Roman and medieval recipes.

I have already posted something about the vegetable pies, Moretum and so on...but this is only an example.

Mirepoix man said something about the primitive Lasagna quoted by Apicius. It was the Lagana or Laganum, which name itself is clearly the ancestor of the word Lasagna, and which survives in some Southern Italian dialects.
According to Apicius (and to the frescoes found in some Etruscan tombs in Cerveteri) it was made working the flour with water, rolling it up with a rolling pin and cutting it with a knife or a Pasta wheel.
However, there is a substantial difference between the Laganae and the Lasagne...laganae were fried and not boiled! No doubt the result must have been totally different from our Pasta.....

....BUT, they were probably almost the same of the "Gnocco Fritto" or "Crescentina", a typical food of Emilia Romagna which is made of a very simple dough (white wheat flour, a pinch of salt, the necessary water) rolled up, cut in lozenges, deep fried in oil or lard, and served hot with fresh cheese or Culatello. My grandma made a wonderful Gnocco Fritto!

Add to this dough sugar and eggs, cut in stripes, fry again, and you'll get the "Bugie" or "Chiacchiere" or "Sfrappole"...the Carnival sweet we spoke about in the "Italian Easter" thread, which is widely diffused in all the Italian regions.

Another example? Ancient Romans loved the pulses, and their most typical pulse soup, the Ptisana, made with barley, lentils, chickpeas and green peas, seems to be very similar to the Mesciua, a soup made in La Spezia.

More...the Roman people used to eat fresh goat and sheep cheese, a round unleavened bread similar to the Piadina Romagnola (named "Pista"...does this word suggest anything to you?), salted olives, boiled chickpeas or pumpkin or cabbage. Their Pultes must have been almost the same than our Polenta.

The Basyma was a sweet not so different from the Italian "Pandolce" which exists, with slight differences, in many regions...This is the recipe:


Ingredients, serve 6

-6 oz White wheat flour
-8 oz butter
-10 oz honey
-4 oz dried figs
-2 eggs
-Kernels of 20 walnuts

Cut the figs in small pieces and the nut kernels. Work the butter with a spoon until creamy. Add the honey and work again until smooth. Add the eggs and beat well the mixture. Add the flour and work again until very soft. Finally add the nuts and figs. Pour the mixture into a plumcake mould, buttered and coated with flour. Bake at 350° for 45 mins. Cool it down, put it out of shape and serve.

Does this cake remind you something?
The discussion is open!:)

Joined Jan 5, 2001
One more quote I believe came from Hippocrates.
"In every war or between meat eaters and non meat eaters, the meat eaters have always been victorious."
Something to think about.
Joined Mar 24, 2002
To Cape Chef:
One of the earliest known cooking authorities is the Greek Archestratus (stress on the first e ) who lived in the fourth century B.C.E. He was born in Sicily, which was then held by the kings of Syracuse. His long poem 'The Life of Luxury' tells of the delights of good eating and the methods he uses are simple and straightforward. Several fragments of this poem are available to us although some has been lost. At the time he lived, the Greeks had towns along the Mediterranean from Spain to the Near East and it took five months to sail from one end to the other.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
Anna, Thank you and welcome to Cheftalk.

Although I consider writers like Glaucus of locris, Mithaecus, Heracclidus, Hegesippus, Eristratus and Euthydemus to be tremendous in there works,

I must concur that The father of Greek cookery was Archestratus, Who else but Archestratus would insist on only fresh tuna from Byzantium would do, as others ate the salted varity from the Black sea.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
I dug a little deeper in regards to Archestratus, it seems that Athenaeus (not ours)was the only ancient auther to preserve the 62 fragments of the "Life of Luxury" poam.

It seems that these early cookery books are so hard to find because in this time period these books were not seen as literature, and hence not documented with the same ferver as ancient literature.

Apicius seems to be the easiest to track down.
Is the a place to look for some of the fragments from Archestratus works?
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