Everyday cooking and eating: an interdisciplinary study of the remains recovered from a pantry at the Vilauba villa near Gironaby Lídia Colominas, Pere Castanyer, Joaquim Tremoleda

Journal of Roman Archaeology


Archaeology / Archaeology / Classics / Visual Arts and Performing Arts


© Journal of Roman Archaeology 27 (2014)

Everyday cooking and eating: an interdisciplinary study of the remains recovered from a pantry at the Vilauba villa near Girona

Lídia Colominas, Pere Castanyer and Joaquim Tremoleda

Traditionally, Roman dietary practices have been studied through information derived from literary sources, as well as from vessels associated with culinary practices; more recently, data derived from the analysis of plant and animal remains are being integrated.

Each category of evidence provides different kinds of information, one complementing another. Written sources provide information on dietary recommendations, recipes, eating habits, product prices, and food preservation techniques, but the information is very general and in many ways biased towards the habits of the élite. This is also the case with

Marcus Gavius Apicius’ De re coquinaria, although when it was written and who wrote the recipes are unclear. It is generally believed to be a compendium of recipes from different sources added at different times by different authors, and to show the culinary tastes of élites or city-dwellers.1 The work would lead one to deduce that meat was one of the main components of the Roman diet: out of its 10 chapters, one is devoted to mince recipes, one to poultry, one to mammals, and the last two to fish, but others have argued that Roman meals would mostly have been composed of cereals and legumes, making the diet primarily a vegetarian one.2 Such literary works, however, were never intended to point to the amount of meat, legumes, cereals or vegetables being consumed at the time, nor by whom. Further, dietary habits not only varied through time, but also across the empire’s different provinces, between different regions within each province, and between different social groups.

Study of vessels associated with culinary practices can also provide important information on how utensils may have been used to process, cook and serve food at the site in question.3 It is also possible to determine the cooking techniques and types of fuel employed.4 Other avenues of ceramic research, such as residue analyses, can provide evidence about the type of organic products (e.g., oils, lipids, fats) involved.5 When the cooked product concerns meat, it is the study of faunal remains associated with the vessels that provides the most detailed information. Zooarchaeological studies allow one to discern what species were raised for meat consumption, how old the animals were when slaughtered, how carcasses were processed, and which body parts were most consumed at a particular site. This information adds to the information on how food was obtained, processed 1 C. Grocock and S. Grainger, Apicius: a critical edition with an introduction and English translation (Totnes 2006) 8 and 23. 2 J. André, L’alimentation et la cuisine à Rome (Paris 1981) 134; J. Gómez i Pallares, Apici. L’art de la cuina (Barcelona 1990) 12; J. Gómez, “Instrumenta coquorum. Els estris de la cuina en Apici (amb testimonis, des de Plaute a Isidor de Sevilla),” in J. Aquilué and M. Roca (edd.), Ceràmica comuna romana d’època alto-imperial a la Península Ibèrica. Estat de la qüestió (Monografies Emporitanes 7, 1995) 25-36; N. Blanc and A. Nercessian, La cuisine romaine antique (Grenoble 1994);

D. Thurmond, A handbook of food processing in classical Rome (Leiden 2006). 3 Gómez ibid. (1995) 25-36. 4 M. Bats, Vaisselle et alimentation à Olbia de Provence (v.350-v.50 av. J.-C.). Modèles culturels et catégories ceramiques (RANarb Suppl. 18, 1988). 5 R. Evershed, “Organic residue analysis in archaeology: the archaeological biomarker revolution,” Archaeometry 50 (2008) 895-924.

L. Colominas, P. Castanyer and J. Tremoleda240

Fig. 1. Map showing Vilauba and contemporary sites.

An interdisciplinary study of the remains recovered from a pantry at Vilauba villa 241 and cooked. Zooarchaeological work is also starting to show the dietary diversity present throughout the empire,6 highlighting differences in meat consumption between towns and villas7 and sometimes even between occupants of the same villa.8 Zooarchaeological analysis cannot, however, provide information on cooking and consumption processes of body parts not associated with bones (e.g., organs or meat slices).

With these considerations in mind, this paper aims to provide information on diet through a case study of the villa at Vilauba near Girona, by addressing the ways in which meat products were selected, cooked and consumed in the later 3rd c. A.D. The context is determined by a fire that occurred in the villa’s residential area. A jug containing 42 sesterces, 3 asses and 2 antoniniani provides a terminus post quem around A.D. 258/259.9 The fire led to the abrupt covering of the items present in the different rooms, one of which was a pantry, where indeed the fire seems to have originated in view of the fire’s levels of intensity recorded in this room. A minimum of 192 ceramic vessels, 2 pieces of glassware, 12 metal objects and 423 faunal remains were recovered from the pantry area.10 This closed assemblage will be studied in an interdisciplinary manner, by combining the information provided by the assemblage of objects (pottery, metal, glass) with the faunal remains. We will focus on aspects such as the meat products that were consumed and how these were processed, cooked and served. Subsequently we will compare information in the Latin texts.

The villa at Vilauba

The villa lies in a small valley which extends 3 km south of the lake of Banyoles (fig. 1). Research carried out at the site since 1978 has exposed more than 3000 m2, providing evidence for its evolution from the 2nd/1st c. B.C. to the end of the 7th c. A.D.11 The whole 6 A selection of such studies includes: A. Grant, “Animals in Roman Britain,” in M. Todd (ed.),

Research in Roman Britain 1960-1989 (Britannia Monog. 11, 1989); M. Leguilloux, L’archéozoologie et l’interprétation des sites: recherches archéozoologiques sur la Provence romaine et médiévale (Ph.D. diss., Univ. Aix-en-Provence 1994); A. King, “Diet in the Roman world: a regional inter-site comparison of the mammal bones,” JRA 12 (1999) 168-202; K. Dobney, “A place at the table: the role of vertebrate zooarchaeology within a Roman research agenda,” in S. James and M. Millett (edd.), Britons and Romans (York 2001) 36-45; C. Fernández, “Ganaderia, caza y animales de compañia en la Galicia romana: estudio arqueozoológico,” = Brigantium 15 (2003); T. Oueslati,