Authored by: Paul Erdkamp , Claire Holleran

The Routledge Handbook of Diet and Nutrition in the Roman World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9780815364344
eBook ISBN: 9781351107334
Adobe ISBN:


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Life is impossible without food, but what people eat is not determined by biology alone, and this makes it a vital subject of social and historical study. Food is as complex as society itself, as variations in diet reflect differences in gender and age, social and economic position, cultural and ideological attitudes, technical and agricultural know-how, and climatic and geographic background. What one eats is not a question of choice alone, but also of social conditioning and limited possibilities. At the same time, food is a means of expressing the place of oneself or another in society, and a symbol of one’s ideas and beliefs, which becomes even more complex if manners of preparation and consumption of food are taken into account, and with whom food and drink are enjoyed or not. Hence, it is not surprising that food and commensality are such popular areas of research in history, anthropology and other social studies. Rituals and ceremonies of festive meals, symbolic and metaphoric uses of food, religious and philosophic attitudes, and the material context of banquets are excellently discussed in recent publications, and these topics occur in this volume as well, but primarily when directly related to the nature and quality of the food and drink consumed in the Roman world. To be sure, diet and nutrition can only be understood in relation to their social, political, economic and cultural aspects, if only because the images emerging from our written and material sources are very much determined by them. As we have seen, food reflects the complexity of society itself, and hence we cannot discuss food without touching upon its social, cultural, economic and material contexts. However, this is not the main perspective of this book. In general, the aim of this book is to analyse the evidence for the nutrition of various segments of society, trying to offer as much nuance and differentiation as the imperfect sources for the Roman world allow.

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