In 968, the Langobard Liutprand, bishop of Cremona, was sent to Byzantium in a diplomatic mission: to ask the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phocas the hand of Princess Anna Porphyriogenita for the future Holy Roman Emperor Otto II (who would marry instead, after a few years, Princess Theophanu).
It was the second visit to Byzantium for Liutprand, who wrote then to his emperor complaining about the poor hospitality of Nicephorus, who treated him as a prisoner and not as an ambassador.
There was a reason for the emperor’s behavior. Surely, the conquer of territories belonging to the Byzantine empire made by Otto I, now called Holy Roman Emperor, but it was not just that: an insult, felt deeply by Nicephorus, from the Pope himself who called him “emperor of Greeks” in a moment of strong political conflict between the two empires. Emperor of Greeks is offensive, because like all his predecessors Nicephorus was the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, which means that the proper title was Emperor of Romans, which included Greeks too. However, how Liuprand noticed, Nicephorus had completely neglected the Roman customs, even Roman language, so the bishop actually agreed with the idea that he was just the emperor of Greeks, being the emperor of Romans (or rather, the Holy Roman Emperor) the one Liutprand served, namely Otto I.
The letter to Emperor Otto I, called Relatio de Legatione Costantinopolitana, is a funny and fascinating source written with a polemic intention, which shows a vivid imagery of 10th-century Byzantium, with a description of foods that the author considers deeply horrifying and unsuitable for an emperor.
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The food at the court of the emperor
Both food and beverages were terrible. In the beginning of the letter, Liutprand writes about a wine undrinkable for the intense flavor of pitch, resin, and gypsum (Graecorum vinum ob picis, taedae, gypsi commixtionem nobis impotabile fuit), with no water available to quench his thirst. Actually, there is nothing strange in this wine, from a historic point of view: there are dozens of recipes in the books of Roman agronomists who describe in detail these and other additives traditionally used for wine (resin and gypsum are common still today). Probably, it was just plain bad wine.
However, we prepared the dinner described by Liutprand and it was pretty good, but surely, not particularly refined.
This is the passage in which Liutprand writes about his awful meal: “Sed lenivit dolorem meum imperator sanctus munere magno, mittens mihi ex delicatissimis cibis suis haedum pinguem, ex quo ipse comederat, allio, cepe, porris laute suffarcinatum, garo delibutum.”
Our translation:“The holy emperor alleviated my pain with a great gift, sending me one of his refined dishes, a fat goat that he in person was eating, abundantly stuffed with garlic, onion, and leeks, drenched in garum.” You find here the complete Latin text by Liutprand.
From the perspective of food history, this text is very interesting, in particular because confirms, indirectly, that in the 10th century garum was still known not only in the Eastern Roman Empire, but also in Otto’s territories, which included Germany and part of Italy and France.
As we wrote in the past, we do not know exactly when garum disappeared in the territories of the former Western Roman Empire, but we know that, surely, it was still known in Italy in the 13th century by authors connected to the Salernitan Medical School, such as Matteo Silvatico.
Below you find our interpretation of the method for Liutprand’s goat and the video of the recipe with captions in English and Italian.
1 kg goat or lamb
1 head of garlic
Cut the onions and leek into big pieces and peel the garlic. Arrange the goat and vegetables on a cooking pan and drizzle with abundant oil and garum. Cook in the oven for about one and a half hour and serve hot.
Note about the ingredients
Liutprand received a whole young goat stuffed with garlic, leek, and onion. We choose to use just a chunk of meat, but if you have at disposal a fireplace big enough, you should try with the whole goat.
We did not add spices, but from other sources, for example Anthimus’ De Observatione Ciborum, we know that Byzantines used Mediterranean spices as well as Greeks and Romans, but also Eastern spices. In this case, being the dinner quite rustic and not exactly refined, we would suggest using simple flavors, for example caraway, cumin, fennel, anise, or coriander seeds more than pepper, cloves, or saffron.
In this part of the text, Liutprand does not mention the use of oil, but in a passage below he complains about Nicephorus poor taste and the fact that he drowns all his plates in garum and oil and considers particularly refined onions and garlic (coenam, allio et cepa bene olentem, oleo et garo sordidam: “a dinner with a strong smell of garlic and onion, filthy with oil and garum”), foods traditionally belonging to peasant’s cooking since ancient Rome.
Translations of Historical Sources
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Registrum Coquine (first part) by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Varis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
Index of Recipes
Kykeon – Ancient Greek Ritual Drink – Eleusinian Mysteries
Gastris – Ancient Greek Sweet
Artolaganon Bread with Ancient Sourdough
Afrutum or Spumeum – 6th-century Byzantine recipe
Ofella – Ancient Roman Steak
Fruit salads – Melon and Peaches
Isicia Marina – Shrimp Cakes and Cucumber Salad
Sala Cattabia – Snow and Posca
Copadia – Beef Stew
Puls Punica – Phoenician Dessert
Farcimina – Spelt and Meat Sausages
Ova Spongia ex Lacte – Sweet Omelettes
Flatbread and Chickpea Soup
Salted Fish with Arugula Sauce
Savillum – Cheesecake
Pasta and Meatballs – Minutal Terentinum
Venison Stew with Spelt Puls
Veal with Allec Sauce – Ius in Elixam Allecatum
Isicia Omentata – Meatballs Wrapped in Caul Fat
Placenta – Honey Cheesecake
Pork Laureate – Porcellum Laureatum
Poppy Seed Bread with Ancient Dry Yeast
Cured Olives and Epityrum
Mustacei – Grape-Must Bread
Libum – Ancient Cheesecake