Ancient Roman Wild Boar


In an epigram, Martial describes a wild boar, a gift by his friend Dexter, just a bit less famous than the mythical, violent Calydonian boar (Aetolae fama secunda ferae), hunted by the Argonauts. The boar given to Martial, prey worthy of envy (praeda invidiosa), is fattened with Etrurian acorns (Tuscae glandis aper populator) and, despite its deeds, now lies in front of the poet’s hearth, while the merry Penates, gods of the household, turn fat with its humid smell (pinguescant madido laeti nidore penates). But to prepare this boar, the cook needs an enormous amount of pepper (ingentem piperis acervum), in addition to precious garum and Falernian wine (arcano mixta Falerna garo). Martial concludes sending back the troublemaker boar (conturbator aper) to his friend, preferring a less costly meal (vilius esurio).
Despite the ironic words written by Martial, in the ancient Roman sources, wild boar is an appreciated, luxurious kind of meat. In the 8th book of De Re Coquinaria, there is a chapter with ten recipes specifically dedicated to it. From this book and the other texts, we find out that the boar is usually cooked whole, roasted or simmered, in the same way as pork, despite that Pliny recalls that, at his time, it is a recent use, being introduced by Servilius Rullus (1st century BCE).
The wild boars were both hunted and bred in the villae, the ancient Roman farms, in the so-called leporaria, literally, enclosures for the hares, in which they kept many wild animals.
Wild boar was appreciated also by ancient Greeks. In a letter written in the 3rd century BCE and quoted by Athenaeus in the Deipnosophists, Lynceus of Samos states that mutton is for the slaves, wild-boar meat, instead, for Apollodorus and his friends.
The recipe we are preparing today calls for the wild boar cooked in the oven. We chose to spit-roast a little more than half a kilo of meat cut into chunks, but you can use the parts you prefer, cooking them on charcoal or in the oven according to your taste.
We recommend this ratio for the sauce: one part of pepper, lovage (which may be substituted with anise or fennel seeds), and coriander, a few dry leaves of oregano, three myrtle berries, a teaspoon of garum, honey, and olive oil, and two teaspoons of wine. Try the sauce and adjust the flavor to your taste.
Myrtle berries are hard to substitute, having a peculiar flavor that we do not find in other ingredients. As an alternative, we suggest a couple of whole bay laurel leaves, removing them from the sauce before serving it. The flavor will be different, but bay laurel leaves will give the sauce a pleasant, Mediterranean complexity of aromas.

It is available for pre-order our new book De Obervatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks, with the translation of a 6th-century book by the Byzantine physician Anthimus dedicated to Theuderic, the king of the Franks.
To know more about food in ancient Rome, check out our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources (Italian edition here), available on Amazon in e-book and printed editions or our Patreon page, in which you find the translation of the first four books of De Re Coquinaria and other historical sources, in addition to several articles about ancient and medieval foods.
To know more about medieval cuisine, we recommend reading our new book Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook, with the translation (into English and Italian) and a commentary of a beautiful 15th-century book written by Johannes Bockenheim.
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600 gr of chopped wild-boar meat
spices (pepper, lovage, coriander)
dry oregano
3 myrtle berries
olive oil
wheat starch

Skewer the chunks of meat and roast them on charcoal for about 30-40 minutes, depending on the size. In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Pound in the mortar three myrtle berries, then add pepper, lovage, coriander, and dry oregano. Pour a bit of garum, honey, and olive oil, diluting with wine.
When the meat is cooked through, pour the sauce in a pan. As soon as it starts boiling, thicken it with starch diluted in water. Cook for about one minute, then serve the hot sauce with the meat.

Original text
Teres piper, ligusticum, origanum, bacas myrtae exenteratas, coriandrum, cepas, suffundes mel, vinum, liquamen, oleum modice, calefacies, amulo obligas. Aprum in furno coctum perfundes. Hoc et in omne genus carnis ferinae facies.

Grind pepper, lovage, oregano, myrtle berries without seeds, coriander, onion; pour honey, wine, garum, a bit of oil. Warm the sauce and thicken with starch. Pour it on the boar roasted in the oven. Prepare this sauce for any kind of game meat.

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De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-4
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first and second part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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