The Diet of the Legionaries: Buccellatum, Lardum, and Posca

Italiano

Repetita consuetudo monstravit expeditionis tempore buccellatum ac panem, vinum quoque atque acetum, sed et lardum, carnem vervecinam etiam milites nostros ita solere percipere: biduo buccellatum. tertio die panem: uno die vinum, alio die acetum: uno die lardum, biduo carnem vervecinam.”

“The renown custom prescribes in time of military expeditions [to give] buccellatum and bread, wine and vinegar [a common name for posca], but our troops are used to receive also lardo [cured pork fatback] and mutton: two days buccellatum and the third day bread; one day wine and the second day vinegar; one day lardo, two days mutton.”

This text is part of the Justinian’s Codex Iuris Civilis, the most important ancient Roman source of laws, but this one in particular is written by Emperor Constantius in the year 360. It is important to notice that the author insists on the habit: despite being written in the 4th century, his recommendations refer to a common, old custom.
Vegetius (lived between the 4th and the 5th century), in his Epitoma Rei Militaris, writes that the legionaries need to be provided with simple food and lists among their provisions wheat, vinegar, wine, and salt.
In the Roman and Byzantine sources, there are fragmentary information about the diet of the army. This week we are collecting some of them to recreate a few foods eaten by the legionaries: buccellatum, laridum (or lardum, cured pork fatback), and posca, all mentioned in the source we translated above. We wrote a few months ago about posca in this article. In this case, we followed the directions of Dioscorides for a posca helpful for the stomach and queasiness, which is also particularly good: vinegar diluted in water with a bit of pennyroyal, which you can substitute with mint.
In the future, we will prepare other recipes suitable for the legionaries.
Buccellatum is the typical biscuit of the army, prepared with wheat flour and cooked two times until completely dry to keep it for a long time. According to Zonaras (12th century), it is a ring-shaped bread roll. The small size of the buccellatum is confirmed by the recipe written by the Byzantine physician Aetius of Amida (lived between the 5th and the 6th century), but in this case the author is referring to a medicinal version, not to the army’s buccellatum. In any case, the recipe for his boukellos katharticos is interesting, because it includes the use of sourdough (in the text, yeast obtained from durum-wheat flour) and the suggestion of cooking the bread under a dome, the Greek clibanus or Roman testum. The bread is salted with a small amount of an oil and garum mixture. We chose to use salt instead, which was part of the rations of the army according to Vegetius.
Below, you will find the methods, the video with English and Italian subtitles, and the Latin recipe for lardo from De Re Coquinaria, the cookbook conventionally attributed to Apicius, with our translation. Enjoy!

For more information about historical cuisine, check out our Patreon page and our new book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources (Italian edition here), available as e-book and printed edition.

BUCCELLATUM

Ingredients
400 gr re-milled durum semolina
sourdough
salt

Method
Knead the flour with the sourdough, two pinches of salt, and warm water.. Once you have obtained a smooth consistency, let the dough rest overnight. Divide it into small pieces, shaping rings of dough. Let them rest for half an hour, then bake them under the testum or in the oven for 30 minutes. Let them cool, then bake them again for 10-15 minutes.

Note about the ingredients
Sourdough was a common leavener in ancient Rome and Greece. Pliny describes extensively the methods used at his time to prepare it. You find information about it in this article.

LARDO (Apicius)

Ingredients
lardo
dry or fresh dill
olive oil
salt

Method
Simmer the lardo for 15 minutes with dill, then discard the water. Slice the lardo and dress it with a bit of olive oil, sprinkling it with a pinch of salt.

Original text
Laridi coctura: tectum aqua cum multo anetho coques, oleum modicum destillabis et modicum salis.

Translation
Cooking of lardo: cook it immersed in water with a lot of dill, sprinkling it with a bit of olive oil and salt.

Note about the ingredients
In the Antiquity and early Middle Ages, lardo was always cooked. The habit to eat it raw was typical of Franks, writes the Byzantine physician Anthimus in the 6th century, but the best way to prepare lardo is by simmering it. Other common methods of cooking were roasting on charcoal and fry it, but Anthimus considers the latter way unhealthy. You find more information about lardo in ancient Rome and early Middle Ages on Patreon.
Writing about dill, Apicius means the herb: when he intends to use the seeds of anethum, he specifies it. To prepare this recipe, the legionaries would use either dry dill or a fresh wild herb, if they found it.

POSCA (Dioscorides)

Ingredients
vinegar
water
dry or fresh pennyroyal

Method
Mix seven parts of water and one of vinegar, adding a bit of pennyroyal or mint.

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YouTube Channel

Books
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

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)

Recipes
How to make garum
Fig Sweet
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
Chicken stew
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
Mashed Chestnuts
Poppy Seed Bread with Ancient Dry Yeast
Cured Olives and Epityrum