The Diet of the Roman Legionaries – Soup with Mutton and Beans


Among the provisions given to the Roman legionaries, we find simple food such as wheat, vinegar, wine, and salt, but also bread, buccellatum, cured pork fatback, and mutton, as we read in Justinian’s Codex Iuris Civilis and Vegetius’ Epitoma Rei Militaris. We find further lists of foods in the Vindolanda tablets, documenting the daily life in a Roman castrum in Britannia between the 1st and 2nd centuries, which include dry legumes (fava beans and lentils), barley, ale (cervesa), muria, honey, lovage, spelt, pork rind and feet (callum and ungella), oil, starch, olives, apples, eggs, and chickens.
As we saw in the past, buccellatum was a kind of bread, shaped like a ring and cooked two times to guarantee long preservation, necessary in particular in time of military campaigns. In Diocletian’s Edict of Maximum Prices, mutton is one of the cheapest kinds of meat, as well as bovine meat, and costs 8 denarii per pondus, about 330 grams. It is interesting to notice that in the same source, we find a few kinds of oil, from the less to the most expensive: the best kind of oil costs 40 denarii per sextarium (about half a liter), followed by second-rate olive oil that costs 24 denarii and then oleum raphaninum, obtained from radish seeds or another similar Brassicaceae, which costs only 8 denarii. It is probable that to prepare a meal for a legionary authentically, we should use the latter kind of oil or cooking olive oil, called oleum cibarium in the Roman sources.
We selected this recipe from the 8th book of De Re Coquinaria, with little changes meant to make this dish cheaper and suitable for Roman legionaries, for instance using mutton instead of lamb, asafoetida (which was the less costly kind of silphium, laser in the text of the recipe), black pepper instead of long or white pepper, buccellatum instead of buccella panis (that just means morsels of bread), muria instead of garum, and inexpensive olive oil. If you prefer, use salt instead of muria.
It is unclear what faseoli faratarii are, but we know that the kind of beans used in the Antiquity belonged to the genus Vigna, as we analyzed recently to prepare a salad with green beans. The best beverages to accompany this meal are posca (which is vinegar mixed with water and some aromatic herbs), cheap red wine, or ale, popular not only in the European provinces, but also in Egypt and other Mediterranean countries.

For more information about ancient cuisine, we suggest reading our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources. Moreover, the first nine books of De Re Coquinaria are available on Patreon, with further translations of ancient and medieval sources.
To know more about the passage between ancient and medieval cooking, check out our book with the translation, commentary, and glossary of a beautiful 6th-century source, De Observatione Ciborum, written by the physician Anthimus to the king of the Franks Theuderic. This book contains some of the earliest medieval recipes, in addition to information about the diet of the Franks and the differences between their food habits and the alimentation of the Mediterranean populations, showing the passage between ancient and late-medieval cooking.
If you are interested in late-medieval cuisine, we recommend our new book, Libro de la Cocina. Medieval Tuscan Recipes, and Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook.
To know more about vegetables and legumes between the Antiquity and early Modern Era, check out Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers.
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400 grams mutton
100 grams dry black-eyed peas
100 grams buccellatum
spices (black pepper and asafoetida)

Steep the black-eyed peas in water overnight. Debone and cut the meat into small pieces, then grind the pepper in the mortar. Simmer the black-eyed peas with the meat for about 40 minutes. When the meat and beans are almost cooked through, add a bit of muria, oil, black pepper, and grated asafoetida, with the buccellatum broken into pieces. Cook for a few minutes until the buccellatum becomes tender. Serve still hot.

Original text
Copadia haedina sive agnina: pipere et liquamine coques cum faseolis faratariis, liquamine, pipere, lasere cum inbracto buccella panis et oleo modico.

Kid or lamb cut into small pieces. Cook [the meat] with pepper and garum. [Add] faratarii beans, garum, pepper, laser, soaking morsels of bread in the soup, and a bit of oil.

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Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano. Medieval Tuscan Recipes
Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers
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 1-9
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th-9th century)

De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparan
di et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria (13th-14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first and second part (15th century)

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