A Roman Prandium

It’s been a while since I last fixed up a full ancient meal – over two years ago, I made ientaculum, or the Roman breakfast – so I thought it was about time to try another one.

For many folks living in Rome, the second meal of the day would have been called prandium. Typically it was eaten after the fifth hour, or later than 11 o’clock. This we know thanks to a epigram penned by the poet Martial. He frustratedly wrote about his friend Caecilius, who showed up at Martial’s house in the middle of the morning, late for breakfast yet already expecting lunch from his host (8.67).

This meal, like ientaculum, was fairly light: in essence they consisted of meat with some sort of starch, though a simple prandium might be only a bit of bread, as Seneca preferred, not eaten at the table (Epistles 83). In other cases we can read that Romans opted for lunches that were a bit richer, like if we turn to the works of Plautus. Though his plays were imaginative comedies, they still give great insight into ancient cookery. Take this example from Menaechmi (The Twin Brothers) that describes a fine lunch:

Iube igitur tribus nobis apud te prandium accurarier atque aliquid scitamentorum de foro opsonarier, glandionidam suillam, laridum pernonidam, aut sincipitamenta porcina aut aliquid ad eum modum

Then order that a lunch be prepared for the three of us at your house and also that treats be bought from the forum: some boar sweetbread, a bit of bacon, pork jowls or something like this.

A second Plautine play, Persa or The Persian, illustrates another prandium, this one a real olio of foods: a sort of pasta soup with loin-meat, eel, and cold leftover ham with gravy (1.3).

In making my prandium, I tried to capture the spirit of these ancient lunches. I rustled up a lucanica and spooned out some mustard to go with it. Alongside the leftover sausage I decided to have some bread, as was Seneca’s wont, and a handful of olives. A light lunch, but a tasty one no less.

By the end of the republican era, the prandium served more to tide people over until the real deal meal, the cena. In due time I’m planning to write about a cena Martial describes, but for more right now, I encourage you to take a look at this post about all of the meals Romans ate during the day.

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