Ancient Roman Food

While some of the food in Ancient Rome was quite different to what we eat today, their eating habits were very like ours in a lot of ways.

Generally speaking, the Ancient Romans had three main meals per day. The Ancient Romans started their day with breakfast early in the morning, usually at the crack of dawn.

This included foods like bread, eggs, cheese, milk, or wine, and occasionally some dried fruits. This first meal of the day was called the “ientaculum.”

A few hours later, at around 11:00 a.m, the Romans would have a small lunch, called the “prandium.” Like their breakfast, this lunch was fairly small, but included more meats and fish than their breakfast dishes.

The main meal of the day – the “cena” – was eaten in the late afternoon or evening, and was the biggest meal of the three. During “cena,” the Ancient Romans would eat a wide variety of food, such as meat, pork, fish, vegetables, and they would drink a lot of wine while they ate.

In fact, the Ancient Romans drank so much wine that they had a special name for their wine-drinking session at the end of every “cena.” They called it the “comissatio.”

Unlike nowadays, where wine is considered a luxury, the Ancient Romans thought that they should drink wine every single day.

It was available to people of all sections of Ancient Roman society, even children and slaves. However, the Ancient Romans did not approve of women drinking a lot of wine, and it was less acceptable for women to get drunk than it was for men.

Because so many people were buying and making wine, grapevines were planted and vineyards (gardens set up especially to grow grapes and make wine) opened all over Italy.

Because the Romans drank wine with all three meals of the day, it was very important that the country didn’t run out.

Just like in other ancient societies, it was usually the women of the house or their slaves who prepared meals in Ancient Rome.

All three meals of the day were served by the children of the house, and it was seen as a regular daily chore.

The slaves would set the dining table for their masters, and arrange chairs or stools around it for the family to sit in. After serving the adults, the children would get their own food.

It was traditional for the whole family to eat together in Ancient Rome. Though the Romans did have spoons and knives, they had no forks, and so most food was eaten by hand.

Though at the beginning of the Roman Empire, people ate while sitting at dining tables, this changed for the richer Romans as time passed.

The wealthy class of Ancient Rome (the patricians) arranged their living rooms (called “atriums”) so that they ate while lying on special dining couches instead. However, they still ate using their fingers.

When dinner parties were thrown by patricians, they were always separated into men’s parties and women’s parties. The two never mixed.

The eating habits of poor Romans were much less fancy. The poor people of Ancient Rome (the plebeians) often ate vegetable stew called “pottage” for dinner, and on the rare occasions they could afford other food, they would also eat fish, bread or meat. The farmers who owned cattle or chickens also added eggs, milk and cheese to their diet.

Food preservation (stopping food from going off/rotting) was also very important in Ancient Rome.

Because there were no refrigerators so long ago, all food was preserved with salt. The wealthy also had their food wrapped in special paper to stop it going off.

Ancient Roman food was famous for how strongly it was flavoured. The chefs would use a lot of salt and spices while cooking, but this was not just done to improve the flavour.

Most of the time, it was so strongly spiced to cover up the taste of rotting meat or vegetables. It’s safe to say that, nowadays, the food the Ancient Romans ate would hardly be considered delicious!

Facts about Ancient Roman Food:

  • The Ancient Romans ate three meals a day.
  • The Romans called breakfast “ientaculum,” theirlunch “prandium,” and their dinner “cena.”
  • The poor people of Ancient Rome didn’t have a wide variety of food available to them. They usually just ate common vegetables, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their dinnertime stew was called “pottage.”
  • The wealthy people of Ancient Rome ate many different kinds of food, including meat, fish, eggs, milk and salted bread.
  • Food in Ancient Rome was often heavily spiced to hide the fact that it had gone off. The only way they had to preserve it was by salting it, and that only worked for meats, so their other foods went off quickly.
  • All Romans drank wine, and it was drank with every meal of the day.
  • At the beginning of the Roman Empire, all Romans ate at dining tables. However, as time passed, the rich Romans bought special dining couches to lie on while eating instead.
  • Women and slaves handled the cooking in Ancient Rome, and it was always children who served the food.


  • How many meals did the Ancient Romans eat per day?
    – Three.
  • What was the name of the stew the poor Romans ate for dinner?
    – Pottage.
  • Who served the food at dinnertime in Ancient Rome?
    – The children of the house.
  • What beverage was drank with every meal in Ancient Rome?
    – Wine.
  • How did the Ancient Romans preserve their food?
    – They salted it.