A Rural Feast

Just an interesting picture to enliven the post, no real connection. (source)

Once a year Cato (Agr. 83) suggests males on the farm go into the forest in day light and dedicate the following to Mars and Silvanus and then consume it all immediately. This amount is determined per head of oxen so a normal team would be double this.

3 (Roman) pounds Emmer

4.5 (Roman) pounds fat

4.5 (Roman) pound lean meat

3 sextarii of wine

Leaving aside the wine for now. How much food is this?

About …

3,285 calories of grain

13,151 calories of animal fat (assuming it is mutton)

4,111 calories of lean meat (assuming mutton)


20,547 calorie feast

Estimates for average US Thanksgiving dinner consumption range from 1600 to 4000+ calories per person. So even with guests getting well and truly stuffed, this feast would feed 10 men easily, with more reasonable proportions 20 some men could still partake in a whole meal, as there can be no leftovers it seems.

20+ men per oxen team however seems rather a lot of men.

Perhaps I’m over stretching the logic but Cato’s various recipes and their proportions do imply a certain scale of consumption.

By contrast that is only the rough equivalent of two bottles of wine. At a real stretch enough for 8-12 people to have just one serving of wine. Not a huge amount compared to the food quantity.

Poking around at other in the near by text, his recipe for placenta a baked dough dish with many thin layers calls for eight pounds total of grains (6 of flours, 2 of groats). That much grain in the modern kitchen would easily make 3 large loafs of crusty bread and contains some 9,434 calories. It’s a big recipe, especially given the fact it appears to be a special occasion food, not one consumed as a staple. Generous portions of this dish might be served up to 10-20 people.

n.b. I personally like Andrew Dalby’s Cato, On Farming (De Agricultura). A Modern translation with Commentary. Pp. 243, 11 ills. Totnes: Prospect Boo. ISBN: 0907325-80-7

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s