The human relation to food is a complex one. We obviously have to eat to survive, but for the most privileged humans through history, food is something to indulge in for fun rather than a necessity. It is by virtue of the evolutionary gift to humans, the innate intelligence and exploration, that their expanding brain, demanding more nutrition has expanded the varieties of food for a human platter. Climate and environmental changes during the evolution of human ancestors triggered that people optimized the search for food, when the natural resources were dwindling, learned to build fire, improved their cooking skills and technologies, domesticated plants and animals… All these were the contributing factors for humans that expanded the varieties of foods they can eat compared to other animals that eat limited varieties of food.Throughout most of history, we could not transport perishable foods before they would go bad, so people lived on much less variety of food than we do today. People traditionally consumed a diet dominated by whatever starches they were able to grow in their climate creating ethnic cuisines where most dishes were made up of a small number of common, inexpensive ingredients. However, with the creations of states and empires the production of food, and most important trade with food, changed dramatically. Not only staple foods but the luxurious products, hard to obtain and difficult to trade before going bad, linking the most remote corners of the world.
Production and distribution of sufficient supplies of food are some of the most basic challenges faced by any human society in the past. Organization and efficient food production supporting populations in villages, towns and cities was the main preoccupation of past societies. Together with trade (and warfare), food production constituted the essential elements of human social progress. Science and technology played an increasingly important role in food production through history, but also in the processes of food preservation for later consumption.
The development path leading to agriculture and animal husbandry started independently in several parts of the world. For us was most important the process that started some 13 thousand years ago in the Near East – in an area that was home to a variety of easily cultivated plants and animals suitable for domestication. If organized hunting in the distant...Read more
It all started with wheat and barley. It was a process of intensification used to extract resources from the environment. The novelty developed in the near east spread through a combination of migration and diffusion to Europe. Shortly after 9000 BP wheat, sheep, goat, pigs, barley, lentils became the resource base in southeastern Europe. In the following millennium, cattle was...Read more
Sheep and goats were the first animals to be domesticated and formed together with pigs and later cattle the bases of the Neolithic pastoralist economy. Traditionally in the Mediterranean, the private households would have kept a small number of animals, perhaps not more than 50. Before the Classical period in Greece, they mostly did not manage large herds of livestock...Read more
During the Early Bronze Age, we have witnessed in the Mediterranean a marked population increase that leads to the development of extensive settlements although the pattern of small hamlets and farmsteads still prevailed. One of the important factors in this process was the change in agriculture production that followed the adoption of wine and olive cultivation. These were commodity-oriented activities...Read more
The impact of agriculture has been profound on humanity, most clearly in terms of population. This is because breeding plants and animals have significantly increased the availability of human consumable calories per square kilometre. One way to think about it is that we replaced things that were not consumable by humans with things that were. Through techniques like irrigation, we...Read more
When speaking about food trade one first thinks about the tea and spice trade, processes that shaped global modern political and economic history, or the unidirectional export of wine and olive oil in the ancient Mediterranean. Though let us not forget about the oldest and most arborescent network that connected ancient societies – the salt trade. Salt has been in high demands for centuries. It did not only flavour food, it was used to preserve it and also as an antiseptic. It was not easy to harvest, so areas rich with salt became big trading centres connecting other centres of power. It was so scarce and precious that part of a Roman soldier’s pay was in salt.
Generally speaking, ancient civilizations gradually developed a more sophisticated economy following the creation of an agricultural surplus, population movement and urban growth, territorial expansion, technology innovation, taxation, the spread of coinage, and not insignificantly, the need to feed the great city centres and supply its huge armies wherever they might be on the campaign. The ancient economy displayed features of both...Read more
One of the major technological inventions in antiquity, most probable derived from boat building technologies, was the discovery, that the wood can be bowed and bent if it is heated. In barrel, production bowed planks of arched wood were made into staves then assembled and encircled using bands of iron. We should not forget that the development of ironworking technologies produced...Read more
At the core of the concept, which was used in the last century to describe numerous two-handled ceramic vessels, are still Greek and Roman amphorae. They are pottery containers used for the non-local transport of agricultural products and their remains are scattered across all archaeological sites around the Mediterranean. Being the subject of intensive research, they provide to the archaeologist’s crucial...Read more
Archaeology is about facts – it focuses on the interpretations of material remains of ancient societies. However, sometimes these remains, especially those produced from organic materials; simply do not survive through the millennia. Moreover, wineskins were such items. Known from numerous depictions of life and religion in the ancient world, we can never find them in museums. Well, we can find...Read more
Meals in the Mediterranean revolved in the last 10 millennia around the common staples of cereals, vegetables, fruit and olive oil – with an occasional bit of fish and meat for those who could afford it. The Greek and Phoenicians spread their food production and cuisine with their colonization and the Romans just further developed this process. Olive oil and wine...Read more
The traditional and symbolic heart of the home, the kitchen is inextricably linked with humankind’s discovery of cooking food with fire. Using fire for food preparation was a central culinary breakthrough. In antiquity, fire was sacred. A kitchen had an altar place for prayers and offerings to the kitchen god. A great range of food and foodstuffs is available for most kitchens and the size of the kitchen or complexity of tools does not dictate the quality or complexity of the cuisine. Some flavours are more palatable, and some foods are made edible when cooked. The designs of hearths and ovens and the locations of kitchens through the millennia document the evolution of ancient kitchens. Several related and important areas were located near ancient kitchens, including the pantry, orchard, garden, spice and medicinal herb garden, larder, icehouse, and root cellar. Out of necessity in addition to cooking, ancient civilizations preserved foods by smoking, drying, salting, and storing in syrups and fat. Foods were often stored with a topping of oil to keep air out.