Besides eating traditional foods still present in our diet like cereals, eggs, fruit and vegetables, the Romans ate exotic food, such as sea urchins and giraffe legs, researchers working at Pompeii discovered.
A group of archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati carried out archaeological excavations for more than 10 years in two parts of Pompeii – the Roman town buried in the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. - within a little-studied area inside the Porta Stabia.
The scientists found the remains of a giraffe and sea urchin in the drain of a restaurant.
"This is thought to be the only giraffe bone ever recorded from an archaeological excavation in Roman Italy," researcher Steven Ellis of the University of Cincinnati said. "How part of the animal, butchered, came to be a kitchen scrap in a seemingly standard Pompeian restaurant not only speaks to long-distance trade in exotic and wild animals, but also something of the richness, variety and range of a non-elite diet."
The finding seems to contradict the common belief that only the Roman elite dined on exotic delicacies, while the poor Romans would be willing to eat anything they found.
"The traditional vision of some mass of hapless lemmings — scrounging for whatever they can pinch from the side of a street, or huddled around a bowl of gruel — needs to be replaced by a higher fare and standard of living, at least for the urbanites in Pompeii," Ellis said.
Searching for food scraps and waste in the drains of restaurants and houses, the researchers concluded that the commoners of Pompeii ate a simple but varied Mediterranean diet that included lentils, olives, nuts and fish.
The team also found traces of exotic and imported spices that came from regions as far as Indonesia.