Episode 7: A Sour & Salty Trip to Byzantium
What does ketchup have to do with medieval politics? Find out this week, when we travel back to 10th century Constantinople to dine at the emperor’s table. We’ll follow in the footsteps of a picky Italian ambassador who can’t find a thing to eat in the largest city in the medieval world! We’ll learn some ancient tricks for making wine & how a few lines of poetry can cure a nasty hangover. Discover how the fall of the Roman Empire profoundly changed the eating and drinking habits of western Europe & how an ancient salty fish sauce may be lurking in your kitchen cabinet.
Written & Produced by Laura Carlson
Research Assistant: Megan Kirby
Technical Direction/Olympic Commentary: Michael Portt
Looking for ways of getting Byzantine with your kitchen after listening to the episode?
We've provided some handy tips & tricks from a medieval agricultural guide as well as some fantastic resources on Roman garum & the medieval wine trade. Make sure you check out the soundtrack for the episode below, we've featured some fantastic Armenian & Turkish artists this week!
The Byzantine Geoponika
This 10th century text, commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, was a compilation of ancient and early medieval wisdom on agriculture, botany, viticulture, home remedies, and cooking. This encyclopedic work drew from both Greek & Roman knowledge and became an immediate hit throughout the eastern Mediterranean, translated into at least four languages. Although we wouldn't necessarily recommend trying all of the recipes featured below, here's just a sample of some of the wisdom found in its pages:
Indications of Wines That Turn (Sour):
One may also prove wine from the head that lies and swims on it. If the head is of a purple color, spreads wide, and is mellow, the wine is the sounder; and a head that is of a black or yellow color, is an evident sign that the wine has no strength; but when it is white, it is sound; and a head that resembles a spider's web, is a previous sign that it will soon turn sour. (Book VII: Chapter 15)
To Make Wine Strong for Mixing with Water, so that a little of it, when taken, may be sufficient for many persons:
Grate the dry roots of althaea (also known as the mallow root) into the wine, and when you have stirred it, use it. (Book VII: Chapter 22)
That A Person Drinking Much Wine May Not Be Inebriated (aka An Ancient Hangover Recipe):
Having roasted the lights (i.e. the lungs) of a goat, eat them, or, when fasting, eat five or seven bitter almonds or eat raw cabbage, and you will not be inebriated. A person that drinks likewise will not be in liquor (i.e. will not be drunk) if he is crowned with chamaepitys (a flowering plant known as ground pine); or if, in drinking the first cup, he repeats this verse of Homer: "Thrice thunder'd Jupiter from Ida's heights". (Book VII: Chapter 31)
Concerning Oenomeli (Honeyed-Wine):
Put some Attic honey into an earthen pot & set it on hot ashes that it may be clarified; and after the honey has been warmed, pour four sextarii (an ancient measurement) of wine to a sextarius of honey...pour the mixture into vessels that are well pitched. Having pounded 12 scruples of dry costus (a kind of thistle, also known as kuth), and having tied it into a cloth, suspend it in the honey wine mixture...Some have pounded 12 scruples of the Indian leaf (Indian bay leaf or cassia), mix it with the honey wine & they find it good beyond expectation after 15 days; and when it is old, it is incomparable. (Book VIII: Chapter 25)
All excerpts taken from Rev. T. Owen's translation, Agricultural Pursuits (London, 1805)
Is Roman garum lurking in your kitchen cabinet?
Lots of folks recently have been looking at the resurgence of Roman garum & its links to modern Asian fish sauces as well as other table sauces. Here are just a few samples:
Here's a great radio story from NPR back in 2013 on Roman garum: (you can also find the article here)
For more on ancient wine & how it may not be exactly suited to modern palates, here's a great article from Serious Eats:
Find out more about cooking in medieval Byzantium
Read all about Liutprand's medieval adventures in Constantinople for yourself! The Complete Works of Liutprand of Cremona is a wonderful translation of all Liutprand's surviving works, including details of another trip to Constantinople as well as his writings on the medieval German monarchy.
Dan Jurafsky's The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, is a captivating read. From his daily life in San Francisco, Jurafsky explains the ancient and worldwide origins of the food we eat. A great exploration of how language can often affect cuisine (and vice versa). A very good read.
The Wine Trade in Medieval Europe, ca. 1000-1500 by Susan Rose is one of the best resources for those looking to learn about drunk monks, grape theft, and international wine fraud in the middle ages. A fantastic way to learn how wine transitioned from Roman amphorae to modern vineyards.
Medianti, "999" (icensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Italy License).