Gastronomy is nothing new under the sun. In fact, the Romans beat many of even our most avant-garde efforts. Sumptuous feasts were a way to impress your friends and potential allies, so no expense was spared by rich citizens. One Roman, Lucullus, even had different rooms where he would receive different guests of varying worth–and of varying cost to himself. The highest guests were said to cost around 25,000 sesterces (circa $2,500) per person. The wilder the food and rarer the delicacy, the better! One satirical account from first century author Petronius lists extravagances like dormice and pastry eggs stuffed with birds, while one of the oldest known gastronomes was apparently fond of flamingo tongues. Exotic was the mot d’ordre.
In order to enjoy the long feasts even more, the Romans developed the particularly nasty concept of a vomitorium–yes, you guessed it, a way to relieve yourself of the first part of the meal so that you can start fresh on the next course. Lavish entertainments filled the feasts as well, with dancers and music and numerous attendants. The Romans were indeed called decadent for a reason.
However, there is one thing we can be grateful to their epicurean taste for. If it were not for the Romans bringing their savoir-faire, their “know-how,” into their colonies, France would possibly never have become the wine center of the world! Bordeaux, France’s most well-known wine-producing region, was first planted with grapes imported by the Romans in the 1st century AD, and Burgundy flourished under their viticultural influences. Chateau Ausone, the highly prestigious Bordeaux wine estate, even claims that its land was once owned by Ausonius, the fourth century Gallo-Roman poet who wrote about the wines of Bordeaux. Of course, the Romans would think our drinking practices barbaric–they drank their wine well-diluted with water, and looked down on those barbarians who drank it pure! O tempora, o mores!