Managing food storage in the Roman Empire

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15 Scopus citations

Abstract

One of the most remarkable facets of the Roman Empire was its food supply system. The second century grammarian Aelius Aristides described Rome as the warehouse of the world, lauding the capital not only for its wealth of exotic goods, but also for holding all the foods of the world (To Rome 12–13). Many settlements across the Roman Empire's expansive territory were connected to one another via roads and trade routes, and were also able to acquire food from distant places. In addition to having access to different foods, Roman consumers were able to have them almost year-round. When one considers that many agricultural goods were harvested once a year, their year-round availability, storage, and transport are further appreciated. This paper considers how, without technology such as refrigeration, Roman builders constructed warehouses and cellars and potters produced containers that not only protected goods, but also helped stabilize temperatures and humidity levels to store foods properly for potentially long periods of time. Granaries throughout the Mediterranean, for example, were equipped with raised floors, small and secure windows, and thick walls in order to provide cool, ventilated rooms for grain coming into the capital. Farmers and merchants used large ceramic storage containers, such as dolia and pithoi, to stabilize temperatures year-round for goods such as wine, olive oil, and fish sauce (garum). Furthermore, the placement and installation of the vessels, whether in a north- or south-facing room, mostly buried, or mostly exposed, could not only extend the shelf-life of their contents, but also help protect their quality. By processing foods, using ceramic containers, and building well-designed warehouses, inhabitants of the Roman Empire were able to adapt to and have some control over the arid and fragmentary microclimates of the Mediterranean basin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-75
Number of pages13
JournalQuaternary International
Volume597
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 30 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes

Keywords

  • Amphorae
  • Ceramic containers
  • Dolia
  • Food storage
  • Grain
  • Granaries
  • Oil
  • Pithoi
  • Roman
  • Storage
  • Warehouses
  • Wine

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