The people of ancient Rome may have lived thousands of years ago, but their diets were anything but old-fashioned. In fact, they chowed down on many foods …

When we say Italian
food, we often
think of many popular
and delicious dishes
like tagliatelle pasta with
Bolognese sauce, chicken
Parmesan, and, of course, pizza.
We rarely think
of the dishes that
were popular with
the ancient Romans
like dolphin meatballs, parrot
heads, and fermented fish guts.
The people of Rome
routinely chowed down
on things most modern-day folk
would shudder to even think
about putting in their mouth.
Today, we're going to take
a look at the weirdest foods
from ancient Roman cuisine.
But before we get started,
be sure to subscribe
to the Weird History channel.
And let us know in the
comments below what
other culinary topics you
would like to hear about.
OK, put your bib on.
We're about to sink our teeth
into some creepy Roman food.

For the people of the
ancient Roman world,
meat was a bit of a delicacy,
and it was almost exclusively
enjoyed by the rich.
Exotic meats like peacock
were even more of a rarity.
The bird was typically
served by cooks trying
to impress wealthy guests.
According to a collection
of recipes and food
facts from the First
Century called Apicius,
peacock was considered
a first-ranked dish.
That meant it outranked foods
like rabbit, lobster, chicken,
and pork in terms of
its value as a luxury.
Roman elites also enjoyed
the peacock's eggs,
which were also ranked highest
among their counterparts.

Don't eat too much.
Save some womb for this.
Sterile sow's womb may not
sound super appetizing to most,
but the ancient Romans
really loved it.
To keep their pigs
from having piglets,
Romans typically had
the animals spayed.
This would ideally
keep the animal's womb
pristine in both
texture and taste.
Apicius details numerous
recipes featuring this delicacy,
which is often accompanied
by things like belly flesh
and udders.
There were numerous ways
to prepare a sow's womb.
One was to cook it in pepper,
celery seed, dry mint, laser
root, honey, vinegar, and broth.
Alternatively, a Roman chef
might grill the sow's womb
after coating it in bran and
then putting it into a brine.
From all this talk, I kind of do
have a hankering for womb now.
I'll stop at the
drive-thru later.

One of the ancient Roman
empire's most famous gourmands
was Elagabalus, who was emperor
during the Third Century
from 218 to 222 CE.
Contemporary writings
about Elagabalus
said that he loved hosting
fancy dinner parties.
Ancient gossip recorded
in the Historia Augusta
claims he was a
gluttonous maximus who
lived to serve people
the greatest delicacies.
The ancient book even states
that he served his own palace
attendants huge
platters heaped up
with heads of parrots,
pheasants, and peacocks.
Gosh, thanks, boss.
I guess free lunch is a perk.
The Roman affinity
for exotic birds
also extended to the flamingo.
Both flamingo and
parrot were prepared
by boiling the meat in dill,
salt, and vinegar, and later
adding ingredients like
leeks and coriander.
Apicius reports the
birds would then
be infused with spices
like pepper and cumin.
Finally, the meat would
be sweetened with dates
and braised.
Some recipes added
additional flavors
like mint, celery
seeds, and shallots.
When it came to parrots,
Romans didn't just eat them.
They also consider them
conversation partners.
Pliny the Elder
wrote that the parrot
was interesting
due to its ability
to imitate the human voice
and actually converse.
He noted that "a parrot
will duly salute an emperor
and pronounce the words
it has heard spoken."
He also observed
that "the parrot
is rendered
especially frolicsome
under the influence of wine."
There's something they
don't teach you in school.
If you want to frolic with
parrots, bring a good Chianti.

digging at Pompeii
uncovered the remains
of a giraffe bone
that was stuck in the drain
of an ancient restaurant.
Butchering marks
found in the leg joint
indicated that the
animal was used for food.
However, how it got to the
restaurant in the first place
remains a bit of a mystery.
This is especially true given
that it's the only giraffe
bone ever to be recovered
from an Italian excavation.
And to think, if one plumber
had just done their job,
this would have never
been discovered.
Along with giraffes,
the Romans apparently
enjoyed camel at least as
an occasional delicacy.
An excavation of an ancient
garbage dump in Rome
yielded camel bones,
which bore marks
indicative of Elagabalus'
strange predilection for eating
the animal's heels.
Why did he do that?
Well, according
to one biography,
the emperor frequently
ate camel heels
because he was told
that one who ate them
was immune from the plague.
Using camel parts as medicinal
remedies wasn't uncommon.
Writing in the 5th Century,
the Roman physician Caelius
Aurelianus criticized
the use of camel's brain
as a remedy for epilepsy,
which was apparently
common among his predecessors.

Speaking of folk
remedies for epilepsy,
weasels weren't regularly
served at Roman feasts,
but they were believed
to be handy to have
around for medicinal reasons.
Pliny the Elder took some
time off from getting drunk
with parrots to write that
as a treatment for epilepsy,
the brains of a weasel
were considered very good.
For use as a remedy, the brain
was dried up and then taken
in a drink.
Other helpful
parts of the weasel
were its liver and
uterus or testes,
which would be dried up and
then taken with coriander.
Weasel flesh, when
combined with salt,
was supposedly helpful
for healing people
bitten by snakes.
However, by the Fifth
Century, Caelius Aurelianus
challenged the idea that
weasel bits were curative
for epilepsy, exactly as he
had done for camels' brains.
He turned out to be right,
much to the relief of camels
and weasels everywhere.

Brain was a common food.
And if you go to the restaurant
Animal in Los Angeles,
it still is.
Brain was frequently
mentioned in Apicius
with those of young sheep
and cows especially featured
throughout the ancient cookbook.
One notable recipe includes lamb
brains along with eggs, pepper,
and, interestingly, rose petals.
Brains were also commonly
used to stuff sausages
and other meat dishes.
Apicius' recipe for Apician
jelly includes either
the sweetbreads of calf
or lamb with a variety
of other ingredients,
including but not limited
to honey, raisins,
nuts, cheese, and mint.
Once the ingredients
were combined,
they were to be covered and
chilled, which in those days
typically meant
buried in the snow.

The agent Romans
didn't use ketchup,
but they loved a good condiment.
Their favorite was
a tasty concoction
known as garum or liquamen.
Sold in large and
small quantities alike,
garum was prepared from
the intestines of fish
and various parts
which would otherwise
be thrown away, kind of like
a Roman version of the McRib.
The ingredients would be
mixed with honey, vinegar,
and other additives.
Garum is even known to have
come in kosher varieties.
According to Pliny
the Drunk Parrot Guy,
garum was extremely
expensive, not like the McRib.
As he tells it, "A garum of
mackerel from the fisheries
of Carthage is the
most highly prized.
Hardly any other liquid
commands such prices, apart
from perfume."
Given that garum was
cost prohibitive,
lower class Romans
typically opted
to substitute
something called allec.
Originally made from
anchovies, allec
was basically the
remnants of a good garum
or was made out of
smaller, cheaper fish.

Romans loved seafood.
They ate all varieties of
fish and weren't above dining
on a good dolphin
if the mood struck.
Dolphin, although not a fish,
was also a popular ingredient
in salt fish balls, which were
commonly served in wine sauce.
The recipe typically called
for a mixture of fish flesh
with spices like parsley,
pepper, and mint.
Once the ingredients were
blended and shaped into balls,
they would be poached
in wine, broth, and oil.
For what it's worth, dolphin
was prohibited for use as food
by legislation.
However, wealthy citizens
found ways around those laws.
For example, one
Rutilius Rufus was
said to avoid those laws
by buying from fishermen
who used to be his slaves.
Oh, yeah.
Let's give the old
slave boss a deal.
Jelly fish weren't
common on Roman menus.
But when they did turn
up, it was almost always
part of a salad.
Sea urchin was
slightly more common.
In fact, the same
Pompeii excavation
that dug up that freak
giraffe bone also
found the remains
of a sea urchin.
Apicius advocated
using sea urchins
on top of a mega casserole
that included ingredients
from brains to cheese.
They could be
boiled or eaten raw.
Popular varieties
included sea urchin
stuffed with egg and
honey or simply dusted
with pepper and salt.
In modern times,
we typically turn
to cats as the animals that
will clean up a mouse problem.
But in ancient Rome,
weasels were the animals
that most households kept
to keep rodents at bay.
Door mice, however,
which were much larger
than traditional mice,
were considered ingredients
for culinary practice.
Like dolphins, door mice
were at least for a time
protected by legislation.
It didn't make much of
a difference though.
Romans continued to hunt these
adorable and apparently tasty
critters anyway.
In fact, in order to make
sure the supply of yummy,
yummy door mice
didn't run out, Romans
took to raising them at home.
Hand-raised door
mice were fattened up
and kept in jars
stuffed with acorns,
beach nuts, or chestnuts.
Once the mice put
on enough weight,
Apicius recommended
stuffing the chubby mice
with pork pounded with pepper,
nuts, silphium, and broth.

Blood pudding was kind of the
pasta with butter of its era.
The ingredients were
readily available,
and the dish was considered
very easy to cook.
Sacrificed animals and
those used in the arena
were repositories
of lifeblood, which
was an important
ingredient in such puddings
as well as in blood sausage.
Blood pudding and sausage could
be purchased at the market,
but the vendors who
sold them were typically
considered low on
the social ladder,
kind of like an ancient
Roman Jackius in the Boxius.
Apicius suggests mixing
blood with egg yolks, nuts,
and spices, then
putting the resulting
sauce into an intestine
and cooking that mixture
to perfection.
Roman sausages, in contrast
to black sausages associated
with the British, used onion to
absorb the liquid rather than
oats or other grains.

While the rich drank
fancy wine, the poor
would enjoy a more
pedestrian drink.
Without access to the
best vino, many Romans
drank posca, which was
water mixed with vinegar
and some variety of seasoning.
Posca might include lemon juice,
eggs, certain types of fruits,
and sometimes wine.
Easy to make, posca
was known as the drink
of Roman soldiers, which is
a great marketing slogan.
It was known to energize and
refresh the consumer and even
disinfected non-potable water.
Less appealing than posca was
lora, a wine typically consumed
by slaves.
As the Mad Dog 20/20
of its era, lora
was made by soaking
seeds and other detritus
from wine in vinegar,
which was meant
to seep out any latent flavor.
Another animal
imported from faraway,
ostrich was a rarity
on Roman tables.
The Roman physician
and philosopher Galen
found that ostrich was gross.
He believed that they
were hard to cook
and didn't like that
their flesh was,
according to him,
full of residue.
On the other hand, ostrich
eggs were highly valued
and prized for their
size and flavor.
Unlike Galen, Apicius found
some value in ostrich meat,
offering recipes for boiled
ostrich and ostrich stew.
Emperor Elagabalus, for
his part, loved ostriches.
According to the
Historia Augusta,
he would sometimes
serve them at banquets
and often purchased their heads
so he could eat their brains.
If nothing else, you
have got to respect
that guy's curious palate.
So what do you think?
Which of these dishes sounded
the most appetizing to you?
Let us know in the
comments below.
And while you're at it, check
out some of these other videos
from our Weird History.

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