Shedding new light on drinking and eating habits in the Roman world

The landmark 50th issue of the journal Internet Archaeology highlights the pioneering research conducted by a network of academics, professional archaeologists and museum curators, led by the Universities of Leicester and Exeter, who are investigating new ways of analysing vast quantities of Roman artefacts in order to better understand eating and drinking habits across the Roman world. 

Eating and drinking are core activities around which interactions within and between households and communities are structured.

Current knowledge of everyday consumption practices for the majority living in the Roman Empire remains uneven, however, and little is known about how, where and with whom most people ate their meals, or what aspects of this social practice might have conveyed a universal sense of shared behaviour.

The 'Big Data on the Roman Table' (BDRT) research network, which is led by Professor Penelope Allison from our  School of Archaeology and Ancient History and Professor Martin Pitts from the University of Exeter, has explored theoretical and technological approaches to analysing the large amount of available artefactual data from the Roman world, so that social behaviour associated with food-consumption practices can indeed be investigated.

The network, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), has focused on the first to second centuries CE – the period in which Roman ways of life and material culture were established across the Roman Empire.

With fresh analytical approaches to this data archaeologists will be able to shed new light on how food and drink was consumed during the Roman period, where these activities took place, how these social practices varied across different contexts and reflected different cultural preferences, and how they changed over time.

Professor Allison said: “The processes explored by this network can change the ways archaeologists and the public think about the value of material culture, and particularly ceramics, for understanding social behaviour in the past.”