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Roman Republic: Res publica Romana • View topic - Romans and Some Stories About Fish

Romans and Some Stories About Fish

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Romans and Some Stories About Fish

Postby Marcus Minucius Audens » Fri Sep 16, 2016 4:51 pm



Fish was a costly item in Rome mainly for two reasons: First the Romans were somewhat intimidated by the Mediterranean, and furthermore because the great sea was closed to maritime activities for the winter when the storms blew out of the North, and the fishing boats stayed in port.

“And Fish is costly, Cato hit the nail on the head when, in his battle against luxury and excess in Rome, he said that a fish costs more than a cow. And the asking price for a barrel of smoked fish in Rome would not buy a hundred sheep or the meat of an ox.” (Plut. IV4.668)

However, it is thought that there is a chance that Plutarch just might have been over the top a bit on the above statement, since there were people who were willing and perhaps eager to buy fish at elevated prices. This from Athenaeus speaking of Greek Literature:

“When Plato criticized Aristippus for buying so much fish, Aristippus replied that he had paid only two bols. Plato replied that he would have bought it himself at that price, to which Aristippus answered, “You see Plato, I am not that fond of fish, but you are too fond of money.” (Ath. VIII-343d)

In Rome, while the determined Cato went on to criticize in detail the expensive Greek mania for fish, it was plain that all during the whole of the first century BC, the Roman populace expended a great amount of their funds in buying octopus, moray, oysters, sea urchins, and crabs. They also pursued the purchase of the less glamorous fish, such as mackerel, dolphin and tuna. On occasion also red mullet was purchased as well. Some fish lovers who were wealthy enough to do so, went so far as to look into the task of breeding various kinds of fish and shell fish:

“Oyster ponds were first invented by Sergius Orata, in the Gulf of Baia, in the time of the orator Lucius Crassus, before the Marsian War. His motive was not greed, but avarice because he had already become rich with the invention of showers that he installed in his villas before selling them on.
He was the first to identify Lucrino oysters as the most flavorsome. The quality of fish always depends on where they come from. The wolf-fish from the Tiber, for example, is finest between the two bridges. Turbot from Ravenna is good, as is moray from Sicily, sturgeon from Rhodes and so on. I will not repeat the whole shopping list.
The British coast was not yet used for oyster fishing when Orato praised the oysters of Lucrino. It was still worth taking the trouble to bring oyster from the tip of Italy, from Brindisi. To prevent squabbles occurring in the sea between the two delicacies, the oysters, hungry from their long journey from Brindisi, were fed in the Lago Lucrino.
During the same period Licinius Murena was developing fish-ponds for all kinds of fish. He was copied by Philippus and Hortensius. They enjoyed a great deal of success with it. Lucullus had built a channel through a mountain, which cost more than the whole estate. For that reason Pompeus Magnus called him ‘Xerxes in a toga.’ After the death of Lucullus the fish from his pond were sold for four million HS.”
(Plin. N. H. LXXIX-XXX)

Caesar and Lucullus were pretty much equals when it came to wealth and fame, however their careers took some definite different turns in their history. While Caesar went on to move mountains in the area of politics and his military accomplishments, Lucullus did so in the field of gastronomy and the raising of fish.

Reference:

Patrick Faas, “Around The Roman Table, Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome,” Univ. of Chicago, 1994.

Respectfully Submitted;

Marcus Audens
Marcus Minucius Audens
 

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