What’s On The Bronze Menu?
EVER WONDER WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE BEFORE COFFEE?
When we talk about the lives of Trojans in the Bronze Age, we may wonder how on earth they survived without some of the delicacies we have today, such as tacos and pizza. One thing is for certain, coffee was not an option. (How ever did they survive?) I guess, when you don’t know what you’re missing, you appreciate what you do have.
So, what did they eat and drink, you ask? There is plenty of evidence, both written and archaeological, to give us the answers to that very question. We may not know everything for sure, but we can surmise a good deal of it from findings in Asia Minor, and some from Homer. Yes, I’m back to Homer again, but by reading his words carefully, I have learned much about the way things were in the Bronze Age.
For instance, Homer tells us numerous times that the drink of choice was in fact, ‘mellow honeyed wine’, or ‘watered wine’. I’m guessing that the watered wine was given to the very young, as that would only make sense! Homer does, once, mention the instance of a child and ‘having the wine raised to his lips’. The reference is said as a ‘foreshadowing’, and said that the wine given would not be enough to quench the thirst, though only to wet the child’s lips.
In a royal cemetery in Troy, the remains of a small child were discovered in an early Bronze Age tomb. As was custom, the child was buried with a few royal possessions, one of which was a chalice. Again, the suggestion of wine. As there is also mention of goats and sheep in the Iliad, we may also guess that milk was on the menu.
Aside from goat and sheep, researchers have found evidence that Trojans ate beef, and likely this means that they also drank cow’s milk. There is evidence, (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) that they also ate horse meat… though rarely. One might figure that being under siege and resources limited, times may have become desperate.
Considering Trojans were renowned horse tamers, I can be certain this did not sit well with them! On a more positive note, although dogs and cats were kept in Troy, none were eaten by Bronze Age Trojans! Cats were revered by inhabitants of Asia Minor, and dogs were kept as pets, for hunting and for protection.
In early Bronze Age Troy, we would have been invited to a dinner of mollusk, lamb, goat, tuna, pork, mussels, oysters, and clams. Shellfish was on the menu in all phases of the Bronze Age. Location has much to do with the excess consumption of fish in Troy. Early on, embedded in the ruins of Trojan homes, even pre-dating Homer’s saga by 1,000 years or better, researchers have discovered shells baked into in the mudbrick homes.
The compound of the earth at the time, allowed early settlers to use the shell-ridden mud to build strong homes. So strong in fact, that the remains of these age-defying buildings can still be found thousands of years later! Not many remain however, due to the Trojan ingenuity; Trojans used old bricks to build newer homes, thus recycling what was already at hand.
It was this practise that saw many generations through the rebuilding process in Asia Minor. When fire, earthquake or warfare fire laid the city low, Trojans quickly rebuilt from the ruins and rubble. The homes and fortifications were always bigger and stronger than the previous ones. Natural process, the steamy European summers, and fires have contributed to the ‘baking’ of these shells into the ancient bricks.
In the day of Homer’s account of Trojans, we begin to see evidence of venison as a delicacy. Other items mentioned in the Iliad were biscuits, figs, cheese and one of the obvious would be grapes, both for wine and as a refreshing snack.
Olives were a popular commodity in the Bronze Age as well. Olive oil was stored in large pithoi, or jugs used for storage. Many of these special containers, made from clay, stood over four feet tall. Grains were also kept in pithoi, as was wine. Olive oil had many uses. One was cooking… sounds logical to me! Another was softening animal skins, and another was to keep the human skin soft. Myself, I cannot fathom using the thick and slippery liquid instead of modern skin creams. I think it’s safe to assume Trojans had nice tans though!
From verses in the Iliad and depictions on Bronze Age pottery, we know that Trojans were avid hunters of boar, rabbit, deer, lion, leopard, and other wildlife for meat and skins. Before the siege, the Trojans had hunting parties,
showing their prowess as hunters as well as feeding their city. After the hunt, Trojans would hold feats to celebrate their victories.
Meat was cured with salts and dried in the blazing sun, and then stored for winter in individual homes, with the exception of the King. The Kings supplies were kept in large storage rooms, ready for large feasts or celebrations. The animal skins were cured in much the same manner, and used for everything from clothing to weapons to jewellery.
Some of the other surprises would be the use of spices in the Bronze Age. Although I don’t think they used spice jars as we know them, the Trojans used some of the smaller storage jars for just that purpose. Imagine a succulent beef dinner, roasted on a spit, and spiced up with some cumin, coriander, fennel, sesame, and perhaps even saffron. Without artificial preservatives, I might go so far as to say that the diet in Asia Minor sounds scrumptious!
Next in this series: Bronze Age Warfare and Trojan Weaponry