top of page
  • mauroleardini4

Spices in history Part three

The Romans and spices

Compared to the Greeks, an extremely refined and pleasure-loving people, the Romans were initially rude and unaccustomed to luxuries. It was the influence on the one hand of the Etruscans - who already had a knowledge of spices, they used them for example, in a spiced nutmeg wine - and on the other of the Greek merchants who introduced exotic spices to Rome.

Things changed radically after, in 146 BC, the Romans razed the city of Corinth to nothing and Greece came under Roman control. Many Greek slaves were brought to Rome as servants and many of them became cooks, increasingly introducing spices into Roman cuisine. At the beginning their use was greatly opposed by the ruling classes, who were quite conservative, but then everyone succumbed to their charm.

The Romans were so fascinated by spices that their trade was one of the reasons that pushed them to conquer the East. In Rome in the second century BC, there was even a street where the spice trade took place, which however remained reserved for the wealthy classes. Nero burned an entire year's supply of cinnamon at his wife's funeral. The most widespread spice was pepper: black and white, crushed and whole and in 92 AD. in Rome it was necessary to build special warehouses called pepper granaries.Spices were also used to flavor salt, since the Romans considered it a side dish, often ate it with bread and found it logical to change and enrich its flavor with spices. The "seasoned" salt did not all end up in the food, but was used at home as a ready-to-use medicine for certain ailments. At the time of Augustus, there was an entire fleet dedicated to the spice trade that reached the Far East and the sorting point was Alexandria in Egypt where the cargoes arriving by land and sea converged.A voyage in the Indian Ocean lasted at least two years, until in the first century AD, a Greek merchant named Hippalus discovered the seasonal pattern of the Monsoons, which blew towards the south-east from April to October and towards the north-east from October to April. By taking advantage of the winds and traveling in the open sea and no longer just along the coasts, he realized that the journey could be done in half the time. This discovery gave a notable boost to trade between Egypt, which had become a Roman province, and India by the Romans who managed to break the Arab monopoly. The spice trade with the East continued until the barbarian invasions began.And although in the 4th century, spices were still important - in fact, when Alaric, king of the Visigoths, sacked Rome he demanded, in addition to gold and silver, 5,000 pounds of pepper - with the fall of the Roman Empire , trade towards India declined, leaving room for Ethiopian and Arab merchants who thus regained the spice market.

1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page