Thread Rating:
  • 0 Vote(s) - 0 Average
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Feeding the Soldiers
#1
Ave Civitas,

I have a question that may have been already addressed, but if it has, I can't find it.

Did the Roman Army have mess halls? Were there communal eateries in the army? I think it would be a bother for every contuberni or century to have to cook their own meal when they traveled together with the legion.

I can understand this when there is a small detachment on a lone mission, but it seems complicated to have a hundred little cooking fires burning at the same time.

Thanks.
Tom
AKA Tom Chelmowski
Reply
#2
There are many here better informed than me, but my understanding is that, at least in the 1st century AD, there is no evidence of mess halls or equivalent. Every contubernium seems to have had equipment to do its own cooking in the field, and (IIRC) there is evidence that each 8-man barrack room was provided with a hearth, possibly for the purposes of cooking. Seperate querns to grind the corn ration were issued, too, but I can't remember if this was one per century or per contubernium.
Carus Andiae - David Woodall

"The greatest military machine in the history of the universe..."
"What is - the Daleks?"
"No... the Romans!" - Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens
Reply
#3
I found this little statement. No sources listed, unfortunately.

Quote:The staple diet of the legionary was bread, and each ten-man squad of a legion ground its own wheat to flour, then baked bread at its tent – there was no mess hall in a Roman camp.

Stephen Dando-Collins, Mark Antony’s Heroes

However, Nic Field’s “Hadrian’s Wall” published by Osprey identifies a “dining room” for officers in Housesteads fort (page 23). I couldn’t find anything about mess halls for the common troops.
David J. Cord
http://www.davidcord.com
Reply
#4
There's an interesting image in Osprey's "British Forts in the Age of Arthur" (I know - bear with me :wink: ) which shows the conversion of a larger building at Bridoswald fort, but that is after the Roman occupation. What it doesn't explain, however, is whether this was a new method of joint eating arrangements or one which was there when the fort was re-occupied after the Wall was abandonned.

This is, of course, very late in Roman terms. Excavations of barrack blocks indicates a hearth in each contubernium allocated space is probable so the assumption must be the tent mates fed themselves.

I am sure, too, that Paul Elliott's book The Last Legionary dealing with fifth century Britain recognises these feeding arrangements too (and his photographs of the reconstructed barrack block at Arbeia are better than mine!)

As for an 'Officers' Mess - I am not sure of the hard evidence but if all the officers ate there it would have been a large building which should have been identified by excavation. It also brings with it the implied tasks of cooks, waiters etc to service it be they slaves or otherwise and I think there would have been more evidence for this in the written sources and archaeologically.


Attached Files Thumbnail(s)
Less than 1 minute ago" />   
Moi Watson

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!
Reply
#5
Moi, IIRC, the Birdoswald image was supposed to represent a post roman great hall,
Saxon maybe? Much like a feudal great hall setup. Of course, I could be talking through a hole in my head as well.
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
Reply
#6
Yup - I realise that. My point was were the new occupiers setting something up for themselves or was it already there? The image is certainly very feudal hall like but - if I dare mention the word :mrgreen: - the logistics - of such a hall doesn't quite fit the evidence as I later go on to mention...

My attempt at a reasoned argument (but only after one strong coffee so far this moring).

PS - what does IIRC mean??? I keep looking for inscriptions when I see this LOL!
Moi Watson

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!
Reply
#7
Quote:Yup - I realise that. My point was were the new occupiers setting something up for themselves or was it already there? The image is certainly very feudal hall like but - if I dare mention the word :mrgreen: - the logistics - of such a hall doesn't quite fit the evidence as I later go on to mention...

My attempt at a reasoned argument (but only after one strong coffee so far this moring).

PS - what does IIRC mean??? I keep looking for inscriptions when I see this LOL!

Is It Really Christ? :mrgreen:
If I Remember Correctly. 8-)

The hall itself I understood was built over Roman buildings from the end period...I theenk.
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
Reply
#8
Quote:Ave Civitas,

I have a question that may have been already addressed, but if it has, I can't find it.

Did the Roman Army have mess halls? Were there communal eateries in the army? I think it would be a bother for every contuberni or century to have to cook their own meal when they traveled together with the legion.

I can understand this when there is a small detachment on a lone mission, but it seems complicated to have a hundred little cooking fires burning at the same time.

Thanks.
Tom
Think of it in the reverse direction though. A centralized dining system requires more organization, and more work by the organizers, and any mistake will affect more people. Then if its cold or wet, the soldiers would still want their own fires anyways. The Greeks got by with hardly any formal military institutions for a long time; supply and transport were up to the individual soldiers, as were cooking, with the generals expected to provide a market or somewhere to loot but no more than that.
Nullis in verba

I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
Reply
#9
It's perhaps worth noting that even at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, although there was variation from regiment to regiment, British soldiers did their own cooking, typically in groups of about ten. Even in barracks of the period, cooking facilities were typically provided for individual companies, not the whole regiment. Cooking was done by the ordinary soldiers, not professional cooks.

Regimental cooks were not established until the Crimean War (1853-56) and they would obviously not be having to deal with anything as complex as a legion (though an auxiliary cohort would perhaps be a closer equivalent). The Catering Corps was not established until 1941!

I realise that making comparisons with other periods is dangerous, but consequently, given how long the British Army (and its predecessors) managed to cope (more or less) without centralised messes, I think it's reasonable to speculate that the Romans could manage without.
Carus Andiae - David Woodall

"The greatest military machine in the history of the universe..."
"What is - the Daleks?"
"No... the Romans!" - Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens
Reply
#10
Quote:However, Nic Field’s “Hadrian’s Wall” published by Osprey identifies a “dining room” for officers in Housesteads fort (page 23).
The room in question is in the commanding officer's house. It's the commanding officer's dining room. (Unless he had under-floor heating in his bedroom.)

The only other officers (at Housesteads) were the lowly auxiliary centurions, who probably wouldn't have been invited to dine with the prefect. Their quarters were more generous than the common men's quarters, with ample dining space. (In the fortresses, the higher grade legionary centurions each had even larger quarters.)
posted by Duncan B Campbell
Reply
#11
Ave Civitas,

Thank you very much. This discussion was an eye-opener to understanding the operation of the Roman army.

As always, you guys are great.

Tom
AKA Tom Chelmowski
Reply
#12
Quote:(In the fortresses, the higher grade legionary centurions each had even larger quarters.)
Were there not also 'officer's clubs' (scholae) in many fortresses? They were legalised by Severus, but if SHA Hadrian can be believed (the reference to 'banquet halls') they must have existed unofficially before then too. I've seen references to scholae for principales and equites legionis as well: would these have been social and dining venues, or did they have some other function?
Reply
#13
Quote:Were there not also 'officer's clubs' (scholae) in many fortresses? They were legalised by Severus, but if SHA Hadrian can be believed (the reference to 'banquet halls') they must have existed unofficially before then too.
It's an interesting thought. However, I think that HA Hadr. 10.4 (... triclinia de castris et porticus et cryptas et topia dirueret: "he demolished dining-rooms in the camps and colonnades and vaults and fancy gardens") is meant to describe the residences of the legionary legates. (The term castra is typical for legionary fortresses.)

I don't think I am the first to describe these praetoria (sing., praetorium) as "palaces". I am always struck by the amazing size and scale of the twin praetoria in the double camp at Vetera, each of which has an enormous ornamental garden in the shape of a hippodrome!

(There's a plan in the Osprey Roman Fortresses book, p. 14.)
posted by Duncan B Campbell
Reply
#14
Quote: but it seems complicated to have a hundred little cooking fires burning at the same time.

Tom

This is the way that armies fed themselves for thousands of years until very recently (circa 1800). Men allocated rations then sent off to sort it out themselves.
Paul Elliott

Legions in Crisis
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/17815...d_i=468294

Charting the Third Century military crisis - with a focus on the change in weapons and tactics.
Reply
#15
When I was working at Housesteads Roman Fort I was never aware that there was any such officer dining room, other than the one that Duncan has mentioned.

However there was once mentioned that there was what was considered to be a communal cooking oven found in the corner of one of the Milecastles on Hadrisn's Wall.
This I can understand for here we have a group of say around 40 soldiers living and working together very closely and I'm sure they would work out their tasks amongst themselves even if it was an early and late lunch situation.
Brian Stobbs
Reply


Forum Jump: