Skip to main content

Unit information: Food and feasting in the Roman World in 2015/16

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Food and feasting in the Roman World
Unit code ARCH30031
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Cramp
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will introduce students to diet and cuisine in the Roman World. They will become familiar with both characteristics and the diversity of food practices and dining in the Roman period and in doing so, explore its relationship with the culture, economy, environment and even health-status of ancient societies stretching from Britain, to North Africa, to the Eastern Mediterranean. Within this context, students will be introduced to key scientific methods of analysis which can be invoked to explore these questions, including the archaeological analysis of ceramics (e.g. macroscopic skills of identification of clay vessel shapes and ceramic production techniques, microscopic skills of identification of clay compounds and biomolecular analysis of ancient lipid residues).

The unit comprises a three-hour weekly session combining lectures, seminars and practical work. Seminars will discuss an aspect of diet and cuisine from a specific region of the Roman World. The practical classes will focus upon sorting and identifying Roman pottery, followed by the analysis and interpretation of absorbed organic residues from the fabric of cooking or dining vessels they select over the duration of the unit. The work carried out in these practical sessions will form the basis of their assessed report which will require the contextualisation, reporting and interpretation of their findings from the 8 practical sessions.


  • To introduce students to the archaeology and anthropology of food and feasting within the context of the Roman Empire
  • To familiarise students with various archaeological contexts of ceramics and their associated socio-political significance
  • To encourage students to develop a range of practical and laboratory-based skills, including skills of identification of clay vessel shapes, fabrics and finishes, and analysis and interpretation of lipid residues in the pottery fabric.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, a successful student on this unit will be able to:

  1. Critically evaluate the evidence for food-ways in different parts of the Roman Empire and embed this evidence within the wider theoretical context of the significance of food and feasting.
  2. Sort, describe and identify Romano-British pottery, identifying vessel shapes and ceramic production techniques.
  3. Demonstrate high-level practical and interpretative skills in organic residue analysis.
  4. Photograph and draw ceramics and present scientific data through high quality tables and figures.

Teaching Information

Weekly three hour session to include lecture and practical work/seminars

Assessment Information

Seminar presentation (20 min individual; summative, 30 %). ILO 1

Report (3000 words + illustrations, tables and figures; summative, 70%). ILO 1-4

Reading and References

Cool, HEM. 2006. Eating and drinking in Roman Britain. Cambridge: CUP.

Garnsey, P. 1999. Food and society in Classical Antiquity. Cambridge: CUP.

Henderson, J. 2000. The Science and Archaeology of materials. London: Routledge

Nielsen, HE. & Nielsen, I. (Eds.) 2001. Meals in a Social Context: Aspects of the Communal Meal in the Hellenistic and Roman World. Aarhus University Press.

Rice, P.M. 2005. Pottery Analysis: a sourcebook. Chicago: University of Chicago Press