Eating & Drinking

The main importance of Carlisle to the Romans was as a military base. The earliest remains are those of the fort in front of Tullie House. There was a garrison here from the winter of 72/73 AD through to the end of the Roman period. The soldiers all had to be fed, and feeding the Roman army was no easy task.

A wooden writing tablet excavated from the Carlisle fort lists the grain issued to each troop in a cavalry regiment [See Image 1] . The grain is identified as wheat and barley; wheat for the men, barley for the horses. The amounts given were for 3 days at a time. For this period, the whole unit needed 267 modii (a modius was approximately 8.7 litres, or 1 bushel) of wheat and 669 modii of barley. This large amount of grain would have to be brought to the fort and stored in granaries. Once the grain had been distributed, the wheat would have been ground by the soldiers and made into bread. The ovens where it was baked have been found built into the back of the rampart of the Carlisle fort. [See Image 2] 

The army also had some luxuries [See Image 3 and 4]. The commanding officer at Vindolanda was, according to the writing tablets discovered at the site, able to afford a varied and sophisticated diet. It included Roe deer, geese, oysters, chicken, apples, wine and honey. An amphora found in Carlisle contained Tunny Fish Relish from Tangiers (See Trade and Commerce). A second fragment of amphora has a painted label that suggests it contained a chewable sweet dried fruit, described by a modern author as a cross between chewing gum and a Mars bar. Seeds found in the soil from the excavations have shown that people in Roman Britain were eating a varied diet that included imported foods from the Mediterranean such as olives, grapes and figs, as well as local fruits such as sloes, blackberries and bilberries. [See Image 5]  To flavour food, Coriander was imported and then grown locally. Large amounts of animal bone were recovered from archaeological sites in Carlisle, which show that pig was the most popular meat in the diet.

For the lower orders, and those not in the army, the diet would have been more basic [See Image 6] . Evidence from areas surrounding Roman forts suggests that the local population was providing food for the army as well as themselves. The farmers themselves would have lived on a less varied diet of bread or porridge with some vegetables and meat from their farms.

There is evidence that both wine and beer were drunk during this period [See Image 7] . Wine was imported from Europe both in barrels and amphorae (large two-handled pots). It would have been drunk by the wealthy and more important members of society, such as the commander of the fort at Vindolanda. Beer, often called Celtic beer, was made locally and was drunk by everyone. In Carlisle, excavations have produced many fragments of large beakers. These have been identified as vessels for this purpose.