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APICIUS. The proverbial gastronomer Apicius (M. Gavius Apicius, c. 25 b.c.ec. 37 c.e.), who lived at the time of the emperor Tiberius, gives his name to the most complete cookbook that has come down from antiquity, one that reflects an ancient Roman cuisine that survives, in part, in early-twenty-first-century Italian traditional practice and that has also shaped European cookery, whenever cooksor their employerswished to touch base with ancestral foodways. The book, De re coquinaria (On Cookery), is actually the product of a Late Antique compiler, writing about 400 c.e., who drew from an agricultural treatise, a work on household economy, and a Greek study of dietetics, in addition to two genuine publications by Apicius: a general cookbook plus a more specialized one on sauces. Over the years, scholars have been able to establish the true name of Apicius; in the past he was known as Apitius Caelius. Because of abbreviations in the headings of one of the ninth-century manuscripts that preserved the text, his identity was further confused by "ghosts" created through scribal errors of transmission (Three gourmets of that name did not exist, as some authors still have it).

Copying over 450 recipes, our anonymous "editor" organized his gleanings into ten books or chapters, giving each a pretentious Greek name: Epimeles, the prudent housekeeper (conserves and preservation advice); Sarcoptes (minced meats such as sausages, quenelles, and the like); Cepuros, the gardener (vegetables); Pandecter (compound dishes of many ingredients); Ospreon (legumes, such as peas, beans, chick-peas, and lentils); Aeropetes or Trophetes (fowl, both wild and domestic); Politeles, gourmet dishes (including eggs and limited sweets for bellaria or the dessert course); Tetrapus (quadripeds both wild and domestic); Thalassa, the sea (shellfish, crustaceans, cephalopods); and Halieus, the fisherman. An independent selection of thirty-one Apician recipes, recorded in an early medieval manuscript, represents excerpta made by one Vinidarius, apparently an Ostrogoth of the period of King Theodoric at the end of the fifth or early sixth century, and includes an impressive list of the herbs, roots, and seeds (spices) that should be at hand in a prosperous kitchen.

From Carolingian manuscripts of De re coquinaria two of which survive in the New York Academy of Medicine and in the Biblioteca Apostolica of the VaticanItalian Renaissance humanists commissioned numerous copies. The first printed edition of 1498 was shared in two issues between the printers G. Le Signerre in Milan and Ioannes de Legnano, the latter reprinted anonymously in Venice at the end of the century, and again by Tacuinus in 1503. Physicians stand out among subsequent editors: G. Humelberg of Zurich (1542) and Martin Lister (1705).

Seneca tells of Apicius committing suicide when he discovered that his assetsstill representing considerable wealthseemed not enough to enable him to continue dining with his accustomed extravagance, while the elder Pliny castigates his gluttony by reference to his partiality for flamingo tongues. Anecdotes accrued to his reputation long after his death, such as the tale of his storm-tossed voyage to the coast of Libya in search of the largest, most succulent prawns; when the shrimp did not meet expectations he ordered the hired ship to turn back to home port without his setting foot on land to recover from the journey. One indulgence of Apicius is enshrined in the Italian language. His invention of feeding swine on figs, thus engorging their livers, and then giving them honeyed wine (the Roman apertif mulsum ) so that the pigs might die in ecstasy, their livers deliciously ficcatum (literally, "figged"), gave rise to the word for all liver, fegato.

Apicius's recipes, without proportions or details of procedure, reveal the extent to which Roman cookery, although lacking such New World products as quintessentially Italian as tomatoes and capsicum peppers, or medieval Arabic imports like spinach and eggplant, nevertheless survives in Italian agrodolce tastes, a love of pasta and farro, an ingenuity in sausage making, and the use of drastically reduced wine or must in sauces (from ancient passum to sapa, for example). It also provides both name and concept to Mediterranean dishes such as paella, tian, and cassoulet.

See also Ancient Kitchen ; Cookbooks ; Rome and the Roman Empire .


Apicius. Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome. Edited by J. D. Vehling. New York: Dover, 1977. A chef's rather than a classicist's translation. Originally published in 1936.

Apicius. Decem libri qui dicuntur De re coquinaria et excerpta Vinidario conscripta. Bibliotheca scriptorum graecorum et romanorum Teubneriana. Edited by Mary Ella Milham. Leipzig: Teubner, 1969. Critical edition, with full apparatus.

Apicius. L'art culinaire. Translated by Jacques André. Les Belles lettres: Paris, 1965.

Apicius. The Roman Cookery Book. Translated by Barbara Flower and Elizabeth Alföldi-Rosenbaum. London and Toronto: Harrap, 1958.

Bober, Phyllis Pray. Art, Culture, and Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. See Chapter 6 and Appendix.

Dery, Carol A. "The Art of Apicius." In Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1995: Cooks and Other People, edited by Harlan Walker. Blackawton, Totnes, Devon, U.K., 1996, pp. 111117.

Edwards, John. The Roman Cookery of Apicius. Point Robers, Wash.: Hartley and Marks, 1984.

Solomon, Jonathan, and Julia Solomon. Ancient Roman Feasts and Recipes Adapted for Modern Cookery. Miami: Seemann, 1977.

Phyllis P. Bober

Ancient Cassoulet

Conchic[u]la à la Apicius (one of several ancestors of a cassoulet)

Conchiclam Apicianam: accipies Cumanam mundam, ubi coques pisam. Cui mittis Lucanicas concisas, esiciola porcina, pulpas petasonis. Teres piper, ligusticum, origanum, anethum, cepam siccam, coriandrum viridem, suffundis liquamen [garum], vino et liquamine temperabis. Mittis in Cumanam, cui adicies oleum, pungis ubique, ut combibat oleum. Igni lento coques ita ut ferveat et inferes. (V, iv, 2)

Take a clean Cumaean pot [earthenware from Cumae] in which you cook the [dried] peas. Into this add Lucanian sausages, cut up; little pork meatballs; and pieces of pork shoulder. Pound [in a mortar] pepper, lovage, oregano, dill, dried onion, green coriander and moisten with liquamen [oriental fish sauce, for saltiness]; blend with wine and liquamen. Put this in the Cumaean pot, to which you add [olive] oil and prick [the seasoned meats and peas] all over so that the oil is absorbed. Cook over a low fire that it may simmer, and serve.

ed. note: The dried whole peas, or beans, should be soaked overnight before cooking; in other dishes of this chapter the peas are first cooked with leeks, coriander [cilantro], and mallow flowers. Elsewhere Apicius gives a recipe for preparing Lucanian sausage in which the minced meat is seasoned with pepper, cumin, savory, rue, parsley, bay leaves, and garum [oriental fish sauce such as nuoc mam etc.], plus "condiments"; the latter justifying the use of preserved duck, comparable to certain French cassoulets; finally whole peppercorns, pine nuts, and bits of fat are added before the meat is packed into intestines and hung to smoke. It is possible to use Italian sausage like that from Abruzzi, or even Chinese sausages. Bake in a slow oven.


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Apicius Marcus Gavius Apicius, a first century Roman nobleman and gastronome, credited with writing the first book of recipes, De Re Coquinaria or De Re Culinaria.

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