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Home » Uncategorized » Midday dish of lamb for the dux (duke) of Trecio (modern Trezzo sull’Adda) from the early 7th century Langobard Italy

Midday dish of lamb for the dux (duke) of Trecio (modern Trezzo sull’Adda) from the early 7th century Langobard Italy

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Historical background

In 558 and 559 CE, a new calamity stroke Italy, the Langobard (Lombards) [1]. The population was still recovering from effects of Gothic Wars (the Ostrogothic invaders were freshly defeated by the Byzantine army, wide spread famine, poor harvests and afflicted by pestilence. The new wave of Germanic people (that included besides the Lombards also Bulgars, Gepids, Slavs and Saxons) moved into Italia from Pannonia where the Avars tried to settle. The king of the Lombards, Alboin, made a settlement with the khan of the Avars about returning to Pannonia if the excursion into Italia had not been successful. There were not enough Byzantine forces to protect the underpopulated regions of Po river valley and the Langobards captured Pavia in 572 CE. They formalized the relationship with the Kingdom of the Franks in 604 CE and signed a peace treaty with the Byzantines in 605. The new kingdom was called Regnum Italicum (Kingdom of Italy). There were also two semi-independent duchies of Benevento and Spoleto. The Regnum Italicum survived until 774 CE when Charlemagne conquered it. The Duchies of Benevento and Spoleto lost independence during the Norman Conquest (1055-1077).
The Langobard total population that invaded Italy was less than 150 thousand people. Once they settled in the new lands, they tried to save the ‘warrior’ culture [2]. The women seemed to be either more eager to absorb the new culture or to inter-marry as can be deducted from the grave goods [2]. Since the number of Lombards was small and they tended to form the elite of society, they had to use the local Latin and Gothic population as source for servants, tenants and slaves [3]. And they had already contacts with the Roman culture when they were hired by the Byzantines to fight against other invaders. The Langobard king would appoint loyal retainers to serve as local commanders and judges, called the dux (duke) or gastald. They were usually given a royal grant of land that allowed them to maintain the urban lifestyle. Others helped themselves to the estates of the local landowners who were displaced, sometimes brutally or escaped to the security of the Byzantine’s Ravenna [1]. With time, the Latin nobility entered the ranks of Langobards through service to the king or by marriage. When woman married into Langobard family, she and her children became Langobards themselves and were treated as such by the law [3].

My ‘summer persona’

My summer persona is Grisiltruda Fortunata, a daughter of Langobard and a local Latin woman. She is treated as Langobard, is first a member of her Father’s royal fara (lineage) and then married off to the commander (dux) of  Trecio. Since she is educated, she looks to the best source of the knowledge, the Byzantines. In the early medieval Europe, the Byzantines and the Greek language were treated as epitome of best style, taste and elegance, quite similar as France was in 17th and 18th centuries. The household at the Trecio stronghold would be supervised by Grisiltruda Fortunata and ran with the help of slaves and servants. She would look to the Byzantines rules for good life (including the cooking) and also use the traditional local recipes that were passed on through the generations in her own family.
We do not have knowledge of the number of meals a day the elite Langobards had, but based on Latin traditions, we can assume there was a simple breakfast at rising, a midday dish that usually was a mix of leftovers from previous day and the biggest meal of the day, the supper (cena) in the evening. Cold cuts of meat would be a good example of dish for midday. It was served with pre-cut bread and selection of thick sauces, similar to modern dips [4]. The tradition of thick sauces come from antiquity when especially during the evening meal, people ate while reclining on couches and so they had only one hand free to use. By early modern times, most people ate all meals sitting in chairs or standing (if they had a fast food from street vendor), but the tradition of thick sauces survived.

The source for recipe

Unfortunately, there are no recipes books from the Regnum Italicum. The only barbaric treatise on cooking and health by Anthimus was created in the early 6th century Gaul and was heavily influenced by the Roman traditions [5].
I have found a very detailed report from the excavations at modern Trezzo sull’Adda [6]. The research revealed types of organic matter that was taken from the site. The following animals and plants could have been used for cooking at the site:

Animals: domesticated cattle (Bos taurus), sheep (Ovis aries), domestic goat (Capra hircus), wild pig (Sus scrofa), hare (Lepus sp.), chicken (Gallus gallus), northern pike (Esox lucius), Roman snail (Helix pomatia);

Fruits: cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas), common fig (Ficus carica), English walnut (Juglans regia), wild strawberry (Frugaria vesca), cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), wild cherry (Prunus avium), common hazel (Corylus avellana), blackberry (Rubus fruticosus), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), elderberry (Sambucus sp.), grape vine (Vitis vinifera);

Grains, legumes and vegetables: barley (Horderum vulgare), oats (Avena sativa), foxtail millet (Setaria italica), rye (Secale cereale), triticale (Triticum secale), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), white pea (Lathyrus sativus), common vetch (Vicia sativa), fava bean (Vicia faba minor), calabash (Lagenaria siceraria), parsley or carrot family (Apiaceae), poisonberry (Solanum dulcamara), lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa), wild buckwheat (Fallopia convolvulus), goosefoot (spinach alternative) (Chenopodium album).

I also follow the calendar regime for healthy living by Hierophilus the Sophist. I was able to locate the original Greek text and translation by Delatte and I follow the translation by Andrew Dalby [7] [8]. My inspiration for bread came from the textbook on food processing in ancient Rome [9] and the description of favorite white bread of the Byzantines from De Cibis Vetitis [10]. I also borrowed from Apicius since the Roman traditions were still strong in barbarized Italy (Bibliotheca Augustana
http://www.hs-augsburg.de/~harsch/Chronologia/Lspost04/Apicius/api_re00.html) [4].

The original recipes of Apicius were modified to follow the rules of June by Hierophilus the Sophist by changing ingredients.

Original recipes

The rules for month of June
(Greek text from book by Dalby [8])

greek text 1

greek texxt 2
[vi] June
June governs the hot blood. [On rising] swallow three small doses of cold water, slowly, and then fast until the third hour. Choose all relatively cold foods, in moderation, and avoid the more bitter and dry flavors such as pepper, cloves, cinnamon and spicy products. Among garden herbs garlic, onion, leeks, radish, rocket, cress, mustard and chopped oregano, mint. I Savory and butcher’s broom to be avoided. Among meats, rich lamb or kid: prefer the meat of male animals, and do not take any fat. They should be pastured or milk-fed lambs: no spicing is required at all except coriander, spikenard and anise. Take oregano moderately. Avoid drinking any kind of soup. Among birds, eat hens, chickens, young brakata pigeons, roasted and served hot. Take aromatic
and anise-flavored kondita and light wines with hot water, not old or deeply-coloured wines. Among fish, eat all the rich-fleshed ones including wrasse, perch, gurnard, sparaillon, daurade, grouper, gobies and all soft fleshed fish. Avoid bass, grey mullet, corkwing, red mullet, rascasse, pagre, lobster, crab and all hard-shelled and coarse-fleshed seafood. Dips should be based on honey vinegar. Fish soups should be spiced with spikenard, anise and coriander; fried fish only moderately [spiced]. Lettuce, endive, white celery, dressed with squill vinegar, to be taken moderately: copious amounts of lettuce dim the eyesight.
Among fruits eat ‘white’ cherries and cucumbers, moderately. Anything not listed should be avoided this month. Eight baths in the course of the month: no skin lotion at all this month. Ointment and soap, of the same ingredients, until the 21st of the month. No love-making.                                                                                                                                          Hierophilus the Sophist (translation by Andrew Dalby)[8].

The bread (De Cibis 2.) [10]

(Greek text)

greek tex t3 bread
(Latin text)

bread latin
White bread
Bread made from wheat is the best and most nutritious of all foods. Particularly if white, with a moderate use of yeast and salt, the dough kneaded midway between dryness and rawness, and with a little anise, fennel seed and mastic, it is very fine indeed. One with a hot constitution should include sesame in the dough. If wishing to add more moistness to the bread, knead in some almond oil.
(Translation by Andrew Dalby)[8]

The lamb
Haedus sive agnum Tarpeianum,  Apicius 8.6.9
Haedum sive agnum Tarpeianum: antequam coquatur, ornatus consuitur. piper, rutam, satureiam, cepam, thymum modicum, et liquamine collues haedum, macerabis, ‹mittes› in furno, in patella quae oleum habeat. cum percoxerit, perfundes in patella impensam, teres satureiam, cepam, rutam, dactilos, liquamen, vinum, caroenum, oleum. cum bene duxerit impensam, in disco pones, piper asparges et inferes.
(Latin text)


Kid or Lamb à la Tarpeius
Before cooking, prepare and sew up. Pepper, rue, savory, onions, and a little thyme and stock. Thoroughly moisten the kid: steep it. Then put in a pan with some olive oil. When completely cooked, pour the sauce into the pan: grind savory, onion, rue, dates, and stock, boiled wine and olive oil. Until the sauce has thicken and then turn onto ring-shaped dish. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

The sauces (dips)
Sauce for Tidbits Jus in copadiis, Apicius 7.6.12
Ius in copadiis: ova dura incidis, piper, cuminum, petroselinum, porrum coctum, myrtae bacas, plusculum mel, acetum, liquamen, oleum.
(Latin text)                                                                                                                                  (http://www.hs-augsburg.de/~harsch/Chronologia/Lspost04/Apicius/api_re00.html)
Sauce for Sauce for cooked meat
Hard boiled eggs, pepper, cumin, parsley, leeks, myrtle berries, honey, mead, vinegar, and fish sauce and oil.

Mint sauce for wild sheep, Apicius 8.6.1
Ius in ovifero fervens: piper, ligusticum, cuminum, mentam siccam, thymum, silfi, suffundes vino, adicies damascena macerata, mel, vinum, liquamen, acetum, passum ad colorem, oleum. agitabis fasciculo origani et mentae siccae.

(Latin text)                                                                                                                            (http://www.hs- augsburg.de/~harsch/Chronologia/Lspost04/Apicius/api_re00.html)

For wild sheep: Pepper, lovage, cumin, dried mint, thyme and laser. Moisten with wine. Damsons soaked, honey, wine, stock, vinegar, some raisin wine for color, and olive oil. Stir with bouquet of oregano and dried mint.

Redacted recipes

I use modern kitchen equipment and modern range for cooking. I live in an apartment and I do not really have way of cooking in open fire. I try to grind my spices as needed in a mortar so the taste is more intense. I also try to chop all ingredients required in recipes.

pict 1
Fig.1.Some of my more traditional kitchen utensils – wooden mixing devices and the mortar.

I can say one thing- it is difficult to recreate many of the original procedures without help. Cooking used to be an effort of several people who cooperated in order to provide food, especially in larger households. So I looked at modern kitchen appliances and electric as equivalent of servant and slave labor.
I also use the Thai fish sauce that is made of anchovies which is a source of salt in many recipe. I have a recipe for the original garum, but I am not sure I want to experiment with this kind of processing in my apartment. When the consistency of the sauce is too rare, I add a little bit of fava bean flour as thickener (it was known in late antiquity), When it is too thick, I add more of the liquids mentioned in recipe, usually depending on the overall taste.

There is no period recipe for bread that gives the exact amounts of individual ingredients. I based my redaction on my family recipe and the tips from English bread and yeast cookery [11]. I use a mix of white and whole wheat flour to obtain the ‘whiteness’ of the bread which was highly valued by the Romans and Byzantine. We do not know if they age flour to let it be oxidized and bleached, but there are suggestions they added chalk to make it whiter [9].
The shape of the loaves is formed based on images that survived form antiquity (sculptures and mosaics) [9] [12]. I use the direct fermentation procedure, adding the yeast directly to the mass of flour. There is evidence that the Roman bakers were familiar both with the direct fermentation and the sponge fermentation. They also made a dried starter that can last up to a year:
‘The likely predominant yeast species of most ancient winemaking, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, var. ellipsoideus, was essentially the same as that used in brewing; the difference is that wine fermentation by its very nature must proceed once a year during the vintage, whereas cereal fermentation, because of the dry, stable nature of cereals, can proceed at will; thus beer and ale can be brewed year round, though cooler temperatures are preferred. The Romans contrived an ingenious technique for combining the two. As usual, it is Pliny who explains the process. Millet, for one, he says, is used to make leaven. Millet flour is dipped in must (i.e., unfermented grape juice; must in antiquity was spontaneously fermented, since there are ample yeast cells occurring naturally on the grape ‘bloom’ to initiate the process), then kneaded and (presumably) dried. Cakes made in this fashion, Pliny assures us, will remain viable a whole year, and doubtless he is right; properly stored, yeast cells are incredibly hardy’ [9].

pict 2

Fig. 2. A typical Roman panis quadratus. The skin is incised before baking to create the eight wedges to make division of the loaf easier. (From Peter Conolly and Hazel Dodge, The Ancient City. Oxford (1998): 165. Courtesy of Oxford University Press).

4 cups white bread flour 1 T anise (ground)
0.8 oz. active yeast cake or 1 T. fennel seed, ground
2 cups whole wheat flour 2 T almond oil
1 ½ t  salt 2 cups of tepid  water
Oil to grease the baking sheet

 Put yeast in cup, cover with tepid water, let grow for 10 minutes. Combine flour with salt and almond oil, mix well. Pour in the creamed yeast into the center of the flour, add more water and knead until the dough is elastic and comes easily from the sides of bowl. Cover with saran wrap and plate. Let grow for ~2 hours or until expands twice in volume. Break in with fist and gather up and slap it down several times. Sprinkle with more flour and knead by folding the dough several times. Repeat 2-3 times, splitting the dough in two pieces and adding the spices at the last kneading. Form round balls and place on baking sheet, slightly greased. Let rise again and then incise the lines into loaves (first cross, then in the interstices of the cross). Bake in preheated oven at 400o F for about 30 minutes or until the loaves sound when lightly tapped. Leave until cooled down, best overnight before storing away.

Lamb à la Tarpeius
2 T fish sauce
1 t ground spikenard
2 T olive oil
1 t freshly ground coriander
2 T white wine
1 t ground anise
2 T vinegar (wine)
Lamb shoulder roast (I could hardly process a whole lamb in my apartment and the price was aslo a limitation)

Combine all the ingredients save the meat. Turn the lamb over in the mixture and leave  overnight. Take the meat out of the marinade and roast the meat in the oven at 350o F, basting it often with the marinade until well done and crisp.

Sauce for cooked meat, Apicius 7.6.12
3 heaped T chopped watercress
3 T honey
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
2 T vinegar
½ small leek with the dark green removed
2 T olive oil
1 t ground lavender
2 T fish sauce
1 t chopped fresh oregano
½ t ground ginger

Mix the watercress, spice and herb. Chop the leek and cook in a little water. Strain and place in a food processor and process into a paste. Add the cooked eggs and process again. Add the spice and herb mixture, honey, vinegar, oil and fish sauce and blend by pulsing a few times. Transfer to a bowl. Only store in the fridge if you are preparing or storing left-over sauce overnight. Preparing it the day before does improve the flavor but bring back to room temperature before serving.

Mint sauce for wild sheep 8.6.1
3 heaped t chopped fresh mint
1/8 cup raisins, finely chopped
3 heaped t chopped fresh oregano
4 T vinegar
1 level t celery seed
1 T olive oil
1/4 t ground thyme
2 T honey
Dash of ground pepper

Roast and grind celery seed, and combine with the herbs, raisins and spices in a bowl. Add the other liquids and whisk together. If necessary, warm the honey a little to ensure it blends fully with the other ingredients.

Serving the proper way

The dish of lamb is served as cold cuts of meat on bread, with a splash of sauce of choice. This was a fast meal, without special celebration although in wealthy household it was a time for short rest [4].
The Romans and the early Byzantines knew the idea of set of serving plates (‘the dinner service’). The metal ware in wealthy households was usually made of silver and decorated with various topics, from hunting to classical heroes and floral medallions [12]. The service was accompanied by pitchers, basins for washing hands and feet, flasks, ewers, amphorae, cups, a ‘tray’ (platter), knives, spoons and drinking cups. Besides silver, gold was used for imperial family, while tinned copper was used for servant of large households. Drinking vessels were also made from glass.
Forks were rare. Known silver forks have spoon-like handles or form part a folding set of utensils [12]. There is also a double ended fork-spoon combination dated to late antiquity, around 3rd century CE (http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/257863).
There was also the Constantinople-produced White Ware pottery which especially copied the Asian tea-cup shape drinking vessels [12].
Excavations at Langobard sites in Northern Italy yielded several pieces of pottery, glass and metal ware plates, cups and spoons [6]. For example, glass cup and silver alloy bowl with handles were recovered form site at Fiesole – Firenze.

pict 3
Fig. 3. Copper alloy basin with handles. (http://www.museidifiesole.it/opencms/opencms/it/collezione/longobardi/).

pict 4
Fig. 4. A selection of object from a site at Fiesole, including glass drinking vessel and wine serving amphora (http://www.museidifiesole.it/opencms/opencms/it/collezione/longobardi/).

Since I cannot locate any source for reasonable priced replicas, I search second hand stores for plates, bowls and trays that have some resemblance to the originals. I am trying to recreate the style of table setting as shown in Fig. 5. I will use a deep, handled bowl for the lamb cold roast, white ceramic bowls for the sauces, round tray for the whole bread loaf and hexagonal bowl for bread slices. I will add spoons, unfortunately quite modern. The meat should be sliced during the meal by a servant – I guess I will play this part. Usually there was warmed wine for drinking, sweetened with honey and/or date syrup or grape juice. There were containers with hot water available (similar to Russian samovars) for diluting wine to one’s taste (Fig.6). The Germanic people would add beer to the table set up.
There is some evidence linen presses existed in ancient Rome (mosaics in Pompeii), but I have not come through any extant pieces. For the time being, I use modern white napkins (white napkins were carried by courtiers in Byzantium) [13].

pict 5
Fig. 5. Antioch, House of the Buffet Supper: floor mosaic of silver service with meal displayed (Photo: Cyril Mango) [12].

pict 6

Fig. 6. Copper-alloy samovars excavated at a. Sardis (After J. C. Waldbaum, Metalwork from Sardis [Cambridge, MA, 1983], pl. 34, no. 522); and b. Ballana, Nubia (After W. B. Emery and L. P. Kirwan, The Royal Tombs at Ballana and Qustul [London, 1938], pl. 93D).

Lesson learnt

I believe I can justify my choice of lamb and other ingredients used to prepare the dish. And I have fun trying to balance the sauces.
Next I am going to cook a dish of vegetable, even if there were not valued highly at the dawn of early modern Italy [8].
I am also in need of table linens. I am planning to decorate them with embroidery with motifs from tablet woven Langobard trims and Coptic designs. I plan to get more information on the cooking in Regnum Italicum, mostly by contacting more researchers in Italy. They may have a better knowledge of local re-enactment groups that look into Longobard customs.



[1]      C. Wickham, Early Medieval Italy : central power and local society, 400-1000, no. AA198. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.

[2]      N. Christie, The Lombards : the ancient Longobards. Oxford, UK Cambridge, USA: Blackwell, 1995.

[3]      The Langobards Before the Frankish Conquest: An Ethnographic Perspective. Boydell & Brewer, Incorporated, 2009.

[4]      Apicius, C. W. Grocock, and S. Grainger, Apicius: a critical edition with an introduction and an English translation of the Latin recipe text Apicius. Prospect, 2006.

[5]      Anthimus, On the observance of foods. Prospect Books, 2007.

[6]      S. Lusuardi Siena and C. Giostra, Archeologia medievale a Trezzo sull’Adda. Il sepolcreto longobardo e l’oratorio di san Martino. Le chiese di Santo Stefano e San Michele in Sallianense. Vita e Pensiero, 2012.

[7]      Anecdota atheniensia … Imp. H. Vaillant-Carmanne, 1939.

[8]      A. Dalby, Tastes of Byzantium: The Cuisine of a Legendary Empire (Google eBook). I.B.Tauris, 2010.

[9]      D. L. Thurmond, A Handbook of Food Processing in Classical Rome: For Her Bounty No Winter. Brill, 2006.

[10]    M. Maimonides and M. Wöldike, De cibis vetitis (Google eBook). Paulli, 1734.

[11]    E. David, English bread and yeast cookery. Viking Press, 1980.

[12]    Eat, Drink, and be Merry (Luke 12:19): Food and Wine in Byzantium : Papers of the 37th Annual Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, in Honour of Professor A.A.M. Bryer, PDF. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2007.

[13]    J. Ball, Byzantine dress : representations of secular dress in eighth- to twelfth-century painting, 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Measurement units
T- tablespoon
t- teaspoon
oz – US ounce (28.35 g)
cup – ~236.6 mL

I wished I had asked someone to take pictures before the food was gone. The mint sauce was gone right away. And the lamb bones were cleaned even of the marrow.


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