A study of the isotopic composition of the bones of the inhabitants of Herculaneum showed that the diet of ancient Roman men and women was markedly different. The former preferentially ate fish and grains, while the latter preferred dairy products, meat and eggs. The research results were published in the scientific journal Science Advances.
“We found significant differences in how much seafood and land food was consumed by men and women living in Herculaneum. This suggests that there was a clear division in this society in terms of access to food for different genders,” said one from the study authors, Professor of York University Oliver Craig.
Craig and his colleagues found that men ate high-value seafood often enough and preferred to eat grains, while women ate more dairy products, eggs and land animals. Such differences in diet, according to the researchers, reflect the difference in the social and economic status of men and women.
At the same time, scientists note that both men and women in Herculaneum consumed significantly more wine, olive oil and seafood than modern inhabitants of the Mediterranean. This, as the researchers suggest, suggests that the sea played a much more important role in the life of coastal villages of the ancient Romans than in the economy of modern cities in Italy.
Buried under the ashes
According to the notes of Pliny the Younger, Pompeii was buried under a multi-meter layer of volcanic ash during the powerful eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which occurred in 79. Its emissions covered not only Pompeii, but also two other settlements - Herculaneum and Stabia.
The rapid nature of the eruption led to the fact that under the ashes were not only the houses of citizens, but also their animals, as well as some residents of these cities. Scientists have been conducting excavations on the territory of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabius for more than 100 years and studying the culture and life of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire during its heyday.
In particular, Craig and his colleagues received the first information about what food the inhabitants of these cities ate. This discovery was made possible thanks to the study of the remains of over 300 inhabitants of Herculaneum, trying to escape from Vesuvius inside the so-called fornik - stone arches built along the coast.
All these people, as scientists note, were not buried in this part of Herculaneum on purpose, but died in the same place and at the same time as a result of a natural disaster. This made it possible for paleochemists and archaeologists to obtain the first detailed information about how the typical inhabitants of the ancient Roman city looked and what they ate, and not its nobility or the rulers, whose burials most often survive to this day.
Scientists tried to reconstruct the diet of the townspeople by how many atoms of various elements were present in the proteins of their bone tissue. In particular, the proportions of strontium and heavy oxygen-18 isotopes make it possible to determine the habitat of a person or animal, and the ratio of nitrogen-15 to carbon-13 atoms - what food he ate.
In addition to this, the large number of remains of the ancient inhabitants of Herculaneum provided researchers with a unique opportunity not only to determine their typical diet, but also to uncover possible gender differences in what food was usually consumed by ancient Roman men and women.