Dinner Time in the Legionaries barracks

Were you to be on the site of the city of Gloucester 2000 years ago you would have come across a very different place. This was then a large Roman town of Britain. As it was a garrison town it would have been full of Legionnaires hungry for food after their battles with the Celtic peoples of what is now Wales or the woad covered warriors of what is now Cornwall. Imagine yourself in the cold barracks, the winter quarters you have prepared made strong. There isn’t any way of searching “boiler installation Gloucester” or rather “boiler installation Glevum” and so no way to provide heat for cooking, or warming the place. More traditional methods would be used. So, what exactly would you be sitting down to eat?

For some time, archaeologists thought that the Legionary was a vegetarian as all they could find around barracks and communal toilets were the remains of grains like wheat, barley, corn. This did make up the basic diet of the Legionary during his time with the army. For the most part these grains would be ground to make the basic foodstuffs for bread and porridge. They would also make soups cut with locally available and scavenged vegetables. However, after the discovery of Chicken bones at sites in South Wales it became clear that the Legionary wasn’t limited to just these staples.

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The Legionary was also rationed to have about a pound of bacon so that meant he may well have had ham sandwiches with a side of barley soup. Any other meat would have had to have been gained by “living off the land” through foraging and hunting deer, wild boar and plundering the rivers for fish. Each Legionary was given salt. This was used to cure meats and fish so that they could be kept for long missions. Intriguingly, snails of the H. pomata variety were brought over by the Legionnaires in case there was nothing to eat!

How did the Legionary cook this meal? Essentially everything was roasted and boiled in an Olla pot over a tripod and open flame. All the grains mentioned above would go into this and the chunks of bacon too. It’s also likely that some salty milk fattened snails would have gone in and then more salt added on top of that.  To supplement this meal there would have been plenty of cheese made from cow or goats milk as a kind of dessert. To wash this down a vinegary wine was given which was certainly not a vintage variety.

So, sat in a cold barracks with a basic snail porridge and side of Cheese, Bacon sandwich with a poor-quality wine might make you wonder if the Legionaries of Gloucester/Glevum were a little miffed. If boiler companies had existed back in Glevum times the legionaries may have been a little warmer. There are some Gloucester boiler installation companies so at least the heating needs in Glevum would have been catered for even if the catering itself leaves a lot to be desired.