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Flavours & Delights

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Flavours & Delights

The words of Anthelme Brillat-Savarin "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es" are (fortunately) not to be taken literally, but there is no doubt that nutrition can influence one's health and state of mind as well. Therefore it was an excellent idea on the part of the editors of this volume to collect papers on food in Greek Antiquity and Byzantium, thus offering information not only about an important part of everyday life in the Eastern Mediterranean over a period of some two millennia between the fifth century BC and the fifteenth century AD, but also the level of civilization and the mentalities in this part of the world. In this respect a knowledge of the past, of history, is also helpful and necessary for a better understanding of everyday life today.
The authors who have contributed to this volume take their information from Greek, Latin, Arabic and Ottoman textual sources, from visual material in manuscripts, frescoes and mosaics and, most importantly, archaeological remains such as pottery or floral and faunal assemblages including human and animal skeletal remains. In the near future the results of the excavations in the Theodosian Harbour (Yenikapi) in Istanbul (with over 15,ooo animal bones, taken from more than 30 Byzantine ships) will significantly expand this material. This multi-disciplinary approach allows new, more precise, and sometimes even exciting insights into the reality of the material cultures of times long past but still influential today.
The papers collected here demonstrate where we may find continuities from Greek Antiquity and Byzantium to the cuisine of today, and where we should see developments, which may be explained by changes of climate, especially of precipitation, but also by anthropogenic changes, whether the diet became poorer due to the disappearance of basic ingredients and changes in cooking (or eating) habits, or -more often- richer thanks to the influence of non-Mediterranean immigrants, such as Slavs, Southern Arabs, nomads from Central Asia, Turks, Crusaders and others, who brought not only new agricultural products, vegetables and fruits, but also new methods of preparing of refining food. An important aspect of differentiation in alimentary habits is also the geographical extent of the Byzantine Empire, which in the age of Justinian I encompassed nearly the entire coastline of the Mediterranean with extended hinterlands and by the end of the first millennium had again reached almost 1.3 million km2.
Finally, I would like to emphasize the successful combination of articles which range from presentations of the luxurious dining habits and possibilities open to the imperial court and the upper classes in Byzantium on the one hand to discussions of the modest and often difficult nutritional "normality" of staple foods for the masses, including soldiers and those who embraced the monastic life (at times up to 15 % of the overall population). The papers also demonstrate -as might be expected- that the highest levels of nutrition, i.e. upper-class food, always influenced, at least as an ideal, the demands and desires of the proletariat. In conclusion, I think that the present volume provides the reader with up-to-date information about Ancient and Byzantine gastronomy, which is both comprehensive and lively. (Johannes Koder, from preface)

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