User Tools

Site Tools


Advanced Equipment–Cooking and Camp

Foods in 500 BC

This covers the foods we might expect to see eaten in camp. For a more thorough look at foods available in Boeotian households, look at the heading Food and Cooking under Intellectual Culture. The following is a list of foods available in camp. A word on food and provisions. Every hoplite was required to report for duty when his name was chosen with some number of days of rations; usually three, according to Pritchard. Most hoplite campaigns only lasted three days. Odd as this sounds, the hoplite system of decisive battle meant that very little of a community surplus was wasted on war. However, in longer campaigns–like the Plataeans at Marathon–the army might pay soldiers to buy food. Or hoplites might have to supply their own food for them and their (skeuoforoi), or camp servants. Either way, the army would form a market, usually in a central area–that market would be attended by local farmers who would SELL produce, fish, and meat to the hoplites. There was no 'army supply.' So in Attika (at Marathon) the Plataeans would be eating Attik produce, and in Boeotia, Boeotian produce.

Authentic food starts with authentic ingredients. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but can be taken as a researched place to start.

plums, apples, pears, apricots, figs, dates, grapes

almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sesame seeds

celery, radishes, fennel, cucumber, cabbage, kale (etc)

coriander, oregano, lovage, celery leaf, dill, savory, bay leaf, mint, sage (conf?)

onions, shallots, garlic

pepper, salt, asafoetida, cumin, mustard seed, coriander seeds, rue, dill seed, cardamon (conf)

honey, red and white wine vinegar, fish sauce (like Vietnamese), raisin wine

olive tapinade, olives, fish pastes, feta, other goat or sheep cheeses, yogurt

sheep, goat, pork, goose/duck, eggs

all types of fish, shrimp and mollusks

Sausage–lots and lots of well attested sausage. garlic and onion, for instance. See Aristophanes…

barley rolls, bread (at least partially barley flour), barley porridge

chick peas, lentils, pulses

In Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Excavations in the Archaic Civic Buildings at Azoria in 2005-2006, Donald C. Haggis, Margaret S. Mook, Rodney D. Fitzsimons, C. Margaret Scarry, Lynn M. Snyder, William C. West III Vol. 80, No. 1 (January-March 2011), pp. 1-70 Published by: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens) a public dining facility for the military class in Crete is studied in detail. Food remnants include a goat stew with grapes and chick peas; mollusks and different meats including pig, goat, and lamb; a wide variety of pulses and roots; and a great deal of evidence of eating grapes, olives, pistachios and almonds while drinking large quantities of wine. We assume that the mess food of a cretan Warrior Soiciety would resemble the food eaten by armies in the field.

Other recipes can be found in the first part of the book The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger.

The Mess Group

It is unlikely that soldiers cooked for themselves. In fact, it is nearly certain that they did not, as every hoplite brought a servant or slave called a σκευὄφορος (skeuoforos) to cook for him 1)2). In one case during the Peloponnesian Wars,

“The Plataeans had before this sent their wives and children and all their unserviceable men to Athens. The rest were besieged, being in number of the Plataeans themselves four hundred, of Athenians eighty, and a hundred and ten women to dress their meat.”3).

The presence of women as σκευὄφοραι (or at least as camp followers) is thus well documented for Plataeans!

The proportion of women to hoplites at the siege of Plataea (one to four) suggests the size of a Plataean mess group. Spartan Mess groups, however, seem to have been eight men, which is to say, the entire file. It is possible that everyone in Greece ate as a file, or that everyone ate as half files. Our living history experience would suggest that two half files and two others (women non-fighters, skeurophoroi, etc.) (a total of ten people) makes an ideal mess group.

However, in recreated Plataea, we will do our own cooking, regardless of the presence of people doing IMPRESSIONS of skeurophoroi/skeurophorai. Lest you consider this incorrect, remember that most hoplites on overseas expeditions, on naval expeditions, or merely far from home were forced to fend for themselves.

There was no central source of food (or anything else!) in a hoplite army. Every man was expected to be self-sufficient, and if Aristophanes is to be believed, a general's pack smelled of onions and old cheese, just like everyone else's. For short expeditions (a couple of days) every hoplite and his servant would carry enough food for themselves. On longer expeditions, food was obtained by the mess group simply by sending a member to market. Every army had a market where local farmers brought their produce to be sold. In the Archaic period that we reenact, hoplites received no stipend at all from the state. So a hoplite spent his own money to supply himself and his servant with food.

Food purchased in the market was then cooked up in batches.

Cooking Equipment

In the Iliad, camp kettles are called λέβης (leb-ehs)4) whereas Herodotus calls them χαλκεῖον (kal-keh-on) or “coppers” 5) much like an 18th. c. Englishman might have. The tripods on which they sat over the fire are τρίπους (tree-pus). Tripods for use on a hearth in a home were quite high, with long legs, whereas those for field use would almost certainly have had shorter legs. Most tripods in our period seem to have had a ring at the top, making them more like a trivet, the flat top ring built to hold a flat bottomed or even a round bottomed λέβης or χαλκεῖον.

So far we have very little information on an Archaic Greek fire pit, but it was probably round, because their hearths at home would have been round, and some attempt might well have been made to create a hearth area around the flame (field stones, for instance) if only because hearths had religious significance. And, of course, we know how useful the hearth area can be for food preparation!

It is also worth noting that a great deal of cooking was done directly into clay pots made for the purpose, called χύτρα (pronounced ky-tra). Greek potters could make cooking pots meant to be placed on the fire, and they had the same risks in use as certain tinned camp kettles we use in another period. Ahem. The use of pounded clay-pots (a small one is illustrated to the right, from the ROM) might have allowed an army to create cooking utensils on the spot rather than to carry cumbersome metal pots with the baggage. However, good clay for cooking wares is not everywhere available, and some metal pots must have been used in the field. One attestation that metal kettles and tripods were considered military equipment might be the frequency with which they are given as prizes during funeral games and field competitions!

Soups, stews, and various barley concoctions (and hot wine) could all be made in kettles, but an essential element of food was meat. Meat was not eaten every meal or even every day, especially by soldiers. However, garlic sausage is well attested!

On a more serious note, it is worth spending a moment to understand a serious difference of lifeways between modern meat eaters and Archaic Greeks. The primary sources of meat were twofold–first, from sacrifices performed at the temples–junior priests would re-sell the meat from sacrifice. This was true throughout the ancient world, and remains true for “halal” and some “kosher” food which were once the by-products of sacrifice. Meat had a sacred aspect to it, and was usually only available to most people on feast days. Understanding the temple cycle and the temple possession of meat will help us to understand that meat was probably cheaper on feast days, as everyone wealthy would have offered a sacrifice.

The second source of meat was from hunting. Hunting is often represented as an “aristocratic” sport in the Archaic, but it is important to remember that any hoplite/farmer might consider himself an aristocrat, even if he “rules” only twenty acres. Rabbit hunting was clearly done even near major metropolitan areas for sport and exercise (men ran rabbits down and killed them with clubs. Now there's a sport…). Xenophon suggests that any form of hunting could be done while an army was on the march, especially if you had a horse. Hunting also has a connotation of “wilderness” and “wildness” and we need to remember that meat gained from hunting was still sacred, as Greeks seem to have had a very Native American-like appreciation fro the animals they killed.

Meat was commonly prepared by being roasted on skewers by the man or woman who intended to eat it–even at a symposium, apparently. (More work to be done, here.) Skewers could be iron or bronze, or simply green wood. Every cut of meat up to a haunch or a pork tenderloin can be seen being skewered and roasted, often on temple fires on altars.

Also, the recent (2002) article by MAURICIO G. ÁLVAREZ RICO provides probably the most up to date scholarship, both etymological and archaeological, available to reenactors. It's worth reading all the way through.

Camp Equipment

Camp equipment (σκεῦος, pronounced Skew-os) consisted of whatever the hoplite brought from home 6). The word for tents (σκηνή, pronounced skeh-neh) can also means huts, brush wigwams, and stage decorations, as well as the awnings on a trireme. That should give an idea of how non-uniform the camp of a hoplite army would appear.

The earliest depiction of a tent is long after our period. It may be that there were no tents in the Archaic. What seem more likely is that armies moving with ships in company used sails and awnings to rig shelter, and armies marching overland build wigwams and brush huts as required. Brush huts are also called κλισία (pronounced Klee-sia, literally a “place for lying down). It is clear in reading the Anabasis of Xenophon, for instance, that the Army of the Ten Thousand did not have tents.

We will begin with plain white canvas tents because we have them. Our second level will be to have a couple of boat-sails made (brailed and roped) to use as makeshift awnings. These should be complete by late summer 2009. Eventually, however, I expect that we will make κλισία at events rather than camp in tents.

Besides tents, bedding is a matter of immediate interest! Several modern sources assert that the hoplite had a bedroll, and the Osprey Men at Arms book by Nick Sekunda asserts that hoplites carried a mattress of quilted linen and wool. So far, we have seen little evidence to support this. It seems more likely that hoplites and their servants slept on the ground, or on straw purchased in the army market, or on cut boughs and cut grass provided by the σκευὄφοροι. Blankets were provided by the chlamys and the himation. It seems unlikely that a Greek soldier of any class would carry a purpose woven “blanket” that could not also be used as an article of clothing. Even a chiton or a chitoniskos can become a blanket–and vice versa!


Finally, we'll all want some lighting. Torches need to be researched, although we know how to make them with beeswax and linen cloth. In addition, clay and bronze lamps were popular and common. Above is a mid-Archaic lamp from Venetian Cat. Lamps like this were also bronze and iron. On the right is a slightly later bronze lamp suspended on a bronze hook with gimbals (you can see these in late Archaic vase paintings of symposia.) And we'll need olive oil for our lamps–and for our strigils and for our food, so always bring oive oil in a correct container.

Finally, there were lanterns in period, powered again by oil lamps. Below is a seal gem from the early Hellenistic period showing Eros as a small child with a bronze lantern. Below right is a Hellenistic bronze lantern from Egypt that probably hung outside a house with a pair of terra-cotta or bronze lamps inside.

Oil lamps could have shades made of bark or even papyrus both to keep the flames alight to and brighten the light. Socrates speaks of copper reflectors on lamps and may be speaking of copper lanterns used indoors 7). Either way, with linen wicks and olive oil as fuel, lighting should be easy to obtain and easy to maintain.

Every member should probably have at least one lamp in his or her kit, and a few lanterns or lamp hooks would make life easier in camp!

Festival and Revelry Equipment

A description of wine services and wine drinking, both in the field and at a household symposium, should be inserted here, as well the location where we can purchase the gear.

1) Herodotus Histories 7.40
2) Aristophanes Frogs line 497
3) Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian War Book Two chapter 78
4) Homer Iliad Book II line 362
5) Herodotus Histories Book Four section 81
6) Xenophon Cyr.4.5.55
7) Xenophon Symposium 7.4
advanced_equipment.txt · Last modified: 2011/08/23 15:36 by phokion