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Food & Agriculture in Ancient Greece

Food & Agriculture in Ancient Greece


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The prosperity of the majority of Greek city-states was based on agriculture and the ability to produce the necessary surplus which allowed some citizens to pursue other trades and pastimes and to create a quantity of exported goods so that they could be exchanged for necessities the community lacked. Cereals, olives, and wine were the three most produced foodstuffs suited as they are to the Mediterranean climate. With the process of Greek colonization in such places as Asia Minor and Magna Graecia Greek agricultural practice and products spread around the Mediterranean.

A Network of Smallholdings

The state did not control farming and crops were grown and livestock reared by private individuals on their own land. Indeed, the widespread practice of not permitting non-residents to own land meant that smallholdings were the norm. Another important factor which limited the amalgamation of land plots over time was that male children generally inherited equal shares of their parents' land. Farms at Athens ranged in size from 5 ha (the poorer citizens) to 5-10 ha (middle class) and 20 ha (the aristocracy). In Sparta farms were a little bigger on average, ranging from 18 ha for the smaller ones to 44 ha for those belonging to the richest citizens. The poorest citizens had no land at all and so, if they had no other skills of benefit to the community such as crafts, would have worked on the land of others for pay or leased land to work it themselves.

It is not clear if farmers always lived on their farms or resided in the city and travelled each day. It seems reasonable to suppose there was a mixture of both approaches which was probably dependent on the location of the land inherited by an individual (i.e. the proximity to the city and separation from other plots they owned) and their personal status such as being able to afford slaves (or helots in the case of Sparta) to work the land.

Only one-fifth of Greece has arable land so pressure to make best use of it was high.

Crops

The crops produced by the ancient Greeks were, of course, selected for their suitability to the Mediterranean climate. This has a combination of dry hot summers with mild winters providing plentiful rainfall. The irregularity of annual rainfall did mean that crop failure was a regular problem, though. Wheat crops may have failed once every four years and barley crops once every ten years because of insufficient water supply. Terrain, localised weather conditions, and different soils were also factors in making some areas more fertile than others. Indeed, as a whole, only one-fifth of Greece has arable land so pressure to make best use of it was high.

The most widely cultivated crop was wheat - especially emmer (triticum dicoccum) and durum (triticum durum) – and hulled barley (hordeum vulgare). Millet was grown in areas with greater rainfall. Gruel from barley and barley-cakes were more common than bread made from wheat. Pulses were grown such as broad beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Vines to make wine and olives to produce oil completed the four main types of crops in the Greek world. Fruit (e.g. figs, apples, pears, pomegranates, quinces, and medlars), vegetables (e.g. cucumbers, onions, garlic, and salads) and nuts (e.g. almonds and walnuts) were grown by many private households.

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Crop Management

Ploughing and sowing was carried out in October-November-December. It is interesting to note that there were no distracting religious festivals or records of Assembly meetings in Athens during this crucial and busy period. Vines were pruned back in the early spring, and grain harvested in May-June. Winnowing, threshing, and storage were done in June-July while grapes were gathered and made into wine and figs collected in September. In the autumn olives were harvested and pressed into oil. During the winter some hardier crops were sown and fields maintained.

There is evidence of crop rotation, and fields were left fallow to allow soil nutrients to regenerate and moisture to build up. In more pressing times some fields would have been used continuously throughout the year or planted with multiple crops at the same time. Such crops as beans and lentils were also grown and reploughed back into the field to re-fertilise it or weeds could be left to grow as food for grazing animals. Small plots used for growing fruit and vegetables would have been irrigated with small water channels and cisterns. Trenches, if labour were available, were dug around trees to hold precious rainwater for where it was most needed.

Equipment used in Greek agriculture was basic with digging, weeding, and multiple ploughing done by hand using wooden or iron-tipped ploughs, mattocks, and hoes (there were no spades). Richer farmers had oxen to help plough their fields. Sickles were used to harvest crops, which were then winnowed using a flat shovel and baskets. Grains were then threshed on a stone floor which was trampled on by livestock (and which might also have dragged sledges for the purpose too). Grapes were crushed underfoot in vats while olives were crushed in stone presses.

Animal Husbandry

The ancient Greeks did not manage large herds of livestock for the purposes of creating a saleable surplus and specialised pastoralism, with its necessity to seasonally move animals between pastures in different climate zones (transhumance), is not recorded until the Classical period in Greece. However, many private households would have kept a small number of animals, perhaps no more than 50 in a herd would have been the norm. These included sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and some cattle. They were useful for their meat, milk to make cheese (it was rarely drunk), eggs, wool or leather, and to fertilise crops. Animals were reared in greater numbers where the local terrain was not suitable for agriculture. These animals, besides having access to naturally occurring areas of grazing, were fed fodder of chaff and straw, stalks of vegetable plants, fallen and damaged fruit, and the residues of grapes and olives after pressing. Horses, mules, and donkeys were also reared for transport.

Trade of Foodstuffs

Most farmers would have only produced sufficient foodstuffs for their own family's needs but they would have bartered surplus produce for everyday necessities and foodstuffs they did not produce themselves such as cheese, honey, fish, and shellfish. Some of the wealthier citizens with larger plots did certainly produce cash crops which they could sell in bulk at markets. Agricultural products traded within Greece between citizens at markets and different cities included cereals, wine, olives, figs, pulses, eels, cheese, honey, and meat (especially from sheep and goats). From the 5th century BCE, Athens' port of Piraeus became the most important trading centre in the Mediterranean and gained a reputation as the place to find any type of goods on the market.

Greek merchant ships plied the Mediterranean and exported goods to such places as Egypt, Magna Graecia, and Asia Minor. Foodstuff exports included wine, especially from Aegean islands like Mende and Kos, olives and olive oil (transported, like wine, in amphorae). By-products such as hides were exported too, especially from Euboea. Many Greek city-states continued to function as important trade centres throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods, especially the free-trade ports of Athens, Delos, and Rhodes.

State Intervention

The involvement of the state in trade and the sale of agricultural products was relatively limited; however, a notable exception was grain, imported from Egypt and the Black Sea area, to ensure that in times of drought populations did not starve. For example, so vital was it to feed Athens' large population that trade in wheat was controlled and purchased by a special 'grain buyer' (sitones). From c. 470 BCE the obstruction of the import of grain was prohibited, as was the re-exportation of it; for offenders the punishment was the death penalty.

Market officials (agoranomoi) ensured the quality of goods on sale in the markets and grain had its own supervisors, the sitophylakes, who regulated that prices and quantities were correct. Although city-states did often impose taxes on the movement of goods and levies on imports and exports at ports, there were also measures taken to protect internal trade and more heavily tax goods which were destined for, or came in from, areas outside Greece. There were also trade incentives such as on Thasos to encourage the export of their high-quality wine.


What the Ancient Greeks Ate

The foods of ancient Greece were similar to foods we eat today but did not include many items that have become important parts of modern Greek cooking. For example, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and bananas didn't arrive in Greece until after the discovery of the Americas in the 15th century, because that's where those foods originated. Also, lemons, oranges, eggplant, and rice arrived later.

Ancient Greeks enjoyed a varied diet of vegetables, legumes, and fruit as the mainstay. But, being a coastal country with many islands, fish and seafood were an important part of the diet and animal husbandry and hunting brought meats and game to the menu. However, the consumption of fish and meat varied in accordance with the wealth and location of the household.

Typical ancient Greek meals incorporated these food items to varying degrees for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and prepared using different cooking methods to vary the appearance and taste.

Ancient Greek cuisine was characterized by its frugality, reflecting agricultural hardship. The ancient Greek diet was founded on the Mediterranean triad of wheat, olive oil, and wine and other foods reflect what was available to ancient Greeks. Several ancient Greek recipes still exist today.


Wheat history in ancient Greece

Wheat as a staple food was cultivated in ancient Greece in prehistoric times. Cultivation of wheat began to spread beyond the Fertile Crescent after about 8000 BC. Jared Diamond in his excellent book, “Guns Germs and Steel”, traces the spread of cultivated emmer wheat starting in the “Fertile Crescent” about 8500 BC, reaching Greece by 6500 BC, Egypt shortly thereafter, followed by introductions in Germany and Spain by 5000 BC.

Cereals, vine, and oil were the basic agricultural products in ancient Greece like in the entire Mediterranean region. The choice to cultivate depended first on environmental conditions. Wheat was one of the main cereal crops in ancient Greek agriculture.

The coastal lowlands were very attractive for ancient people thus most of the human settlements had been established in such areas. Mild winters and hot summers are the characteristics of the coastal lowlands of the Greece. This type of climate is very advantageous for some annual crops like wheat and for some perennial crops like olive.

Bread made from wheat was eaten, and flour was sold in the markets of Athens and elsewhere. Grain from the Greek colonies in southern Italy was shipped to Athens through the port of Piraeus and ground into particularly soft white flour. In ancient Greece, a keen rivalry existed between cities as to which produce the best bread.

The Greeks planted “naked wheat,” an evolved variety whose grain could be easily separated from the hulls when threshed. Until the Greeks arrived, the Egyptians used only Triticum turgidum of the dicoccum variety, which require more labor to arrive at the same result.
Wheat history in ancient Greece


Ancient Greek Farming: Facts

Barley was the main cereal crop for the Greeks. Out of the total cereal production, almost 90% was dedicated to barley alone. It was used by the Greeks either in their porridge or used in preparing bread. Barley along with wheat was sowed around the month of October and was harvested in April or May.

Similarly, olives were used as cooking oil or oil to be put in lamps came to be harvested between the last leg of autumn till early winter. Harvesting was done either by hand or with the help of a pole. Grapes were cultivated mainly for the production of wine though they could be eaten or dried into raisins.

During spring, farmers practiced biennial crop rotation, alternating from year to year between uncultivated and cultivated. Subsequently, though farmers also started practicing triennial crop pattern, yet it failed on account of a variety of reasons like poor soil pattern, the absence of mechanization and so on. Additionally, due to the less number of cattle, an ancient Greek farmer also could not take help of animal manure as a mode of fertilizing the soil.

Farms, in those times, were small fragments of land, not more than four to five acres. Though whatever was produced by a farmer was used for his self-consumption, yet, if there was any surplus left over he would sell it in the local market.

An ancient Greek farmers life was an extremely difficult one on two counts namely because many people depended for their food subsistence on the crops cultivated by them and the climatic conditions were not so favorable so as to enable a peasant to cultivate more.


Autumn

Autumn was the most important season. In the beginning of autumn, farmers collected deadfall and prepared supplies of firewood as winters in the highlands could be harsh.

Scholars have assumed that the Ancient Greek Agriculture infrastructure of ancient society was often ruined by the attack, as, for example, Athens was relegated to poverty in the aftermath of the Persian and later Peloponnesian invasions.

In the plains, where the soil was richer, they also grew wheat to make bread.
The Greeks did use artificial means of irrigation. They dug tunnels to channel water from springs to farms.

Archimedes, a prolific inventor, and mathematician developed a spiral structure in a cylindrical casing that could lift water when it was spun. It was used to raise water from a stream or irrigation ditch to the fields.

In summer, irrigation was indispensable. In June, the farmers harvested with sickles the scythe was not used. Wheat was threshed by being trampled upon by oxen, donkeys or mules. The grain was then stored. It was left to women and slaves to grind it and make bread.

Most farms were small with four or five acres of land. Farmers grew enough food to support their families and, at times, they grew a small surplus to sell at the local market. Some families rented a small piece of somebody else’s farm and then paid the owner part of the crop as rent.

All of the farmers in ancient Greece lived in the country. Their jobs were difficult because many people depended on them for food and the weather was often not the best for growing crops.


Food and Agriculture in Ancient Greece

The prosperity of the majority of Greek city-states was based on agriculture and the ability to produce the necessary surplus which allowed some citizens to pursue other trades and pastimes and to create a quantity of exported goods so that they could be exchanged for necessities the community lacked. Cereals, olives, and wine were the three most produced foodstuffs suited as they are to the Mediterranean climate. With the process of Greek colonization in such places as Asia Minor and Magna Graecia Greek agricultural practice and products spread around the Mediterranean.

A NETWORK OF SMALLHOLDINGS

The state did not control farming and crops were grown and livestock reared by private individuals on their own land. Indeed, the widespread practice of not permitting non-residents to own land meant that smallholdings were the norm. Another important factor which limited the amalgamation of land plots over time was that male children generally inherited equal shares of their parents’ land. Farms at Athens ranged in size from 5 ha (the poorer citizens) to 5-10 ha (middle class) and 20 ha (the aristocracy). In Sparta farms were a little bigger on average, ranging from 18 ha for the smaller ones to 44 ha for those belonging to the richest citizens. The poorest citizens had no land at all and so, if they had no other skills of benefit to the community such as crafts, would have worked on the land of others for pay or leased land to work it themselves.

Satyrs making wine, dionysian bas-relief from altar of unknown date, National Archaeological Museum of Athens. / Wikimedia Commons

It is not clear if farmers always lived on their farms or resided in the city and travelled each day. It seems reasonable to suppose there was a mixture of both approaches which was probably dependent on the location of the land inherited by an individual (i.e. the proximity to the city and separation from other plots they owned) and their personal status such as being able to afford slaves (or helots in the case of Sparta) to work the land.

CROPS

The crops produced by the ancient Greeks were, of course, selected for their suitability to the Mediterranean climate. This has a combination of dry hot summers with mild winters providing plentiful rainfall. The irregularity of annual rainfall did mean that crop failure was a regular problem, though. Wheat crops may have failed once every four years and barley crops once every ten years because of insufficient water supply. Terrain, localised weather conditions, and different soils were also factors in making some areas more fertile than others. Indeed, as a whole, only one-fifth of Greece has arable land so pressure to make best use of it was high.

The most widely cultivated crop was wheat – especially emmer (triticum dicoccum) and durum (triticum durum) – and hulled barley (hordeum vulgare). Millet was grown in areas with greater rainfall. Gruel from barley and barley-cakes were more common than bread made from wheat. Pulses were grown such as broad beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Vines to make wine and olives to produce oil completed the four main types of crops in the Greek world. Fruit (e.g. figs, apples, pears, pomegranates, quinces, and medlars), vegetables (e.g. cucumbers, onions, garlic, and salads) and nuts (e.g. almonds and walnuts) were grown by many private households.

Silver stater from Metapontum, 520 BCE. O: Ear of wheat, R: same incuse. (Alpha Bank Numismatics Museum, Kerkyra, Corfu) / Photo by Mark Cartwright, Creative Commons

CROP MANAGEMENT

Ploughing and sowing was carried out in October-November-December. It is interesting to note that there were no distracting religious festivals or records of Assembly meetings in Athens during this crucial and busy period. Vines were pruned back in the early spring, and grain harvested in May-June. Winnowing, threshing, and storage were done in June-July while grapes were gathered and made into wine and figs collected in September. In the autumn olives were harvested and pressed into oil. During the winter some hardier crops were sown and fields maintained.

There is evidence of crop rotation, and fields were left fallow to allow soil nutrients to regenerate and moisture to build up. In more pressing times some fields would have been used continuously throughout the year or planted with multiple crops at the same time. Such crops as beans and lentils were also grown and reploughed back into the field to re-fertilise it or weeds could be left to grow as food for grazing animals. Small plots used for growing fruit and vegetables would have been irrigated with small water channels and cisterns. Trenches, if labour were available, were dug around trees to hold precious rainwater for where it was most needed.

Equipment used in Greek agriculture was basic with digging, weeding, and multiple ploughing done by hand using wooden or iron-tipped ploughs, mattocks, and hoes (there were no spades). Richer farmers had oxen to help plough their fields. Sickles were used to harvest crops, which were then winnowed using a flat shovel and baskets. Grains were then threshed on a stone floor which was trampled on by livestock (and which might also have dragged sledges for the purpose too). Grapes were crushed underfoot in vats while olives were crushed in stone presses.

A Greek ceramic plate used for serving fish and seafood. A central depression collected any excess oil. The shape was popular in both Attica and Magna Graecia. Attic dishes almost always have the fish painted with their underside towards the outer edge whilst in southern Italy the underside of the fish was nearest the plate’s centre. This example is from Attica, 400-350 BCE. (Art Institute of Chicago). / Photo by Lucas, Flickr, Creative Commons

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

The ancient Greeks did not manage large herds of livestock for the purposes of creating a saleable surplus and specialised pastoralism, with its necessity to seasonally move animals between pastures in different climate zones (transhumance), is not recorded until the Classical period in Greece. However, many private households would have kept a small number of animals, perhaps no more than 50 in a herd would have been the norm. These included sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and some cattle. They were useful for their meat, milk to make cheese (it was rarely drunk), eggs, wool or leather, and to fertilise crops. Animals were reared in greater numbers where the local terrain was not suitable for agriculture. These animals, besides having access to naturally occurring areas of grazing, were fed fodder of chaff and straw, stalks of vegetable plants, fallen and damaged fruit, and the residues of grapes and olives after pressing. Horses, mules, and donkeys were also reared for transport.

TRADE OF FOODSTUFFS

Most farmers would have only produced sufficient foodstuffs for their own family’s needs but they would have bartered surplus produce for everyday necessities and foodstuffs they did not produce themselves such as cheese, honey, fish, and shellfish. Some of the wealthier citizens with larger plots did certainly produce cash crops which they could sell in bulk at markets. Agricultural products traded within Greece between citizens at markets and different cities included cereals, wine, olives, figs, pulses, eels, cheese, honey, and meat (especially from sheep and goats). From the 5th century BCE, Athens’ port of Piraeus became the most important trading centre in the Mediterranean and gained a reputation as the place to find any type of goods on the market.

This is an artist’s impression of how an ancient Greek or Roman agora or forum (market) may have looked like. / Image by Total War

Greek merchant ships plied the Mediterranean and exported goods to such places as Egypt, Magna Graecia, and Asia Minor. Foodstuff exports included wine, especially from Aegean islands like Mende and Kos, olives and olive oil (transported, like wine, in amphorae). By-products such as hides were exported too, especially from Euboea. Many Greek city-states continued to function as important trade centres throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods, especially the free-trade ports of Athens, Delos, and Rhodes.

STATE INTERVENTION

The involvement of the state in trade and the sale of agricultural products was relatively limited however, a notable exception was grain, imported from Egypt and the Black Sea area, to ensure that in times of drought populations did not starve. For example, so vital was it to feed Athens’ large population that trade in wheat was controlled and purchased by a special ‘grain buyer’ (sitones). From c. 470 BCE the obstruction of the import of grain was prohibited, as was the re-exportation of it for offenders the punishment was the death penalty.

Market officials (agoranomoi) ensured the quality of goods on sale in the markets and grain had its own supervisors, the sitophylakes, who regulated that prices and quantities were correct. Although city-states did often impose taxes on the movement of goods and levies on imports and exports at ports, there were also measures taken to protect internal trade and more heavily tax goods which were destined for, or came in from, areas outside Greece. There were also trade incentives such as on Thasos to encourage the export of their high-quality wine.


Food in Ancient Greece

The Greek diet consisted of foods that were easily raised in the rocky terrain of Greece&rsquos landscape. Breakfast was eaten just after sunrise and consisted of bread dipped in wine. Lunch was again bread dipped in wine along with some olives, figs, cheese or dried fish.

Supper was the main meal of each day. It was eaten near sunset. It consisted of vegetables, fruit, fish, and possibly honey cakes. Sugar was unknown to ancient Greeks, so natural honey was used as a sweetener.

Fish was the main source of protein in the Greek diet. Beef was very expensive, so it was rarely eaten. Beef and pork were only available to poor people during religious festivals. It was during the festivals that cows or pigs were sacrificed to the gods, and the meat was cooked and handed out to the public.

Wine was the main drink in ancient Greece. It was watered down to drink it straight was considered barbaric. Milk was rarely drunk, because again, it was considered barbaric. Milk was used for cheese production. Water was another possible choice as a drink.

The Greeks did not have any eating utensils, so they ate with their hands. Bread was often used to scoop out thick soups. Bread was also used as a napkin to clean hands. After being used as a napkin, the bread was then thrown on the floor for the dogs or slaves to clean up at a later time.

Men often gathered for dinner parties called symposiums. Having guests in the house was a &ldquomale-only&rdquo affair. Women of the house were not permitted to attend. After giving a wine offering to the gods, the men drank and talked about politics or morals. Often young girls and boys would be employed to entertain guests with music and dance.


Food and Diet: Ancient Greece vs. Modern Greece

When you live in Greece you are reminded everyday of the history of this land. Not only by the ancient temples and ruins scattered all over the country, but by almost all aspects of the culture here language, music, art and of course the food.

A few years ago, I was asked to give a presentation about the continuity of Greek cuisine from antiquity to the present. While doing research I came across four excellent books (they are cited at the end of this post) and I wanted to share some interesting facts (as far as we know) about the food and food culture of the ancient Greeks and the similarities with today’s Greeks.

Of course we don’t know to what extent the dietary habits of the ancient Greeks have affected today’s dietary habits. The food culture of the ancient Greeks has influenced many cultures and we also know that the food in Greece today is the result of many influences from various cultures as well. But we do see many similarities when comparing the modern Greeks with the ancient Greeks.

Eating Together

We know that the ancient Greeks wanted to establish a civilized lifestyle that separated them from the barbarians and food played an instrumental role in this. The idea of eating together is not a new one animals eat together and so did the so-called barbarians, but what made a meal “civilized” were specific rules (for example the proper way to serve wine) and conviviality (eating and drinking with good company).

For Greeks, food and eating was not only necessary to satisfy physical needs but it was also a social event. Plutarch, a Greek historian had said, “We do not sit at the table to eat… but to eat together”.

Today, eating in modern Greece is indeed a very social event. It is the norm for people to relax and have great discussions and arguments ranging from politics to relationships while eating dinner or lunch. These meals can last for hours.

Growing up as a Greek-American in the U.S., I remember many times at restaurants, the contrast between my family talking loudly and generally taking forever to eat, while everybody else was quietly eating their food, paying the bill and leaving. Eating alone, even for the younger generations of Greeks is not common. You won’t see people taking a lunch break at a park eating their meal alone. Instead Greeks will either order all together at the office, sometimes sharing food they have brought from home. Reservations for restaurants are not as common in Greece either, and if they are made, it is assumed that the table will be reserved for the whole evening as there is no way of knowing when the diners will leave.

The Three Fundamentals

The 3 fundamentals were the most important ingredients for the Ancient Greek: Bread, Wine and Olive Oil. This was part of the dietary model or what we can call food ideology. For the Greeks these foods represented frugality and the simple life along with honey and figs. It is thought that this represented loyalty to their country since these fundamental foods were produced in Greece and therefore it was not necessary to import rare luxury type foods, they were happy with their own. It also is thought that it had to do with areas that should be conquered anywhere that olives and vines grew should be conquered and be Greek.

Wine
Then: For Greeks wine was especially important at the symposia, which was a meeting of men for drinking, music and intellectual discussion. Greeks gave it medicinal properties, and there were even descriptions of proper and improper drinking.

Now: It is thought that much of the modern wine production practices today, are influenced by the practices of the ancient Greeks. Wine is also a very important part of Greek culture today. Gone are the days when Greece was only known for its retsina (wine that has had resin added to it). Today Greece has a high quality wine production using Greek grapes varieties that appear to be similar to the variety of grapes used in ancient times, and that are grown only in Greece. People are starting to notice Greek wines at this year’s Decanter World Wine Awards for example, 72% of all Greek wines entered this year received an award.

Bread
Then: Bread of course was a necessity in the ancient Greek diet. Greeks had a large variety of breads or bread-like products and also made them for special occasions. At some point it appears that the Greeks had 50 to 70 different types of breads.

Now: Bread is an extremely important part of the Greek cuisine it is what nurtures the people, most Greeks cannot even imagine a meal without bread even if it is a rice or pasta dish. It is common when you go to the taverns here to be served a whole loaf of bread for 4 people…and you are expected to eat it.

Olive Oil
Then: Olive oil was used in almost every single item that was on the table of the ancient Greek, and although there was other oil available in the Mediterranean, olive oil was the only one used for cooking.

Now: Olive oil is even more important today to the Greeks then it was in ancient Greece. Greeks are the highest consumers of olive oil in the world, with a consumption of 26 liters a year per person, which is about ½ a liter a week (2 cups). Oil is used for almost all cooking, and although there has been an effort to promote other types of vegetable oils, Greeks have not really been persuaded (rightfully so).

Olive oil also holds a special position in the Greek-Orthodox religion it is used in many ceremonies, but also in the oil lamps in the churches and at homes.

Honey and Figs
Honey and figs were also part of the Greek food ideology. Both produced in the land. They were used in both sweet and savory dishes. Today honey plays an extremely important role in the Greek lifestyle. As expected, it is used in the diet as a main sweetener to be consumed with herbal teas, yogurt, fruit, walnuts and in many sweets. It is also considered to have medicinal qualities.

Meat was for savages

Then: Meat was generally associated with festivity, luxury and sacrifice and therefore it was not a main food source. But it also separated the “men” from the “barbarians”. According to the Greeks, those who consumed meat and milk were nomad hunter-gatherers as opposed to civilized people who farmed the land and could transform nature (grapes=wine, wheat=bread, olives=olive oil).

Apart from barbarian connotations, it seems that meat was consumed mainly in relation to sacrifice. In the book Food, A Culinary History it says that cautious estimates show that Greeks consumed no more than 4 pounds of meat a year. Economics also played a role: the animals were more useful alive providing milk for cheese and wool.

Now: In Modern Greece the traditional Greek diet (circa 1960) had very little meat. This had to do with religious and economic reasons like their ancient ancestors. Greek Orthodox Greeks would fast 180-200 days a year. Finances also did not allow the average Greek to eat meat very often as in ancient times, Greeks used their animals for milk, making cheese and yogurt rather than meat.

It also should be noted that sacrificing practices seem to have continued through the byzantine period where it was common to kill animals and roast them during religious seasons. We see a similar custom with modern Greeks and the tradition of roasting the lamb in public as a celebration for Easter.

In the past 50 years however things have changed dramatically. The socioeconomic status of Greeks has changed and as a result, more and more Greeks have moved to big cities, do not follow the religious fasts, and eat much more meat than they used to.


Ancient Greek Food

The Greek diet was very healthy. They grew wheat and made breads and cereals and noodles. They grew olives and figs and grapes. They grew all kinds of vegetables. They kept goats for milk and cheese. They fished in their many waterways and streams. City-states on the coastline used boats and nets and traps to catch all kind of seafood and traded some of the catch for foods produced by the inland city-states. Some homes kept chickens. The Greeks made homemade wine. They made jams and jellies. They kept beehives for honey. They made delicious sweet deserts. They ate well.

Meals were prepared in the courtyards, the open-air center of each home. The Greeks were very clean people. Their cookers were cleaned. Their hands were clean. Their food preparation areas were clean. They did this to honor Hestia, the goddess of hearth and home.

In the larger Greek city-states, you could buy meat in cook shops. It was expensive, but available. You could also find other foods to buy in the marketplace like fancy baked goods and all kinds of fish and vegetables. But all city-states had a marketplace where foods were traded and bartered and/or purchased.


Watch the video: Journey of Greek Food - Episode 1, ENGLISH - Science (July 2022).


Comments:

  1. Vojar

    In it something is. Clearly, I thank for the information.

  2. Carrado

    It is unexpectedness!

  3. Maneet

    Magnificent phrase



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