Byzantine cuisine


Byzantine cuisine was marked by a merger of Greek and Roman gastronomy. The development of the Byzantine Empire and trade brought in spices, sugar and new vegetables to Greece.

Cooks experimented with new combinations of food, creating two styles in the process. These were the Eastern (Asia Minor and the Eastern Aegean), consisting of Byzantine cuisine supplemented by trade items, and a leaner style primarily based on local Greek culture.


While Byzantine pottery found at excavations in Boeotia was decorated with innovative techniques and designs that combined elements from local culture and Islamic art, the shape and function of tablewares remained simple - jugs were uncommon, and the wide, shallow bowls and dishes were too porous to use as drinking vessels or for watery soups or stews.[1]

By the 13th-century, this style of dish was replaced by bowls that were deeper and narrower, suitable as vessels for liquids, stews or beverages. Stylized and geometric floral patterns became more common than the animal and human figures of earlier tableware and the quality of lead glaze was dramatically improved over the coarse and non-durable, soft tableware of previous centuries.[1]

The extent to which changes in tableware were a result of changes in the style of foods consumed in Boetia is a matter of further study. Because written sources are lacking, scholars have taken into consideration the visual evidence depicted on pottery, medieval icons, and Ottoman miniatures, noting differences in the dining culture represented on 11th and 14th century Byzantine frescoes and miniatures. The fresco of the Last Supper at the crypt of Hosios Loukas shows a single large communal plate at the center of the table, with two communal cups, one on either side of the plate. Jesus and the twelve apostles presumably ate with their hands, as no forks or other utensils are shown.[1]

Some scholars believe the dishes in the fresco may be symbolic rather than representations of historical dining habits. Fish are shown in the plate, but research on early Christian culture has not found evidence of a Fish Eucharist, although fish was a coveted food for the upper echelons on special occasions. A similar pattern of a large communal plate with two communal cups is depicted in 11th-century miniatures, one from a Byzantine manuscript (now in Paris) that shows The feast of Herod and Jesus sitting in the house of Simon the leper, and another showing several diners reaching into the communal plate with their hands. The Last Supper fresco at the Dochiariou monastery of Mount Athos from the 14th-century depicts food served in multiple bowls, with wine jugs, and beakers, individual bread rolls, and shared dishes and knives. There is archaeological evidence supporting the assertions that knives were used as culinary utensils at in 14th-century from excavations of medieval Panakton.[1]


Based on studies of middle and lower class household goods, Nikolaos Oikonomides concluded that the average Byzantine household "often, if not always, ate with their fingers from a large serving plate and drank from a common cup or jar (made of clay).[1]


Byzantine food consumption varied by class. The Imperial Palace was a metropolis of spices and exotic recipes; guests were entertained with fruits, honey-cakes and syrupy sweetmeats. Ordinary people ate more conservatively. The core diet consisted of bread, vegetables, pulses, and cereals prepared in varied ways. Salad was very popular; to the amazement of the Florentines, the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos asked for it at most meals on his visit in 1439.

The Byzantines produced various cheeses, including anthotiro or kefalotyri. They also relished shellfish and fish, both fresh and salt-water. They prepared eggs to make famous omelettes — called sphoungata, i.e. "spongy" — mentioned by Theodore Prodromos. Every household also kept a supply of poultry.

Byzantine elites obtained other kinds of meat by hunting animals like deer and wild boar, a favourite and distinguished occupation of men. They usually hunted with dogs and hawks, though sometimes employed trapping, netting, and bird-liming. Larger animals were a more expensive and rare food. Citizens slaughtered pigs at the beginning of winter and provided their families with sausages, salt pork, and lard for the year. Only upper middle and higher Byzantines could afford lamb. They seldom ate beef, as they used cattle to cultivate the fields.

Middle and lower class citizens in cities such as Constantinople and Thessaloniki consumed the offerings of the taverna. The most common form of cooking was boiling, a tendency which sparked a derisive Byzantine maxim—The lazy cook prepares everything by boiling. Garos fermented fish sauce in all its varieties was especially favored as a condiment along with the umami flavoring murri, a fermented barley sauce, which was similar to the modern umami flavoring, the fermented soy product soy sauce. Liutprand of Cremona, the ambassador to Constantinople from Otto I, described being served food covered in an "exceedingly bad fish liquor,"[2] a reference to garos.

Many scholars state that Byzantine koptoplakous (Medieval Greek: κοπτοπλακοῦς) and plakountas tetyromenous are the ancestors of modern baklava and tiropita (börek) respectively.[3][4][5] Both variants descended from the ancient Greek Placenta cake.

Thanks to the location of Constantinople between popular trade routes, Byzantine cuisine was augmented by cultural influences from several locales—such as Lombard Italy, the Persian Empire, and an emerging Arabic Empire. The resulting melting pot continued during Ottoman times and therefore modern Turkish cuisine, Greek cuisine and Balkan cuisine have many similarities, and use a very wide range of ingredients.


Macedonia was renowned for its wines, served for upper class Byzantines. During the crusades and after, western Europeans valued costly Byzantine wines. The most famous example is the still extant Commandaria wine from Cyprus served at the wedding of King Richard the Lionheart.[6] Other renowned varieties were Cretan wines from muscat grapes, Romania or Rumney (exported from Methoni in the western Peloponnese), and Malvasia or Malmsey (likely exported from Monemvasia). Retsina, wine flavored with pine resin, was also drunk, as it still is in Greece today, producing similar reactions from unfamiliar visitors, "To add to our calamity the Greek wine, on account of being mixed with pitch, resin, and plaster was to us undrinkable," complained Liutprand of Cremona, who was the ambassador sent to Constantinople in 968 by the German Holy Roman Emperor Otto I.[2]

See alsoEdit




  1. ^ a b c d e Vroom, Joanita (2000). "Byzantine garlic and Turkish delight". Archaeological Dialogues. 7 (2): 199–216. doi:10.1017/S1380203800001756.
  2. ^ a b "Internet History Sourcebooks Project".
  3. ^ Davidson, Alan (10 September 1983). Food in Motion: The Migration of Foodstuffs and Cookery Techniques : Proceedings : Oxford Symposium 1983. Oxford Symposium. ISBN 9780907325161 – via Google Books.
  4. ^ Faas, Patrick (2005). Around the Roman Table. University of Chicago Press. pp. 184–185. ISBN 0226233472.
  5. ^ Speros Vryonis The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor, 1971, p. 482
  6. ^ Ktisti, Sarah (Aug 11, 2009). "Ancient Cypriot wine enters vintage major league". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-08-12.


  • Dalby, Andrew (2003), Flavours of Byzantium, Totnes, England: Prospect Books, ISBN 1-903018-14-5

External linksEdit

  • Byzantine Food on the Web
  • Byzantine Foods
  • Byzantine Cuisine: from