Saturday, August 20, 2011

Slimming Roman Style

The Ancient Roman Diet by Caroline Lawrence

Just say NO to that extra honey-cake
How to lose weight as the Ancient Romans did. Tips from Celsus and Pliny the Elder.

In ancient Roman times, most people were concerned with how to get more food, not how to lose weight. We currently live in one of the most affluent periods in the history of the world. But our brains are hardwired to think about food obsessively and hence we have become overweight. Diet books are best-sellers today but in ancient Roman times the person who wanted to lose weight would have been a rarity.

Nevertheless, I have found a few tips ancient Romans could have followed to look less like "il bacchino" above, (a 16th century sculpture in Florence), and more like "il placentarius" below, (a bronze statuette of a cake-seller from Pompeii).

Celsus I.3.16 gives 13 steps to slimming:

Put smaller portions on your plate
"The body is thinned," he says...
I. by a vomit*
II. by purgation* (enema or laxative)
III. by eating only one meal a day
IV. by heat
V. by a scorching sun
VI. by all kinds of worry
VII. by late nights
VIII. by a hard bed throughout the summer
IX. by sleep unduly short or overlong
X. by running, brisk walking, vigorous exercise
XI. by bathing on an empty stomach
XII. by bathing in hot water and especially if salt has been added
XIII. by eating sour and harsh things

Pliny the Elder says "To put on weight (corpus augere) drink wine during meals.
For those who are slimming (minuentibus), avoid drinking wine during meals."

He also remarks that "A civilised life is impossible without salt."

So there you go: Brisk walks, hard beds, sour food, hot baths and no wine with your meals...

onions, cheese, carrots, eggs, flat bread, olives, spices = the Roman diet
...and, of course, it doesn't hurt to eat as the Romans did. Lots of pulses and grains, some fruit and veg, protein via eggs and cheese, meat a few times a week. No sugar, just a little honey or date syrup now and then. The table above, a reconstruction of a Roman table from the Museum of London, shows a good representation of the Roman diet. To this you can add fish, nuts, dates, figs, seasonal fruit, game, etc. For a full list of Roman food go HERE. Notice that apart from the bread and grains, this diet is almost primal, with no processed foods.

Bona fortuna with your Ancient Roman Diet! Let me know how you get on, or if you have any other TIPS from Ancient Sources.

P.S. More Ancient Roman Beauty Tips.

*P.P.S. I do NOT recommend vomiting or purging!

[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans as a topic in Key Stage 2. The BBC made a TV series in 2007 and you can watch episodes via iTunes. Carrying on from the Roman Mysteries, the Roman Quests series set in Roman Britain launched in May 2016 with Escape from Rome.


  1. Do you think it would work if I just opted for salt in bath water...

  2. lol! I think you have to try at least three from column A.

  3. Laurel Ward2:53 PM

    This reminds me of History of the World by Mel Brooks... "Everyone is either cooking or puking!"

  4. This is great! The more things change, the more they stay the same. Wasn't Pliny a bit corpulent himself?

  5. Yes, Vicky. In his famous letter LXV to Tacitus, Pliny the Younger tells how his uncle went to Rectina's during the eruption of Vesuvius and during the night "his breathing, which, on account of his corpulence, was rather heavy and sonorous, was heard by the attendants outside."

  6. Anonymous3:45 AM

    your flabby "doughboy" looks like one of my ex-neighbors who used to golf in the middle of the night, waking me up! They now say that not getting enough sleep makes you fat as does stress which adds fat around the abdomen... That bit about not enough sun makes sense with the lack of vit. D.

  7. Anonymous10:50 PM

    I am really hoping these work!!!