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We have cuneiform recipes from Assyria and Babylonia, and some poems which describe disgusting parodies of fine dining. Armies included cooks and bakers, and generals brought couches and fine drinking vessels and other things for the civilized life. Dental plaque of human remains in the Levant shows traces of exotic products like soybean (Glycine), probably banana (Musa), and turmeric (Curcuma) as early as the Late Bronze Age (Scott, Ashley, et al. (2020) “Exotic foods reveal contact between South Asia and the Near East during the second millennium BCE.” PNAS 21 December 2020

  • Yale Culinary Texts: Jean Bottéro, Textes culinaires mésopotamiens / Mesopotamian culinary texts (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1995)

…Ten-day banquet of Assurnaṣirpal II (r. 883-859 BCE) for 69,574 people at Kalhu: oxen, calves, sheep, lambs, deer, ducks, geese, pigeons, birds, fish, jerboa (a type of hopping mouse), eggs, bread, beer, wine, sesame, greens, grains, pomegranites, grapes, onions, garlic, turnips, honey, ghee, seeds, mustard, milk, cheese, nuts, dates, spices, oils, and olives: RIMAP 2 pp. 292-293

plants in the garden of King Marduk-apla-iddina (721-710 BCE): British Museum BM 46226 = CT 14, 50; Meissner, “Babylonische Pflanzennamen,” ZA 6, pp. 289ff; Brinkman, Fs Oppenheim, p. 48; 1922 Guide 121

… Persian royal banquet in one of the collections of miscellaneous anecdotes (and the modern banquets inspired by it! Elizabeth Dusinberry tried one) …
Polyaenus IV.3.32 = Kuhrt, The Persian Empire, no. 12.D.39/pages 604-607
Athenaeus IV.26 = Kuhrt, The Persian Empire no. 12.D.42/pages 610-611
R.B. Stevenson, Persica: Greek Writing about Persia in the Fourth Century BC (Edinburgh 1997) pp. 144-152

Wouter F. M. Henkelman, “Consumed Before the King, the Table of Darius,” in Der Achämenidenhof = The Achaemenid Court, Classica et Orientalia 2 (Wiesbaden, 2010), pp. 676–697
News & Notes issue 237 Eating in the Ancient Near East

There are also some Near Eastern cookbooks from the 10th century onwards. These are closer in time to us than to the armies at Plataea, but they are before the Columbian Exchange which transformed diets in the Old World. Barbara Santich points out that salt, coriander, and cumin which are available in the Mediteranean were already the basic spices in Apicius’ cookbook in the first century CE (The Original Mediterranean Cuisine p. 19, 31). And cumin is one of the many Semitic words in classical Greek.

  • ‘Anahita’, Some Extant Medieval Near and Middle Eastern Cookbooks
  • Daniel Potts, “On Salt and Salt Gathering in Ancient Mesopotamia,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 27, No. 3 (1984), pp. 225-271
  • The (13th century CE) Kitâb al Tabîkh: translated as A.J. Arberry, “A Baghdad Cookery Book” (Islamic Culture 13 [1939] pp. 21-47, 184-214): reprinted by Prospect Books 2001 in Medieval Arab Cookery) and re-translated in Charles Perry, A Baghdad Cookery Book Petits Propos Culinaires 79, (Prospect Books, 2005)
  • David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg, And Armor a Turnip: A Thousand Years of Recipes (self-published PDF, 2011) {some recipes from the Baghdad cookery book, Apicius, and a 6th century CE writer plus practical advice on interpretation}

Talking to your Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan friends might not be a bad idea! They and their parents and grandparents know modern cuisine and modern dietary laws, but fat-tailed sheep are still fat-tailed sheep.

For Greek food, you might start with histories of medieval cooking such as Barbara Santich’s The Original Mediterranean Cuisine as well as Courtesans and Fish-Cakes. The medievalists tell you which parts of the cuisine in 13th century and later manuscripts seem to reflect Arab influence, the others might be a place to start reconstructing Iron Age habits. It is possible that livestock were not butchered and divided into different kinds of meat, just slaughtered, cleaned, and cut into portions to be given out at random.

  • Theophrastus Historia Plantarum 7-9 on greens, spices, and seasonings available in Aristotle’s day: …
  • E.J. Kennedy, The Plowman’s Lunch: Moretum, A Poem Ascribed to Virgil (Bristol Classical Press: Bristol, 1984)
  • Apicius
  • Andrew Dalby and Sally Granger, The Classical Cookbook (Oxford University Press, 1996) {pulls recipes as old as the 4th century BCE out of learned writings from the Roman imperial and Byzantine periods, not just another re-hash of Apicius}
  • Andrew Dalby, The Flavors of Byzantium
  • Cathy K. Kaufman, Cooking in Ancient Civilizations. Daily Life through History (Greenwood Publishing, 2006)
  • Eugenia Salza Prina Ricotti, Meals and Recipes from Ancient Greece (Getty Trust Publications, 2007) ISBN: 9780892368761

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Edit 2022-01-22: fixed links broken when WordPress introduced the block editor

Edit 2023-06-01: added Ricotti

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