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Subjects in FocusEvery day life in Byzantium

Every day life in Byzantium

Byzantine society
Urban professions
Rural professions
Monastic life
Women in Byzantine society
Children in Byzantine society

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Hunting scene
Miniature illustrating a hunting scene, 11th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai.

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Hunting scene
Miniature, 11th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai

A Byzantine family seated for a meal at a table spread with a cloth was confronted by various dishes and vessels for the foods and beverages that were being served. A single length of narrow cloth lay across the knees of all the diners, on which they wiped their fingers.

Bread, vegetables, pulses, and cereals, prepared in a variety of ways, played a major part in the diet of Byzantine people. The commonest form of cooking was boiling, as we understand from a derisive Byzantine saying: "The lazy cook prepares everything by boiling".

In addition, the people of Byzantium produced various cheeses, such as 'anthotiro' or 'kefalintzin'. They also consumed eggs, with which they made their famous omelettes, or 'sphoungata', mentioned by Theodoros Prodromos, as well as poultry, of which almost every household had a supply.

They obtained other kinds of meat by hunting, a favourite occupation of men that gave them an opportunity to distinguish themselves. They hunted with dogs and hawks, but did not scorn other methods, such as trapping, netting, and bird-liming.

Larger animals were a more expensive and rarer source of food. Pigs were slaughtered at the beginning of winter and provided the family with sausages, salt pork, and lard throughout the year. Lamb could be afforded only by the more well-to-do households. Byzantine people seldom ate beef, for they used their cattle to cultivate the fields. They also relished all kinds of fish, both fresh and salt-water, and shellfish.

Various wines, for which Macedonia was renowned, as well as fruits, honey-cakes and syrupy sweetmeats, were served when they entertained.

Their meals could be simple, but also very complex and rich, depending on the financial status of the family concerned. As one of their own proverbs put it, one could judge a man's worth by his table.

Macedonian Heritage
Content courtesy Ekdotike Athenon S.A.