The ancient tradition after Asterix repeatedly shows a certain convenience that Roman legionnaires liked to exploit in their garrisons in the barbarian country. There is some truth in these images, as excavations at Vindonissa show, a legionary camp near present-day Windisch in the Swiss canton of Aargau. Archaeologists have discovered a building there that they interpret as a kind of officers' mess with a living quarters.
The camp, located at the strategically important confluence of the Aare and Reuss, was built on the site of a Celtic settlement. Around AD 14/15 Emperor Tiberius stationed the 13th legion there; By the end of the century, the 21st and 11th Legions followed, expanding Vindonissa into a massive fortress with numerous stone buildings. This includes a centrally located complex of around 700 square meters with an inner courtyard. Originally used by craftsmen and providers of the first two legions, the building was remodeled from around the year 72. A state-of-the-art canteen kitchen has now been built in the complex.
Matthias Flück from the cantonal archeology department has now summarized the results of the analyzes in the journal "Antike Welt": "The proven range of food remains is one of the highest quality and quantitative archaeologically examined Roman kitchen finds to date." fired brick slabs left nothing to be desired. The large cooking area allowed for different cooking methods (boiling, roasting, simmering, baking) at the same time, testifying to a “complex, varied and exquisite cooking tradition”. Remnants of red beech wood also show that the owners had high-quality fuel at their disposal.
The canteen kitchen was not reached through the representative main portal, but via a side entrance. This suggests certain differences in rank between the cooking staff and their guests. This is also what the menu stands for, which the scientists were able to reconstruct with archaeozoological and archaeobotanical investigations of a large heap of rubbish.
The significant proportion of big game, especially red deer, young and very young pigs as well as traces of expensive imports such as oysters and Mediterranean mackerel suggest privileged eaters. The numerous remains of songbirds and salmon-like fish as well as traces of cultivated plants such as figs, walnuts, cherries and grapes speak for an upscale Mediterranean cuisine that was served on high-quality ceramic dishes.
From the extensive remains of ceramics, the researchers have also deduced the contents of the amphorae: 1312 liters of wine, 2040 liters of olive oil and 792 liters of garum, the notorious seasoning sauce made from fermented fish remains. However, these amounts should only represent consumption in a small time window. Numerous skeletal remains of mice on the rubbish heap also suggest that the kitchen staff was concerned about hygiene.
But who was able to enjoy the delicacies? "The architecture of the peristyle building and its furnishings (wall painting, pressure water pipe with lead pipes, stone architecture), together with the exquisite menu, indicate a well-off population," writes Flück. Based on the location of the property, they could be centurions of the 1st cohort. The primi ordines led the most powerful unit in a legion. It is known from other camps that they enjoyed the privilege of living in large, detached houses with courtyards.
That fits with the news from the Asterix empire. For there, too, Roman officers usually have the rank of centurion. The experienced soldiers had risen from the enlisted ranks and corresponded to sergeants or sergeants in modern armies. Looking at the finds in Vindonissa one can imagine how their superiors - legates and tribunes from the senatorial and knightly ranks - were cared for.
At the end of the 1st century this was over in Vindonissa. After the border of the Roman Empire had been pushed further north with the construction of the Upper Germanic-Raetian Limes, the 11th Legion was relocated to the Danube. The legionnaires, who had to keep watch in Vindonissa again after the Limes was withdrawn from the year 260, could no longer tie in with the luxury of their predecessors.
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