“He constantly offered dinners but always according to the rules”: Augustus' eating habits in the pages of Suetonius

'Gusto is located in the center of Rome, in a place that is overflowing with history and that if only it could speak it would have a vast array of fascinating episodes to tell us involving common people and emperors. In fact, a minute's walk from the headquarters in Piazza Augusto Imperatore is the Mausoleum of Augustus or Augusteo, a funerary monument dating back to the 1st century BC in which the tombs of the first emperor of Rome and his closest relatives and friends are preserved. With Octavian Augustus – in a long and glorious empire from Princeps with the support of the Senate – Rome became a monumental, culturally active, administratively organized and economically flourishing city.

There life of Augustus, along with that of others twelve Roman emperors, was told by Gaius Suetonius Tranquility In the De Vita Caesarum (the life of the Caesars): a work in various books that offers us an interesting insight into Roman history from Julius Caesar to Domitian, also telling us about their vices and virtues as well as their family and political history. In these stories, food plays an important role since the Romans - among the other pleasures of life - particularly loved eating well, a fundamental moment of conviviality. Suetonius describes the personality of Augustus with his vice for gambling and the pleasures of the flesh and also tells us about his eating habits, which on the contrary were very sober and moderated by a certain rigidity.

“He constantly offered dinners, but always according to the rules, and with careful selection of men and orders”: this is how Suetonius's description of the food preferences of the emperor Augustus begins in De Vita Ceasarum (II, 74-78). No freedman was admitted to the emperor's dinners since according to him he was unable to respect meal times and rules, causing disturbance to the other guests and also to the Emperor, who after a first attempt decided not to repeat the experience again. The dinners at the court of Augustus they usually consisted of three or six courses at most: the Emperor was therefore quite thrifty but despite being limited in expenses he proved to be very amiable with his guests, entertaining them in lively conversations or cheering them up with actors and artists of various kinds. He also proved to be very generous in donations during holidays and solemnities.

In terms of food he had very simple and sober tastes: he especially loved the bread municipality accompanied to cow cheese, fresh figs, small fish, dates or grapes. He often ate between meals, on any occasion he felt hungry either before or after a banquet but often not during it, thus demonstrating a capricious appetite dictated by the moment. As well as on the food it was sober even in drink wine: he never drank during the day but only during meals and no more than three glasses per meal because he couldn't handle excesses. He quenched his thirst in other ways, for example through a stalk of lettuce, a slice of fresh watermelon or any other fruit. He was also a lover of the afternoon nap as Suetonius tells us that “After the midday lunch, as he was, dressed and shod, with his feet uncovered, he rested a little, holding his hand over his eyes”. After dinner, however, "he retired to a small litter specifically intended for his vigils"

The world of Augustus and that of the other emperors told to us by Suetonius is a fascinating reality that we can imagine while walking, armed with imagination, through the streets of central Rome. The texts of the great Roman writer can help us look at the many monuments of the capital with different eyes and imagine the daily life of the people who lived there in antiquity.

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