Many ordinary artefacts, such as Roman objects used for food and drink, contain two layers of information, telling us about their culinary customs but also about the differences between Romans according to their financial and social status.
The fine tableware that a wealthy Roman citizen, his family and guests would have used to sip wine and sample decadent delicacies included bronze pitchers decorated with applied details in relief, delicate ceramic beakers, and glass cups and bottles where slaves would mix and serve wine with water.
They also had many different vessels for serving and eating food. The majority were made of a fine, smooth ceramic ware known as terra sigillata covered with engobe, a liquid clay slip applied to pottery pieces before firing to produce a smooth, glossy, luxurious finish. Diners used their hands to take pieces of meat and fruit from bowls of assorted sizes. Small plates were used to serve nuts, olives and other delicacies, such as concentrated sauces, served with bronze or silver spoons. These had a pointed end that could also be used to pry mollusc shells open and extract their prized contents.
In contrast, a poor Roman’s tableware usually consisted of a very few, roughly made and generally undecorated items: cups, plates and pitchers of coarse pottery, without the engobe that would have made them less porous and smooth to the touch. He also had spoons, but of wood rather than metal. With these few humble utensils, a lower-class Roman would drink water and eat the gruel and lentils that were the basis of his simple, unvaried diet.