At the time we are trying to display the feeding of the Romans legionaries differed little from that of the civilian population, either rural or urban. Like most of Mediterranean peoples, the main staple of their diet was based on the trio: wheat, oil and wine. The Romans were primarily large consumers of grain. Wheat from the earliest days of the republic, already formed the basis of their diet mainly used in kind of porridges, hence their nickname "pultiphagonides" is to say "porridge eaters", given by their neighboring Greeks of Southern Italy. These porridges (puls) are mainly based on the use of barley, wheat, spelled, millet, and oats. These grains are also consumed, but less frequently, as biscuits.


The Roman soldier will feed differently whether he is in cantonment, in a static military camp (in besieging), or in a temporary marching camp.

In the first two cases the army is static, so the diet will be very close to that of civilians, probably slightly a bit more diversified with extra rations of vegetables and meats. In campaign, and in the marching camps, when the army is on the move, it is quite different. Mobility will prevail, and in this case, it can be quite hazardous to depend on the country's resources.  Stewardship will provide soldiers for their basic needs and will ensure an independent supply so they are not at risk with available food supply in the areas crossed while on campaign.


The Legionary carries with him only the ration of wheat needed for the duration given by the general. Of course, he carries with him other little essential things in small quantities, such as salt, oil, posca (kind of vinegar which is used to disinfect water as small wounds) and some "lucana" , kinds of dry sausages, chewed while walking to induce salivation Probably some vegetables such as garlic and onions, we can deduce that from texts telling us about soldiers breath ... Finally, we also know that during the preparing stage of certain campaigns, commanders instructed their men to prepare breads or biscuits in advance.


All this will give him a very high mobility, and a quite sufficient energy ration to move and fight. Of course when circumstances permit the food is supplemented by raids into enemy territory and purchases from merchants following the army in the field (oil, "Posca", salt, spices, and cattle for meat), but this is a secondary source of supply. It is interesting to note in this regard that in the oath taken on the day of its incorporation into the legions, the milite was not obliged to submit to his superiors’ the food harvested by adding it to the common booty, but was able to keep it for it’s personal use.


The Legionary is going to carry his ration of wheat as grain because it conserve much better than flour. Each "contubernium" or group of soldiers living in the same tent will have a small portable hard stone hand mill to grind the grain. Once the grain is crushed by the mill, a rather fine whole meal flour is obtained.


Panis Militaris*.

This flour will constitute the base of its food. The soldier is going to make according to his own taste, climatic conditions, or the time available to him, different types of food: either it will be a simple porridge with flour, water and salt; or he can enhance it with what he has at his disposal(onions, spices and so on).


. He can also bake some type of pancakes, mixing flour with a little wine and oil for example among other things.


. He likewise can make a variety of flat breads as it was customary in ancient times, which resemble those Greeks buns we named Pita.

. Another way that was quite common in the Greek armies too, was make strips of dough that were twisted on a wooden stick, and were then slowly rotated on a fire. The downside, as with the other methods mentioned above, is that the soldier must remain constantly busy cooking and becomes unavailable for other tasks during that time.


. Therefore, when he can, he prefers to knead the dough, let it rise, and make his bread.

Although known since the 5th millennium BC, there are evidence that bread start to become a very popular form of food in Rome only at the end of the Second Punic War. It is indeed in quite a short period of 25 years, between -200 and -175 that the first public bakeries (fifty) make their appearance in Rome. At the same time Cato the elder, who has also participated in a victorious military campaign in Spain, explains how to bake bread under a "clibanus"(pottery in the shape of a bell). Moreover, we find evidence proving that at that time both Romans and Carthaginians used clibanus as portable ovens like the type described by Cato. Etruscan models dated back to the 5th century BC show that this type of portable oven was already used in Italy for a long time. Ideally suited for baking military bread, it is also very easy to transport and use. The clibanus is thus the ideal instrument to cook bread in campaign.


One of the other advantages of bread is that it can be kept a few days. This can prove handy if a rainy weather prevents from cooking, but also on the days that soldiers are on guard duty with obviously less time for cooking.
We know that Scipio when he arrived at his headquarters of Numantia expelled two thousand prostitutes, all the merchants, soothsayers and other charlatans from the camp of its predecessor. This included all types of fast food (caterers, bakers). He also prohibited all unnecessary baggage to the Legionaries. Scipio introduces a new discipline, and will only allows for individual cooking for each legionary a spit, a cooking pot and a cup (which also serves as the unit of measurement).


Was the "clibanus" part of these restrictive measures? It is very likely that it was considered as a possession of the contubernium just ad hand-mill was, so it had no need to be mentioned. Further the hand-mill is a vital tool as it serves to prepare the basic food in campaign, and the clibanus is no luxury item either. In support of this some stone mills were found in places that served as soldier’s camps around the circumvallation.

In addition to all these cooking methods, ancient texts mention another way to bake bread in the ashes "focacius" but obviously it's a little more rustic.

Now remains a question to elucidate.... We know that the soldiers of the republic had servants at their disposal. Had they only one by contubernium? This number seems probable at least since the reforms of Marius. They were used for conducting the mule, could perform household tasks such as fetching water, milling grain, making bread and meals, leaving the soldiers free for their military duties.



* bread and biscuit use the same word in Latin" panis". #bread AERA roman legion main page roman grill roman leather tent roman republic camp Military bread making by Jaky Jelic

To accustomed eyes you will notice that our hand-mill is narrower than most of those usually seen reproduced. This is actually typical for a military hand-mill making its transport easier.

▲ The grain is milled a first time. Then it is milled again to produce a finer flour u The flower is then picked up, mixed with salt and water  to form a dough left to rise under a humid piece of tissue. Once raised, the dough is kneaded to form a bread, then put in the clibanus and cut with a knife. The clibanus is then closed and put in the fire to bake the bread. And here is the result of all these efforts… A real  Roman military bread, superb, délicious and very nourishing. Reserches on clibanus & bread making Jacky Jelic Reserches on republican hand-mills Jean-Luc Féraud Juily 2013

In antiquity only the best stones, the harder ones, are used in the manufacture of mills. Indeed, if the stone is not of a very good quality and wear quickly, tiny chips will mix with the flour. The teeth will wear quite early, with all the consequences that one can imagine. The relatively small number of quarries providing quality stones can now ease to the identification process of the querns place of origin. It is then easier to understand and why legions carried them so far, instead of getting them locally.


Roman clibanus II century BC. Clibanus in the Zadar museum. Our clibanus reproductions Etruscan clibanus  V century BC. Our reproduction is made by Florian Peteranderl  Spécialist in the reproduction of antic mills.  It is sculpted using a stone extracted from a quarry that  was used in Roman times for making querns. Hand-mill found in Greece II century BC Hand-mill found in Spain II century BC Hand-mill found In Aix-en-Provence II century BC.