Ancient Greeks were Gourmands with a Preference for Fish



Ancient Greeks were gourmands and particularly fond of large fresh fish and eel, according to research headed by zooarchaeologist Dr. Demetra Mylona.

The zooarchaeologist, who does research for the Institute of Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete, is collecting data from written sources, scientific texts and also from the study of ancient remains of fish, such as bones.

“We can also learn a lot from ancient bones of fish brought to light by the archaeologist’s hoe and by the pots in which they were cooked, conducting chemical analysis of food residues,” Mylona told the Athens News Agency.

“At the same time,” Mylona said, “there are references in many ancient texts where, for example, in Classical Era Athens, the purchase of all fish by a wealthy citizen was considered an undemocratic act since he left nothing for the rest of the people.”

A stone fish price list from the 2nd century BC found in Akraifnio of Boeotia, which at the time was on the shores of Lake Copais, includes prices of both sea fish and lake fish. At the time being a fisherman was considered one of the most difficult professions, especially for those fishing at sea. Ancient inscriptions speak of wealthy fishing guilds near rich fishing waters. Particularly profitable, however, appears to be the profession of fish merchant.

According to Mylona, the ancient Greeks had a special preference for Aegean fish living in rocks, but also liked fish from the open seas, such as tuna, a sought-after fish. They also liked mackerel, bonito and anchovy, which were abundant during their season and were easy to catch with nets.

“Of course, we do not have the names for all fish found in ancient sources, except where details of the characteristics of the fish are given,” she explained.

As for processed fish, such as tuna and anchovies, they were widely consumed by all social classes and were the product of a very flourishing trade throughout the Mediterranean and the adjacent seas.

Mylona also pointed out, in the antiquity and through the Middle Ages, garos was a basic element of Mediterranean diet.

“Garos was a sort of sauce, made from fried fatty fish with salt, equivalent to the fish sauce of the Far East cuisine. High quality garos, made of tuna offal and blood, was expensive. There were cities around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea that lived from the production and trade of garos and other fish products. Today, we find the amphorae in which they were transported, which, in addition to their characteristic shape, often contain the remains of processed fish,” Mylona said.