The November 12 History Thread Feasts Like Vitellius

Sheltie, subbing for Agnew, here!

With the impending Thanksgiving holiday, let’s take a look back at the eating habits of one of the more obscure Roman emperors, Vitellius.

Aulus Vitellius Germanicus Augustus (15-69 AD) was a proconsul turned commander of Germania Inferior (in today’s terms the area covered Luxembourg and bits of Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium). In the year 69 AD his men proclaimed him emperor, a position he held for about eight months. Vitellius had the misfortune to ascend to power during the “The Year of the Four Emperors” (he was the third). In short order he was beaten in battle by his rival, Vespasian, and ultimately executed during a fierce battle in the city Rome (Vitellius, knowing when to fold them, had attempted to abdicate, but was forced to remain in the position by his supporters). Vespasian went on to reign until his death ten years later, with the position passing to his son, Titus; the second emperor of the Flavian.

According to Suetonius (who was a newborn during the Year of the Four Emperors and should always be taken with a grain of salt) Vitellius was a party animal, former friend of Caligula, and possessed an insatiable appetite:

He divided his feasts into three, sometimes into four a day, breakfast, luncheon, dinner, and a drinking bout; and he was readily able to do justice to all of them through his habit of taking emetics. Moreover, he had himself invited to each of these meals by different men on the same day, and the materials for any one of them never cost less than four hundred thousand sesterces. 2 Most notorious of all was the dinner given by his brother to celebrate the emperor’s arrival in Rome, at which two thousand of the choicest fishes and seven thousand birds are said to have been served. He himself eclipsed even this at the dedication of a platter, which on account of its enormous size he called the “Shield of Minerva, Defender of the City.” In this he mingled the livers of pike, the brains of pheasants and peacocks, the tongues of flamingoes and the milt of lampreys, brought by his captains and triremes from the whole empire, from Parthia to the Spanish strait

Topic for discussion: is there any historical delicacy you’ve been wanting to try?