Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 April 2017
ABSTRACT.This contribution examines ancient literary texts and archaeological evidence concerning the production, distribution and consumption of salted fish products in the Roman Empire. A case study of evidence from excavations at Pompeii shows that the city had a well-developed saltedfish industry that catered to a wide range of customers. The study underlines the importance of fishing and fish in the diet and the economy of the Ancient Mediterranean.
RÉSUMÉ.En s'appuyant sur des textes littéraires antiques et des sources archéologiques, cette contribution analyse la production, la distribution et la consommation de poisson salé dans l'empire romain. Une étude des éléments collectés lors des fouilles de Pompéi prouve l'existence d'une industrie particulièrement développée de poisson salé, visant à satisfaire les besoins d'une large clientèle. L'étude souligne également l'importance de la pêche et des produits de la mer dans l'alimentation et l'économie de la Méditerranée antique.
Recent years have seen a growing debate over the importance of fishing and fish in the economy of the Ancient Mediterranean, inspired by T.W. Gallant's assertion that ‘the role of fishing in the diet and the economy would have been … subordinate and supplementary’.The debate centres upon the reliability of the descriptions of fishing in the literary sources and the applicability of comparative data from other periods of history upon the ancient world. Recent research has done much to clarify the complexity and economic potential of ancient fishing techniques, however, significant areas of debate remain.
As Tønnes Bekker-Nielsen has noted, the major hurdle limiting the economic and dietary potential of fishing was the difficulty in getting fish from their point of catch to that of demand before spoilage occurred. Microbial organisms called Specific Spoilage Organisms (SSOs) cause the fish to spoil rapidly after death. This can be prevented in several ways, either limiting the amount of time between death and consumption by the transportation of live fish or the consumption of fish as close as possible to their point of capture; by keeping the catch cool; or through processing – principally salting, although drying or curing were also used.