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Document Details :
Title: Pepper Consumption and the Importance of Taste in Roman Medecine
Author(s): SIMMONS, Jeremy A.
Journal: Ancient Society
Volume: 50 Date: 2020
This paper explores how Roman medical writers reconciled the rising culinary role of black pepper with preexisting conceptions of its curative properties in the Greek medical tradition. Scientific attention to pepper begins in Greek works of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, which classify its inherent property of heat and prescribe the spice for various ailments. These early discussions survive as reference works in the Roman period, when pepper becomes a culinary staple. The Roman Principate promoted trade with the pepper-producing regions of India, which in turn fueled the demand for flavorful black pepper at Rome. Archaeological finds throughout the empire, in addition to numerous passing references in literary works of the Roman period, attest to the large volumes of pepper being imported and consumed by both civilians and soldiers. At the same time, Roman-period medical writers begin to qualify pepper types by their relative taste in addition to their previously recognized medical properties. Celsus, Dioscorides Pedanius, and Galen, although consulting earlier medical opinions regarding pepper’s medicinal efficacy, choose to emphasize the benefits of a peppered diet in their works and how the spice could be used to make unpleasant tasting, but effective medicines palatable or even pleasurable for the patient. Thus, a change in dietary practice informed how ancient medical literature conceived of and discussed a versatile foodstuff.