Greek Soldiers On Campagin
Cooking, Food and Fire
Cooking is generally portrayed as women's work, but not when on campaign. Achilles roasted meat while Patroclus stocked the fire, mixed drinks and served bread. Xenophon may extol the virtues of quartermasters, company cooks and servers, but because they didn't exist in reality. The two main meals were breakfast, ariston, and dinner, deipnon. Time and supplies dictated what these affairs were like. But generally breakfast would follow an early morning march to stimulate the appetite. On the march it could be cold previously prepared food, but when the army was stationary breakfast could be cooked. Dinner was in the afternoon or early evening before sunset. Xenophon suggests that eating at sunset was the mark of an especially long day.
Fire had a sacred significance to the Greeks, and making a fire would present a major challenge. Fires could be borrowed from the heaths of local inhabitants, and we read of the Spartans carrying a sacred fire to war, never extinguished, and presumably a pure source for cooking fires and for sacrifice. Soothsayers, manteis, may have carried their own fires. King Agesilaus sent ten men carrying fire in clay pots, possibly smouldering tinder, to help soldiers posted on a cold wet ridge in 390 BC near Perachora. But it seems unlikely that fire could be carried by every mess group and never put out. So troops may have used friction drills or flint and iron pyrites to start a flame. Dry tinder would have being a necessity. Wood was needed for heat as well as cooking, and vast quantities would be used very day.
Portable pottery braziers and cooking stands may have being used, but pots could easily be balanced on stones. Capacity was vital. A chytra could come in many different sizes, with smaller ones needing less energy to heat and cook in. But a chytra per mess group makes sense.
Cereals where mainly barley meal alphita, and wheat flour, aleuron. Xenophon recommends hand mills, cheiromulai, but light rotary mills were not used until the Hellenistic period. Saddle querns could weigh 10-20 kg and so it is likely that armies did not mill their own flour but bought it ready milled, saving much time and energy. Unmilled barley, krithe, or wheat, puros, could be parched or roasted on no more than some flat stones in an emergency. But maza, a simple cake of roasted barley meal could be prepared with water or oil and served without further baking. Unfortunately roasting or parching the barley destroyed its gluten content. It was a typical soldiers food, and acorn and nut meal could be substituted for barley. Porridge could be no more than equal portions of grain and water boiled for an hour in a deep pot or helmet. Quick and easy to make, but hard to transport on the march.
Barley groats called chondra or gruel, ptisane, involved the pounding of the grain to remove hulls. However parched grains travelled better and were less likely to spoil. Milled barley or wheat could be turned into porridge or gruel, or preferably baked into bread. A barley cake could be baked speedily in hot ashes. Unleavened dough pancakes could be made given more time, when the army was stationary for a few days. Cooked on hot embers the pancake could be placed on open flame or very hot embers to puff up the resulting flat bread and create a pocket. Field ovens could be created by digging into a slope or bank and lining with stones. Unleavened bread is hard to chew unless it is thin.
Fermented starters retained from earlier batches of dough could provide leavening, and make for lighter more edible bread. Xenophon only once mentions leavened bread in the Anabasis at an important dinner, suggesting it was unusual.
Although it took longer to produce than porridge, flat bread lasted longer and was easier to transport. It would have been baked before the army moved out and was intended to last several days. Biscuits and crisp breads were produced from dough with low water content. But biscuits and hard tack are a Hellenistic invention. Writers suggest that one choinix per man, just over one litre of cerial, was a fairly standard ration through the period and according to Aristophanes was enough to bake one giant loaf. Bread and porridge were staples, but relishes, opsa, flavoured the meal. In Greece cheese, olives, garlic and onions were accompaniments, but Anatolia soldiers used legumes, beans and lentils. Further east dates and palm hearts came into play. But although we consider olive oil a basic food, it was too costly to be used in cooking. Instead it was used as lamp fuel, a cleanser, lubricant and for protecting skin, wood and metal. Opsa of whatever sort was needed to prevent under eating and add variety.
Meat was desirable but there was little of it. Back in mainland Greece around 11 kg a year would be average, from sacrifice, hunting, poultry, fish and snails. Eating too much meat was associated with pastoralism and a nomadic way of life. Soldiers would hunt and even eat the baggage animals if necessary due to inflated grain prices. They seem to have enjoyed meat and actively searched it out. Large numbers of captured animals could be owned communally by the army and officers assigned men to take care of the herds. But driving herds was difficult work. When time allowed animals would be slaughtered and butchering must have been an important skill. A small sheep or goat could be butchered in less than an hour, but a mule or cow could take several hours. Care would need to be taken over the hide, and the meat would need to be packed carefully. However Pausanias claims the Arcadian custom was to surround an animal and chop it apart with blades.
Raw meat would need to be cooked, often by boiling. A 200 kg ass would yield around 70 kg of meat which would take over three hours of boiling to prepare. Without the bulky chytrai soldiers could roast or grill meat on skewers. This could be done relatively quickly at hot temperatures allowing soldiers to build a fire and initially cook their meat followed by bread or grain on the embers. Given time soldiers could salt meat, smoke it or sun dry it and even turn it in to sausage. But in normal campaign conditions the meat would have to be shared, bartered or sold to other mess groups. Certain portions could be used as offerings to the gods.
Horses naturally eat grass all the time, in small amounts, frequently. But even supplemented by hay in the winter months this will not keep a horse in hard condition. Fodder in the form of cereals would need to be given to the horse depending its size and the amount of work it is required to do. Unlike today barley would be used and Polybios mentions that Republican Roman cavalry received 1.5 kg dry weight of barley a day. War horses could eat as much barley as six men each day. Pliny writes that the Persians introduced Median grass into Greece, what we know as lucerne or alfalfa. This can have up to twice the protein content of other grass hay.
A man needed two litres or eight kotylae of water a day picked up on route, but it was wine that they graved. At 1 kg per litre liquid is heavy to carry, and the soldiers would try and consume as much of it as quickly as possible and carrying it in their bellies. Given time wine would be mixed with water before consumption, but this normally involved a large number of specialist vessels perhaps only available to generals. There is some suggestion that armies had to get used to life without wine drinking only water, but this lead to binge drinking when the opportunity arose. Wine could inspire courage but also offer a welcome release.
As did death. Leaving behind the dead even in extreme circumstances was hard to take. Locals could be prevailed upon to bury the dead, but their own suskenoi could recognise them and do what was necessary. Given time a cremation would be done, but burial would be more common. Weapons and gifts could join the dead in the grave, and words could be said. But Thanatus, death, alone of the gods did not desire gifts, sacrifices or libations. He was beyond persuasion.