Romans along the Danube:
Romans had settlements along the Danube from the time of Christ's birth to about 430 AD. The Danube was a major transportation artery in Central Europe even back then. When the Romans realized they could not extend their empire to the North Sea and the Baltic, they built frontier fortifications known as the limes along the Danube. They then subjugated the Celtic Kingdom of Noricum and made present-day Austria a Roman province. After building military forts, they established whole cities along the Danube and brought many of their skills with them. Besides being experts in road and housing construction, the Romans had a refined bath culture and were pioneers in viniculture. There are traces and a legacy from this period that can be experienced in many places in the Danube region of Lower Austria.
Historical records tell us that even regular citizens in Ancient Rome had ample opportunity for feasting. There were countless cook-shops in the city and the emperors regularly staged huge public banquets.
Julius Caesar (100 - 44 BC) was said to have started this custom and set new standards in the process. Following his victory over Gaul, he hosted a total of 260,000 guests at 22,000 tables. The sequence of courses was brilliant:
Mussels, sea urchins and oysters were served as the appetizers. They were followed by thrushes, chicken on a bed of asparagus, pâtés, pieces of venison filet and wild pork and octopus. The motto was “Only the best is good enough!” Good was equated with expensive.
The cookbooks of the great epicure Marcus Gavius Apicius (1 c AD) are the only documents offering glimpses of the sometimes unconventional preparation methods used for Roman dishes. Meat was the main source of nutrition. Meals were heavily spiced and covered in strong-tasting sauces. Cooking according to Apicius’s original recipes is a venture in approximation. The great epicure dispensed with quantities and listed only the ingredients.
Wine was a basic staple in the Roman world. Even slaves had a right to it. Wine was undoubtedly on the table for all meals eaten outdoors. About 185 varieties were known, from cheap country wine to high quality and premium wines. This number does not include the ever-popular mead and spiced wine. Most wine drinkers and innkeepers made these wines themselves by adding spices. In terms of quantity, red wine (vinum atrum) predominated over white (vinum album) by far.
The Invention of the Spritzer
Wine was seldom drunk undiluted; drinking it pure was seen as a sign of a drunkard. The Romans invented the spritzer, known in Austrian dialect as the “gspritzter”. The ratio of wine to water fluctuated according to preference and innkeeper. On hot days, ice-cold wine was especially popular, on cold nights people preferred mulled wine.
Wine has been grown in the Wachau since Celtic times. The first documented mention was in the days of Saint Severinus and the Romans around 470 AD. The Romans were experts at the art of vine improvement and encouraged the cultivation of vines along the limes after Emperor Domitian banned wine cultivation in the northern provinces.