This BBC article, citing the food historian Caroline Yeldham, says

Breakfast as we know it didn't exist for large parts of history. The Romans didn't really eat it, usually consuming only one meal a day around noon, says food historian Caroline Yeldham. In fact, breakfast was actively frowned upon.

Quoting her directly, the article continues,

"They were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony."

This Smithsonian article more or less says the same thing and cites Yeldham in the BBC article. It's heading is

Mostly the Old And Ill Ate Breakfast Until the Rise of the Working Man

and the sub-heading is

Romans disdained the meal, few ate it in the Middle Ages, but most eat breakfast now

Caroline Yeldham has been described as "eminent" by historynewsnetwork and "well-known" by this University of Leeds article, but several other sources seem to at least partially contradict her.

Wikipedia's article Ancient Roman Cuisine says

Traditionally, a breakfast called ientaculum1 was served at dawn.

and this article seems to agree, even citing details of the meal:

The usual time for their breakfast was early in the morning. The ientaculum, or breakfast, consisted of a buffet of flat, round loaves seasoned with salt were eaten. Rich ancient Romans, the Patricians would also have eggs, cheese, honey, milk and fruit included in these early meals

This article seems to fall somewhere in-between, saying "Romans were not big on breakfast" and that it was not a major meal.

From the conflicting information above, it seems that some Romans ate at least a 'smallish' breakfast. I would also surmise that farmers and soldiers probably ate some kind of breakfast, though there is also a reference to patricians.

Was there any particular class of Romans which didn't eat breakfast and considered it 'gluttony'?

Or are the somewhat conflicting accounts due to differences over time? (none of the sources are time-specific and Ancient Rome covers a period of over 1,000 years)

Did the later Romans, under the influence of Christianity, drop breakfast? I mention this because, due to the influence of Christianity, breakfast was not common in early medieval Europe.

  • 5
    The whole premise seems to rely on the british/american view of a breakfast as a gargantuan meal. No, Romans didn't have those, but as justCal answers points to, they probably had the same kind of light breakfast all the mediterranean cultures still have today.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 14:26
  • 5
    @Rekesoft I see your point, and I can't speak for Americans as I haven't lived there. In the UK, though, the big breakfast has gone 'out of fashion' telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/7593760/… It's possible, though, that Caroline Yeldham was thinking about traditional breakfasts but, being a food expert, that would be a little surprising I think. Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 14:52
  • 6
    I agree with Lars; while traditions of course vary across the nation (and indeed within regions), speaking very generally a British breakfast in 2018 is, like, a slice of toast and a glass of orange juice. Maybe with some crushed avocado on it if you're one of those people... ;) (on the toast, not on the orange juice) Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 17:11
  • 14
    @Rekesoft: Breakfast in America is not usually a gargantuan meal for most people. It's often a bowl of cereal with milk & fruit, or perhaps toast or a bagel, and a cup or two of coffee. The sort of cooked breakfast you're probably thinking of - bacon or sausage, eggs, toast &c is more of a holiday or special occasion thing, often eaten later in the morning and combined with the midday meal as "brunch".
    – jamesqf
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 19:07
  • 1
    its worth remembering that the time available and money available to the average Roman varied hugely over the long lifetime of the Roman empire; "typical" can only really be gathered with a fix on a particular time-frame. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 10:21

1 Answer 1


It seems the issue may be with generalizing 'Romans' as single entity and not as a group which changed through time. Johnston in The Private Life of the Romans goes into the changes seen in the Roman diet over time:

The table supplies of a given people vary from age to age with the development of civilization and refinement, and in the same age with the means and tastes of classes and individuals. Of the Romans it may be said that during the early Republic, perhaps almost through the second century B.C., they cared little for the pleasures of the table. They lived frugally and ate sparingly. They were almost strictly vegetarians (§ 273), much of their food was eaten cold, and the utmost simplicity characterized the cooking and the service of their meals.

But later:

The last two centuries of the Republic saw all this changed. The conquest of Greece and the wars in Asia Minor gave the Romans a taste of Eastern luxury and altered their simple table customs, as other customs had been altered by like contact with the outside world.

This led to some new behaviors:

Some of the very rich, on the other hand, aping the luxury of the Greeks but lacking their refinement, became gluttons instead of gourmets. They ransacked the world for articles of food,4 preferring the rare and the costly to what was really palatable and delicate. The separate dining room (trīclīnium) was introduced, the great houses having two or more (§ 204), and the oecī (§ 207) were, perhaps, pressed into service for banquet halls. The dining couch (§§ 224, 304) took the place of the bench or stool, slaves served the food to the reclining guests, a dinner dress (§ 249) was devised, and every familia urbāna (§ 149) included a high-priced chef with a staff of trained assistants.

Johnson is of the opinion that breakfast was eaten, but it was definitely not 'the most important meal of the day' for the later Romans:

In early times in the city and in all periods in the country the chief meal (cēna) was eaten in the middle of the day, preceded by a breakfast (ientāculum) in the early morning and followed in the evening by a supper (vesperna).

Concerning the ientāculum itself:

  1. Breakfast and Luncheon. The breakfast (ientāculum or iantāculum) was eaten immediately after rising, the hour varying, of course, with the occupation and social position of the individual. Usually it consisted merely of bread, eaten dry or dipped in wine or sprinkled over with salt, though raisins, olives, and cheese were sometimes added. Workmen pressed for time seem to have taken their breakfast in their hands to eat as they went to the place of their labor, and schoolboys often stopped on their way to school (§ 122) at a public bakery (§ 286) to buy a sort of shortcake or pancake on which they made a hurried breakfast. More rarely the breakfast became a regular meal: eggs were served in addition to the things just mentioned, and mulsum (§ 298) and milk were drunk with them.

So it seems references to Romans not eating three meals a day may be referring to the earlier Republic times, but later the breakfast was definitely part of the schedule.

  • 33
    Keep in mind this varied by wealth and other factors. We know soldiers ate breakfasts -- because the failure to give them time to prepare and eat breakfast was so notable at the Battle of Trebia. Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 19:35
  • 1
    Yes, the quotes from Johnston mention that diet varied by social class, '.Some of the very rich'...'varying, of course, with the occupation and social position of the individual.'
    – justCal
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 22:28
  • @justCal -- sorry, I didn't see any specific reference to breakfast in that quote. Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 14:44

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