Garum or liquamen was, apparently, extremely popular in classical Rome, consumed by rich and poor on a daily basis, almost on par with bread. It was also known to other Mediterranean civilizations. Alas, this dish is extinct now.

When and why did it disappear? It's as if fishing stopped with the fall of the Empire.

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    given the existence of colatura di alici, the production of which dates to the middle ages, when garum was still being produced in the East, are you sure that it ever disappeared from Europe?
    – Tristan
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 9:53
  • @Tristan, the answers by Lars Bosteen and Jos convinced me that equivalents of garum re-appeared in Europe at least when Thai and Vietnamese restaurants were opened there.
    – Michael
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 19:29

2 Answers 2


Short Answer

Garum production and consumption declined because increasing instability in the late Western Empire disrupted production and trade (and not just of garum). Further, a key ingredient - salt - became too expensive and pirates undermined the trade routes. Note also that garum was far from the only thing that declined or disappeared along with the empire; so too did many other features of everyday Roman life. However, it could still be found centuries after the fall of the Western Empire, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean.


According to the Italian archaeologist Claudio Giardino of the University of Salento (Lecce),

"In the Roman times, salt was a cheap material....When the Roman Empire collapsed, they put taxes on the salt. And because of these taxes, it became difficult to produce garum."

Cited in 'Fish Sauce: An Ancient Roman Condiment Rises Again'

Also, as the Romans lost control of the Mediterranean, piracy increased:

"The pirates started destroying the cities and the industries nearby the coast. You could be killed any moment by the pirates, without the protection of the Romans,"

In order for garum to be produced profitably in large quantities but at prices which most people could afford,

...large fishing fleets were essential and so were beachfront facilities (especially after regulations were put in place by Constantine Harmenopoulus that garum works could not be within a certain distance of a town due to the odors) and safe shipping routes from areas of production to faraway clients. Other factors that may have affected garum pricing and access were the requirement of a large workforce, land for facilities, and credit during a tumultuous time where shipping routes would not necessarily be secure. The Empire’s decline and the contraction of the Empire pulled apart the trade routes and threads from production to the client.

Source: T. Carpenter & G. Stern, 'The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Garum'. Paper presented at the Northern Great Plains History Conference, September 2016.

The location of garum production sites away from cities may have meant that, in some cases at least, they were less well-protected from raiders than they would have been had they been located inside walled cities. With this "loss of order", it was not just garum consumption that declined with the decline of the empire; so too did other industries, as well as other features of Roman life, like the construction of roads and

making a daily visit to the public baths or wearing the toga.

Source: Carpenter & Stern

The spread of the popularity of garum to provinces such as Gaul had occurred with the Romanization of these provinces when Italians settled there:

Augustus settled many Italians in the provinces in the settlements of the 20s BC. One mostly overlooked way they Romanized the provinces, besides recreating grid-pattern Roman cities with baths and a forum, was to bring their tongues with them, meaning both the speaking of Latin – on which much has been said and written before – but also the taste for Roman food. They imported and eventually produced their own garum to enjoy the flavors of home far from Italy.

As the Romans withdrew, so declined the popularity of garum and the expertise to make it. The fact that it did not immediately disappear is an indication of a degree of Romanization among the indigenous population.

Concerning the decline of the trade and consumption of high-priced garum, another factor to consider is the general decline in wealth in mainland Italy especially. The high-priced variety often came from afar as

Some distantly-made garum was a status symbol (like Belgian beer or champagne today).

Source: Carpenter & Stern

However, it did not completely disappear with the fall of the Western empire in some regions. For example,

...it remained in a few little pockets — like in Southwest Italy, where they produce colatura di alici, a modern descendant of the ancient fish sauce. The product was barely known even in Italy just a few years ago, but it is gradually being rediscovered.

Also, manufacture and consumption continued for a while in Tunisia and Gaul (despite the physician Anthimus writing it should be 'banned from every culinary role'), and in the Eastern Mediterranean as late as the 16th century.

There is some controversy as whether Asian garum (the production of which " has been uninterrupted for centuries") was a 'technology transfer' from the west as the origins of the product in Asia are somewhat obscure. Without lending any support to to the 'West-to-East' theory, Carpenter & Stern note that

Roman and Vietnamese fish sauce have a similar ratio of fish to salt ≤ 5:1, but the Romans fermented garum for less time before bottling it. Both Roman and Southeast Asian cuisines use fish sauce in similar manners, as both an ingredient in cooking and as a condiment that can be diluted with other ingredients like vinegar or sweetener.

Fish sauce remains popular in Asia and is now also found in West African cuisine (where I first encountered it).

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    Also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pissalat & Worcestershiresauce (original; although said to be a re-import from India—well, or a local woman!) come to mind? Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 10:07
  • Would the downvoter care to explain? As always, I'm open to constructive criticism. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 14:24
  • Not me, but how about this? As the Roman's withdrew - greengrocer's apostrophe. Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 18:47
  • @MichaelHarvey Ah, typos...and also 'cities' instead of 'sites' Thanks for pointing this out. Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 2:22
  • Now that a short A is there (why not emph the diff between disappeared & declined more clearly), I'd miss two things: how much did other 'way of life things' disappear alongside, and since this is about taste: how much was the demand side affected (the "popularity" is underexplored), as taste is culturally over-formed and 'we don't eat…' might play a role. May be hard to come by, but are are there 'Barbarians from the North' (orwotnot) that just said 'not our thing this juck' ('too strong'/strange or not enough Surstrømming-like…)? Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 8:14

Alas, this dish is extinct now.

I don't know when & why garum disappeared. But I do know it is widely used, be it in a different part of the world. Garum is highly popular in Asia. It's widely used a.o. in Thailand, where it is made and sold as pla ra (ปลาร้า). The Vietnamese like it too, as do other Asian cultures. Yes, it still stinks to the skies.

If you want to try it, go to a shop specialized in Thai or Vietnamese products.

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    +1 You can't make real Pad Thai without fish sauce.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 14:40
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    I'm not sure it's fair to treat all fish sauce as equal. There's differences between modern fish sauces and the one that would have called garum (rough recipes can be found) but on that note, garum is primitive in comparison and the contemporary stuff find in Asian grocery stores would be pretty much always preferred. Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 16:56
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    @BooleanCheese Modern Pla Ra has at least one thing in common with garum: it stinks equally bad. Garum was noted for its distinct <barf>"aroma"</barf>.
    – Jos
    Commented Oct 12, 2021 at 23:43
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    Wot? Properly finished garum doesn't stink! Albeit, 'nose of the beholder': It smells lightly fishy, earthy, herbal. During production it's mind numbing. But with all smells as well: even then does the dosage make the poison. (Take scatol, characteristically making shit smell how it does, but in dilution smells like roses and is hence used in perfume!) Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 13:13
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    @LаngLаngС I have no idea how garum smells. From what I've read, rather "aromatic" in a very negative way. Thai & Vietnamese fermented fish sauces are made roughly the same as garum. They stink beyond belief. I'm inclined to think garum therefore smell somewhat more than lightly fishy.
    – Jos
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 23:14

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