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We always see in historical movies that a Roman emperor is sitting on his throne and a concubine feeds him with grapes. My question is that is this historically true? Were grapes so expensive that only emperors could afford to eat them?

Especially they are fed with purple grapes. It's true that purple was an expensive color for clothes (purple dyes were rare). But maybe because of this color-specific luxuriousness even purple foods were so expensive?

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    Seems rather a sweeping statement to say that we always see this in films! When we do, it's probably because grapes are an easy fruit to eat in bite-sized portions without getting messy! Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 7:27
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    Just because an emperor is fed grapes doesn't mean that only the emperor could afford them. That's not a logical deduction.
    – cmw
    Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 12:44
  • I think I remember Romans lying on couches being fed grapes by slaves in various movies and shows. And I think that an episode of Voyager! ("Created Equal" Oct. 10, 1982) where a child time traveler is fed grapes by Cicero's little daughter who has a crush on him.
    – MAGolding
    Commented Aug 6, 2023 at 17:09
  • Movies are ,in general, lousy sources for history. I saw a history about a galaxy far far away where lasers were exactly 1 meter long.....
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 9:51

2 Answers 2

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Grapes were affordable for the common people.

The Edict of Diocletian on Maximum Prices from 301 CE lists 4 Roman pounds (~ 1.31 kg) of grapes for 4 denarii. The same price as 10 quinces or 30 big plums.

A farm labourer's wages were 25 denarii every workday; and a carpenter, 50. So most people could buy those 4 pounds of grapes without impacting their economy severely.

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No, grapes were grown and are very common in most Mediterranean countries. Wine, not beer, was the preferred drink of choice in the most parts of the Roman empire. Only where wine wasn't grown beer replaced it, in the northern parts of the empire and Egypt. The price of grapes in those areas would be higher due to transportation costs and fragility. Affordable for the rich, but not so much for the poor.

Poor people would drink less wine and of lower quality with more water (Romans usually didn't drink wine 'straight' but most of the time watered it down). For the very poor, grapes would be a luxury food, but an affordable luxury food.

It's EXTREMELY unlikely a Roman emperor would sit on his throne being fed grapes by a (scantily???) clad concubine. Compare this with king Charles III being fed grapes by queen Camilla on a throne. That's not a fair comparison, because Roman emperors in public were much more ceremonial. Even for the few truly deranged emperors that would be too much.

The color of the grapes has nothing to do with the value of the color purple. The color purple came from Tyrian Purple which was really expensive to make.

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