I have long had a love affair with Italy and enjoy reading novels set in either Ancient Rome or Renaissance Italy.
And I have often wondered as I twiddle my spaghetti around a fork or order up my favourite Milanese chicken dish what it would really be like to dine out in Ancient Rome.
First I would wear an unstiffened kind of bust-bodice known as the stophium and a long tunic reaching to my feet probably made of linen or cotton but preferably of silk. I might choose blue as that is a favourite colour and it would be ornamented with a gold fringe and lavishly embroidered. Over this I throw my stola which is similar but it would have sleeves. Then, before setting out to visit friends for a long, long dinner in a fabulous new villa not far from the forum I call for my pella, a rectangular shaped voluminous cloak. It will cover my elegant coiffure.
Ah my hair! I sigh. I am not quite ready. I have forgotten my tiara. The ornatrix has already spent at least an hour arranging my locks into a cone. I admit it. My hair is bleached because, after all, to be a blond is fashionable these days. I am proud that my hair is abundant and I have not had to resort to using false hair pieces. What you see is what you will get tonight.
My ornatrix rushes to my call and adds a gold tiara encrusted with sapphires saying it will match my gold rings, my anklet and my necklace and I say snappily, ‘Don’t forget my favourite earrings.’
They are made of three rows of pearls and were a gift from my late husband.
My feet are encased in slippers that are studded with jewels and which are dyed blue to match my tunic. I am now ready to climb into my litter and be carried to the new villa.
I wonder will the more greedy guests spoil our evening tonight by overeating and dashing to the vomitorium with irritating regularity. I heard my slaves whispering amongst themselves that the cooks at the new villa have promised a great fat stuffed sucking pig, kidneys, stuffed dormice, snails fed on milk and fried in oil served with wine, rabbits cut from the womb, a special sauce of pepper, loveage, caraway, celery seed, rue, wine-must and oil. There will be my personal favourite dish too, fried veal in a sauce of raisins, honey,vinegar, pepper, onions and whatever aromatic herb the cooks have to hand.
Perhaps, I think, as I arrive at the villa which is lit up like starlight with a mass of tiny oil lamps, perhaps I shall eat just the tiniest morsel of everything tonight. And perhaps, too, I shall find myself a new lover.
This piece is written to celebrate the publication of Inceptio by Alison Morton published by Silverwood Press and which can be purchased at your bookshop, Waterstones or online from Amazon. Inceptio is a speculative historical novel, a ‘what if’ the Roman world survived after AD 395.