Sausages and Meat Preservation in Antiquity – Frank Frost | Part 2

Sausages and Meat Preservation in Antiquity II

By Frank Frost

Continuing from first part: Sausages and Meat Preservation in Antiquity – Frank Frost | Part 1

From the Knights we learn more about the profession of the allântopôlês, or sausage-seller, than we do about the nature of his wares. By definition, he was the lowest of the low. When young he had been a boy prostitute (1242). He carries a display table, knives, intestines, tripe, and other offal (150–167, 356, 1179, 1183) 13 and sells at the gates where salt fish is sold (1257), associating with whores and bath-house attendants. It is implied that he mixes dog and donkey meat into his sausages (1399). We conclude that sausage must have been a cheap and common snack for the crowds coming and going in the city and that, as from time immemorial, sausages were made of the cheapest leftovers and were easy to adulterate 14. The well-known miserly tendency of the Thebans was derided because they served allântes at banquets 15. And Sokrates made fun of his student Aischines because his father was an allântopoios (Diog. Laert. 2.60). Modern attitudes to sausage making used to be summed up by the great Texan politician, Sam Rayburn: “There are two things you should never watch being made, laws and sausages.”

Κυκλαδικό μαγειρικό σκεύος 2800-2300 π.Χ.

There is no precision about the terminology of sausages, as is clear from the typically chaotic cluster of names found in Pollux 6.52: ὑπογάστρια, οὒθατα, ἠτριαῖον δέλφακος, φῦσκαι, ἀλλᾶντες, χόλιξ και χολίκια ὓεια, κωλῆνες τεταριχευμένοι, σχελίδες ὁλόκνημοι αἱ πέρναι, ἤνυστρον, ἔστι δε γάστριον ἡδυσμένον, ὃ και τάκωνας ἔνιοι κεκλῆσθαι κτλ. Pollux seems to be listing these items under the generic heading hypogastria, or “things below the stomach,” only some of which are sausage. He includes kolênes and pernai, which both mean ham (perna is the Latin word), and skelides, generally meaning beef ribs, and omits other common words: κοιλία, χορδή and ἰσίκιον. But a writer who dedicated his book to the Emperor Commodus was perhaps not accustomed to dining on such proletarian fare. I offer a short lexicon of sausage terminology.

ἀλλᾶς, as stated, is an inclusive term for sausage, that is, pig intestine stuffed with meat, fat, and a variety of more dubious substances.

botulus is the common Latin word for sausage.

γάστηρ of course is the anatomical word for stomach, seen in a gastronomic sense first in the famous passage from the Odyssey (18.44): goat stomachs filled with blood and fat.

ἔντερα are the cleaned intestines, or sausage casings, into which sausages are stuffed, and carried as part of his equipment by the allântopôlês (1183). It is still the modern Greek term.

ἤνυστρον is the fourth stomach of the cow (Arist. PA 674b16, H A 507b9), a kind of tripe, said by Pollux to be seasoned gastrion and also known as τάκων, a term used by Krates as the sort of food associated with allântes and found in the agora (Krates, in Pollux 6.53; Ath. 119 C).

ἰσίκιον is a Latin loan word. From the recipes listed by Apicius it seems to mean ground meat of any kind (Apic. 2 passim; Ath. 376 D, citing Paxamos). The combination *salsa-isicium, although not attested, is the ancestor of course of all our Romance language words for sausage. Σειρά σαλσικίων –– a string of sausage –– is found in later Greek 16.

κοιλία is the generic term for entrails. From the citations in the Knights it would seem to mean both tripe proper and the meaty intestines that we call chitterlings, which when stuffed into casings become the tasty sausages called andouillettes in France.

Σκηνή που αναπαριστά  τεμαχισμό και προετοιμασία κρέατος, από αγγείο. Tarporley Painter
Σκηνή που αναπαριστά τεμαχισμό και προετοιμασία κρέατος, από αγγείο. Tarporley Painter

lucanica / λουκάνικα are mentioned first by Varro, Cicero, and Martial 17: a type of sausage from Lucania, smoked, according to the recipe by Apicius 18. The first attested Greek usage of the word is from fourth century A . D . papyri. The Egyptian official Theophanes traveled to Antioch and kept careful records of his expenses, including six purchases of loukanika 19. It is still the modern Greek word for a cured, dry sausage, and variants of the name are found all over the Mediterranean.

οὒθατα means udder, called tripas de leche in Mexican cooking. Pollux’s ῄτριαῖον δέλφακος means pork belly, that is, side meat rather than the stuff inside.

φύσκη seems to be another word for sausage, something to be stuffed, in Knights 364. Phuskai can be sliced (Ath. 96 B , 139 A ) and may therefore be large, cured sausages. At Sparta they were nailed to the walls for old men to eat, according to a comedy by Kratinos (Ath. 138 E ).

Χόλιξ and diminutive χολίκιον are cognate to cholas, guts, and c h o l e , bile or gall bladder, perhaps entrails of some kind. A slice of cholix with ênustron is a gift to Demos from the sausage seller. Theophrastos’ shameless man shoplifts a cholikion while leaving the butcher shop 20.

Χορδή is another generic term meaning gut, so far as I can tell, and means first of all the dried gut that is used as a lyre string (Hom. Od. 21.407). But it is also gut stuffed with something, as in a chordê hematîtis, or blood sausage (Ath. 125 E ), and several passages refer to it as being sliced. A comedy cited by Athenaios speaks of a slice of allâs and a slice of chordê, so they must be different kinds of sausage (95 C ). He also cites a number of comedies that mention chordai (94 F –95 A ) and a play by Epicharmos entitled Oryai, which is said to be another word for chordê (95 F ). χορδεύω is a metaphor for making a mess of things (Ar. Eq. 214, 315).

As this review demonstrates, there is as little precision in the names of sausages and other offal as there is in gastronomic writing in general, which is notoriously imprecise.

Symposium scene Nicias

Let us turn to some culinary aspects of sausage and meat preservation in general. As appropriate for an age before refrigeration, Apicius gives a number of procedures for preserving meats and other foods. Meat can be preserved for a short time without salt, he claims, by immersing it in honey (1.9). Cooked meats can be preserved by soaking them in a combination of mustard, vinegar, salt, and honey (1.10) 21. Vinegar and salt are obviously the active agents here. He also offers advice on how to restore salted meat to edibility: boil first in milk and then soak in water (1.11). This strategy must have been limited to fancy professional chefs. It is hard to imagine anyone else having a convenient source of milk at hand. In fact, anyone who has cooked salt cod or country ham knows that plain water will do the job just as well.

Most of the sausage recipes in Apicius’ book are fancy and are meant to be eaten right away, as instructions are given for immediate cooking in broth or frying. Lucanicae, however, are preserved sausages, in which the ground pork is mixed with cumin and other spices, as well as liquamen, or garum, the universal Roman fish sauce full of concentrated salt. They are then hung up to smoke 22.

Symposium Hermes - Hercules
Το συμπόσιο Ερμή και Ηρακλή

I have assumed that most sausage in antiquity was concocted to preserve left-over meat and meat by-products and fat. The fat content is especially important because fat itself is a sort of preservative, covering the bits of meat in a protective coating that keeps ambient bacteria away. A cooked sausage with plenty of fat and salt will resist spoilage for quite a while, depending on the temperature. If a little vinegar is added it will last much longer, although the taste and texture will suffer.

A sausage that is cured raw, however, is almost immortal. As I have inspected the mountains of cured sausages heaped on long tables in the street markets of Provence I have been tempted to put a small marker on a distinctive looking sausage and see how often it shows up on the same vendor’s table as he moves from market town to market town, week after week. But such a sausage has a remarkable shelf life because of its natural preservatives. As in the case of cured hams, the salt staves off spoilage in the first stage of curing. Then, when the helpful bacteria already present in the meat begin to make it ferment, the resulting lactic acid performs the same function as the acetic acid in vinegar would, with the difference that lactic acid imparts a spicy taste to sausage instead of just sourness. If saltpeter is added in small amounts, the nitrate starts to break down into nitrite, releasing free oxygen molecules into the mixture. Finally, a long drying-out process concentrates the salt and acid and gets rid of too moist a breeding ground for bad bacteria. These four preservatives, salt, lactic acid, free oxygen, and low moisture, keep cured meat from the most common harmful bacteria: salmonella, staphylococcus, listeria, and clostridium botulinus. The first three will make you sick, but botulism will kill you. Anaerobic bacteria enjoy a moist, room-temperature environment, which a sausage offers, but they cannot live in an acidic medium, particularly with oxygen molecules floating around in it 23.

There is a minor branch of archaeology that might be called replica testing. When ancient testimony fails to clarify the nature of some ancient device, modern researchers have resorted to making replica models to test their interpretations. Examples of successful replicas are the trireme Olympias, the merchant vessel Kyrenia, and any number of ancient artillery devices 24.

Vix krater
Ο κρατήρας του Βιξ (Vix krater)

Since descriptions of ancient sausage are tantalizing in their inexactness, I have tested a hypothesis that fits all the ancient evidence for sausage and created a replica of Greek or Roman cured loukanika.

The meat content is 100% pork shoulder and back fat, purchased at the supermarket. The entera, or casing is pork casing, ordered from The Sausage Maker, of Buffalo, New York, who sends it scrupulously cleaned and packed in rock salt. I add salt and spices common in Greece and Rome, such as cumin and fennel seed. I take the liberty, and precaution, of adding a tiny pinch of a commercial butcher’s preparation of saltpeter on the assumption that sea salt usually contains potassium and sodium nitrates as a minor contaminant. The sausages are hung at room temperature for four days to start the fermentation process and then in a cool place for twenty to thirty days to dry 25.

Ancient Greek vase decoration depicting meat slicing and preparation
Σκηνή που αναπαριστά τεμαχισμό και προετοιμασία κρέατος, από αγγείο αποθήκευσης τροφίμων.

I do not prepare cured ham myself. Because the Burger Smokehouse process is virtually identical to that described by Columella I believe Burger Smokehouse ham ––or any modern raw cured country ham, for that matter–– is exactly equivalent to its ancient counterpart. These replicas will serve to demonstrate that the Greeks and Romans had appropriate technology to preserve the surplus meat from sacrifices and other opportunities and to distribute it throughout the year, thereby adding significantly to their caloric intake from cereal and other vegetable products. 26

March, 2001

Dept. of History
University of California
Santa Barbara, CA 93106

Citation Index

13 Schol. Ar. Eq. 150, 152, explains that “Agorakritos,” the sausage seller, enters carrying tripe, casings, and μαγειρική τράπεζα.

14 The Roman botularius, noisily hawking his wares, was the Roman counter-part of the allântopôlês, Sen. Ep. 56.2.

15 Ath. 148 E (Kleitarchos FGrHist 137 F 1).


16 Leontios of Naples, Vita S. Simeonis 8.52 (Migne, PG 93.1733); I am indebted to A. Dalby, personal communication, for this reference. See also his Siren Feasts (London 1996) 181–182.

17 Varro Rust. 5.111, lucana … quod milites a Lucanis didicerint; Cic. Fam. 9.16.8; Mart. Ep. 13.35.

18 4.61; in Apicius lucanica is a feminine singular.

19 P.Ryl. IV 627.208; 629.27, 129, 225, 322; 630.230. Cf. Dalby ( supra n.16) 181; LSJ 9 Suppl. s.v.

20 Char. 9.4; cholikes are the thick part of the intestine, schol. Ar. Eq. 1179.


21 André’s note to 1.10 refers to similar recipes by Columella 12.57 and Palladius 8.9.

22 1.61. André claims that they must be cooked before eating.

23 Modern sausage-making is thoroughly described in Davidson ( supra n.8) 398–402.

24 And see my review of P. Valavanis, HYSPLEX. The Starting Mechanism in
Ancient Stadia
(Berkeley/Los Angeles 1999), in CR (forthcoming).

25 I have been tempted to add garum, as specified by Apicius––actually the modern equivalent of this ancient putrified fish sauce, called nuoc mam by Vietnamese; the problem for the researcher is to find a place to hang such sausages in a house where other people live.

26 I gave a version of this paper to an audience of classicists and archaeologists at the University of Texas, in Febrary 2001. I offered the audience a tasting of both my sausage and Burger’s Smokehouse ham. At last report all were alive and well. I am grateful for helpful remarks at that time from Colin Wells and Andrew Dalby.



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

The source of this excellent work by Frank J. Frost is Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies | GRBS library.

GRBS: Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies
GRBS is a peer-reviewed quarterly journal devoted to the culture and history of Greece from Antiquity to the Renaissance, featuring research on all aspects of the Hellenic world from prehistoric antiquity through the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods, including studies of modern classical scholarship.


Selected Publications by Frank Frost:

Plutarch’s Themistocles. A Historical Commentary. Princeton University Press, 1980. Second edition, Chicago, Ares: 1998.
ISBN: 0691053006

Politics and the Athenians. Twenty-four essays on Athenian History and Historiography. University of Toronto Press, 2005.
ISBN: 0888666500

“Tectonics and History at Phalasarna,” Res Maritimae. Proceedings of the second international symposium, “Cities on the Sea,” Nicosia, 1994. Atlanta
ISBN: 0788503936

Greek Society. Fifth edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Previous editions 1971, 1980, 1987, 1992, Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath.
ISBN: 0669416959

“Sausages and Meat Preservation in Antiquity”, Greek Roman Byzantine Studies 40 (2001) 241-252.

Frank J. Frost, Department of History, at the University of California, Santa Barbara: Frank J. Frost at UCSB Department of History.

Frank J. Frost books can be found at Barnes and Noble bookstore: Frank J. Frost books at

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Sausages and Meat Preservation in Antiquity – Frank Frost | Part 1

Sausages and Meat Preservation in Antiquity – Frank Frost | Part 2