Marcus also Wrote about Fish Sauce

Marcus also Wrote about Fish Sauce


Martial the Roman poet

Marcus Valerius Martialis

Marcus Valerius Martialis was a poet who lived in Rome in ancient times. He was born between AD 38-41 in a Roman colony in Hispania (Spain) and died in Rome between AD 102-104. He is known as the creator of the modern epigram. Epigram originally means inscription. It is a brief and clever statement  and therefore easy to remember.


“What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge


In AD 80, Martial, as we call him today, published  his first work, a small volume of poems to celebrate the consecration of the Colosseum called  Liber Spectaculorum (On the Spectacles), but he would later be best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan.

Colosso Roma

Photo by Andreas Tille (CC)

Some of the epigrams are devoted to scenic descriptions, but most are about people of all classes and occupations, emperors, public officials, writers, philosophers, lawyers, teachers, doctors, gladiators, slaves, undertakers, gourmets, spongers, senile lovers, and revolting debauchees.

Martial also wrote about one of the most popular condiments of ancient Rome: Garum

“Accept this exquisite garum, a precious gift made with the first blood spilled from a living mackerel.”

Garum is a sauce made of fat fish and herbs, or as Martial writes – with blood from the fish. The Greeks were the first to make garum and the name garum derives from garos (also garon), the fish originally used by the Greeks in about the fifth-century BC to make the sauce of the same name.

Mosaico Napoli National Archaeological Museum

Detail from a mosaic found in the Villa Arianna, and now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples


According to the book “De medicina et de virtute herbarum” by the Roman writer on horticulture Quintus Gargilius Martialis this is how to make garum:

“Use fatty fish, for example, sardines, and a well-sealed container with a 20-30 litre capacity. Add dried, aromatic herbs with strong flavors, such as dill, coriander, fennel, celery, mint, oregano, and others, making a layer on the bottom of the container. Then put down a layer of fish (if small, leave them whole, if large, use pieces) and over this, add a layer of salt two fingers high. Repeat these layers until the container is filled. Let it rest for seven days in the sun. Then mix the sauce daily for 20 days. After that, it becomes a liquid.”

Seven small fishes

Garum containers

Two amphoras for garum, photo by Claus Ableiter (CC)

Pliny, in his Natural History, XXXI.93 describes garum as

“…consisting of the guts of fish and the other parts that would otherwise be considered refuse; these are soaked in salt, so that garum is really liquor from the putrefaction of these matters”

Which version would you prefer? Maybe you will want to give this version a try:

To make a contemporary version of garum you can boil a liter of grape juice, reducing it to a tenth of its original volume. To this add two tablespoons of anchovy paste and ca 1/4 tsp dried oregano.


About ImaKalya

I write about : Food, Health, Thoughts, Herbs and Spices for Body, Soul & Mind
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3 Responses to Marcus also Wrote about Fish Sauce

  1. Leukippos says:

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  2. Maude Elsheimer says:

    Anchovies are found in scattered areas throughout the world’s oceans, but are concentrated in temperate waters, and are rare or absent in very cold or very warm seas. They are generally very accepting of a wide range of temperatures and salinity. Large schools can be found in shallow, brackish areas with muddy bottoms, as in estuaries and bays. They are abundant in the Mediterranean, particularly in the Alboran Sea.;

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