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The source of Roman brown sauce
By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent
(Filed: 01/02/2002)

A SET of Roman fish tanks that may have been used to produce a pungent sauce enjoyed by the wealthy citizens of Pompeii has been uncovered by British archaeologists.

The six tanks, unearthed on a commercial street at the edge of the city, may have been used to make garum, the Roman elite's equivalent of brown sauce.

An intact skeleton of a sardine-like fish and a collection of fish bones were found at the bottom of one of the tanks by a team from Bradford University.

Production of garum was big business and from the first century BC to the end of the Roman period the sauce was produced in large salting plants in many cities. The condiment was made by leaving fish to rot in salted water.

The tanks measure about three feet deep and 18in wide and date to the second century BC. They were abandoned and covered long before Vesuvius smothered Pompeii with ash in AD79.

Dr Rick Jones, a member of the team that found the tanks between the remains of Roman shops and bars, believes that they may have been used to make garum, or to store live fish before being sold at market.

"In this part of Pompeii we are dealing with some of the richest people," said Dr Jones.

"Because fish rots so quickly it becomes expensive. It was the food of the rich, and the Pompeians had pictures on their walls of the fish species they were actually eating.

"To find a complete fish together like this is exciting. It means we can move on a step in understanding what people were actually doing in the city."

A chemical analysis of the concrete-like lining should reveal whether the tanks were used to make the sauce or store live fish. The team is building up a picture of the social background of Pompeii's citizens.

They have found evidence that social inequality was increasing sharply from the first century BC.

External links
Brown Sauce.net

Roman recipes of the upper classes - Romans in Britain

Antique Roman dishes collection - Carnegie Mellon