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An overview of the stories

Comparison of early/mid and late medieval food



Clovis I (481/482-511)

Chlodomer (511-524)

Theuderic I (511-533/534)

Theudebert I (533/534-547/548)

Theudebald (547/548-555)

Childebert I (511-558)

Chlothar I the Old (558-561)

Sigebert I (561-575)

Childebert II (575-595)

Guntram (561-592)

Charibert I ( 561-567)

Chilperic I (567-584)

Chlothar II the Great, the Young (584-629)

Dagobert I (629-639)

Clovis II the Lazy (639-657)

Chlothar III

Childeric II (673-675)

Theuderic III (675-691)

Clovis IV (691-695)

Childebert III the Just (695-711)

Dagobert III (711-715)

Chilperic II (715-721)

Theuderic IV (721-737)

Carolingian Interregnum (737–743)

Childeric III

In 486, the Merovingian Franks, under Clovis I, defeated the last Roman official in northern Gaul and took over much of Gaul. The Burgundians and Visigoths had taken over other parts of Gaul, but ultimately the Franks won control of most of it. All had their laws written down in Latin; the Franks' Salic Law would apply in France for centuries.

Though the groups the Romans called “barbarians” were capable of wholesale destruction and violence, they largely adopted both Roman customs and institutions; it would take centuries for these to decline and ultimately disappear. Clovis and many (not all) of his followers converted to Christianity, thus allying themselves (not incidentally) with the existing Church hierarchy. His three sons maintained control and much of the existing Roman infrastructure, but subsequent rulers were (with some exceptions) less successful and Gaul (as the kingdom of the Franks – Francia – was still called) often lacked central control.

The Church's role in preserving learning and history, especially through monasteries, became more important, even if paganism of various sorts – Roman, German and perhaps even Celtic – persisted. Meanwhile, a household official, the Mayor of the Palace, became increasingly powerful until one, Charles Martel, assumed de facto power. In 751, his son, Pepin the Short, became king, ending Merovingian rule.

For more about Merovingian food, see Feasting with the Franks.


Upper class Franks adopted Roman ways, but many Roman innovations would disappear over time before being reinvented in a French way, including a great deal of culinary sophistication.

Unlike the other Germanic legal codes, the Salic law begins by addressing livestock and agriculture. It includes entries on pigs (above all), cattle, falcons and dogs, vineyards, grain and vegetables, and beehives and briefly mentions pultis (gruel).

Dagobert I established the St. Denis fair (long one of the most important of medieval times).

A breakfast is cited of bread dipped in wine (same as Romans)

Tools listed for a cook include: a stewpot, a frying pan, a cauldron, a tub, dishes, and three-footed andirons. (These are far simpler than for a Roman kitchen.)

"This year [565], a great famine ravaged almost all of Gaul: many people made bread with grape seeds, filbert blossoms and dried fern roots reduced to powder mixed with a little flour; others did it with wheat that was still green; others, completely lacking flour, gathered different herbs; when they had eaten this, they swelled up and soon died”.

The Franks ate large meals on benches (“bancs” whence 'banquet'). Sometimes the upper class ate on couches, like Romans, some curved (sigma). Upper class plate could be of silver, marble and glass.

Napkins and spoons are mentioned (in palaces).


The Franks loved raw bacon and used it medically as well .

The Germans in general ate horses, though the Franks are not specifically recorded as doing so.

The size of domestic animals again declined. Pigs still roamed free and were lean; their meat was regarded as dark or “red”. They were still closer to boars overall. Pork shoulder was more valued than ham, because the pig's rear was then lean. Suckling pigs and castrated pigs are both singled out for mention. People began to have to pay for letting pigs graze in other people's woods.

Sow's womb and sow's teat, both Roman specialties, were still considered delicacies.

Cattle were eaten more than previously thought, but usually after some years of labor. There is evidence that the poor ate beef (as well as the rich).

All Germanic tribes loved dairy; Burgundians used butter in their hair.

Crane, geese, and swans are mentioned along the Meuse. Chicken/poultry soup is mentioned (soup rarely is otherwise). Chickens, which later were often mentioned in association with geese, then were more often mentioned with pheasant.

The salmon of the Rhine are mentioned.

Game in general remained available to all classes. It included aurochs, wild asses, wild goat (recorded later), and probably elk. Some (like boar and stags) were raised within special parks. Fish was already raised in special nurseries.


The use of marl largely disappeared for a long time.

Salic law mentions turnips, broad beans, peas and lentils specifically; other vegetables are referred to generally.

Chick peas were sometimes imported.

Fruit trees were sometimes stolen (as saplings or were they in containers?). Peaches were still called “Persian apples”.

Chestnuts (rare in later centuries, except in certain regions) are mentioned as a treat. Pistachios and almonds were imported together (pistachios are mentioned less later).

Beehives (the sugar refineries of the time) were a major concern, sometimes kept under enclosures and sometimes stolen.


Resistance to Christianity in the countryside may in part have been inspired by farmers' trust in Ceres, the Roman goddess of wheat.

Wheat, rye and barley were the most mentioned grains; rye is mentioned more than before. The wheat from Syrtes (Libya) was considered superior.

Many mills were still hand-turned. More water mills are mentioned and bridge mills (floating water mills docked under arches of bridges) first appeared (both from Rome).

Bread was made at home or by pistores. (NOTE: An item repeated since the eighteenth century claims that Dagobert I gave statutes to the bakers in 630, but no such clause appears in Dagobert's laws from that date.)

Many people still ate porridge; eating a person's pultis (porridge) was viewed in the same way as it would later be to “eat a man's bread”.

The flan (flado) was then a flatcake (possibly a honeycake).


Cervoise remained a common drink, the standard “beer” for centuries to come.

Alongside the basic starch source, the early European “beers” might contain fruits, honey, numerous types of plants, spices and other substances such as narcotic herbs.”

Perry (pear cider) was drunk, probably had low alcohol (apple cider seems not to have appeared for centuries).

Wine was still rare in some parts of Gaul. Wine near Dijon was praised. Wine was made near Rennes and Nantes, in Alsace. Wine is mentioned near Laon, Treves, and in the Moselle region (even on mountainsides, where harvesters hung to gather it). Wine was said to be the chief wealth of Marseille (though it continued for centuries to be a main hub for international trade).

The better imported wines included those from Gaza, Chio, Falernum, and Sarepo.

At one point, a tax of one amphora per arpent of land created violent protests – but the amphora then was very big (240 liters).

In 584 and 587 frost killed vines.

Aloxinum, a mixture of absinthe and wine, is also mentioned (absinthe was also used to cure an eye ailment).

Both honeyed water and mead were drunk. Some monks drank a “juice of herbs”.


The Burgundians were said to smell of onion and garlic.

Spices entioned by Anthimus (northeastern Gaul): Salt, pepper, sweet pepper, clove, coriander, costus, dill, fennel, ginger, leek, mint, pennyroyal, spikenard, leaf of nard (or possibly tejpat), sumac, and water celery.

Imports from Asia and Africa 7th-8th c.: Garum, pepper, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nard, costum, “the aromatic called hidrium” (known, but little mentioned, in modern times).

Clove was still relatively recent at this time; cinnamon may not yet have been used in food.

Honeyed vinegar (oxymel) was often used; honey or pork fat was put on vegetables.


The Kingdom of the Franks (later France) began as a Catholic nation, implying, over time, distinctions between meat and meatless meals. Both practice and the official distinctions, however, would shift over time. Fowl, dairy, greens with lard or fat (all later forbidden) were first considered acceptable.

In 541, a Church Council at Orleans made it obligatory for everybody (not just the clergy) to observe the Lenten fast.

Pope Zachary banned the eating of horses (always) and raw pork (during Lent) (mainly targeting Germanic tribes, but applying everywhere).

Paganism (Celtic, Roman and Germanic) persisted in many places for centuries, with corresponding disregard for these strictures. Salic law punished a witch who had eaten human flesh with a fine of 8000 deniers, or 200 golden sols.

Visigothic law (which briefly applied in Aquitaine) forbade keeping kosher.


Meals for a bishop:

A superb piece of meat set in the form of a mountain, and flanked by high hills whose intervals were filled with gardens of varied stews made from the most delicious products of the land and water”

On a silver platter, a fine piece of meat, accompanied by vegetables swimming in a very fatty sauce; then on a marble platter on which are products of the garden, whose honey seasoning ravished my palate. A platter of turned in glass is piled high with chickens, who even without their feathers are enormously heavy. “

Peaches were served before “mountains” of food, surrounding fish swimming in oil.

Food in Anthimus:

Barbarians” (Germanic tribes) ate only “meat and milk” (the latter probably meaning butter and cheese as well as milk; Caesar said essentially the same thing.)

Franks ate raw bacon (possibly but not certainly salted) and were said to love bacon in general, even cold.

Roman style food included peacock and sow's womb. Condiments include garum mixed with wine, honey and vinegar mixed with honey.

Drinks mentioned include cervoise, mead and wine with absinthe, as well as wine.

White, leavened bread is said to be best, preferably served warm.

Ration for traveling bishops and officials:

Specified quantities of loaves of white bread, wine, beef and pork, lambs, chickens, pheasants, oil, honey, pepper and (other) spices.

Ration for monastery cellerar and companions on voyage:

White bread and more of lesser quality, wine and beer, lard/salted pork, meat, cheese, peas, 1 kid, chickens, eggs, oil and garum, pepper and cumin; salt, vinegar, and vegetables.

August 27, 2022