What did medieval kings eat?

to eat and drink

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Eating and drinking in the Middle Ages

"I also want to learn from the cooking dishes that are not understandable, the sol diz book can see how he makes great skill in a lot of small things."

- The book of guoter Spise: introduction [1]

A considerable change took place in the Middle Ages Food culture. Technical improvements to the mills and wine press, global warming in the transition phase from the early to the high Middle Ages, the increasing spread of the three-field economy, the cultural exchange with the Orient through the Crusades, an increasingly better infrastructure and long-distance trade broadened and changed the food supply up to the 14th century the eating habits. Despite everything, there were frequent malnutrition and famine. The plague, which hit Europe from the middle of the 14th century, also caused a change in eating habits. haunted. Due to the population loss, grain gradually lost its importance and meat became the main source of calories. [2]


From the Neolithic times on, the peoples of Central and Northern Europe enjoyed a mixed diet: in addition to game, fish and the meat of domestic animals, eggs, milk and cheese appear alongside cereal porridge and bread. It can be assumed that the fruits of the forest were not spurned as food. On the other hand, the consumption of vegetables, as incidentally still often with the rural population in modern times, has definitely receded. The introduction of the finer vegetables and their cultivation in their own gardens only took place under Roman influence through the monasteries.

The preparation of the dishes remained quite simple until the high and late Middle Ages. Meat has been roasted or boiled, smoked or dried from ancient times; vinegar and salt served as spices, and honey for sweetness. In addition, the seasoning of bread with poppy seeds was already known in the Stone Age [3]. In ancient times, Tacitus said that the dishes of the Germanic peoples were without elaborate preparation and without delicacies.

And even when conditions in Germany had long since changed under foreign influence in the course of the early Middle Ages, refined cuisine was still regarded as frowned upon in Scandinavia. For example, Ingellus, son of the legendary Danish king Frotho, was accused of leaning towards German custom because he had all kinds of goodies prepared (Saxo Grammaticus, lib. VI).


However, it was known early on that nutrition and health are closely related. This is how the Greek doctor Anthimus (around 500 AD) begins his letter "De observatione ciborum" to the Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great with the words:

".. The health of people is primarily based on the digestibility of food; that is, if you prepare them correctly, they are well distributed in the body. If they are not properly boiled, however, they weigh down the stomach and abdomen, and then they also produce undigested juices and cause stomach ulcers and severe belching. "
"This is why the haze rises in the head, there are usually severe attacks of dizziness or it goes black in front of the eyes. This poor digestion also causes severe disorders in the abdomen or at least vomiting through the mouth when the stomach eats the raw food If the food is properly prepared, on the other hand, it is distributed well and pleasantly and the good juices are increased as a result; health is based on this above all. Those who take care of themselves in this way do not need any other remedies.
- Epistula Anthimi ad Theodoricum regem in the Lorsch Pharmacopoeia (fol. 72r-74v) [4]

Table delights

Table delights have also played an important role for a very long time Socializing. From the phrase "This sex cannot rejoice otherwise than at the table"Neither antiquity nor the Middle Ages were an exception. Caesar (B.G. 4, I. 6, 22) and Tacitus (Germ. 23) describe, albeit somewhat one-sidedly, the simplicity of Germanic table delights:"Their dishes are simple: field fruits, fresh game meat, or curdled milk. Without artificial preparation, without delicacies, they drive away hunger."(Tac., Germ. 23). [5]

At least at the courts of the nobles, people had deviated from this a great deal as early as the Frankish times. This is shown by the very detailed Carolingian forms for furnishing the royal courts with edible animals and spices. The Middle Ages completely loved richly decorated tables and strong condiments. [6]

Change of kitchen

The refinement of the Germanic cuisine came from Rome, especially from Roman Gaul. The Franconian nobles learned early in the migration period to imitate the Roman opulence of food. In addition to the introduction of many previously unknown types of food, vegetables and herbs, the main emphasis was placed on tasty and spicy preparation. This change can be followed from the 5th century AD. Making savory broths for meat dishes was a particularly valued art.

In addition to seasoning, sweetening was not only used in pastries and flour dishes, but also in meat and fish dishes, which was not only due to honey, which was imported from England to Norway and Iceland, but also to the sugar, which was obtained early on through the mediation of the Arabs happened. The use of vinegar in Germanic cuisine went hand in hand with the expansion of viticulture. For example, Anthimus recommended adding vinegar to melons (de obs. Cib. 58) and it was also suitable as an additive to turnip vegetables (see vegetables).

Contents of the diet


loaf became the most important staple food, especially in the later Middle Ages. While it was not an everyday food in the 10th century, even in noble monasteries, in the 13th century it was also eaten daily by poorer sections of the population. All the classes ate bread on a large scale - peasants, landlords, monks and citizens. It was the staple food. It was still unleavened bread. Even in times of hunger people tried to bake bread from a wide variety of products, for example from oats, chestnuts or broad beans ... Continue reading.


butter belonged to the foods that were obtained during the summer half-year and kept for the winter half-year. To prevent it from going rancid so easily, the stored winter butter often contained between five and ten percent salt, which could be rinsed out before using the butter ... Continue reading.


The perch was called Edible fish already proven in the Swiss pile dwellings from the Neolithic. Also the salmon was quite common in the rivers of Europe; the Rhine in particular was considered a river with numerous salmon fish. In the Middle Ages, eel was a typical fish dish on the tables of the nobility. [7] From the 10th century on, dried cod and salted herring were among the foods traded across Europe. In addition, a large variety of different species of fresh and saltwater fish, as well as mussels, were eaten. Fish were salted in for preservation, but like vegetables and eggs they were also acidified ... Continue reading.


Game played only a minor role in the medieval diet. Pork and chicken were the main meat suppliers. In the late Middle Ages, meat dishes consumed by the urban middle and upper classes were much more elaborate and refined to prepare ... Continue reading.


Cereal porridge and groats made from barley or oats were staple foods throughout the Middle Ages in all classes. One method of preparing grain or grain for food was roasting on stones, which was already common in the Neolithic. The reason was not only that it made the grain more pleasant and digestible as a food, in grains such as barley and husk, where the grains stick firmly to the husks, it was at the same time a means of easier detachment from the husks. [8]


Among the most commonly used Condiments counted verjuice, wine and vinegar. Together with the widespread use of honey, these gave many dishes a sweet and sour taste. Pepper, nutmeg, saffron and other imported spices were traded in small quantities and mostly used in wealthy households.

While spices were used only moderately before the Migration Period, and only a few spices were known apart from salt and leek, from the 5th century onwards a large number of aromatic herbs appeared that were either grown in the gardens, such as parsley, sage, polei, Caraway, mint, garlic, anise, celery, mustard, onion, fennel, dill, coriander, horseradish and a., Or that were obtained dried on the trade routes, such as pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, almonds, nutmeg and saffron. As time went on, the seasoning of dishes became more and more prevalent throughout the Middle Ages.


Whether sour milk cheese made from curd milk or quark, sweet milk or rennet cheese or hard cheese ... Many types of cheese were already known in the Middle Ages. In the winter months, cows gave less milk due to the reduced amount of feed, which was also less fatty than summer milk. To preserve the nutritional value of summer milk, it was made ... Continue reading.


The statements of older historians about the Germanic love of drink when socializing are well known. However, one must differentiate here. Passages like Tacitus' Germania (chap. 22): "... Spending the day and night drinking is no disgrace to anyone."and others suggest that the Romans often saw Teutons in such a state, which has been handed down by several historians. According to reports, they found it difficult to withstand wine in particular.

But this cannot apply to the everyday life of ordinary people who lacked time and opportunity; because the local drinks, mead and beer, could not be bought ready-made, but were prepared in the household. Wine will be as good as lacking in the household of the common people, even after it was produced by the Germans themselves; Brandy is only mentioned around 1100 and remained a rarity for a long time ... Read more.


beer is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages. In Central Europe, beer-like drinks are already in the 3rd millennium BC. Proven. As an everyday drink, beer was much more popular than mead, because of its cheaper raw materials (grain), the honey of which was much more difficult to obtain and correspondingly valuable ... Read more.


  • See main article: milk

The milk is one of the oldest and most important foods of the Germanic peoples, as already reported by Caesar in De bello Gallico (VI, 22) of the Suebi. Tacitus (Germ. 23.) writes that the Germanic peoples enjoyed not only fresh but also seasoned, thick, sour milk. In Northern Europe, especially in Norway, curdled milk was drunk, while in Iceland the common morning and evening meal in summer was curd cheese, which was sprinkled with sweet milk.

In several places in the Icelandic sagas, whey is mentioned as a drink. The Greek doctor Anthimus recommended a special way of preparing milk by boiling it, or of making it more digestible by adding honey, wine, mead or salt, around 500 AD. (De Obs. Cib. 75, 76). According to him, the milk of the cows and goats was mainly consumed (as medicine), while the sheep's milk was processed almost exclusively into cheese and butter ... Read more.


Also Wine was reserved for the upper classes in the early Middle Ages, while in the later Middle Ages it also became more common among the lower classes. In the kitchen it was also used as a condiment. Even in the Middle Ages there were good and bad wines. The poor people in town found cheap wines on the market, but they were of poor quality. This was also referred to as "post-wine". It was pressed by pressing the remains of the grapes again. The first pressing gave the "mother's drop", which was intended for the table of the rich and the noble. Often the cheap wine was only vinegar diluted with water, which mainly served the Tuscan farmers as a wine substitute ... Continue reading.

Social differences

In the early Middle Ages, a social differentiation in eating habits consisted primarily in the amount of food consumed and less in its quality. As the Middle Ages progressed, food and drink conventions increasingly marked the social barriers. In many cities, for example, rules laid down what food servants, journeymen, masters and traders were entitled to. [9]

The transitions between these layers, however, were fluid. For the nutritional habits of an individual medieval person, his individual prosperity and the integration of his place of life into long-distance trade were more decisive than an assignment of his person to one of these four groups.

Nobility / upper class

The tables of the nobility were usually well set. Due to the spreading Europe-wide trade, more exotic dishes were increasingly being served by rich merchants and feudal lords. For example, vegetable products that came as vegetable seeds from southern Europe, or cod that was brought in dry form from the northern coasts inland.


In the Middle Ages, nutrition meant less “enjoyment” than sheer “food intake”, especially for the less affluent sections of the population. The poor peasants mainly ate bread, cheese and pork. They got their milk primarily from goats and sheep. Cereal porridges and stews were also widespread. The most popular drink was probably beer. It was made with a wide variety of grains and often drunk in large quantities. Mead and wine were also popular. [10]

However, mead was expensive because there was limited availability of honey. A document from Otto I for Bamberg from the year 948 reports the proportion of honey drink consumed in comparison to beer, where in the tax ordinance "20 buckets of mead" (XX situlae de medone) appear next to just as much honeyed beer and three times as much unhoneyed (normal) beer. [11]

Cookbooks and recipes

Extensive recipe collections that have been preserved, such as the "Le Viandier de Taillevent"by Guillaume Tirel from the 14th century, suggest that there was significant advancement in cooking skills in the late Middle Ages. New preparations such as shortcrust cakes and methods such as clarifying broths with egg white first appeared in recipes of the late 14th century. Recipes also increasingly contained instructions on how to prepare them and were no longer a simple list of ingredients. [12]

Related topics


Individual evidence

  1. ↑"The Buoch of Guoter Spise". Also Würzburg cookbook" from the House book of Michael de Leone (Digitized on Wikisource)
  2. ↑ Wikipedia: Food culture of the Middle Ages
  3. ↑ v. Troltsch. The pile dwellings of the Lake Constance area. P.56
  4. Epistula Anthimi ad Theodoricum regem (Fol. 72r-74v) im Lorsch Pharmacopoeia (Digitized version with German translation from the Bamberg State Library; Kaiser Heinrich Library)
  5. ↑ Tacitus, De origine et situ Germanorum (Germania). translation "The Germania of Tacitus". Anton Baumstark: Freiburg 1876. Digitized on Wikisource.
  6. ↑ Hoops, RdgA. Vol. II, p. 229. Art. Sociability
  7. ↑ Hoops, J. RdgA, Vol. I, p. 3.
  8. ↑ Hoops, J. RdgA, Vol. I, p. 20.
  9. ↑ Karl-Ernst Behre: Diet in the Middle Ages. In: Bernd Herrmann (ed.): Man and the environment in the Middle Ages. Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 3-596-24192-8, p. 84
  10. ↑ Life in the Middle Ages: Eating and Drinking in the Middle Ages
  11. ↑ Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Diplomata regum et imperatorum Germaniae I-II (MG. Dipl. I.) No. 105
  12. ↑ Barbara Santich, The Evolution of Culinary Techniques in the Medieval Era. In: Adamson (Ed): Food in the Middle Ages. Pp. 61-81
  13. ↑ Detailed article under Wikipedia: The Buoch of guoter Spise. Mar 9 release 2013, with web links.
  14. ↑ Article on Wikipedia: De re coquinaria. Full text on (German) under - Imperium Romanum: Kulinarium