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The number of preventive excavations have increased in the past decades, thus, it has now become possible to reexamine connections between animals and Romans in Aquincum in a multiplicity of new ways.


The number of preventive excavations have increased in the past decades, thus it is now possible to examine relations between animals and Roman people of Aquincum in many ways. Roman society was complex, hierarchical and multiethnic in the provinces. This situation is also reflected in the animal bones, tools and jewellry made from them . If we examine the ratio of  animal species and how they were butchered, we can ascertain that the romanized Celtic population  – living in the territory of Aquincum – took the animals into their villages to slaughter, butcher and prepare them in a traditional way. In contrast, the inhabitans of the town used a centralized meat processing system: the animals were butchered away from the populated areas while meat processing and further cutting up of the carcass was carried out by professional butchers. Finally, meat was sold in the town’s macellum (or meat market).

While meat and leather mainly derived from domestic animals (approximately 99%), the ratio of the beef, lamb, pork, goat and chicken intended for consumption was different for various ethic groups. Differences were probably related to dietary customs. Thus, the ratio of pig bone fragments in Aquincum is usually lower then what might be expected based on the ususal situation in the other towns of the Roman Empire over the same period. It is feasible that these lower than expected numbers is related to the large number of  soldiers of Eastern origin stationed in Aquincum, a proportion of whom might have been prhibited from consuming pork. The bones of dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, donkeys, mules, chickens and geese were also found among other domestic animals and pets. The Romans in aquincum also ate fish, especially carp, possibly fished from local waterways.People from low social classes probably ate less meat compared to grains and plant foods.

Based on the state of the bones, Romans in Aquincum most often ate the meat of older animals, which were butchered only after they could no longer be used for work.

Wealthy customers could afford the veal, lamb and pork from immature pigs. They even consumed oysters and, based on recipe books, bird tongues.

They appear not to have eaten dogs or horse. Dogs ranged from small,bow-legged lap-dog sized animals to wolfsized hunting or guard dogs. Their bones can be found scattered throughout the settlements in Roman towns. The absence of gnawed bones indicate that they were not allowed them to wander around freely in the urban areas. In contrast,, dogs seem to have been able tofreely rummage in the household rubbish in the villages of the indigenous population.. We rarely find horse bones in urban areas, although their bones were used regularly to manufacturetools or  jewelry. It is also well known that keeping horses also reflected  the high rank of the military officers.

Mule and donkey bones are often associatiated with refuse pits in military buildings and villas, where they were  exploited  as important pack animals. Based on the injuries found on their bones, it can be concluded that they were also used as draft animals. Cow, sheep and goat milk products were certainly consumed. Wool was an important secondary product fromsheep, although it was mainly produced for local consumption in the Aquincum area. The situation was different in the fortresses and the villages surrounding them.. The traces of the utchering techniques found on some animal bones at these military sites lead to the conclusion that the soldiers’ meat, was sometimes dried and smoked and eaten together with the staple grain products – especially in the winter. Meat from wild animals was consumed by soldiers at these military installations as well including red deer, wild boar and fish,  to help make their somewhat one-dimensional diet more varied.

Further research aims to shed more light on the utilization of the animals’ meat, draft power, skin, muscle strength, and ways in which their bones and hooves could have been made into other products such as glue. It is a challange to understand the ways in which the role of animals changed and varied in the more than 400 years of Roman occupation of Aquincum.

Alice M. Choyke