Ancient World

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

ancient world is a general term for the classical Greek and Roman civilizations that flourished in southern Europe from about the seventh century b.c.e. to the fifth century c.e. Greeks developed a high culture in gastronomy, as they did in many other aspects of life. Romans, imitating and at the same time despising the Greeks, transformed this culture and spread it, along with their empire, from end to end of the Mediterranean.

For Greeks and Romans, “sweet” was merely one taste quality among many. To dieticians in particular, who based their prescriptions on humoral theory, sweet substances and ingredients were in general classed as “hot” and were to be taken sparingly or avoided by those with hot constitutions. Since alcoholic drinks were also hot, as were most spices, honeyed and spiced wines were extremely hot and were taken before the meal: their heating effect would be mitigated by the “cold” foods to be served later. See medicinal uses of sugar.