Jan 302018
 

Today is the (sometimes disputed) birthday (58 BCE) of Livia Drusilla, also known as Julia Augusta after her formal adoption into the Julian family in 14 CE, wife of the Roman emperor Augustus throughout his reign, as well as his political adviser. She was the mother of the emperor Tiberius, paternal grandmother of the emperor Claudius, paternal great-grandmother of the emperor Caligula, and maternal great-great-grandmother of the emperor Nero. She was deified by Claudius who acknowledged her title of Augusta. In modern historical fiction she is usually portrayed as a Machiavellian presence throughout the early empire, but more analytic historians paint her as a strong woman in a time when men controlled politics.

She was the daughter of Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus and his wife Aufidia, a daughter of the magistrate Marcus Aufidius Lurco. The diminutive Drusilla, commonly used in her name, suggests that she was a second daughter. She was probably first married in 43 BCE. Her father married her to Tiberius Claudius Nero, her cousin of patrician status who was fighting with him on the side of Julius Caesar’s assassins against Octavian (later the emperor Augustus). Her father committed suicide in the Battle of Philippi, along with Gaius Cassius Longinus and Marcus Junius Brutus, but her husband continued fighting against Octavian, now on behalf of Mark Antony and his brother Lucius Antonius. Her first child, the future Emperor Tiberius, was born in 42 BCE. In 40 BCE the family was forced to flee Italy in order to avoid the Triumvirate of Octavian, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Mark Antony and the proscriptions they began. They joined with a son of Pompey Magnus, Sextus Pompeius, who was fighting the triumvirate from his base in Sicily. Later, Livia, her husband Tiberius Nero, and their two-year-old son, Tiberius, moved on to Greece.

After peace was established between the Triumvirate and the followers of Sextus Pompeius, a general amnesty was announced, and Livia returned to Rome, where she was personally introduced to Octavian in 39 BCE. At this time, was pregnant with a second son, Nero Claudius Drusus (also known as Drusus the Elder). Legend has it that Octavian fell immediately in love with her, despite the fact that he was still married to Scribonia. Octavian divorced Scribonia in 39 BCE, on the very day that she gave birth to his daughter Julia the Elder. Seemingly around that time, when Livia was six months pregnant, Tiberius Claudius Nero was persuaded or forced by Octavian to divorce Livia. On 14 January, the child was born. Augustus and Livia married on 17 January, waiving the traditional waiting period. Tiberius Claudius Nero was present at the wedding, giving her in marriage “just as a father would.” The importance of the patrician Claudii to Octavian’s cause, and the political survival of the Claudii Nerones are probably more rational explanations for the speedy union. Nevertheless, Livia and Augustus remained married for the next 51 years, despite the fact that they had no children apart from a single miscarriage. She always enjoyed the status of privileged counselor to her husband, petitioning him on the behalf of others and influencing his policies, an unusual role for a Roman wife in a culture dominated by the pater familias.

After Mark Antony’s suicide following the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Octavian returned to Rome triumphant. On 16 January 27 BCE, the Senate bestowed upon him the honorary title of Augustus (“honorable” or “revered one”). Augustus rejected monarchical titles, instead choosing to refer to himself as Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”) or Princeps Senatus (“First among the Senate”). He and Livia formed the role model for Roman households. Despite their wealth and power, Augustus’ family continued to live modestly in their house on the Palatine Hill. Livia would set the pattern for the noble Roman matrona. She wore neither excessive jewelry nor pretentious costumes, she took care of the household and her husband (often making his clothes herself), always faithful and dedicated. In 35 BCE Octavian gave Livia the unprecedented honor of ruling her own finances and dedicated a public statue to her. She had her own circle of clients and pushed many protégés into political offices, including the grandfathers of the later emperors Galba and Otho.

With Augustus being the father of only one daughter, Livia soon started to push her own sons, Tiberius and Nero Claudius Drusus, into power. Drusus was a trusted general and married Augustus’ favorite niece, Antonia Minor. They had three children including the future emperor Claudiua. Tiberius married Augustus’ daughter Julia the Elder in 11 BCE and was ultimately adopted by his stepfather in 4CE and named as Augustus’ heir.

Rumor had it that when Marcellus, nephew of Augustus, died in 23 BCE, it was no natural death, and that Livia was behind it. After the two elder sons of Julia by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, whom Augustus had adopted as sons and successors, had died, he adopted the one remaining son Agrippa Postumus at the same time as Tiberius, but later Agrippa Postumus was sent to an island and finally killed. Tacitus charges that Livia was not altogether innocent of these deaths and Cassius Dio also mentions such rumors. There are also rumors mentioned by Tacitus and Cassius Dio that Livia brought about Augustus’ death by poisoning fresh figs. Augustus’ granddaughter was Julia the Younger. Some time between 1 CE and 14 CE, her husband Lucius Aemilius Paullus was executed as a conspirator in a revolt. Modern historians theorize that Julia’s exile was not actually for adultery but for involvement in Paullus’ revolt. Livia Drusilla plotted against her stepdaughter’s family and ruined them. This led to open compassion for the fallen family. Julia died in 29 AD on the same island where she had been sent in exile twenty years earlier.

Augustus died on August 19, 14 CE, being deified by the Senate shortly afterwards. In his will, he left one third of his property to Livia, and the other two thirds to Tiberius. In the will, he also adopted her into the Julian family and granted her the honorific title of Augusta. These dispositions permitted Livia to maintain her status and power after her husband’s death, under the new name of Julia Augusta. Tacitus and Cassius Dio wrote that rumors persisted that Augustus was poisoned by Livia, but these are mainly dismissed as malicious fabrications spread by political enemies of the dynasty.

For some time, Livia and her son Tiberius, the new emperor, appeared to get along with each other. Speaking against her became treason in AD 20, and in AD 24 he granted his mother a theater seat among the Vestal Virgins. Livia exercised unofficial but very real power in Rome. Eventually, Tiberius became resentful of his mother’s political status, particularly against the idea that it was she who had given him the throne. At the beginning of his reign Tiberius vetoed the unprecedented title Mater Patriae (“Mother of the Fatherland”) that the Senate wished to bestow upon her, in the same manner in which Augustus had been named Pater Patriae (“Father of the Fatherland”). (Tiberius also consistently refused the title of Pater Patriae for himself.)

The historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio depict an overweening, even domineering dowager, ready to interfere in Tiberius’ decisions, the most notable instances being the case of Urgulania (grandmother of Claudius’s first wife Plautia Urgulanilla), a woman who correctly assumed that her friendship with the empress placed her above the law, and Munatia Plancina, suspected of murdering Germanicus and saved at Livia’s entreaty. (Plancina committed suicide in AD 33 after being accused again of murder after Livia’s death). A notice from 22 CE records that Julia Augusta (Livia) dedicated a statue to Augustus in the center of Rome, placing her own name even before that of Tiberius.

Ancient historians give as a reason for Tiberius’ retirement to Capri his inability to endure her any longer. Until 22 CE there had, according to Tacitus, been “a genuine harmony between mother and son, or a hatred well concealed.” Dio tells us that at the time of his accession Tiberius already heartily loathed her. In 22 CE she had fallen ill, and Tiberius had hastened back to Rome in order to be with her. But in 29 CE when she finally fell ill and died, he remained on Capri, pleading pressure of work and sending Caligula to deliver the funeral oration. Suetonius adds the macabre detail that “when she died… after a delay of several days, during which he held out hope of his coming, [she was at last] buried because the condition of the corpse made it necessary…”. Tiberius also vetoed divine honors for her and later he vetoed all the honors the Senate had granted her after her death and cancelled the fulfillment of her will.

It was not until 13 years later, in 42 CE during the reign of her grandson Claudius, that all her honors were restored and her deification finally completed. She was named Diva Augusta (The Divine Augusta), and an elephant-drawn chariot conveyed her image to all public games. A statue of her was set up in the Temple of Augustus along with her husband’s, races were held in her honor, and women were to invoke her name in their sacred oaths. In  410, during the Sack of Rome, her ashes were scattered when Augustus’ tomb was sacked.

While reporting various unsavory hearsay, the ancient sources generally portray Livia as a woman of proud and imperial attributes, faithful to her imperial husband, for whom she was a worthy consort, forever poised and dignified. With consummate skill she acted out the roles of consort, mother, widow and dowager. Dio records two of her utterances: “Once, when some naked men met her and were to be put to death in consequence, she saved their lives by saying that to a chaste woman such men are in no way different from statues. When someone asked her how she had obtained such a commanding influence over Augustus, she answered that it was by being scrupulously chaste herself, doing gladly whatever pleased him, not meddling with any of his affairs, and, in particular, by pretending neither to hear nor to notice the favorites of his passion.”

Livia’s image appears in ancient visual media such as coins and portraits. She was the first woman to appear on provincial coins in 16 BCE and her portrait images can be chronologically identified partially from the progression of her hair designs, which represented more than keeping up with the fashions of the time as her depiction with such contemporary details translated into a political statement of representing the ideal Roman woman. Livia’s image evolves with different styles of portraiture that trace her effect on imperial propaganda that helped bridge the gap between her role as wife to the emperor Augustus, to mother of the emperor Tiberius. Becoming more than the “beautiful woman” she is described as in ancient texts, Livia serves as a public image for the idealization of Roman feminine qualities, a motherly figure, and eventually a goddesslike representation that alludes to her virtue. Livia’s power in symbolizing the renewal of the Republic with the female virtues Pietas and Concordia in public displays had a dramatic effect on the visual representation of future imperial women as ideal, honorable mothers and wives of Rome.

In the popular fictional work I, Claudius by Robert Graves—based on Tacitus’ innuendo—Livia is portrayed as a thoroughly Machiavellian, scheming political mastermind. Determined never to allow republican governance to flower again, as she felt they led to corruption and civil war, and devoted to bringing Tiberius to power and then maintaining him there, she is involved in nearly every death or disgrace in the Julio-Claudian family up to the time of her death. On her deathbed she only fears divine punishment for all she had done, and secures the promise of future deification by her grandson Claudius, an act which, she believes, will guarantee her a blissful afterlife. However, this portrait of her is balanced by her intense devotion to the well-being of the Empire as a whole, and her machinations are justified as a necessarily cruel means to what she firmly considers a noble aspiration: the common good of the Romans, achievable only under strict imperial rule.

I suppose Graves’s portrayal is reasonably balanced, but it leaves out some important considerations. First, even if she carried out the nasty things she is accused of, she is no worse than most of the men who held power in Rome. Standard procedure for getting rid of enemies (real or imagined – including family members) was to have them killed, and there were many emperors who killed far more than she. Second, she was a woman in a man’s world. No woman before her had risen to her status before her, and she achieved this by strength of character alone. She had no right to be anything other than a subservient wife, yet she managed to become one of the most powerful people in imperial Rome (male or female).

In popular tradition Livia is assumed to be the killer of Augustus using poisoned figs, based largely on the account by Tacitus. There is no way of telling any more, but if she did serve him figs that were poisoned then they would have had to have been spiced, preserved fresh figs to mask the taste of the poison. Apicius in his De re coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking) has a rather rudimentary recipe for preserved figs, but a little interpolation from the previous recipe can help flesh it out.

The basic recipe is:

[22] to preserve fresh figs, apples, plums, pears and cherries

Select them all very carefully with the stems on and place them in honey so they do not touch each other.

Not removing the stems keeps the fruit intact so that air will not get inside the fruit and start fermentation.  The preceding recipe calls for placing fruit in a vessel, and pouring over it honey and defretum. Defretum was new wine that had been spiced and then boiled down to half its volume.

If you can get fresh figs, you have a whole range of options. You can slice them in half and back them in a pie shell. In northern Italy I was very fond of a sandwich made of sliced figs and Gorgonzola. All delicious, but hold off on the arsenic.

 

Sep 232017
 

Today is the birthday (63 BCE) of Augustus, founder of the Roman Principate and first Roman emperor, who controlled the Roman Empire from 27 BCE until his death in 14 CE. He is a monumentally pivotal figure in ancient Roman history in the period known commonly as the Roman Revolution: the timespan seeing the tail end of the Roman Republic with the assassination of Julius Caesar, civil war with Augustus as a key player, and the emergence of the Roman Empire. Here are the bare bones.

Augustus was born Gaius Octavius into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian gens Octavia. Julius Caesar was his maternal great-uncle, and, under the name Octavianus (Anglicized as Octavian). Octavian was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BCE, when Octavian was 20, upon which he, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat Caesar’s assassins. These were unsettled times in Rome. Powerful generals such as Caesar and Pompey wanted to wield greater individual power than the Senate and ended up in a civil war with Caesar triumphant. Thereafter Caesar’s power grew until many people were afraid that he would seek to be king. So they assassinated him. Getting rid of one man with ambitions for individual power did not return the Roman Republic to its old ways, however.

The Second Triumvirate (Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus were the First) defeated the assassins in various stages culminating in their victory at the Battle of Philippi.  Afterwards the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators, but the alliance was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BCE.

After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Octavian (Augustus after 27 BCE) restored the outward façade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire. Historians routinely refer to Augustus as the first emperor, but Latin titles are a bit confusing. Octavian was styled Imperator (from which we get “Emperor”) as early as 38 BCE, but Imperator should really be translated “Commander” (or “Conquering Hero”) rather than “Emperor.” It was a title bestowed routinely on victorious generals as well as certain magistrates in the time of the Republic, and could still be used by certain generals in the early Empire. It was only later in the Empire that it was the exclusive title of the Empire’s rulers.  We shouldn’t let linguistic quibbles get in the way of historical facts, however. Augustus, de facto, was the first Roman Emperor.

I’ve studied this transition period quite extensively ever since I chose it as a special paper for my history A-levels and for my Oxford entrance exams. It all seemed tremendously momentous when I first came to the period as a teen. Now, as a (hopefully) mature historian, I am given to wonder whether the changes that Augustus wrought as emperor were as obvious to people living at the time as they are to us now.  History frequently looks back at dates and events as crucial turning points.  Did they seem like turning points at the time? I’m given to doubt it.  History has a funny way of looking at things – in hindsight.

The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). The Roman world was largely free from major conflict for more than two centuries thereafter, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and the year-long civil war known as the “Year of the Four Emperors” (a war over the imperial succession). Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia; expanding possessions in Africa; expanding into Germania; and completing the conquest of Hispania. Beyond the frontiers, he secured the Empire with a buffer region of client states and made peace with the Parthian Empire through diplomacy. He reformed the Roman system of taxation, developed networks of roads with an official courier system, established a standing army, established the Praetorian Guard, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome, and rebuilt much of the city during his reign.

It’s amazing what you can do when you have no serious rivals and when you have absolute power. Before Augustus the Republic was a mess, torn apart year after year by powerful men and factions seeking control and dominance.  The assassins finished off Caesar, then the Second Triumvirate finished off the assassins, then Octavian polished off the other triumvirs, and stood supremely alone at the top of the pile. Once that feat was accomplished and his hold on the reins of power was firmly established, it would have been mighty foolhardy to challenge him.  The times of challenging the emperor’s power lay in the future.

Augustus died in 14 CE at the age of 75. He probably died from natural causes, although there were unconfirmed rumors that his wife Livia poisoned him. Seems a bit far-fetched to me.

If you are paying attention you will note that Augustus was emperor when Jesus was born (around 3 BCE). Yup, Jesus was probably born in the year 3 Before Christ !!! He died around 30 CE at the age of 33. If we are to believe Luke’s gospel (which I don’t) the legendary census that sent a pregnant Mary and her espoused, Joseph, to Bethlehem from their native Galilee, where she gave birth, was commanded by Augustus. As I have commented here several times before, the idea of a census covering the entire Roman Empire requiring every man, woman, and child to up stakes and leave their homes to go back to their ancestral homelands is both laughable and physically impossible. If Augustus had actually had such a ludicrously deranged idea he would have been locked up.

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He was succeeded as Emperor by his adopted son (also stepson and former son-in-law) Tiberius.

The common staple of rich and poor alike at the time of the Roman Revolution was puls, a porridge made from farro.  Farro is whole wheat grain produced from a specific kind of wheat.  You can find it pearled in health food stores in the US, but in Italy to this day they sell it unpearled in regular supermarkets. In ancient Rome puls was the normal breakfast food for the common people, but it could be eaten for any meal.  Vegetables or meat might be added to a main dish, or fruit and honey for a sweet one.

To make farro into a dish that almost certainly resembles ancient puls combine 1 part farro to 2 parts water (with salt to taste) in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered until the grains are al dente (!) – ignoring the irony of using modern Italian as an English cooking term – and the liquid is mostly absorbed.  For a soupier dish use more water. It can be eaten plain on its own (as the poorer Romans would have done) or as a side dish. Otherwise you can add what you will to dress it up – meat, fish, vegetables, fruit. Something similar is served in Tuscany these days as a breakfast dish with coffee as the liquid and candied fruit added for flavoring. Not my thing – at all.

 

 

Jan 142016
 

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Today is the birthday (83 BCE) of Marcus Antonius, commonly known in English as Mark or Marc Antony, Roman politician and general who played a critical role in the transformation of the Roman Republic into the autocratic Roman Empire – usually called the Roman Revolution. Mark Antony has shown up in posts here before, particularly as a critical player in the deaths of Cleopatra http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cleopatra-and-the-asp/ and Cicero http://www.bookofdaystales.com/cicero/ The waning moments of the Roman Republic were exceptionally turbulent times with powerful figures rising, then falling, left and right. Mark Antony, friend and ally of Julius Caesar, was the last of the shooting stars to ascend and burn out before Octavian/Augustus ultimately triumphed, making Rome a dictatorial, hereditary empire. This period is, without question, the most studied point in ancient Roman history.

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Antony was a supporter of Julius Caesar, and served as one of his generals during the conquest of Gaul and the Civil War with Pompey http://www.bookofdaystales.com/crossing-rubicon/ Antony was appointed administrator of Italy while Caesar eliminated political opponents in Greece, North Africa, and Spain. After Caesar’s murder by a faction – the Liberatores – led by Brutus and Cassius in 44 BCE, Antony joined forces with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, another of Caesar’s generals, and Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, forming a three-man dictatorship known to historians as the Second Triumvirate. The Triumvirs defeated the Liberatores, at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE, and divided the government of the Republic between themselves. Antony was assigned Rome’s eastern provinces, including the client kingdom of Egypt, then ruled by Cleopatra VII Philopator, and was given the command in Rome’s war against Parthia.

Relations among the Triumvirs were strained as the various members sought greater political power. Civil war between Antony and Octavian was averted in 40 BCE, when Antony married Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Despite this marriage, Antony carried on a love affair with Cleopatra, who bore him three children, further straining Antony’s relations with Octavian. Lepidus was expelled from the triumvirate in 36 BCE, and in 33 BCE disagreements between Antony and Octavian caused a split between them. Their ongoing hostility erupted into civil war in 31 BCE, as the Roman Senate, at Octavian’s direction, declared war on Cleopatra and proclaimed Antony a traitor. Later that year, Antony was defeated by Octavian’s forces at the Battle of Actium. Defeated, Antony and Cleopatra fled to Egypt, where they committed suicide.

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With Antony dead, Octavian was the undisputed master of the Roman world. In 27 BCE, he was granted the title of Augustus, marking the final stage in the transformation of the Roman Republic into an empire, with himself as the first Roman emperor.

Antony features in two of Shakespeare’s plays – Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra. Julius Caesar, despite its title, focuses on Antony’s defeat of Brutus and the conspirators after Caesar’s murder, with Antony’s funeral oration being the most famous segment. In it Antony skillfully appears to condemn Caesar as a tyrant and praise Brutus as a man of the people, but in reality turns the crowd against Brutus and in favor of his own ambitions as successor to Caesar. Despite a certain degree of poetic license, Shakespeare stays fairly close to historical fact.

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Caesar’s funeral was held on 20th March (five days after his murder). Antony, as Caesar’s faithful lieutenant and reigning Consul, was chosen to preside over the ceremony and to recite the eulogy. During a demagogic speech, he enumerated the deeds of Caesar and, publicly read his will, which detailed the donations Caesar had left to the Roman people. Antony then seized the blood-stained toga from Caesar’s body and presented it to the crowd. Worked into a fury by the bloody spectacle, the assembly rioted. Several buildings in the Forum and some houses of the conspirators were burned to the ground. Panicked, many of the conspirators fled Italy. Under the pretext of not being able to guarantee their safety, Antony relieved Brutus and Cassius of their judicial duties in Rome and instead assigned them responsibility for procuring wheat for Rome from Sicily and Asia. Such an assignment, in addition to being unworthy of their rank, would have kept them far from Rome and shifted the balance towards Antony. Refusing such secondary duties, the two traveled to Greece instead.

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Despite the provisions of Caesar’s will, Antony proceeded to act as leader of the Caesarian faction, including appropriating for himself a portion of Caesar’s fortune rightfully belonging to Octavian. Antony enacted the Lex Antonia, which formally abolished the Dictatorship, in an attempt to consolidate his power by gaining the support of the Senatorial class. He also enacted a number of laws he claimed to have found in Caesar’s papers to ensure his popularity with Caesar’s veterans, particularly by providing land grants to them. Lepidus, with Antony’s support, was named Pontifex Maximus to succeed Caesar. To solidify the alliance between Antony and Lepidus, Antony’s daughter Antonia Prima was engaged to Lepidus’s son, also named Lepidus. Surrounding himself with a bodyguard of over six thousand of Caesar’s veterans, Antony presented himself as Caesar’s true successor, largely ignoring Octavian. So the stage was set for Antony and Octavian to defeat the conspirators, and for Octavian subsequently to turn on Antony.

Here’s a recipe from Apicius that could have graced Antony’s table at some point. Molded aspics are attested in Roman texts as fancy centerpieces. I used to make a chicken aspic as a party piece once in a while when I was much younger. They weren’t very popular, so I stopped making them. The principle is simple – lightly grease a fancy mould with a clear oil. Pour a thin layer of aspic in the mould and let it gel slightly. For my aspic I used a clarified stock plus the requisite amount of gelatin dissolved in the warmed stock. Then put a decorative component on the bottom. Fill up the mould with meat, vegetables, or whatever, so that you have pretty layers – leaving a small gap between the filling and sides of the mould. Then fill up the mould with aspic and let set in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Unmould by immersing the mould in warm water for a few minutes, being careful not to let the water flow into the mould. Place a serving plate on top of the mould, say a prayer, and invert. With luck it will come out clean. Serve immediately.

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The following recipe is a translation which I have edited. It gives you some ideas for what you might use as a filling. If I were to use this recipe I would place the dressing in the base of the mould.

Salacattabia Apiciana (Apician Jelly)

Put in the mortar celery seed, dry pennyroyal, dry mint, ginger, fresh coriander, seedless raisins, honey, vinegar, oil and wine; crush it together in order to make a dressing of it. Place 3 pieces of Picentian bread in a mould, interlined with pieces of cooked chicken, cooked sweetbreads of calf or lamb, [ewe’s] cheese, pine nuts, pickled cucumbers, finely chopped dried onions, covering the whole with jellified broth. Bury the mould in snow up to the rim; unmould, sprinkle with the above dressing and serve.