Famous Feasts in History Feasts of Roman Heliogabalus

About the famous feasts of Roman Heliogabalus, history, menu, and description.


The Occasion: The feasts of Heliogabalus, Rome, C. 219-222 A.D.

The Host: Roman Emperor Heliogabalus.

The Menus: They included conger eels fattened on Christian slaves; caviar taken from ordinary eels caught by a private fishing fleet that the emperor maintained exclusively for this purpose; fresh fish which often had to be carried miles from the sea in pots of saltwater by runners; and camels' feet and honeyed dormice, which the emperor considered a great delicacy. Once Heliogabalus had the heads of 600 ostriches brought to his table, only to eat their brains. If a chef invented a sauce that pleased His Majesty, he was handsomely rewarded; but if not, the chef was forced to eat that sauce and nothing else until he invented another sauce that pleased the imperial palate.

Table Talk: Heliogabalus, who is said to have entered Rome in a chariot pulled by naked women with 600 more chariots carrying his baggage, emptied the Roman treasury with his excesses--which exceed the limits of human credibility. He never spent less than 10,000 sesterces ($1,000) on dining and sometimes squandered as much as 3 million sesterces. He would often mix gold pieces with servings of peas or pearls with the rice, or let his guests take home the bejeweled gold plates and goblets they had used. Once he gave each of his guests live animals of the same species they had eaten; another time, he presented each diner with a new chariot to ride home in; still other times he gave away new houses, teams of horses, and eunuch slaves. The emperor had an odd sense of humor, though. Sometimes diners would be seated on inflated cushions that suddenly burst apart. Or he would give a hopeful guest a prize consisting of a handful of dead flies. Or he might stupefy his guests with wine and let them awaken in the midst of leopards, bears, and lions--which the guests didn't know were tame. Heliogabalus always kept ready cords of purple silk, golden swords, and poisons enclosed in precious gems to enable him to commit suicide, because a soothsayer had predicted he would die a violent death. He was assassinated in a latrine, where he had no chance to use any of these.

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