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Multidisciplinary approaches to food and foodways in the medieval Eastern Mediterranean

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Sylvie Yona Waksman

Byzantium and beyond

Animals in food consumption during the Byzantine period in light of the Yenikapı metro and Marmaray excavations, Istanbul

Vedat Onar

Résumé

During the work carried out for the Marmaray Project which began in 2004 at Yenikapı, Istanbul, the harbour of Theodosius, one of the largest harbours of Constantinople on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, was excavated. The harbour of Theodosius has not only demonstrated its importance in ancient times by providing specific finds, but has also enabled us to recover valuable information on the history of Istanbul (Constantinople). Details concerning daily life, technology, religion, economy and trade, as well as food consumption and nutrition in the harbour city of Constantinople, have been revealed.
Thousands of archaeological finds recovered in an excavated area of over 58,000 m2 have enabled us to better understand which animals were exploited and their role in nutrition. The skeletal remains recovered were evaluated and their relation to food consumption in the Byzantine period was analysed. So far 65,535 (NISP = 65,535) remains have been analysed. In the excavated area, the remains of cattle, sheep, goat and pig show that these are the most frequent species related to food consumption. Dromedaries, deer, tuna, dolphins and other species were also exploited. The majority of the animal remains found in the Theodosius harbour (66.20%) are domestic ruminants. Most of the skeletal remains present butchering traces, indicating that these animals were intended for consumption.

Texte intégral

Introduction

1The settlement called “Byzantion” was founded some 2,700 years ago by Megarians on the advice of the oracle of Delphi in what are today the areas of Sarayburnu and Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) in Istanbul. The settlement grew rapidly due to its strategic location (Kocabaş 2015, p. 27; Dalby 2004, p. 12) and became the capital of two successive empires (Başaran 2008, p. 3) over more than ten centuries. The city became a crossroads of East and West, named “Constantinople” under the reign of Constantine I in the 4th century AD. It is designated today in historiographic terms as the capital of the eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire. It has occupied an important place in history from that time to the present (Kocabaş 2015, p. 27). Constantinople was called a “perfect city” because of its strategic location at the junction of the Black Sea, Aegean and Mediterranean trade routes (Başaran 2008, p. 3). Due to this situation, the city was an important centre for more than a thousand years, maintaining a vital role from 330 to 1453 AD (Rice 1998, p. 13). Rapid changes in urban life came about with the expanding needs of economic growth and increasing population. These changes affected food habits and agriculture (Kazhdan & Epstein 1985, p. 6). More people lived in Constantinople than in Rome 100 years after its foundation (Rice 1998, p. 25). In parallel with the enlargement of the capital during the 4th century, marine transportation and harbours played significant roles in the life of the city. The construction of new ports on the Marmara seacoast, in addition to that of the Haliç (Golden Horn) (Kocabaş 2015, p. 27; Başaran 2008, p. 19) became necessary. Thus, the second largest harbour of the capital, the harbour of Theodosius (Portus Theodosiacus), was built on the Marmara seacoast by the emperor Theodosius I (379-395 AD) (Kocabaş 2015, p. 27; Müller-Wiener 1998).

2Because of its advantageous location, Constantinople was able to control trade routes, and thus to obtain the food supplies it needed. The food culture of the city was intimately connected to its development and strategic location. Information connected with the food culture and food consumption appears in written records (see for instance Dalby 2004; Rice 1998; Başaran 2008; Brubaker & Linardou 2007; Bourbou & Richards 2007 on this subject), and archaeological excavations within the city have provided complementary information for a better understanding of the food culture and of food consumption.

The Yenikapı excavations

3The excavations carried out at Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray have significantly contributed to our understanding of Constantinople in the Byzantine period. The works undertaken to build Yenikapı station as a railway hub that includes the Istanbul European Side Metro and the Marmaray undersea tunnel have revealed a site rich in archaeological remains (fig. 1). The harbour of Theodosius on the Marmara shore, excavated between 2004 and 2013 as part of the Marmaray project, has provided a rich array of very important remains and evidence for the reconstruction of the history of Istanbul (Onar et al. 2013a; 2013b), and material of interest for different branches of archaeology.

Fig. 1 – Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavation area.

Fig. 1 – Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavation area.

4Thus far, a number of studies have shed light on daily life, technology, belief systems, economy and trade, which are associated with food processing and food consumption (e.g. Istanbul 2007; Kocabaş 2010).

5The excavation extends over almost 58,000 m2 and has produced thousands of finds in the harbour area, including clear information on animal species and their different roles in food consumption in the Byzantine period (fig. 1). The harbour was discovered close by the mouth of the Lykos (Bayrampaşa) stream, which is located in a deep bay (Kocabaş 2015, p. 29). The “Portus Theodosiacus” began to lose its main trading sources when grain shipments from Egypt ended around the middle of the 7th century, and it became filled by silting after the 12th century (Başaran 2008, p. 21; Müller-Wiener 1998; Kocabaş & Kocabaş 2008; Kocabaş 2015, p. 29).

6This contribution presents research on data from the animal remains recovered from the excavation between 2004 and 2013, which continue to be analysed in the Osteoarchaeology Practice and Research Centre of the Veterinary Faculty at Istanbul University. The goal of this study is to explore the relationship between the animal remains and the consumption of food in the Byzantine period.

The faunal remains

  • 1 NISP: Number of Identified Specimens.

7The faunal materials from the Istanbul-Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations consist of 65,535 (NISP = 65,535)1 recorded samples. It is observed from the analyses of the animal remains that the food refuse consists of all animal species from which meat was removed and consumed. Some animal species were also used for other purposes. Based on the animal remains from this site, sheep, goat, cattle, buffalo and pig were the main sources of meat supply in the food economy of the Byzantine period (Dalby 2004, p. 63; Brubaker & Linardou 2007). Hunted animals including game fowl were also a significant part of the diet in the Byzantine period (Rice 1998). The finds from the Theodosius harbour, one of the great trading centres of the time, illustrate the wide range of animal species consumed in the food culture of this period. Contemporary written sources suggest that other animals (e.g. horses) were also consumed in the food economy, besides the main animal species (sheep-goat, cattle, pig).

8As shown in figure 2a, 66.20% of the animal bones from the harbour of Theodosius consist of domestic ruminants, the highest proportion. The butchering marks on the bone surfaces indicate that the food refuse comes from all species whose meat was consumed. Ovicaprids (40.49%) are predominant, followed by cattle (25.68%), equids (E. caballus, E. asinus, E. mulus 20.14%) and pig (wild boar and domestic pig 6.75%).

Fig. 2 – Domestic ruminants from Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) Distribution of domestic ruminants; (b) distribution of cattle kill-off ages; (c) and (d) distribution of sheep and goats under 3 years.

Fig. 2 – Domestic ruminants from Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) Distribution of domestic ruminants; (b) distribution of cattle kill-off ages; (c) and (d) distribution of sheep and goats under 3 years.

9The remains from sheep and goats present the greatest number of butchering marks on the bone surfaces, demonstrating the significant role of ovicaprids in the food economy of Constantinople. The kill-off analysis in figure 2c‑d shows that 87.90% of sheep and 66.61% of goats were slaughtered under the age of 3. This suggests that young animals were especially chosen for the high quality of their meat. The written sources indicate that preference was based on the age of the animals, and this is clearly evident in the remains from the excavation (Dalby 2004), in the higher proportion of young sheep and goats slaughtered. The analysis shows that the proportion of goats under the age of 3 years is somewhat lower than that of the sheep. It is possible that goats were used for secondary products.

10The cattle remains mainly belong to adult (4‑7 years) individuals (fig. 2b). The proportion of young individuals is lower than that of the adults. The cattle were probably bred for the production of milk as well as for meat. The high amount of butchering marks on the surface of the adult cattle bones indicates that they were probably selected for their meat over young individuals (Kroll 2012). The pathological evidence from adult individuals indicates that these animals were also used for labour (Onar et al. 2015).

11The remains of buffalo are few. Buffalo meat was less preferred than beef due to the difficulty of digestion (Dalby 2004, p. 125). Buffalos were probably used for several purposes (labour, meat, milk, etc.), but their meat was not consumed as much as that of other species.

12Written sources provide evidence for the consumption of offal in the food economy of Constantinople (Dalby 2004; Rice 1998). Traces of cutting and chopping on the skulls of cattle, sheep, and goats discovered in the excavations at the Theodosius harbour area reveal the practice of brain removal. The skulls were cut into two parts to obtain all of the brain. Evidence that parts of the skulls were also consumed has been revealed on all the broken skulls from the excavation. The process of marrow extraction from metacarpal bones has also been observed. Besides for their meat and other body parts for consumption, animals were also used to produce secondary products (milk, wool). The consumption of offal and other body parts in Byzantine daily life is mentioned in the written sources (Dalby 2004; Rice 1998). It is also possible that other parts, not detectable in the archaeological record, were consumed besides the brains and the feet, as butchering marks are only visible on the bones.

13In Constantinople pig meat was the favourite food (Rice 1998), especially young animals, consumed after grilling and roasting (Dalby 2004; Marks 2004). Remains of both domestic and wild pig were found in the Theodosius harbour excavations. These remains come mainly from young and adult animals because of the higher quality of their meat, not many from older individuals. Thus far, several studies have reported that pigs were a significant part of the daily food consumption in Constantinople; one reason may be that pigs can be kept in small spaces (Kroll 2012), another reason being that they were consumed with mustard and a variety of sauces (Dalby 2004). Some butchering marks are in evidence on the skulls of pig remains, as they are on those of cattle, sheep and goats. Noted also are burn marks on some of the adult and juvenile bones, caused by the direct heat of grilling or roasting.

14Camel bones from the Camelidae family were found in the excavation of Yenikapı. Besides one complete skeleton, the camel remains were spread among the different levels of the excavation area. They were identified as the single-humped camel (Camelus dromedaries L.; fig. 3a); the existence of hybrid individuals is also a possibility. A large number of butchering marks was observed on the remains of camel bones (fig. 3b). Besides consumption of camel meat, pathological analysis revealed evidence for labour by these animals.

Fig. 3 – Camel remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) A camel skeleton in situ (archives of Yenikapı excavations); (b) the butchering marks on the camel bones.

Fig. 3 – Camel remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) A camel skeleton in situ (archives of Yenikapı excavations); (b) the butchering marks on the camel bones.

15Characteristic butchering marks were observed on the remains of horse bones. It is known that horse meat was not a preferred food in the empire, but was consumed during times of famine (Toynbee 1982, p. 172; Johnstone 2004). 9.38% of Equidae bones (horse, donkey and mule) from the Yenikapı excavation present butchering marks (fig. 4a-b). Cutting and chopping are in evidence, especially on the joint between the body and hind leg bones, and on some long bones. A horse metacarpal with saw marks was found, an example of Byzantine bone work. The consumption of horse meat may point to famine and crisis (Kroll 2012); it has also been suggested that there was a possible preference for horse meat among certain groups of people in Constantinople (Dalby 2004). It is known that wild donkeys were raised in the Imperial Parks and consumed in the palace (Dalby 2004), thus it is possible that the horse bones with butchering marks point to consumption by a particular group of people in Constantinople.

Fig. 4 – Horse remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) A horse skeleton in situ (archives of Yenikapı excavations); (b) the butchering marks on the horse bones.

Fig. 4 – Horse remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) A horse skeleton in situ (archives of Yenikapı excavations); (b) the butchering marks on the horse bones.

16There was a wide range of game animals in Constantinople (Dalby 2004). Among the game animals discovered in the Theodosius harbour excavations are red deer (Cervus elaphus), fallow deer (Dama dama) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), members of the Cervidae family. Also found were remains of gazelle (Gazelle subgutturosa), wild goat (Capra aegagrus) and ibex (Capra ibex). It is reported that people earned money by selling deer meat in rural towns (Kislinger 1982, p. 93); deer meat was part of the daily food economy in the Byzantine period (Dalby 2004; Rice 1998). The meat of these hunted animals was popular among some people in Constantinople (Dalby 2004). The presence of extensive butchering marks on the remains of these deer indicates that they were food refuse. Worked antler bones belonging to the Cervidae family (fig. 5a) were also found.

Fig. 5 – Deer and ostrich remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) The worked antler of the cervidae family; (b) the butchering marks on the ostrich bone.

Fig. 5 – Deer and ostrich remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) The worked antler of the cervidae family; (b) the butchering marks on the ostrich bone.

17Remains of wild hare in low proportions were found among the game animals, and were in the Constantinopolitan diet. A very interesting discovery in the Yenikapı excavation was that of ostrich bones. Ostrich eggs were used to mark the stages during the chariot races at the Hippodrome of Constantinople (Rice 1998, p. 182). In light of this fact, it is possible that this species was present in the Imperial Parks. Leg bones of ostrich with butchering marks were found in Constantinople, which implies that this bird was eaten (fig. 5b). However, it is unknown to what extent the ostrich was part of the food economy, although the number of remains are higher than those of other wild species smaller in size. These birds were possibly demanded by the palace, or their meat used to supply ships that made long-distance trading voyages to such destinations as northern Africa. The thigh in particular would have been consumed because of its high volume of meat.

18Remains of bear from the site generally consist of skulls and some other skeleton parts. Pathological evidence on the skull bones indicates that these bears were used by humans for amusement. Bear remains have also been found on other Byzantine sites (Kroll 2010; 2012), but it is not known whether they were the result of consumption. It has been reported that bears from the Balkan Mountains were consumed in Constantinople (Dalby 2004, p. 63). The only example that supports this, a bear skull with butchering marks, was found in the Theodosius harbour excavation. This skull was cut using a chopper or metal tool and was part of food refuse (fig. 6a, right).

Fig. 6 – Animal remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) Bear remains; (b) elephant sp. remains; (c) dolphin skull; (d) sea turtle remains; (e) tuna fish remains; (f) swordfish remains.

Fig. 6 – Animal remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) Bear remains; (b) elephant sp. remains; (c) dolphin skull; (d) sea turtle remains; (e) tuna fish remains; (f) swordfish remains.

19Elephant remains are another interesting discovery from the Theodosius harbour area (fig. 6b). Butchering marks were observed on some of these elephant remains, which probably belonged to two distinct individuals. It is recorded that elephants with riders were displayed during the Brumelia feast celebrating the god Dionysius in the streets of Constantinople (Rice 1998), these animals having been one of the species of exotic animals used for display (Kroll 2010). However, very little information about the consumption of elephant meat in the Byzantine period has been found. The butchering marks on the elephant bones are probably related to the consumption of this meat during times of famine, or indicate that these animals were consumed by wild carnivores (fig. 6b, right). Radiocarbon dates for these bones may provide evidence for a link with famine.

20Dolphin remains (Delphinidae sp.) were also discovered in the Theodosius harbour excavations (fig. 6c), identified as bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) (Afalina in Turkish) and common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) (Tırtak in Turkish). Butchering marks are present on the surface of the bones. Dolphins figure extensively in the symbolism and art of earlier periods, in particular as a helper of fishermen, and the oil from dolphins as well as their ashes were used in treating some diseases (Ridgway 1970, p. 89). Dolphins may have been used for similar purposes in the Byzantine period, in view of the extensive butchering marks on the bones. It is suggested that the residues of dolphin remains were thrown into the harbour area after removal of the parts desired.

21Sea turtles (Cheloniidae spp.) were also found throughout the excavated area (fig. 6d). Carapaces and plastrons were found together and sometimes separately. A large perforation was discovered on a carapace used as a fishing instrument. Such remains from the Theodosius harbour are probably indicative of hunting and trading customs.

22Chicken (Gallus sp.) and goose (wild and domestic Anser sp.) make up the majority of the bird remains from the Theodosius harbour. Apparently chickens provided the lightest and the best of meats, and were preferred by the inhabitants of Constantinople (Dalby 2004, p. 64). Goose, duck, swan, crane, pelican, stork, cormorant and vulture followed chicken in order of preference. However, chicken, goose, duck and crane are the only species that present butchering marks. There are many bird bones from the excavation area still waiting to be identified, the difficulty of identification being due to the fragility of the bones and their vulnerability to destructive processes in the soil (Kroll 2012). Besides the preference for poultry in the Byzantine diet (Rice 1998), various aquatic birds (pelican, cormorant, etc.) were found, related to the geographical situation of the city. Ongoing research on the bird materials from the site will determine the other species.

23Although the main meat diet of the Byzantine period consisted of sheep, pigs, goats and cattle, fish were naturally important in the diet of the inhabitants of Constantinople, considering its location on the shores of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. Fishing activities were important sources of income, the rich fish population being augmented by the Bosphorus currents. Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus), sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and sparidae spp. inhabit the Bosphorus, besides the more common tuna, bonito and swordfish (Tekin 2010). The tuna and the true tuna, although different, are considered as a single species (Thunnus thynnus L.) because of their similar anatomical aspect (Tekin 2010). The remains of tuna (Thunnus thynnus L.) were the most numerous of the fish (Pisces sp.) in the Yenikapı excavation area (fig. 6e-f), followed by swordfish (Xiphias gladius L.) and catfish (Clarias sp.). The analysis of these remains revealed extensive cutting marks (by a metal tool) on these bones. These marks indicate that these fish were cut into pieces in the harbour area after they were hunted. While the remains of large fish are abundant, the smaller species (sea bass, anchovy, Atlantic mackerel, etc.) were found in smaller amounts on the site. The reason for this is that the larger fish were probably cut up in the harbour area while the small fish were transported inside the city, although some small fish remains have been found in the harbour area. The identification of the fish species continues and will reveal the preferences of the people of Constantinople during this period.

24The Yenikapı 35 shipwreck (fig. 7) provides an important discovery concerning the importance of fish in the diet and in trade. It is situated at -4.11/-5.23 m code level in the metro area of the Theodosius harbour, and it was found in situ in a well-preserved condition. The analysis of the pottery from this shipwreck dates it to the 5th century AD (Kocabaş 2015, p. 131). An analysis of the sediments within the amphorae found in this ship indicates that they carried remains of anchovies. The Black Sea origin of these amphorae from the Yenikapı 35 shipwreck demonstrates a trade in pickled or salted fish (Dalby 2004).

Fig. 7 – Yenikapı 35 shipwreck and its load of amphorae (the lower wreck is on the right and the upper wreck is on the left, photo U. Kocabaş).

Fig. 7 – Yenikapı 35 shipwreck and its load of amphorae (the lower wreck is on the right and the upper wreck is on the left, photo U. Kocabaş).

25Besides fish, shellfish were included in the Constantinopolitan diet (Dalby 2004). Mussels, oysters and sea snails were found among a large number of shell remains. Detailed information on these fauna from the excavation is not presented here, as analysis is still in progress. However, it may be considered that they were a part of the diet.

26The Theodosius harbour area, revealed by the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations, presents a wide range of the animal species consumed, concrete material evidence that concurs with the various written sources (Dalby 2004; Rice 1998; Tekin 2010; Toynbee 1982) for this period. The archaeozoological results of analysis of these remains provide very important information on diet and daily life in Constantinople. The ongoing laboratory studies on these faunal remains will further enrich the information we have.

Acknowledgements

27I would like to thank Mrs Zeynep Kızıltan, the director of Istanbul Archaeological Museums, for her contributions, backed by her expertise and knowledge, at every stage of the Yenikapı project. I also wish to thank the vice directors Mr Rahmi Asal, Ms Tuğce Akbaytogan, Ms Gülbahar Baran Çelik, the archaeologists Mr Metin Gökçay, Mr Sırrı Çömlekçi, Mr Mehmet Ali Polat, and Mr Emre Öncü. My thanks also go to Prof. Dr Ufuk Koçabaş for allowing us access to the “Yenikapı Excavation Area and Yenikapı 35 shipwreck” photographs (fig. 1, left; fig. 7, right).

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Onar et al. 2013b: Onar V., Alpak H., Pazvant G., Armutak A., Gezer-İnce N., Kızıltan Z., “A bridge from Byzantium to modern day Istanbul: An overview of animal skeleton remains found during metro and Marmaray excavations”, Journal of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Istanbul University 39, 2013, pp. 1‑8.

Onar et al. 2015: Onar V., Kahvecioğlu K.O., Kostov D., Armutak A., Pazvant G., Chrószcz A., Gezer İnce N., “Osteological evidences of Byzantine draught cattle from Theodosius harbour at Yenikapı, Istanbul”, Mediterranean archaeology and archaeometry 15, 2015, pp. 71‑80.

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Notes

1 NISP: Number of Identified Specimens.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavation area.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/10229/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 350k
Titre Fig. 2 – Domestic ruminants from Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) Distribution of domestic ruminants; (b) distribution of cattle kill-off ages; (c) and (d) distribution of sheep and goats under 3 years.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/10229/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 470k
Titre Fig. 3 – Camel remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) A camel skeleton in situ (archives of Yenikapı excavations); (b) the butchering marks on the camel bones.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/10229/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 906k
Titre Fig. 4 – Horse remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) A horse skeleton in situ (archives of Yenikapı excavations); (b) the butchering marks on the horse bones.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/10229/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 710k
Titre Fig. 5 – Deer and ostrich remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) The worked antler of the cervidae family; (b) the butchering marks on the ostrich bone.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/10229/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 471k
Titre Fig. 6 – Animal remains from the Yenikapı Metro and Marmaray excavations. (a) Bear remains; (b) elephant sp. remains; (c) dolphin skull; (d) sea turtle remains; (e) tuna fish remains; (f) swordfish remains.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/10229/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 719k
Titre Fig. 7 – Yenikapı 35 shipwreck and its load of amphorae (the lower wreck is on the right and the upper wreck is on the left, photo U. Kocabaş).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/10229/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 745k

Auteur

Istanbul University-Cerrahpaşa, Osteoarchaeology Practice and Research Centre, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Avcılar Campus, 34320, Avcılar, Istanbul, Turkey, onar@istanbul.edu.tr

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