The Glirarium – a dormouse fattening jar of Ancient Rome

Anna Marie Fisker, Anna Eva Utke Heilmann

Research output: Contribution to conference without publisher/journalConference abstract for conferenceResearch


In “On Agriculture” (Rerum rusticarum libri II), the Roman scholar Marcus Varro describes the unusual quirks of a glirarium. The dormouse fattening jar of Ancient Rome looked like a regular storage vessel on the outside but resembled an artificial burrow on the inside.
When building clay containers for dormice, potters used a different plan than when making regular ones; for one, the dolium, or jar, was ventilated with light and air holes to keep the dormice alive. In addition, in the interior of the jar there were walking and living landings or ledges along the sides and a hollow for holding the food - a kind of food tray that could be refilled from the outside.

Our paper describes how on their country estates, prominent Romans reared special animals for consumption. Varro noted how tiny critters were bred like snails to eat, bees kept for honey, and then dormice were raised inside the Roman villas, a production that became so popular that it started the practice of fattening dormice for the table in the mid-first century BC.
Once the dormice were deemed sufficiently chubby, they were killed and cooked for banquets, the dish being of special pride for rich Romans. A number of ancient Roman recipes and dormice dish descriptors have survived; among these writings our paper deals with a famous banquet scene in the “Satyricon”, one of ancient Rome’s first novels that cite this dish. Also “De Re Coquinaria”, one of the world’s oldest surviving cookbooks that can be attributed to Apicius, lists dormouse recipes.
We deal with the enclosure of this ancient version of farm-to-table phenomena - a jar where food was bred, raised and slaughtered.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
Number of pages2
Publication statusSubmitted - 2018


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