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Ancient History Sourcebook:
Suetonius: Life of Vitellius, chap. 13

[Davis Introduction]

The Emperor Vitellius, who had a very brief and insignificant reign (69 A. D.), was mainly distinguished for his gormandizing and gluttony. How he enjoyed himself during his short lease of power is told by Suetonius. Probably there were a good many in Rome who would have imitated him, if given a similar opportunity.

Suetonius (c.69-after 122 CE): Life of Vitellius (b. 15 - r. 69 -d.69 CE)
Chap. 13: The Gormandizing of the Emperor Vitellius.

Vitellius always made three meals per day, sometimes four: breakfast, dinner and supper and a drunken revel after all. This load of victuals he could bear well enough, from a custom to which he had enured himself of frequently vomiting For these several meals he would make different appointments at the houses of his friends on the same day. None ever entertained him at a less expense than 400,0000 [Arkenberg: about $570,000,000 in 1998 dollars]. The most famous was a set entertainment given him by his brother, at which were served up no less than two thousand choice fishes, and seven thousand birds. Yet even this supper he himself outdid at a feast which he gave upon the first use of a dish which had been made for him, and which from its extraordinary size he called "The Shield of Minerva." In this dish were tossed together the livers of charfish, the brains of pheasants and peacocks, with the tongues of flamingoes and the entrails of lampreys, which had been brought in ships of war as far as from the Carpathian Sea [between Crete and Rhodes] and the Spanish Straits. He was not only a man of insatiable appetite, but he would gratify it at unseasonable times, and with any garbage that came his way. Thus at a sacrifice he would snatch from the fire the flesh and cakes and eat them on the spot. When he traveled, he did the same at inns upon the road, whether the meat was fresh dressed and hot, or whether it had been left from the day before and was half eaten.



Source:

From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. ??

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg has modernized the text.


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© Paul Halsall, June 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu