Archeologists have compared bones from a Roman catacomb that was used for the burial of Christians to bones from other catacombs. The finding? The early Christians ate a lot of freshwater fish, whereas most Romans didn’t.
Comparing the catacomb results with those from other sites in Italy and in the western Mediterranean, the higher nitrogen and lower carbon figures indicate the consumption of freshwater fish. The contribution of such fish to the diet of the early Christians in Rome ranges from 18 to 43 per cent, averaging at around 30 per cent. . . .
“While distancing themselves from Jewish food taboos and generally avoiding meat derived from pagan sacrifices, the early Christians are normally hypothesised to have eaten the same food as their non-Christian Roman contemporaries,” the team says. “Within the larger context of what is currently known about Roman dietary habits, the inclusion of freshwater fish therefore comes as unexpected and raises questions about the social origins of Christianity as well.”
“When Romans ate fish at all, they are normally believed to have consumed sea fish. Freshwater fish has not been considered as an essential ingredient in the classical Roman diet.” In AD301, the Emperor Diocletian’s Edict on Prices tried to fix the cost of freshwater fish at around a half to a third of its marine equivalent, so that even the poor could eat it. Roman fish probably came from the Tiber, and would have been a free or cheap source of protein.
On this basis, Rutgers and his colleagues conclude “that at least the small selection of early Christians analysed were all simple folk, suggesting that the inclusion of freshwater fish is indicative of a relative lack of wealth rather than of religiously motivated ascetic behaviour”.
It sounds like the early Christians caught their own fish. Can we draw any other conclusions from this odd fact?