This week: Feasts

Image: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli.

Britain pulled out the red carpet last weekend, as world leaders arrived for this year’s G7 summit in Cornwall’s Carbis Bay. According to one breathless report, ‘the Macrons, Merkels, Bidens and Johnsons feasted on local lobster, scallops, and grass-fed Moorland beef’, and discussed world affairs as they relaxed over ‘hot buttered rum and toasted marshmallows’ around firepits in the sand.

It certainly wasn’t the first time in history that power and pleasure have been so mixed, however. Indeed, last week’s gathering would have seemed oddly familiar to the 6,000 Englishmen and women who 501 years earlier accompanied their king, Henry VIII, as he crossed the Channel to join his French counterpart, Francis I, at the lavish three-week summit-cum-carnival known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

Then as now, such occasions are largely about showing off, while also doing deals behind the scenes – and as we discover this week on The Past, wining and dining have long been part of the equation. As Geraldine Fabrikant reports in the latest issue of our sister magazine Minerva, a new exhibition at France’s Louvre-Lens museum traces the role that feasting has played in the agendas of important figures from antiquity to the present day, and highlights some of the extraordinary stories that fine objects from the table can tell of power, of politics – and sometimes, even of poisoning.

Elsewhere, we continue this week’s feasting theme with a mouth-watering selection of food-related treats from the archives of our sister magazines: Carly Hilts discovered more about the diet of the community thought to have built Stonehenge, including the surprisingly far-flung origins of some of their favourite tidbits; Paul Roberts looked at the Roman passion for banquets, and learned how the production, distribution and consumption of food and wine coloured every aspect of life; while Stefanie Hoss reported on the possible discovery of Romano-British asparagus beds in Cambridgeshire, and revealed how a Mediterrean taste for the seasonal delicacy developed unlikely offshoots in the northern provinces.

Also on The Past this week, we’ve been learning more about life in Britain under Roman occupation. On this week’s edition of The PastCast, our unmissable podcast, Philip Crummy tells Calum Henderson how the Fenwick Treasure, a priceless hoard of Roman gold and silver jewellery and coins, came to be buried under the streets of Colchester shortly before the sometime Roman capital was sacked by Boudica’s marauding Iceni army.

And if all that leaves you still hungry for more, you can continue the feasting theme with our fiendish Friday quiz (from 18 June), which this week is also designed to test your knowledge of historical banquets. In the meantime, why not have a go at our previous quiz on Nero? Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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