Columella, De Re Rustica

Iam siser Assyrioque venit quae semine radix
sectaque praebetur madido sociata lupino,
ut Pelusiaci proritet pocula zythi.

Skirret comes next, which is a root comes from Assyrian seeds,
and it is offered forth having been cut and accompanied by moistened lupines,
so that it tempts [the thirst] for a cup of Pelusian beer.


De Re Rustica is a long text about agriculture. Unfortunately, beer has only a single mention: Book 10, the horticulture volume.



This passage tells us about the ancient equivalent of beer nuts: skirret. Columella informs the readers that a mixture of skirret and moistened lupines pairs nicely with an Egyptian brew. What is skirret, you ask?

Skirret is a root vegetable similar to parsnip. Pliny the Elder reports that this delectable tuber was a favorite of the Roman emperor, Tiberius [42 BCE-17 CE] (Pliny the Elder, Nat. Hist. 19.28). For all the horticulturalists and beer-snack-recreators out there, it is reportedly best grown in German climes where the locals refer to it as “zuckerwurzel” -a word, in my opinion, much more mellifluous than “skirret.”

Next: Lupines? Another damn legume. Bitter and liquorice-y, but sweet when steeped.

Some interpretations of this passage suggest that skirret and lupines were added directly to the beer (Peck 1965, 321; Van Minnen 1991, 167-168). The specific verbs used in the sentence, however, make it very likely that these were snacks to be eaten with the beer (overview: Nelson 2001, 145-146).

Not much description of the beer other than its origin, Pelusium. Pelusium is a town in northern Egypt that was famous for its beer. The San Diego of the Mediterranean?

Author Note
Columella (4-ca.70 CE)
Farmer. Fighter. Lover. I am not sure about the last one, but who could resist the charms of a man who writes on agriculture?

Nelson, M. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of British Columbia.
Peck, J.T. 1965. “Cervesia, cervisia, or cerevesia.” Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities. New York.
Van Minnen, P. 1991. “Lentils from Pelusium: A Note on Vergiol’s Georgics 1, 229.” Mnemosyne 44: 167-170.

Featured Images
Columella. Source: Jean de Tournes/Public Domain.
Skirret. Source: © Bill/

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