A scene from HBO’s series “Rome” came to mind as I read Emma Southon’s study of Roman murder, “A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” In this scene, Atia, a wealthy noblewoman related to Julius Caesar, is entertaining two soldiers serving in Caesar’s army. The conversation comes to an awkward pause, and Atia smooths things over by offering food to her guests: “More tench? A dormouse, perhaps?”
We discover at that moment that the Romans, who inhabit a world so seemingly familiar, actually ate mice. Indeed, they fattened their dormice up in perforated clay jars called gliraria (“mouseries”), to make them extra plump. Many gliraria survive; each had internal risers for the mouse to run and climb on and little feeding pans into which nuts could be poured through a tiny chute.