The oldest known cookbook is De re coquinaria (On Cooking), compiled some two thousand years ago by Gavius Apicius (b. 25 BC). Apicius was one of those Roman gourmets whose excesses led to the passage of "sumptuary laws" forbidding wasteful consumption. He was also a teacher of the culinary arts, and so successful that the poet statesman Seneca denounced him for luring youth away from the study of philosophy.
Although Apicius's recorded tastes ran to such treats as camel heels and flamingo tongues, his cookbook also offers useful information about the eating habits of everyday Romans. One thing we learn about the wealthier ones is that they had little interest in the natural flavors. Seasonings were used abundantly in his recipes. Not only the staples of our day, but many exotic items like lovage, calamus root, hazelwort, rue, juniper berries, spikenard, pine nuts and fennel. Special favorites were silphium, from North Africa, and asafetida, from Persia, both of which were very expensive and rather smelly.
But the workhorse of Roman kitchens was liquamen (also known as garum), a delicacy made by heavily salting a jarful of small fish such as anchovies or sprats and leaving it in the sun for a few months. The golden fluid that emerged had a slightly cheesy taste. It was added to absolutely everythingusually along with honey, oil, wine, and anything else the cook could find.
According to legend, Apicius eventually ate his way through his millions and, rather than lower his standards, chose to commit suicide.