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Nero's Bowel Movements

History is all about finding pieces of the great puzzle, answers to fundamental questions, and solutions to timeless problems. Like constipation. What, you think emperors don't get constipated? And poor Romans didn't even have fiber supplements, digestive yogurt or Bran Muffins. Come to think of it, maybe they had bran muffins, I should check. And yogurt – I mean, how difficult is it to add whole grains to it?

Oh, dear. So many questions, so few answers uncovered until now. Let me get back to what we know for sure: what did Nero eat when he was constipated?

Oxyporium or oxyporum was a product designed to help digestion, based on Vinegar or pepper – or both, for really stubborn cases. The name is a transliteration from ancient Greek, as I'm sure you've figured out already. Nero's favorite Recipe included quinces, pomegranates, Rowan berries (you'd say an emperor so obsessed with poisoning would be more careful about those), boiled in must with saffron and tanner's sumach (which, by the way, is also very toxic. Maybe emperors didn't get poisoned because somebody wanted them dead, they were just trying to regulate their bowl movements). Come to think of it, must is already a very strong laxative and diuretic; adding more laxatives to the combo makes me think Nero had a very, very bad case of constipation. Couldn't that explain some of his rather controversial decisions?

That's a rowan berry bush. I had to look it up.

Apicius gives a gentler recipe, calling it oxygarum:

“1/2 ounce of pepper, 3 Scruples of Gallic silphium, 6 scruples of cardamom, 6 of cumin, 1 scruple of leaves, 6 scruples of dry mint. These ingredients are broken singly and crushed and made into a paste bound by honey. When this work is done or whenever you desire add broth and vinegar to taste.”

(Translation from Walter M. Hill, because I'm already lost among all the spices; text is public domain.)

I think (but don't quote me on that) you're supposed to add this mixture to the previously prepared garum, and use everything as a sauce. Or take a spoonful after each meal. Or you know what? Go get a bran muffin.  

This post first appeared on Ancient Links, please read the originial post: here

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Nero's Bowel Movements


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