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Keywords:

  • Greece;
  • Byzantine period;
  • stable isotopes;
  • marine resources

Abstract

Documentary evidence and artistic representations have traditionally served as the primary sources of information about Byzantine diet. According to these sources, Byzantine diet was based on grain (primarily wheat and barley), oil, and wine, supplemented with legumes, dairy products, meat, and marine resources. Here, we synthesize and compare the results of stable isotope ratio analyses of eight Greek Byzantine populations (6th–15th centuries AD) from throughout Greece. The δ13C and δ15N values are tightly clustered, suggesting that all of these populations likely consumed a broadly similar diet. Both inland and coastal Byzantine populations consumed an essentially land-based C3 diet, significant amounts of animal protein, and possibly some C4 plants, while no evidence of a general dependence on low-δ15N legumes was observed. One interesting result observed in the isotopic data is the evidence for the consumption of marine protein at both coastal sites (a reasonable expectation given their location) and for some individuals from inland sites. This pattern contrasts with previous isotopic studies mainly on prehistoric Greek populations, which have suggested that marine species contributed little, or not at all, to the diet. The possibility that fasting practices contributed to marine protein consumption in the period is discussed, as are possible parallels with published isotope data from western European medieval sites. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.