Taking up Paul Barford's remarks, as to how Roman mortars were used (for
grinding, mixing etc.) :
Apicius' recipes say, over and over again. "teres in mortario (various
ingredients)"; now "teres" means literally "rub", so something different
from just mixing seems to be implied; especially as the ingredients so
treated commonly include "piper, ligusticum ..." that is "pepper, lovage"
and other spices and herbs; crushing seems to be expected rather than just
I would be most interested to hear more views on the practical merits of
stone versus ceramic mortars for various purposes (with thanks to those
who've already written). I assume from their frequency as Roman finds
that stone was a lot dearer or more specialised than pottery. I also
assume that some of the mortars we find were used for non-culinary
purposes, e.g. making paint, ink or eyeshadow ?
Mortar (the sticky stuff) gets its name from the fact that it's made in a
mortar (a mixing vessel). The dual meaning in the word already existed in
Latin, way back BC. This implies that "mortarium" (the vessel) can mean
either a little thing for making condiments, or a very big thing for
mixing cement ... now there's a thought. I seem to remember Columella (or
was it Cato?) describing making dough "in mortario".
Preston near Weymouth, Dorset, England
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