Ancient Greek Meals

About the names and times of the ancient Greek meals.

Dionysus and Panther in the Domus dell'Ortaglia 2nd C. A.D.
Dionysus and Panther in the Domus dell'Ortaglia 2nd C. A.D. Stefano Bolognini

We know little about ordinary ancient Greek meals eaten by family members alone. Being ordinary or unremarkable, they typically weren't the subject of literature. Mostly we know of special men's dinner parties and symposia. However, non-literary writing -- like medical treatises, art, and archaeology fill in some details, and the terms for the meals were recorded. So, despite limitations, we have general ideas of the ordinary meals of the ancient Greeks.

Most ancient Greeks probably could not afford to eat more than one meal a day, but there were two meals specified in medical writing and some other meals (related to changes in eating fashions over the centuries).

"And to those who are accustomed to take two meals in the day it is to be given twice, and to those accustomed to live upon a single meal it is to be given once at first, and then, if the case permit, it is to be increased and given twice to them, if they appear to stand in need of it."
Hippocrates, De diaeta in morbis acutis 4
  • Sources on Roman Foods

Here are the names of the principle ancient Greek meals and their approximate times.

The Main Ancient Greek Meals

  1. The First Ancient Greek Meal

    The first meal of the day is called ariston. Because it's the first meal of the day, it is translated breakfast, because it's the fast-breaking meal. The ariston was eaten later in the day than the modern western breakfast -- around noon.

  1. The Ancient Greek Main Meal

    The main ancient Greek meal of the day is called deipnon. This was the evening meal that might be followed by the symposium.

Additional Ancient Greek Meals

In Deipnosophists, by Athenaeus, there is the following discussion of 4 ancient Greek meals, with an even larger number of possible names for the meals:
Philemon says that the ancients had four meals, akratisma, ariston, hesperisma ('evening meal') and deipnon ('dinner'). Now the akratisma they called breaking the fast, the ariston ('luncheon') they called deipnon, the evening meal dorpestos, the dinner epidorpis. In Aeschylus may be found the proper order of these terms, in the verses wherein Palamedes is made to say: 'I appointed captains of divisions and of hundreds over the host, and meals I taught them to distinguish, breakfasts, dinners, and suppers, third.' The fourth meal is mentioned by Homer in these words: 'Go thou when thou hast supped,' referring to what some call deilinon, which comes between our ariston ('luncheon') and deipnon ('dinner'). So ariston, in Homer, is the meal eaten in the early morning, whereas deipnon is the noon meal which we to‑day call ariston, and dorpon is the evening meal. Perhaps, also, deipnon in Homer is sometimes synonymous with ariston; for of the morning meal he somewhere said: 'They then took their deipnon, and after that began to arm for battle;' that is, immediately after sunrise and the deipnon, they go forth to fight.
~Athenaeus Deipnosophists
  • Akratisma - breakfast
    ἀκράτισμα or μρωϊνὸν ἄριστον is the very early breakfast taken immediately after first rising. [Source: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (ed. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin)]
  • Embroma - breakfast
  • Hesperisma - an evening meal
  • Dorpestos - an evening meal
  • Epidorpis - an evening meal
  • Deilinon - a 4th meal of the day

Additional Sources:

  • Food in the Ancient World from A to Z, by Andrew Dalby