Public Sausages, Private Votives

Roman lucanicae and lararia (Pompeii and Pigs, Addendum)

I’ve always loved museums. Growing up in Chicago, I’d clamor to go to them. And we had some good ones, mainly owing to the World’s Fair of 1893 and some robber-baron noblesse oblige in the 1930s. When I was very young, the Museum of Science and Industry was my favorite, despite a recurring nightmare I was locked in at night with its chattering animatronic fiends. For its time, the museum was quite interactive, with buttons to push, wheels to spin, and even games to play.

After my parents split up, when I was a preteen living in Skokie, my brother and I would have Jewish holidays off, our mom had to work, and if left at home with no TV, we’d have wrecked the place. Instead, we had memberships to the Field Museum of Natural History, and after taking the El downtown and explaining what Rosh Hashanah or what have you was to Chicago cops looking to bust us as truants, we’d make our way to the lakefront museum campus to wander the lesser known halls of the cavernous institution for the day. 

A great side benefit of this latchkey-kid babysitting service was their members’ nights. There was some awkwardness meeting acquaintances from school, we’d certainly never see on those holidays, and their families. But all the mysterious doors were opened, and you could see all the cool stuff that was normally hidden from view, relating to the daily work of conservation, education, and research.

I visit museums of all descriptions wherever I go. Depending on the topic, I often know more than the typically far-too-brief interpretive plaques can tell. I get audio guides, I take docent tours. I crave greater access but seldom get it, having no credentials as an academician or researcher of any sort. So when I saw there was to be an online lecture, Last Supper in Pompeii, Revisited, delivered by Dr. Paul Roberts, the exhibition’s curator, I jumped at the chance.

One really clever thing about this talk was how it used Zoom’s features: typing into the chat sent a private message to the person who was organizing the call rather than interrupting anyone, and at the end, she read the questions to the speaker. This meant two things for me: first, I could write my questions down as soon as they came into my mind rather than trying to remember them until the end, and second, I could ask whatever questions I had without feeling self-conscious.

And so I did. Roberts was discussing how the city had passed through the hands of various peoples, including Oscans, Greeks, Etruscans, Samnites, and Romans, and mentioned the Lucanians in that context. I had recently seen λουκάνικο (loukániko) on the menu of a Greek restaurant and thought, wow; they mean lucanica — Lucanian sausage — and since the talk was about food, I asked if they really were related.

It turns out the sausages were not just favored by the Romans, they were shipped all across the ancient Mediterranean world. Indeed, just as bible came to mean book because of the strength of exports of papyrus from the Phoenician city of 𐤂𐤁𐤋‎ (Gebal) which the Greeks called Βύβλος (Búblos) or parchment to refer to the cheaper animal-skin substitute for papyrus from the Hellenistic city of Πέργαμον (Pergamon) in Asia Minor.

You can see the name of the sausage travel and morph—certainly across the Mediterranean, where it’s fun to watch the scripts change—but also, via Portuguese and Spanish, to the New World, and via the latter, as far as the Philippines. Here are some of the modern versions of the name:

  • لَقَانِق‎ (laqāniq), Arabic
  • lekëngë, Albanian
  • likëngë, Albanian
  • linguiça, Brazilian/ Portuguese
  • llonganissa, Catalan
  • llukanik, Albanian
  • longaínza, Galician
  • longaniza, Latin American/ Philippine/ Spanish
  • longganisa, Cebuano/ Tagalog
  • лоуканка (loukanka), Bulgarian
  • lucánic, Aromanian
  • lucanica, Italian
  • lucanică, Romanian
  • luganega, Italian/ Venetian
  • lukainka, Basque
  • луканци (lukanci), Macedonian
  • луканец (lukanec), Macedonian
  • луканка (lukanka), Bulgarian
  • לוקניק‎ (lūqānīq), Aramaic
  • مَقَانِق‎ (maqāniq), Arabic
  • نکانک‎ (nakânak), Persian
  • نَقَانِق‎ (naqāniq), Arabic
  • נַקְנִיק‎ (naqnīq), Hebrew

In the US, I’ve definitely tucked into the odd linguiça or longaniza, entirely unaware of its Lucanian descent.

Sausage is a fairly ancient concept, stemming from the need to store meat without it rotting. The name itself comes from the Latin salsīcius meaning “seasoned with salt”, an important preservative. The first written evidence of sausage comes from a tablet written in Akkadian cuneiform around 1500 BCE.¹ So it’s old news by the time of the first attestation of the lucanica, coming from Varro in the first century BCE, which is straightforward enough:²

Quod fartum intestinum crassum, Lucanicam dicunt, quod milites a Lucanis didicerunt […].

A sausage made with the large intestine of pork is called Lucanica because the soldiers learned how to make it from the Lucanians […].

In the following century, Martial gives us an idea of how this popular sausage was to be served in one of his Epigrams; a little poem written to accompany a gift of this food to a friend:³

Filia Picenae venio Lucanica porcae:
Pultibus hinc niveis grata corona datur.

I come, a Lucanian sausage, daughter of a Picene sow;
hence is given a welcome garnish to white porridge.

You can see there’s an inflected form of puls, translated as “porridge here, but which a Latin dictionary describes as:

[A] thick pap or pottage made of meal, pulse, etc.

Sausage and beans or sausage and polenta—which in Latin originally referred to barley rather than New World corn—remain popular ways of serving the product, with a thousand permutations. It’s also worth noting Picene pork is being used, coming from a northeastern part of the peninsula rather than the southern former home of the Lucanians. 

Apicius, also writing in the same time period as Martial, gives us a fairly complete recipe:⁵

Lucanicas similiter ut supra scriptum est: Lucanicarum confectio teritur piper, cuminum, satureia, ruta, petroselinum, condimentum, bacae lauri, liquamen, et admiscetur pulpa bene tunsa ita ut denuo bene cum ipso subtrito fricetur. Cum liquamine admixto, pipere integro et abundanti pinguedine et nucleis inicies in intestinum perquam tenuatim perductum, et sic ad fumum suspenditur.

Lucanian sausage is prepared as written above. Pound pepper, cumin, savoury, rue, parsley, spice of bay berry [sic]. Also add liquamen and meat that has been pounded well, in such a way that it blends well with the pounded (spices). Add liquamen with whole pepper corns [sic], plenty of fat and pine nuts. Put it in skins, draw them quite thinly, and hang them in the smoke.

Liquamen here refers to the ubiquitous Roman umamiful fermented fish sauce condiment, also known as garum. What we learn from these accounts is at least by Apicius’ time, the lucanica was a heavily spiced, cured, dried, smoked pork sausage. This certainly could describe many such today, and some combination of its flavor and the preservation methods used in its production seem to have been what spread its fame across the ancient world.

In Italy today, there are sausages that still bear some form of this name, including various luganeghe from Lombardy, Trentino, and Veneto, but the most authentic is apparently lucanica di Picerno, from an area called Basilicata, part of the original territory of the Lucanians.

The modern version contains chilies which obviously came to Europe via the Columbian Exchange and would not have been available to the original makers, who, if Apicius is to be believed, used both powdered and whole Piper nigrum—black pepper—instead.

My second question related to the votive pig my original article discussed at length, asking if it was really from a lararium rather than a temple. Interestingly, Roberts confirmed not only that it was from a lararium but also that such finds are common. I suppose it makes sense votives in temples and shrines would be more plentiful as well as better known and researched, which would be why I would know of them rather than ones from lararia.

Additionally, Roberts disagreed with the translation of the pig’s inscription given in his own exhibition, which just shows you have to trust but verify. Nor does he agree with my version. He said it was simply:

To Hercules, a votive
Herculi VO(E)tivus (M L)

Obviously he’s oversimplifying, since he’s left out the M L, but this implies he agrees with the EDCS’ interpretation, that it is:⁶

HERculi VOt(E)um [solvit] Merito Libens
To Hercules, (he) fulfills? (his vow) willingly and deservedly

To be clear, the inscription VOE is a hapax legomenon; this is literally the only instance of its use, so we’re all of us guessing. But given the item is from a lararium, I’m more inclined to accept this interpretation. In a public temple or shrine, there’s a bunch of votives from various people, and it’s important not only for the god to know who’s made good on their oath, but also for other people, who will see Quintus Domitius Tutus is a man of his word, and reveres the gods. In a lararium, within the atrium of a family’s home, the gods should already know to whom the votive pertains, and people who visit similarly know this family has dutifully given a votive to the gods, so inscribing a name is less important.

In any case, this kind of program from museums is great, and it was awesome to get my quite specific questions answered directly rather than fishing around on the internet as I usually do. I’ll be looking for more in the future.

Read the Previous Article in This Series

Pompeii and Pigs


  1. Many sources say such a tablet exists, though I couldn’t find it.
  2. Marcus Terentius Varro, De lingua latina libri XXV (On the Latin Language in 25 Books) 5.111, ca. 47–44 century BCE, my translation.
  3. Marcus Valerius Martialis, 13.35, “Lucanicae”, Epigrammata, 86–103 CE. translation from D. R. Shackleton Bailey, ed., Epigrams, 1993. Pultibus is the dative plural form of puls.
  4. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, Latin Dictionary, 1879.
  5. Caelius Apicius, IV, “Lucanicae”, Book II, “Sarcoptes” (“The Meat Mincer”), De re coquinaria, ca. 1st century CE, translation from Christianne Muusers, “Lucanian Sausages, a Roman Recipe”, Coquinaria, 2012.
  6. Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss/ Slaby (EDCS).