Exploring the dimly lit slums of the Forgotten City, you might stumble into a citizen’s room full of bottles of garlic – an ancient Roman fish sauce made from fermented fish guts that looked like ketchup today. Some of us may remember the wonderful year of 2013.”Sriracha pocalypseWhen people feared high prices and a shortage of every lover’s favorite chili sauce; here in this subterranean ancient Roman city, cut off from the rest of the known world, this spice hoarder perhaps also prepares for the worst: a life without garlic.
It’s a quirky insight into everyday life in ancient Roman society, using food as a universal way of world-building and storytelling. Learning how the locals eat and drink is an easy way to learn about the nature of the land, and it’s even more effective if you’re playing an RPG where you can actually imagine your character preparing or eating different things.
The Forgotten City debuted in 2015 as the award-winning Skyrim expansion model, which took solo developer Nick Pearce More than 1700 hours To make or to invent. It was a labor of love praised by players and critics for its writing and production, and is often considered one of the best Elder Scrolls story adaptations ever. Under the banner of his new studio modern storytellerPearce has adapted The Forgotten City into a standalone game far from its origins in Tamriel. The premise remains the same: reveal the secrets of a hidden city where if one person sins, all die.
Choosing a new venue, Pierce turned to a Roman historical novel he had been working on before he began editing. “I certainly don’t consider myself an expert,” he says. “I would call myself an enthusiast of ancient Roman history. I only know enough to know how little I know. That is why I finally called up the great cannons.” The big gun in question is Dr. Philip Matizak, a scholar and author from Oxford University who wrote Ancient Rome at Five Denarii a Day, a reference book that Peirce read while researching his novel. (While The Forgotten City is Dr. Matyszak’s first time working on a video game, The Good Doctor is an avid war player, EVE Online player, and has clocked nearly 2,000 hours in both Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2.)
The result is nothing short of fascinating – the subterranean city is full of cultural trivia that appeals to casual players and amateur historians, and for lack of a better term, conspiracy theorists are sniffing clues to the city’s origins and purpose.
“To make sure the world feels reasonable, believable and livable, I basically had to create a small ecosystem, where food could be grown and distributed,” Pearce explains. “And as I was creating it, I realized that food touches almost every aspect of society. It’s actually kind of a useful starting point, when you’re planning a city for this kind of game, to think realistically about how it survives.”
It seems that not only the people of the city are alive. A quick glance at their bars, kitchens, and private rooms makes it seem like they’re thriving. The city is full of bread balls, purple carrots That predated our familiar orange cabbage, plump cabbage, and, of course, garlic. There is even a plot of land with black goats and goose full of lively. Using wheat, people could make bread—Pierce created an original Roman bread recipe for the game—which was traditionally baked in a soft mould, like a cake, and tied with string to keep its shape. Each loaf of bread is pre-sliced into slices to be cut and shared.
Beer wasn’t actually a huge deal in Rome, but thanks to the northern Europeans of The Forgotten City, it makes a fun look in the form of a huge beer barrel with built-in cup holders. “One of the things about beer is that it’s not like sitting with a pint at the bar,” says Dr. Matiszak. “One of the reasons Northern Europeans use beer is because it’s a way to sanitize water, so it’s more like a way to get a drink and know it won’t kill you.” He also adds that historically, the Romans in Vindolanda, an ancient castle along Hadrian’s WallThey even sent messages asking for more beer.
Pierce, the benevolent deity of this reclusive community in many ways, allowed its residents to have beer because in the game world, they all ran out of wine. The Romans also loved to play games over food and drink – you’ll notice a set of dice towers scattered throughout the city that were supposed to prevent cheating. Dr. Maticek says: “There were different board games, but gambling in it Tabernas It was generally forbidden because it tended to cause public disturbance.”
There is also what happens to food after you eat it. “The logical end point of having a system, a society that revolves around food, is that it has to go somewhere,” Pearce says. “And so we have a public toilet, modeled very closely on some of the pictures and illustrations… of how a public toilet looked like in ancient Rome.” As expected, it’s the public bathhouse from hell. It’s a large room full of old toilets – not a cabin or closet in sight – where you are ostensibly supposed to sit and socialize while you do your work.
This nightmarish scenario is objectively terrifying for the modern player, but only gets worse when you discover a xylospongium, a raw sponge on a stick that was used as a kind of common toilet paper. “The Romans ate with both hands,” says Dr. Maticek. “So it’s not like the Arab cultures where you have a food hand and a fool’s hand.” Pearce adds that the function of the sponge wand is probably a moot point – some people think it was used as a cleaning tool for the toilets themselves.
You’ll also see bowls all over town full of urine, which people used to wash their clothes with. The ammonia in the urine, according to Dr. Matiszak, helped break down fat and dirt. “In a Roman city,” he says, “there were actually tractors strategically placed on street corners where pedestrians could quietly go…to wash.” “[Emperor] Vespasian used to try to tax these little urns that were placed all over the city. Until very recently in France, the word urinal was a Vespasian For this very reason.”
In ancient Rome, pretty much everything was done in public except for sleeping. “So you had a bedroom and a wardrobe, and if you were an aristocratic Roman celibate, that’s basically all you have,” Dr. Matichak explains. “I showered outside, played outside, socialized outside, went to the toilet outside, and definitely ate outside because most Roman buildings were made of wood, and they were highly flammable, and the landlords had very strong opinions about the naked fires in the building.”
Walking around the aristocratic villas of The Forgotten City, you can see windowless kitchenettes on the owned properties. One of the text boxes lights up when the mouse is hovered over how hot and smoky it contains the hapless servants.
In addition to the cute little decorative touches, [worldbuilding with food] It also helps you create a division of labor,” says Pierce, noting how crops are grown, prepared, and distributed in the city. Meanwhile, you have those upper-class aristocrats hanging around their villas not doing anything particularly useful. You also have very different diets on offer in the common areas of the lower class versus the areas of the upper class. So this becomes a really useful way of explaining this stark class difference that was there.”
But the food remains a great unifier. It could be an excuse to roll dice, a popular pastime of Emperor Augustus, who Dr. Matissack says wasted entire afternoons. The Romans were allowed to indulge in the empire’s favorite fish sauce. Food opens the door to something humanity has loved throughout the ages: humour, based on bodily functions.
“You should try to read the ancient Roman, Cato the Censor, on the cabbage… It’s an example of Roman humor,” he says. “He says things like, ‘If you want a healthy baby, bathe every day in the urine of a man who eats nothing but cabbage. It’s a literal example of Roman eating.'”