The vegetarian component of a late medieval diet

The vegetarian component of a late medieval diet: An example from Erkebispegården – the Archbishop’s palace in Trondheim, Norway

By Paula Utigard Sandvik

Norwegian quaternary botany, Vol. 16 (2000)

Tacuinum_Sanitatis-cabbage_harvest

Abstract: Trondheim was the seat of an archbishop from 1152/53 until the reformation reached Norway in 1537. Erkebispegården, the archbishop’s residence, was established around AD 1170 and included living quarters and other facilities both for the archbishop and his staff. The last Norwegian archbishop, Olav Engelbrektsson’s account books from the years 1532-1538 list persons employed by the archbishop and their specific wages, where food formed part of the wages. These books are one of our sources for information about the diet in Erkebispegården in late medieval times. The accounts indicate that the vegetarian part of the diet, beside cereals, was limited. The archaeological excavations, which were carried out in Erkebispegården between 1991 and 1995, provided more information about the diet. Two wooden constructions filled with cess and rubbish were found and analysis of plant remains in samples from these fills yielded physical remains related to food consumption. Seeds from wild berries were the most common type of food remains identified in all these cess samples.

Strawberries (Fragaria vesca L.), cloudberries (Rubus chamaemorus L.) and raspberries (Rubus idaeus L.) were the dominant species found. Vaccinium species, red whortleberries/cowberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.) and bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) together with crowberries (Empetrum sp.) were rare. None of these types of berries or berries in general are specifically mentioned in the accounts. Finds of remains of exotic fruit types such as figs (Ficus carica L.) and grapes (Vitis vinifera L.) illustrate that fruit imported from southern Europe was consumed in the palace. Together, the botanical data recovered from analysis of soil samples from layers dated to the late medieval period and the information given by Olav Engelbrektsson’s account books provide us with possibilities for an understanding of the extent of the plant component in the late medieval diet in Erkebispegården.



Trondheim was the seat of an archbishop and the centre of the see of Nidaros from 1152/53 until 1537 when the reformation reached Norway and the last Norwegian archbishop, Olav Engelbrektsson, fled the country. This marked a turning point in the town’s history. The archbishop’s residence, Erkebispegården, which was established around AD 1170 between the cathedral and the river Nidelva included living quarters and other facilities both for the archbishop and his staff for more than 350 years. The earliest buildings were erected in the northern wing of the complex and still remain standing today together with other medieval and post medieval buildings. The palace is still surrounded by a precinct wall that separates it from the cathedral and the rest of the town.

Click here to read this article from Norwegian Quaternary Botany

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