Apicius is the title of a collection of Roman cookery recipes, usually thought to have been compiled in the late 4th or early 5th century AD and written in a language that is in many ways closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin.
Apicius is a text to be used in the kitchen. In the earliest printed editions, sometimes under the title Ars magiricus, it was most usually given the overall title De re coquinaria ("On the Subject of Cooking"), and was attributed to an otherwise unknown "Caelius Apicius", an invention based on the fact that one of the two manuscripts is headed with the words "API CAE". The name Apicius had long been associated with excessively refined love of food, apparently from the habits of an early bearer of the name. The most famous individual given this name because of his reputation as a gourmet was Marcus Gavius Apicius, who is sometimes mistakenly asserted to be the author of the book.
The text is organised in ten books which appear to be arranged in a manner similar to a modern cookbook:
The contents are out of order, with some recipes in chapters not consistent with the chapter title. Some recipes are present in duplicate, some are believed to be truncated, sometimes a line seems to be missing.
The foods described in the book are useful for reconstructing the dietary habits of the ancient world around the Mediterranean basin, since many of the foods identified with that region today—tomatoes, pasta—were not available in Antiquity. On the other hand, the recipes are geared for the wealthiest classes and a few contain what were exotic ingredients at that time, e.g. flamingo.
In a completely different manuscript, there is also a very abbreviated epitome entitled Apici Excerpta a Vinidario, a "pocket Apicius" by Vinidarius, "an illustrious man", made as late as the Carolingian era, it survives in a single 8th century uncial manuscript. However, despite the title, this booklet is not an excerpt from the earlier Apicius manuscript we have today. It contains text that is not in the longer Apicius manuscripts. Either some text was lost between the time the excerpt was made and the time the manuscripts were written, or there never was a "standard Apicius" text, because the contents changed over time as adapted by readers of the text.
Once manuscripts surfaced, there were two early printed editions of Apicius, in Milan (1498) and Venice (1500). Four more editions in the next four decades reflect the appeal of Apicius. In the long-standard edition of C. T. Schuch (Heidelberg, 1867), the editor added some recipes from the Vindarius manuscript.
De re coquinaria (Latin, "On the subject of cooking") was the Latin title given in early printed editions to the Roman cookbook now best known as Apicius.
Between 1483 (the date of the first printed edition) and 1936 (the date of Joseph Dommers Vehling's translation and bibliography of Apicius), there were 14 editions of the Latin text (plus one possibly apocryphal edition). The work was not widely translated, however; the first translation was into Italian, in 1852, followed in the 20th century by two translations into German and French.
Vehling made the first translation of the book into English under the title Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome. It was published in 1936. The translation is still in print, having been reprinted in 1977 by Dover Publications. It is now of historical interest only, since Vehling's knowledge of Latin was not always adequate to the difficult task of translation, and several later and more reliable translations now exist (see the bibliography section).
APICIUS, the name of three celebrated Roman epicures. The second of these, M. Gavius Apicius, who lived under Tiberius, is the most famous (Seneca, Consol. ad Helviam, io). He invented various cakes and sauces, and is said to have written on cookery. The extant Coquinaria (ed. Schuch, 1874), a collection of receipts, ascribed to one Caelius Apicius, is founded on Greek originals, and belongs to the 3rd century A.D. It is probable that the real title was Caelii Apicius, Apicius being the name of the work (cp. Taciti Agricola), and De Re Coquinaria a sub-title.