The city of Neapolis thrived under the Roman empire roughly 1,700 years ago. However, a giant tsunami caused by an earthquake swept most of the city away, completely submerging it in 365 AD. In 2017, archaeologists stumbled upon a vast collection of ruins, including an unexpected detail that could tell us more about the city than any historical record prior.
A saucy economy
Amidst the sunken monuments, street stones, and building pieces were more than 100 tanks used to make garum. Garum was a popular fish sauce used by both the ancient Greeks and Romans. Given the vast quantity of artifacts found that were used to create garum, archaeologists now believe the smelly sauce played a major role in the Neapolis economy.
Historians don't know much of the city itself due to political strife during the era of early recorded history. The citizens of Neapolis sided with Carthage during the Third Punic War. Thus, when Rome took control at the end of the war, little was done to document the lives of the perceived traitors. What we do know of the city came from the records of Roman soldier Ammein Marcellin, and even then, his records detailed the tsunami rather than pre-devastation details.
While the discovery of garum equipment may seem trivial, it can teach us a lot about the city and its people. "It's a major discovery," the head of the team, Mounir Fantar, said in an interview with AFP. "This discovery has allowed us to establish with certainty that Neapolis was a major centre for the manufacture of garum and salt fish, probably the largest centre in the Roman world."
Savory yet sunken
Garum is made in a very particular process. Ancient records indicate that it was made of salted fish intestines. That combination created a liquor – or the garum – and a sediment called allex. Cooks would then concentrate the garum into a very thick paste. Garum has the same amino acids that give umami its flavor. Garum even made its way into early Arab cuisine to add flavor to savory dishes. Some culinary historians even suggest that murri might come from garum.
Unlike other modern cooking techniques, garum was consumed by all social classes. However, the best of the sauces were bought for extremely high prices. And the popularity of garum is what would've given Neapolis a surprising level of popularity, despite the city's betrayal of Rome.
You can watch a video of the team exploring the underwater ruins below.