The hamburger is often thought of as a relatively recent innovation – a treat associated with summer barbecues, football terraces or a late-night visit to the Golden Arches.

However, historical evidence suggests that our forebears were flipping burgers as early as 1,500 years ago. Inside the ancient Roman cookbook Apicius, compiled by an anonymous author in the fourth or fifth century AD, you'll find a dish named isicia omentata, which sounds remarkably similar to a recipe for a slightly-upmarket beef burger.

Like their modern descendants, these patties would have been sold at fast food establishments across the Roman empire known as thermopolia, perhaps as a lunchtime treat.

This particular take on the recipe will make a total of four burgers. There's also the option of wrapping each patty in caul fat for an extra meaty flavour.

Recipe courtesy of Richard Moss at

This recipe was first published in the May 2020 issue of BBC History Magazine – now on sale!


  • 500g minced beef
  • 60g pine kernels
  • 3tbsp garum (or other fish-based sauce)
  • a handful of Juniper berries
  • Ground pepper
  • a handful of Fresh coriander
  • Caul fat
  • Flat bread buns


  • STEP 1

    Grind up the pine kernels and then mix in a bowl with the minced beef and all other ingredients.

  • STEP 2

    Shape the mixture into four individual burger patties and wrap each one in caul fat if preferred.

  • STEP 3

    Fry the patties with oil in a pan on a medium heat for 10 minutes, turning regularly, before serving plain or in a bun.