Listen you good ones who have come here, so that I speak to praise this banquet, of the Gods and of gratitude towards this host. . .

- Excerpt from Middle Persian Dinner Speech, translated by Touraj Daryaee


Much of the Persian diet  throughout the pre-Islamic period consisted of meat, bread, and wine for the elites. Surviving Achaemenid-era documents from Persepolis testify that enormous quantities of grain, wine, animals and other types of food were brought to the palace each day, while later Sasanian texts describe a similar diet being issued for Persian soldiers in Egypt. Common people also enjoyed meat at religious festivals, and religious prescriptions on buying meat from non-Zoroastrian communities and on drinking wine in moderation suggest that meat and wine consumption was not solely confined to the noble class.

Left: Terracotta statuette of a man enjoying a bowl of wine. Parthian period, ca. 1st century CE, British Museum. 

Of course, food in Ancient Iran was never just about eating; it was also a chance to demonstrate, reinforce, and negotiate social status. As a result, feasting was central to court life in Ancient Iran, and both Persian and non-Persian records reveal the types of food that were prepared. Greek observers of Persian customs comment on how important banqueting was in Persian culture. Putting on a feast in Ancient Iran involved the labor of thousands of workers - from merchants and suppliers who sourced food and wine from the outer provinces, to the hundreds of cooks who prepared the dishes, to the musicians and dancers who provided entertainment. . . as well as the ordinary people who carted supplies back and forth. In the Cosmopolitan Tastes section of the exhibit, you can find an excerpt from a story from the Sasanian period describing ancient Iranian dishes in detail as a test of nobility.

Dishes also provided a way to express wealth and power. Unlike modern dishes, which tend to be plain and disposable, early dishes were painted with animals or scenes of nature.  Later, when Iran had expanded and coalesced, the court produced richly decorated plates, bowls, and animal-shaped drinking horns ("rhytons").  Ancient people invested precious resources into eating utensils precisely because eating and drinking held such important social significance. You can find more details under Feasting Vessels.