The diet of soldiers at Fort San Juan de Ulúa 300 years ago

These vestiges have made it possible to recreate the quantities of meat eaten in the 18th century, from a high military commander to a modest soldier.

The diet of soldiers at Fort San Juan de Ulúa 300 years ago
Fort door. Image by ddzphoto from Pixabay

Archaeological excavations at the Fort of San Juan de Ulua, in Veracruz, which have yielded, among other materials, almost seven thousand fragments of animal bones, have made it possible to learn about the diet of the Spanish soldiers who lived in this fortification during the 18th century.

The bone remains of various animal species found in the fort's moat have provided a guideline for calculating the quantities of meat eaten by a high-ranking military commander or a modest soldier. Among the findings, almost seven thousand fragments of cow and lamb bones were identified, which were cut into standardized portions, by the quantities assigned to the inhabitants of the fortress according to their hierarchy.

In the comparisons that have been made, based on archaeological findings and existing historical sources, it was determined that a military man, an engineer, or a doctor could eat 300 grams of meat, while a soldier of lower rank was only entitled to 60 grams. To this ration of meat was added the menestras, which were a kind of soup prepared with beans, chickpeas, beans, and rice, plus a portion of bread, which also, depending on their rank, could be from 224 to 700 grams, divided into three meals per day.

To face a six-month siege, the engineers made estimates to keep the military garrison supplied and sent them to the viceroyalty government so that it could supply them with provisions. Thus, for example, in 1779, for 1,340 men, about three cubic meters of salt were required, which were used both for cooking and for the brining of meat or for preserving 12,000 eggs between layers of sand with salt for the sick in the hospital. The diet of the high command included sausages, wine, brandy, and hams.

Regarding the water supply, they had masonry cisterns that allowed them to collect the rain, but to store it, many methods were used to guarantee the cleanliness of the vital liquid, since the health of the population of the Fort depended on it. The fortress of San Juan de Ulua had a fluctuating population between the 16th and late 18th centuries. During the 16th century, there were only 150 slaves and 10 Spaniards, and by the end of the 18th century, the number of men totaled around 1,500.

Details have been found not only on the food of the military and other high-ranking inhabitants but also of the forced laborers, who were prisoners forced to work in the fortification. Regarding the food and clothing of a forced laborer, he was entitled to a 2-ounce cookie (56 grams), rice, chickpeas, and sometimes meat for breakfast and dinner; while his clothing consisted of two uniforms per year (pants and shirt), a belt and a hat.

The Fort of San Juan de Ulúa began its first stage of construction between 1535 and 1542 by orders of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza, to protect ships from pirate attacks. In addition to being a fortress, it was the seat of the Federal Executive Power in 1915, under Venustiano Carranza, and a prison where Benito Juárez, Fray Servando Teresa de Mier, and Francisco Xavier Clavijero were imprisoned.