- The cena was very important in a Roman's life.
- Sometimes this would be held with family but often the Romans would throw dinner parties where patrons would entertain clients and other guests.
- Meals took place in the triclinium - larger houses would have one indoors and outdoors.
- Evening dress was the synthesis - a long loose fitting gown with embroidered decoration for the wealthy.
- Three couches would be laid out around a central table.
- But other tables could be set up to display later courses or to seat less privileged clients.
- The host would be sat next to the most important guest.
- The couches were covered in soft mattresses and divided by cushions.
- Diners adopted a reclining position, lying forward with their left arm supported by the cushion.
- They took food from the centre of the room.
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- A standard cena would have three courses:
- Gustatio: a selection of light appetisers, such as eggs, olives (or more elaborate items in grander banquets. This was followed by muslum (wine+honey).
- Cena proper: simpler meals had simple meat or fish served, but in grander banquets, successive dishes had different meats.
- Secundae mensae: this was dessert and usually consisted of fruit, nuts or simple sweet cakes.
- Some sources suggest dinners could be simplistic affairs however some richer Romans put on extravagant meals for guests but this would have been expensive.
- At some dinner parties, the food received would depend on your status as a client.
- Pliny the Younger writes how one patron organised the cena:
- "He and a chosen few received the best food; the rest got cheap bits and pieces. The wine for 'less important friends' is worse than dishwater. He dresses his fish in the finest oil; you get oil reeking of the lamp!"
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- Roman cena's could lead on to a commisato or drinking party.
- A Rex Convivii (master of ceremonies) decided when to drink and what proportions of wine and water should be used in the cratera (mixing bowl).
- While guests drank, slaves would perform.
- Dancing slaves were popular with those with less 'elevated tastes', although traditional Romans hated dancing and felt it was something a Roman citizen should never do.
- Intellectual dinner parties could include poetry recitals and conversation.
- Dice games and gambling were also a popular form of entertainment at the commisato.
- These forms of entertainment could go on past midnight before guests were accompanied by a slave back to their homes.
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