Roman Dinner Parties

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  • Created by: MaaB
  • Created on: 12-06-16 18:03


  • 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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