The Triclinium of Senex Caecilius

The Roman dining room was designed to be more than a place to take a meal. It was the principal room in the house for entertaining guests and impressing visitors. Its function is reflected in the protocol and arrangement of the dining couches, in the perspective and design of the room, and in its decoration and furnishings. An essay by John R. Clarke elaborates The 'View Through' and the 'View Out' in the Ancient Roman House. A diagram and a synopsis of the literary evidence by Pedar W. Foss illustrates Age, Gender, and Status Divisions at Mealtime in the Roman House.

The triclinium was named for the three couches found in the dining rooms of upper-class Romans. The couch (lectus) was an all-purpose piece of furniture that was used for sleeping, conversing, or dining. In this case, the couches are permanent, built-in fixtures that would be covered with large cushions. Usually they were made of wood adorned with brass and came in various sizes and shapes.

Here are a few descriptions of various Roman meals. They range from a simple peasant repast to a lavish dinner banquet. Although these texts are in translation, they are drawn from original materials. If you are interested in ancient Roman dishes, here is a collection of recipes and conversions.

The size, architecture, and decor of the triclinium demonstrate the key role that it played in displaying the wealth of the host. The triclinium was often the largest and most sumptuous of the reception areas in the house. Complex architectural designs such as an interior colonnade could make the room particularly luxurious. The walls of the triclinium were often decorated with paintings done in fresco or in tempera, or with mosaics such as this one depicting Poseidon and Amphitrite. Mosaics were also used to decorate the floor and even the ceiling in some cases.

Will you stay for dinner? Véronique is preparing her specialty: sole in white wine sauce with muscat grapes...

Some of the preceding information comes from A History of Private Life (Volume I: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium), edited by Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby and published in 1996 by The Belknap Press of Harvard Press (Cambridge).

Photo courtesy of VRoma

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