Roman manners at the table were definitely
different from ours: they must have had a closer resemblance to what
is common nowadays in North-African and Middle-Eastern countries. Which
means they ate with their hands from a common plate. Plates and knives
and forks like our own were unknown. Spoons did exist, for dishes too
liquid even to pick up with a piece of bread. Those had a sharp point
at the other end, designed to pick snails out of their shells. Knives
had no place on the Roman table: if necessary, food was cut up in front
of the guests by a slave.
At the dinners of the rich -on which most of history's light is shed-
the men dined in a reclined position. The room was therefor furnished
with three couches, each of them big enough for three guests, that were
arranged around a table, leaving one side open. This enabled the slaves
to replace each course with the next, without disturbing the diners.
The name of this arrangement, ‘triclinium’,
betrays it's Greek origin.
Places at the table were ordained by rather strict rules, mirroring
the social hierarchy of the host and his guests.
The consumption of wine during and after the meal, was also subject
to rules, concerning the choice of wine as well as the rate of it's
dilution and the amount of time in between cups.
Somtimes the dinner party was enlivened with music and dance or recitation
of litterary works. Conversation of a certain standing was also much