A ROMAN DINNER PARTY ILAP
Student projects

Project Unit: ROMAN ETTIQUETTE AND TABLE MANNERS

    Table manners are a set of rules that allow someone to engage in the "social ritual" of eating. Or they could be the means that excludes someone from social ritual. In many cultures, manners are a means of indicating to the host the honor of eating his or her meal.

    In Rome, the plebians and the patricians ate with their fingers, like all Europe until around the Renaissance. In Roman times it became considered refined and proper to eat with three fingers, keeping the ring finger and pinkie clean while eating. Only an uncouth "commoner" would grab at his or her food with five fingers.

    The Romans used towel-like napkins (mappae) to wipe food from their hands, an essential when using your fingers to eat! They also employed finger bowls to aid in the clean up.  During the reign of Tarquinius Superbus, in the 6th Century BC, the Romans began to use their napkins as well for wrapping delicacies from the table to take home. It became considered unmannerly to leave a meal empty-handed.

    Another custom we get from the Romans is the toast. The Romans had a custom of dropping a burnt piece of toast into a cup of wine (tostus = "parched" or "roasted"). Such a practice reduces a liquid's acidity, and would make an inferior and slightly vinegary wine more mellow and palatable. This practice of flavoring their wine, combined with another practice of having the host drinking the first wine poured from a decanter to one's guest's health (poisoning was a common way of killing off one's rivals, enemies, or spouses if an impending divorce was suspected), eventually became our practice of putting up a "toast."

Activity #1: Research and thought: In what way are Roman table manners the same and how do they differ from customs still existing in our culture?

Activity #2: The wealthy Romans lay on their sides, on couches. Why did they lie on their sides? Did laying on their sides help/hurt digestion?

Activity #3: Compare/contrast table manners of Roman wealthy and the Roman poor.

Activity #4: Do some research if you can into the social or religious significance of Roman table manners.