Triclinium Roman dining tables

by Tom Turner @ 8:10 pm November 22, 2009 -- Filed under: Garden Design,Garden Visiting,Historic garden restoration,landscape and garden archaeology   
A re-created Triclinium at Fishbourne Roman Garden

A re-created Triclinium at Fishbourne Roman Garden

How did they do it? Romans ate on ‘three couches’ (a triclinium) with a table separating them (see Wiki on triclinium). There is a garden re-creation of a triclinium at Fishbourne Roman Garden and one can find some photos on the web of students eating this way. When I first came across the idea, I assumed the couches were only for orgies, so that you could eat yourself sick and misbehave at will. But no, a triclinium seems to have been the normal way for wealthy people to eat. I tried arranging the sofa to eat in this way. It was not good for my digestion,  drinking was  difficult and I did not explore my earlier ideas. The only advantage I discovered was that if one was eating sloppy food without a knife or fork then it was easy to get one’s mouth vertically above the plate, as one still does for spaghetti. I remain puzzled, but here are some German students with a foodless triclinium and here is a painting of a Roman banquet.


  1. Perhaps these description of the Roman meal might assist with your experiments!
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    Comment by Christine — November 23, 2009 @ 2:29 am

  2. Oh I like it, I’m always so fascinated by what the Romans did. I presume they had water in the middle? Fishbourne really looks like a place worth visiting.


    Comment by Tyra in Vaxholm — November 23, 2009 @ 8:10 am

  3. I guess the central space was occupied either by a spread of food or by servants handing out food and clearing away vomit.

    Comment by Tom Turner — November 23, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

  4. The how deep is the central space pictured?

    Patrick Faas writing in ‘Around the Roman table’ believes the practice of vomiting (due to gluttony) in Ancient Rome is overstated. Although Seneca is said to have complained ‘They eat to vomit and vomit to eat’ this behaviour seems to have been restricted to ill-mannered emperors such as Claudius and Vitellius. (p66)

    In fact [Athenian] guests had been known to complain of the petit cuisine like nature of their dining experience (p72);

    “Such a presentation is supposed to offer variation, but it doesn’t fill your belly. I end up smearing my lips instead of filling them.”

    Comment by Christine — November 26, 2009 @ 6:45 am

  5. I guess the clinums are about 600mm high on the outside and 700mm on the inside, so the ‘pit’ is about 700mm below the level of the rim.
    One has to admire Seneca’s phraseology but it does seem improbable, unless the vomiting was akin to tea tasters spitting out what they had tasted, in which case it would have been a deliberate and sensible way of avoiding obesity.

    Comment by Tom Turner — November 26, 2009 @ 8:15 am

  6. Perhaps the Romans participated in chariot races as a way of keeping fit?
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    Comment by Christine — November 27, 2009 @ 5:08 am

  7. I do not know if the charioteers were young noblemen or more akin to gladiators but, yes, they must have been fit.

    Comment by Tom Turner — November 27, 2009 @ 8:23 am

  8. It makes you wonder how they used women and drawfs in gladitorial games?
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    Comment by christine — December 2, 2009 @ 5:51 am

  9. Bring back chariot racing! – as a sport for daredevils.

    Comment by Tom Turner — December 2, 2009 @ 6:20 am

  10. I don’t think chariot racing went out of fashion….[…the technology just changed!

    Comment by Christine — December 5, 2009 @ 4:29 am

  11. It looks like the next generation grand prix cars are here! In the States [ ]

    And in Turkey [ ]

    In Canada [ ]

    And of course in the UK [ ]

    To name but a few….

    Comment by Christine — December 7, 2009 @ 4:02 am

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