The Roman triclinium or the Roman dining room

The upper class ate in a dining room called the triclinium from the Greek word triklinion which can be broken into tri ("three") and klinon ("couch"). The triclinium was a beautifully decorated room because it was a room where a lot of time would be spent eating, relaxing and having long conversations with guests.

triclinium representation

Roman triclinium

Contrary to popular belief, not all Romans ate reclined on couches. Most Romans actually ate sitting upright around a table and it was only the wealthy that ate lying on comfortable couches. The reason for this is that most Romans could simply not afford to have a triclinium. Furthermore, they could not afford the oil and all the oil lamps used to light these lavish dining rooms. Their free time was limited and they had to wake up early to work the next day.

It is worth noting that all slaves ate either standing up or sitting. Children also ate sitting around a table. Initially, only men were allowed to eat reclined in these rooms. At the end of the Republic and during imperial times, women were also allowed to lie on the couch (called the lectus).

Long dinners and entertainment in the Roman triclinium

During the cena, especially when guests were invited, there would be musicians, dancers or poets to entertain the guests. Having long dinners and inviting people over was a form of entertainment in Roman times. Roman aristocrats would spend hours in the triclinium having serious conversations about politics, business and other important matters. They would often stay at these parties until very late and they used oil lamps when it got dark.

triclinium herculaneum

Triclinium in Herculaneum

The triclinium could be really large and accomodate a lot of people. In Herculaneum, visitors can see an original one that is rather well-kept (in house number 22 of the Herculaneum ancient site). Notice in the picture how large the dining room was, the size of the lectus, the altar and the beautiful mosaic on the wall which represents Neptune and Amphitrite. The picture gives a good idea of how large and luxurious these dining rooms were.

By the way, we recommend that you visit our page related to Roman food for more information about Roman cuisine. We also recommend our page related to Roman entertainment.


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